Racism in the name of Religion!

I write this saddened and disgusted. The experience I have had today has left me with a bad taste in my mouth and disillusioned with those we are supposed to look up to as guardians of our faiths and beliefs.
Today I was refused entry to the Mahabaleshwar Temple in Gokarna because I was born in a different land. Not only refused entry, but pushed and shoved by Temple Priests, my Indian wife ridiculed and reduced to anguished tears because she stood up for me and my 6 year old niece left mentally scarred by the sight of her uncle who she considered the same as everyone else, being discriminated against, shouted at and forcibly prevented from entering a place of worship.
I have been living off and on in India for the last 17 years and permanently for the last 5. I was married in a Hindu Temple and have visited religious sites (Churches, Dargahs, Gurudwaras and Temples) of all the great religions in this wonderfully diverse country of India. I have always been welcomed and this is the first time in 17 years that I have been barred from entering a place of worship.
The reason given by the Head Brahmin? “Foreigners do not know how to behave and are disrespectful and therefore they have been banned from entering. “
I was carrying an offering of flowers, had removed my shirt as is the custom in this Temple and was in the company of my wife and six year old Niece. Is this a sign of disrespect?
Foreigners give up their comfortable lives in the West and travel half way around the world to live in a different culture, a different climate, with no close family support, and take the trouble to learn another language and customs, in their search of the great spiritual traditions that India is famous for. They come and study Yoga, learn Sanskrit and practice meditation.
To ban all of them from visiting a House of God because they are not Indian is disgusting and discriminatory. Is the God in this Temple only for Indians? Did God, when he created the world, make a mistake when he created the other countries and races?
Hinduism is a beautiful, open, and tolerant religion, teaching non-violence, acceptance of all beliefs and love for all. What kind of Hinduism are these priests practicing? To behave violently both verbally and physically, to have no compassion for a fellow human being, to make fun of someone, all while standing in the sanctified place that foreigners are accused of disrespecting?
The great Saint Sri Ramakrishna once said “Lovers of God do not belong to any caste . . . . A brahmin without this love is no longer a brahmin. And a pariah with the love of God is no longer a pariah. Through bhakti (devotion to God) an untouchable becomes pure and elevated. “
A foreigner who comes to India to visit a temple has much more bhakti than the Priests I witnessed today.
What do I say to my niece who loves me unconditionally; who has always accepted me as an integral part of the family and has never paid attention to the fact that I look different to the rest of the family? How do I explain why a priest is pushing and shoving me and preventing me from praying to the God that she loves?
Eventually I will forget this and move on. But it is the devout masses of India who visit this temple in their thousands, that I feel sorry for. They will spend their life savings on a pilgrimage to this Holy Place to seek blessings for their lives and loved ones, only to be herded like cattle, shouted at and pushed, given 10 seconds for Darshan (sight) of the God they love and respect, and then fleeced of their remaining money by Priests who promise them all will be well if they perform a Puja.
If this is how the keepers of religion behave then I am no longer a follower. I believe in God but no longer in religion. My religion is one of compassion for my fellow man and tolerance and acceptance of all, no matter their colour, race, or beliefs.
All I can hope for is that, if the Hindu concept of reincarnation is true, these Priests are re-born in a foreign land.

“However men approach Me, even so do I welcome them, for the path men take from every side is Mine” – Bhagavad Gita iv -11


24 thoughts on “Racism in the name of Religion!

  1. Sorry to hear about your experience. Unfortunately the self anointed brokers of religion (the priests) introduce discrimination to feel powerful.I hope you have a better experience through the rest of the country.


  2. sue that damn priest and his entire jung-bang
    let him open his eyes to the outside world and get out of his bloody well


  3. why just vent your frustration – why not be a media to bring about some change? can you not take this forward? not telling you to fight – but to kill that evil, if you have to – then its justified


    • I plan to Rupinder. As soon as I Mumbai I intend to write to the editors of the National Newspapers. The more public disapproval brought to bear on the Temple Authorities, the better. I am encouraged by everyone’s kind words here which reinforces my belief that most people are good and not to let the actions of a few dictate my life.


  4. Annoyingly some human’s need to flex whatever clout they have to feel superior to others, often overiding the responsibility entrusted to them. Police, Government, Teachers, Management & Religious “leaders”…any so called “authority” in any field can abuse their position, often turning people away (physically and/or spiritually) in the process. I often have to remind myself that these heirachys & institutions are man made…your relatinship with your God is yours to protect…and they, who are the disgrace to their religion.
    Enjoy the rest of your adventure!


  5. There are these strange rules people make. You are right. If there is a God, he would be everywhere. I too feel sad for the people who use their savings (often they have no savings but borrow) to visit pilgrimage sites to please God, and then are allowed to spend no more than a few seconds in the “sanctum sanctorum”. For me visits to “holy places” are at best to take in the architecture – the hard work and thought put in by our ancestors who actually built them – who would have been brainwashed by the kings and priests into thinking they’ve booked their seats in heaven.


  6. These so called protectors of the religion are found in each religion..Sorry to hear that and hope you have smooth going elsewhere in India.Hinduism is indeed a tolerant religion and hope these so called guardians come out of their cocoons and see what Globalisation has brought changes in every culture.


  7. Hi, It is indeed sad to hear about your experience and unfortunately this is happening everywhere, all religious leaders and lay persons feel that they have the “right” to allow people to pray to God (it could be any religion)…


  8. “They will spend their life savings on a pilgrimage to this Holy Place to seek blessings for their lives and loved ones, only to be herded like cattle, shouted at and pushed, given 10 seconds for Darshan (sight) of the God they love and respect, and then fleeced of their remaining money by Priests who promise them all will be well if they perform a Puja.”

    Your post explains everything thats blindly followed in the name of religion in my country. When they say Hinduism is the most tolerant it actually talks of the devotees who have been tolerating this grave injustice for years.

    I will like to take your permission for sharing this post with my friends on blogger with proper backlink to your blog and post (don’t have an active textual blog on wordpress yet) as rather than apologizing to you for this misbehavior I would like to have my fellow countrymen take lesson from it and improve themselves.


    • I would be very happy for you to share this post, Sandeep. The more people who know about this the better. And please, no need to apologise!These guys are not the true representatives of the nation.


  9. It is very disappointing what you have experienced. I am constantly amazed at leaders of all religions who somehow think they are above the masses; yet their (all) religion preaches love for all. It’s hypocrical and confusing. Coming from a Christian background, I have for a long time said, I have no probelm with God, its just the chuch I have issues with.


    • Yes, sad but true. When I first came to India I used to visit all the Ashrams, Gurus etc. Now I have no interest. Some of the most spiritual people I have met here and elsewhere in the world have nothing to do with any religion. They are just good people.


  10. We are french expatriates living in Kerala. In almost whole Kerala foreigners are not allowed inside hindu temples. In the very traditional temple of Guruvayur, last year, a foreigner, converted to hinduism since many years, somehow succeeded to enter. When the priests discovered the intruder, not only they kicked him out, but they closed the temple for two weeks of purification rituals… Sad…


  11. I am a devout Hindu, but have no faith in visiting temples. Why do we need a middleman when we can have a one of one dialogue with God, the creator? My temple is in my heart, and my prayer comes from my soul. My husband on the other hand, loves visiting temples, especially the ones in Kerala! When I do accompany him, I simply watch and observe the actions taken by these men of God in these temples where they claim God resides. And then, I utter my own little prayer (as Jesus did): Forgive them for they know not what they are doing.

    It is not just Hindu temples, but places of worship everywhere, that are ruled by these guys who think they are God’s representatives on Earth! I mean, all these temple priests, mullahs etc. Really?? Is God an Indian, an Arab, a man (women can’t enter many places of worship)?

    I feel so sad that you have had to witness this, and my only words to your niece are: “Ignore those who know even less than you. We can’t answer a barking dog by barking back.”.

    Do visit all the temples which do allow everyone to come in, enjoy the beautiful architecture and the faith of the people around, but remember, you don’t really need to pray in such a spot! Your prayer is a 24 by 7 call with God!


    • I am in the odd position of being an ordained (Christian) minister who has come to believe that priests in particular, and ministers in general, are not really necessary anymore. We can all have a direct relationship with God without priests as intermediaries. I believe this was what Jesus intended. But within a few centuries we humans set up a priesthood in his name anyway. I wrote about it in one of my own blog pieces:

      Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!

      Beyond that, there are good and bad apples in every basket. I suppose every religion has its intolerant clerics, as well as those who truly love and care for the people who come to them for spiritual sustenance and renewal. Unfortunately, the bad ones do leave a bad taste in our mouth. Yet the good ones can be a blessing as well.


      • Yes I agree there are good and bad apples. However more and more I see that organised religion seems to be about creating division and not inclusion. The original message of all the great religions has been lost.


      • Once a religion becomes institutionalized, it’s hard to keep it from becoming focused on its own growth and survival rather than on its original vision of good for humankind. Many religious institutions still do a lot of good. Unfortunately it is also true that many of them get frozen into pride and exclusivity.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s