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Uniformity: Man’s Way, Not God’s

Jacob Peenikaparambil Jacob Peenikaparambil
28 Aug 2023

Look at the creation of God. It is the most sublime expression of diversity. The diversity one can observe in nature is nothing but mind-boggling. Besides the innumerable varieties of flora and fauna, there are more than 8 billion people in the world; but not even one of them is a replica of the other. Each one is unique with his/her own capacities, talents, features and qualities.  

Uniformity is an invention of human beings and not a creation of God. It is imposed by human beings, especially those who are in power or by a majority on the minorities. The main purpose of imposing uniformity is to control people, particularly those who are subjects. The second purpose could be imposing one’s ideas, whims and fancies on others. The majority community in many societies often shows a tendency to impose its religious and cultural norms on the minorities. For example, in India out of the 28 states 20 have passed anti-beef laws, as the religious beliefs of the majority community prohibit eating beef whereas the religious beliefs of some other communities allow them to eat beef. 

On certain Hindu festival days non-vegetarian shops are closed in certain cities or towns of India. For example, during the Kanwar yatra, UP CM Yogi Adityanath had asked the administration to make arrangements while respecting the belief of devotees. For this, he also ordered to prohibit the selling of meat on roads from where the Yatra was to pass. “Respecting the belief of devotees, meat should not be allowed to be sold in the open on the Kanwar route”, said CM Yogi. In order to respect the sentiments of the majority community, means of livelihood of many people belonging to both minority and majority communities are taken away. 

Attempts to impose Hindi language as the link language throughout India have been made by the Modi government since 2014. The argument is that it is the language spoken by a large number of people. According to the Wikipedia website, 43% of Indians speak Hindi, which includes many mother tongues such as Bhojpuri, Rajasthani and Hindi. Only about 26% of Indians speak Hindi as mother tongue under the broader Hindi language grouping as per Census 2011. 

Recently the government introduced three bills in the Parliament: Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023 to replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860; Bhartiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023 to replace the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973 and Bhartiya Sakshya Bill 2023 to replace The Indian Evidence Act. Deviating from the usual practice of giving both English and Hindi titles, these three laws are given only Hindi Names. Tamil Nadu CM M K Stalin termed it as an “audacious attempt” to tamper with the essence of India’s diversity and reeks of linguistic imperialism”. The attempts to impose on the people of India the majoritarian practices and customs by the BJP government are sometimes overt and sometimes covert. 

Attempts to impose the religious and cultural norms of a conqueror on the conquered people, are often found in the history of the world. For example, Alexander the Great’s conquests spread Greek culture, language and ideas throughout Asia Minor. Greek culture became entwined with local cultures bringing about changes so significant that historians have named it as the Hellenistic age or period. 

There are also good examples of rulers allowing their people to hold on to and practice their religious and cultural traditions. For example, the Mughal period of Akbar and Shah Jahan is known for religious and cultural harmony in India because these rulers encouraged various religious communities to practise their religious and cultural traditions. They nurtured Hindu scholars, poets, and artists, facilitating a dynamic cultural interchange that enriched both Islamic and Hindu traditions.

India has been a confluence of different races, cultures and religions. During the course of history many groups and races of people came to India and settled here. People belonging to different religions like Zoroastrians, Christians and Muslims who came to India became part of the multi-religious and multi-cultural populace of India along with Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs. Despite occasional conflicts among the followers of different religions, all have lived in this country with the freedom to practice their religion and culture. Thus, India has remained a multi-religious and multi-ethnic country. 

Adoption of a secular democratic constitution after independence, which gives freedom to all citizens of India to “profess, practice and propagate” the religion of their choice, has provided the legal basis to the age-old tradition of plurality of religions and cultures. Secularism or pluralism was not an invention of the Constitution-makers; it was a reaffirmation of the heritage of India for millennia: Unity in Diversity. 

Emphasizing the principle, “Unity in Diversity'' the leaders of the Independence Movement, especially Mahatma Gandhi, could mobilize all people of India belonging to different castes, religions, cultures, ethnicity and language. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, was a champion of promoting unity of India while accepting, appreciating and celebrating the amazing religious and cultural diversity of India. Unfortunately, vigorous attempts have been made since 2014 to impose uniformity based on the ideology of Hindutva to replace ‘Unity in Diversity’. The result is increasing division, hatred and violence in Indian society. 

Parallel to the imposition of uniformity based on Hindutva ideology at the political level, one can notice a process of imposing uniformity in religious practices of all religions in India. Religiosity in the form of building magnificent worship centres, erecting huge statues, organizing mega religious events and creating new and expensive rituals are also leading to imposition of uniformity in the respective religions. The priestly class, sometimes with the support of the political leaders, is increasing its power and dictating uniform rules and rituals to the faithful of their respective communities. Because of the increasing competition among religions, freedom in the way of worship within each religion is also being curtailed. 

The history of religions shows that all religions were started as spiritual movements, often as reactions to ritualism and dogmatism. For example, Jainism and Buddhism originated as reactions to complicated ritualism, expensive sacrifices, including animal sacrifices, and exploitation of people in the name of religion. It is a sad story that these religions also in course of time developed their own rituals contrary to the original spirit. 

Jesus started a movement focusing on the practice of certain core values as enunciated in the Sermon on the Mount. What he proposed was a way of life based on forgiveness, reconciliation, compassion and love. Jesus was a staunch critic of meaningless rituals and exploitative laws. He often violated the Sabbath law, saying that “the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath” (Mk.2;27). He mostly went to pray to lonely places and mountains. He went to the synagogues to teach people because people were available there. “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Lk.5:16).  

The Gospels are silent on Jesus following any ritual as an adult. Jesus lambasted  the Pharisees and scribes for their hypocrisy, ritualism, legalism and their lack of integrity.  Jesus did not recommend any ritual to his followers. Hence, there was no question of imposing any uniform rituals on them. Jesus was not a person of religiosity based on rituals, dogmas and laws, but he was a person of spirituality based on human and ethical values. That is why he told the Samaritan woman, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (Jn.4:23). Worshiping in the “spirit and truth” encourages diversity, creativity and inculturation. It doesn’t involve imposing uniformity of rituals on the worshipers.

The Gospels depict a Jesus who believed and practiced diversity or pluralism and not a ritualistic fanatic. His twelve disciples included persons of varying character and background: Mathew, a tax collector whom the Jews hated and despised, Judas Iscariot who had the background of a zealot, Peter, a man of mercurial character, and a doubting Thomas. Jesus presented a Samaritan, whom the Jews loathed, as a role model of spirituality in comparison with a priest and a Levite. Jesus praised and presented a Roman officer as a role model of faith. He freely mixed with all whom the contemporary Jewish society condemned and discriminated against: lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, Romans etc.  

Imposition of uniformity whether it is in politics, religion or culture is highly damaging. It kills freedom, creativity, dynamism and spirituality. Uniformity is the number one enemy of spirituality. It is a rebellion against God’s way. Those who impose uniformity, taking recourse to history and tradition, have to remember the words of Peter Drucker, the management guru, “If you let the past control you, you will have no future.”

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