A couple of weeks ago, a Professor, who is nearing 80 years, sent me a message on WhatsApp hailing in superlative terms the age-old principle of ‘religious harmony’ in India. While he was all praise for the tradition he has been part of, he was full of abuses for other traditions, especially the so called non-Indic religions in origin, holding them responsible for almost all the ills of the country today.
I was taken aback, realizing the embarrassing mess in which a Professor at this age was. I had the freedom to communicate to him that his professorship has not gifted him the ‘wisdom of life’ necessary for being unbiased, realistic and truthful. I also frankly wrote to him that going to the grave with ‘half-truths and lies’ would fail one’s life, and therefore, something needed to be done.
Let us leave the professor aside. Of late, there are millions of people, literate and illiterate alike, who opt to live in a fool’s paradise. ‘Idiocy’ is dear to them. They prefer to be in the dark because there is a lot of scope for playing ‘hide and seek’. Coming face-to-face with the light of truth is challenging, hurting and bothersome. Because it calls for action and it might disturb one’s comfort zone.
It is true that our land has survived fairly well to this day as ‘one India’, in spite of the large range of diversities in philosophy, religion, dynasty, and culture that came in at times. The ‘self-proclaimed patriots’ are never tired of defining India in terms of ‘non-violence, tolerance, peaceful co-existence, unity in diversity, vasudhaiv kuturmbakam’, and the like.
But, as a matter of fact, it is too obvious that bull-strong policies and callous practices of polarization, discrimination, division, hatred, massacre, and the like, have been in craze in the mainstream tradition of the land, from time immemorial. An enlightened and honest citizen of India can never afford to close his or her eyes to the blatant violation of the ‘sense of harmony’ in social life.
India is known for religious traditions, major and minor, existing for centuries. Places of worship of all religions almost compete with each other in their tallness, ambience, golden appeal, financial resources in cash and kind, ritual systems, political bargain and domesticating people. But, it is a matter of utter shame that much of it has not carved out ‘good human beings’.
No wonder, unethical, illegal, illogical, inhuman, ungodly and characterless ways are rampant in social life, of late in particular. Believers seem to be too much preoccupied with protecting the professed doctrines about God, even by alleging ‘blasphemy’ and wounding the religious sentiments of others. Crimes against human beings and humanity do not seem to worry the religionists.
The sectarian hostility, hate speeches, hate crimes, cow issues, mob-lynching, love marriages, anti-conversion laws, communal riots, and the like, have to be considered in this context. Even though a complete statistics would be next to impossible, it can be affirmed with certitude that there is a major spike in the unfortunate incidents. Minority groups and persons of certain castes are seen to be the victims.
Anti-Sikh riots in 1984, anti-Muslim riot of Gujarat in 2002, burning of Graham Steins and his children in Mayurbhanj in Orissa in 1999 and anti-Christian riots of Kandhamal in Orissa in 2008 are ‘high profile massacres’ of the recent Indian history. These instances are to be understood as ‘crimes against humanity and divinity’ in one shot and they challenge what religion really stands for.
Besides, Akhlaq of Dadri, Pehlu Khan of Alwar, Mazlum Ansari of Jharkhand, Junaid Khan of Haryana, Palghar mob-lynching, Dimapur mob-lynching, Christian Nuns being de-boarded from train at Jhansi, ejecting several Dalits from horseback, etc. are proofs of brutal behaviour in the name of religion, caste and sect. They not only defeat the entire utility of religion, but also betray all signs of a sane society.
Environmental pollution is a pricking matter of concern in the modern days. But, public space is increasingly getting ‘socially polluted’ by filthy hate speeches, which polarize and divide the country in terms of majority-minority, high-low castes, eastern-western medicine, Aryan-Dravidian, Indic and non-Indic religions, etc. This ‘social pollution’ by responsible quarters is tragic, and awfully so.
Discrimination, polarization, division, hatred, violence, riots, lynching and carnage are violations of the Constitution of India, may they be by religious-political quarters or by general public. Violating communities in the name of creed, caste, food, dress habits, ideology, culture, social traditions, etc. would mean defying the Constitutional ethos and ethics and that is a crime of ‘anti-national’ status.
The very idea of Hindutva and majoritarian hegemony collides with the idea of religious harmony or ‘sarv-dharm sadbhaav’. If religion is anything worthwhile, how could it approve atrocities by the majority community on the minority groups, even if by fringe elements? It is a major anomaly in our great land.
In addition, it is too tragic to observe the complicity, indifference or vote-utility mindset of the state in targeting individuals with different views and engaging in spiteful political hate speech, yet being legally and ethically off the hook. The ‘religious split’ of the country is further proved by the ‘self-styled protectors’ of the nation by way of vigilantism and mobocracy.
‘Religious divide’ is the worst of all tragedies in the world. Religion is intended to elevate the humans to an ethical and spiritual world, till they reach God. But, unfortunately, religion has been and is the cause of division, war, hatred and the like. It is like fence eating up the harvest or the shepherd plundering his own sheep. It is the greatest scandal in the world.
Is not this ‘religious divide’ leaving India in shatters? Can this be ever justified by human and divine values of freedom, equality, justice, fraternity, secularism, democracy, and the like? Will this prickly state of affairs allow India to move towards ‘development’, ‘vishwaguru’ and ‘superpower’? Can this anomaly ever help the country evolve ‘spirituality’ out of the religions in India?
I believe the havoc caused by hate speech, sectarian violence, vigilantism, sexual atrocities, etc. and the tragic consequence of ‘religious divide’ need to be countered effectively. Sustained efforts have to be envisaged and pursued to take India out of this chaotic junk and lead to greater heights of harmony and peace among religions and in social life.
(The writer is Director of Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies, New Delhi. He pursues his mission through lectures, articles, video messages, conferences, views at TV channels, and the like. He could be contacted at ‘email@example.com’)