Hindus world over are celebrating the reconstruction of the Ram Mandir (temple to Lord Rama), which was destroyed in the 16th century. For those who do not know, Lord Rama is a major deity in the Hindu pantheon, and is worshiped by hundreds of millions of Hindus worldwide. No wonder there has been such enthusiasm at the building of a temple for Lord Rama in Ayodhya, one of the holiest places for Hindus.

Etched in the collective memory of Hindus is centuries of historical trauma, which is rooted in the Islamic conquest of India. During that bloody period, a Mongol/Mughal invader named Babur destroyed the original mandir (temple), which was at a site believed to be the birth place of Lord Rama. Babur then built a masjid/mosque on top of the destroyed temple. That mosque came to be known as the Babri Masjid, and stood as a symbol of both imperial hubris and the humiliation of the subjugated Hindus. Since that very time, Hindus have struggled till date, to reclaim their sacred spaces. So, when after a prolonged legal battle, they got the right to build a temple at the holy site, it resulted in jubilation and a feeling of catharsis, considering the centuries of subjugation and the subsequent struggles.

As the aforementioned history should make clear, the cathartic jubilation of Hindus is not something that came out of the blue but is the product of an old and living history.

So, how do I, a Hindu atheist, view this event? As an atheist, I do not feel the same spiritual or religious fervor as practicing Hindus do. However, I do feel a strong sense of cultural pride. To me, Rama is a major cultural hero and an emblem of my heritage. I respect the devotion many Hindus show towards Rama, even though I do not share in that theological connection.

While I view the destruction of the Babri Masjid as vandalism, I view that vandalism in the spirit of the bringing down of the Berlin wall. A small few may have liked it, but the Germans, who were divided by that wall, despised what it symbolized: foreign domination, oppression, and the division of their people.  The destruction of the Berlin wall was a reaction and a visible rejection of Soviet imperialism and Bolshevist domination. Similarly the destruction of the Babri Masjid freed Indians from the legacy of Babur, a foreigner, who had brutally invaded India.

The new temple signifies a resurgence and a growing confidence in Hindus. It symbolizes that Hindus are no longer a conquered people. My theistic Hindu brothers and sisters can now freely worship Lord Rama in his own city. Atheist Hindus like myself can celebrate our cultural restoration and the recreation of the temple as a symbol of freedom.

But, what about Muslims? Well, they too are now liberated from Babur’s legacy. Additionally, the legal process awarded them five acres of space to build a new mosque. Perhaps the restoration of Lord Rama’s temple and the  new mosque shall pave the way towards better relations among Hindus and Muslims, communities who share a long history.

Lastly, I do want to address one thing that might loom in the mind of non-Hindus, especially cosmopolitan secularized westerners, who may not have adequate historical context. Hindus are an ancient people with old traditions that we take great pride in. Just as the Israelites struggle to rebuild their long destroyed temple, and Native Americans to retake their sacred spaces, we too have struggled, and continue to do so.

The privileged elite, who write for the New York Times, BBC, DW, and so on, may sneer at us for taking up such a “mythological” and “reactionary” cause. But for Hindus, the struggle has been about liberation and freedom, which all Hindus—from theists to atheists and everyone in between—take pride in. We have endeavored for a long time and now bear the fruits of our blood, sweat, and tears.

The Ram Mandir isn’t just an “imagined identity” or a myth, it’s a living breathing symbol of an ancient people deeply rooted in our heritage. This is something people with cultures deep in meaning and symbolism can easily understand. They might be Zoroastrians or Yazidis, Israelites or Lakotas, but they know. Just as the Native Americans struggle to retake their sacred space, we too have struggled.Those who are privileged enough to be given space in today’s all powerful publications, who one day pretend to care for the Native American plight and move on to the next fashion the next day will not care to give us a fair hearing. So be it!

I am very proud of what my people have achieved and what the Ram Mandir symbolizes. I, a Hindu atheist, stand with all those people who have been historically wronged, and hope they too get the justice they deserve, so they can feel what I feel today. JAI SHREE RAM!

Born and brought up in the US, Jay volunteers regularly with COHNA, while also  studying in University.