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  • Writer's pictureBelle Kenyon

Why I'm dedicating my book to the Indian rationalists by Sangeeta Mulay

“Mock Hinduism and die dog’s death” – a threat made by a radical Hindu organisation to an Indian rationalist who dared to spread rationality in India. Rationalism is increasingly viewed as a threat to Hindu religion. Those who did not understand this, were killed:

  • In 2013, sixty-seven-year-old rationalist and anti-superstition campaigner Dr Narendra Dabholkar was assassinated by two gunmen who fired at him. Dr Dabholkar had regularly travelled to villages, trying to fight blind faith and expose the tricks used by fraudulent ‘Godmen’ to cheat villagers in the name of religion

  • In 2015, Govind Pansare who, along with other regressive religious practices, had opposed specific Hindu rituals performed to have a male child instead of a female one, was shot and assassinated by two men

  • Six months later, writer M.M Kalburgi who opposed superstition and blind belief was shot and assassinated by two men

  • In 2017, activist and journalist Gauri Lankesh who was a vociferous opponent of the Hindu right-wing was shot and assassinated

These deaths were celebrated by radical right-wing Hindu organisations. A diary recovered from one of the accused in the Gauri Lankesh case, had a list of writers, activists and rationalists who were their next assassination targets.

Two decades back, I left behind a proudly secular, welcoming country famed for her hospitality. Over the years, I have seen her slow but steady acceptance of Hindu radicalism. It is now a country where people are lynched on the suspicion of eating beef. It is now a country which is quick to take offence to jokes, articles, books, TV programs and films. It is now a country which arrests writers, activists, cartoonists for crimes of offence. It is now a country in which religion has seeped into politics and democratic institutions. It is now a country which is so besotted by religion that I cannot recognise her anymore.

Watching a peace-loving country lose her way in this quagmire of religion is frustrating. I wished to do something, as I could not simply sit and watch. I found that attending protests in London, collectively raising voices against what was happening in India, wasn’t enough for me. Fighting online battles did not work. Nothing changed.

So, I decided to write a story. A humorous story with a dark core. A satire.

Fiction has a broader reach, a wider appeal and is more accessible than non-fiction. I wrote a fictional story set in contemporary India where atheism, rationality and feminism are words that are despised and mocked. I let the protagonist espouse all these qualities. My protagonist, Aparna, is a vocal rationalist and anti-superstition campaigner in a Hindu right-wing India, trying to spread rationality in a religious and patriarchal country. I created this fictional Indian woman, eschewing all stereotypes of Indian women that you normally read about – duty-bound, self-sacrificing, ‘pure’, timid, religious and adjusting. I’d had enough of Indian women putting others first and themselves last. My heroine kicks some serious ass unapologetically.

Through Aparna, I fight back to reclaim the secular, peace-loving nation that I have lost. It’s not easy for Aparna and it’s not going to be easy for the rest of us, but this is the only way that works for me.

Disobedient Women by Sangeeta Mulay is released on November 25th 2022 with Fly on the Wall Press. Pre-orders are now open here

Set in contemporary India, Sangeeta Mulay's unforgettable debut novel is a compelling story of four unforgettable characters:

Aparna - a courageous campaigner of rationality and freedom of expression. Will the patriarchal grip of a Hindu nationalist government and a religious society manage to silence her?

Hari – the passionate founder of a religious organisation. As Hari becomes a rising star for the local Hindu right-wing, will he lose himself?

Naseem - Aparna's wise daughter who is discovering her sexuality. Will she have the strength to stand up for her mother against societal stigma?

Kashi - Hari's daughter who is in love with science and…girls? Confused about her sexuality, will she be able to lead life on her own terms?

Confronting issues of religion, bigotry, sex and politics, DISOBEDIENT WOMEN tells the interwoven stories of two families and their battle of ideologies.

A novel of the choices women make under pressure, where to be disobedient is the only option that offers change.

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