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Secularism, Friendship and Boundaries...!

Robert Clements Robert Clements
15 Apr 2024

Punjab is a beautiful state with wonderful people. I'd planned to visit the Golden Temple and Jallianwala Bagh, and I did, but before that, I visited the ninety-four-year-old Editor-in-chief of the Punjab Kesari paper in Jalandhar, where my column runs.

As I sat with the wise and learned Vijay Chopra, he told me his children had studied in a convent school, and I told him mine had done their education in an Arya Samaj School "because religious faith", we both echoed together at different times, "is a personal thing!"

And as we conversed with each other, I realised a written invitation had been made out at his orders asking me to attend and speak at a Shri Ram Navmi Utsav gathering the next day.

As I looked at the crowd from the podium, I prayed for the right words knowing I would have to speak in Hindi. "My best friend", I began as I looked at the gathering, "Was a son of Jalandhar, and when he died, I and another were chosen to speak about him in a Gurudwara in Mumbai!"

The crowd, which had just before been singing bhajans in praise of Ram, was still, and as someone later from the audience told me, "Sir, there was pin-drop silence!"

"We were three friends," I continued, "A Hindu, a Muslim, and I, a Christian, but to keep this deep friendship going, we had to make adjustments!" I could feel the crowd wondering what adjustments we made.

"My friend from here in Jalandhar, served only vegetarian meals in his house, my Muslim friend could not eat pork, and I could eat everything! But did I tell my friends that because I ate everything, they also should eat everything? No! Because that would have broken our friendship!"

"So, we had a common minimum programme, where we adjusted to each other's boundaries, and our friendship grew stronger than ever"!

"Today, in our secularism", I said, "we shouldn't just tolerate each other's faith but understand the beliefs and boundaries of others! You may be able to worship many gods, but I am permitted to worship only one, because of the 1st commandment in my religious scriptures"!

It was the next day, as I stood with tears streaming at the massacre site in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, that my phone rang. It was someone who had been part of the audience. He thanked me for yesterday's speech, and as I looked into the well, into which hundreds of our terror-stricken women and children had jumped to escape the cruel General Dyer's bullets, I whispered into the phone, "If we have to withstand the bullets of a China or bullying of any country, we have to stand together, just as three friends, a Hindu, a Christian and a Muslim recognised each other's boundaries and stood united..!

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