United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, while addressing the challenges of Covid 19, in a video meeting on 12 May 2020, has cautioned ‘faith leaders’ against the rising ‘ethno-nationalism, stigma, hate speech and conflict’ and has asked them to challenge ‘inaccurate and harmful messages’ that fuel such socio-religious viruses. ‘Extremists and radical groups are seeking to exploit the eroding trust in leadership and feed on people’s vulnerability to serve their own ends’, he alerted them. He has vouched to target the ‘socio-religious microbes’, even during the corona virus pandemic that has encircled the globe.
The UN chief made an appeal to the faith leaders to focus on ‘human dignity and human rights’. He made a petition to them to reject ‘racism, prejudice, violence against women and all forms of intolerance’ and to promote principles of ‘non-violence, compassion, equality, mutual respect, understanding, partnership, solidarity and social cohesion’. He also underlined the ‘pivotal role’ faith leaders can play in their communities and beyond, in ‘delivering a way out to recover from the pandemic as well as to address it’.
Indeed, the Corona virus has almost defeated the imagination of the entire humanity of the 21st century, in a manner beyond compare. It has taken into custody almost all the countries unawares. It has challenged more or less all the creditable scientific inventions, medical technology and developmental monuments of the humans. It has forced the humans to shrink into narrow confines, almost to rust in confusion. It is as if the human civilization has reached a ‘dead end cross road’ and have no choice left but make a ‘restart’, with a new sense of direction. Overall, the ‘ego’ of the humanity is badly disturbed, if not shattered.
When human beings, the world over, are in such a bad shape, have not faith leaders a moral duty to boost up the ‘morale’ as well as ‘ethical fibre’ of the humans? This is the question the UN chief Guterres has raised for the world, most validly and timely so. It is true that, in the wake of the corona virus, along with several crucial problems in diverse areas, faith leaders today, especially in India, have a massive task to perform. But, there is a double-sided flaw the faith sector in India, elsewhere also, leaders on one side and believers on the other, is inflicted by.
In the modern times all the more, ‘faith leaders’ are on the loser’s side as regards the trust of the people in leadership. A high percentage of faith leaders are politically and economically inclined, but spiritually disillusioned, if not bankrupt. Their interests are more in erecting multi-crore, mighty and showy Churches, temples, gurudwaras and mazjids, at the expense of the devotees, and relish almost all worldly pleasures in the name of God. The subsequent ‘religious ego’, along with certain personal frailties, makes them sink into a serious deficit of credibility. Well, faith leaders require a re-charging of their ‘morale’ and ‘ethical fibre’ as leaders, in order to deliver to the society what they really should.
The ‘fragility of the believers’ is another tragic story. For the most part, believers of all faiths tend to surrender in faith, to the point of a stoppage of thinking. Then, they wouldn’t know what happens to them. Most of the faith leaders, instead of enlightening them, drive the believers into a fancy world of mythical stories and superstitions, by which they would easily fall at their feet. Believers of all faiths have to sharpen their ‘scientific temper’, lest they be exploited by faith leaders and by allied vested interests. Believers require building up their ‘immunity’ against being vulnerable to mischievous elements, along with fake faith leaders.
To add to the façade of the faith leaders, there are ‘extreme and radical elements’ that are hyperactive on a discriminative and divisive agenda, fabricating political, religious, national, cultural and social issues. Clever at cashing on the strengths and weakness of either side of the faith sector, leaders and followers alike, extremists and militants ally with like-minded faith leaders as well as with fanatic religionists. Injecting a false sense of pride in the name of the country, race, caste, class, religion, culture, language, ideology, tradition, dress habits and food tastes, they set out to disturb the equilibrium of social life by polarizing people in to different groups. Then, obviously, what happens is a topsy-turvy of affairs!
Since some time, India, our great country, became a victim of a false idea of ‘nation and nationalism’, which not only contradicts the entire history and tradition of the country, but perils its bright future. In fact, ‘nation’ is synonym to ‘the spirit of solidarity’ that is beyond all sorts of petty divisions of the humans, including that of religion. Accordingly, notions of ‘Christian State’, ‘Islamic State’ or ‘Hindu Raashtra’ cannot stand the ground anywhere. But, ‘scaffolding’ to such effect seems to have been erected to perpetuate the structure, shockingly so. Such ‘ethno-centric nationalism’ and all that goes with that have been violating the sanity of the national society, in some way or other, in a major way, tragically so.
Discriminative and divisive forces cook up and campaign lot of ‘hate speeches’ targeting smaller faith communities. These hate mongers differentiate faiths into Indic and non-Indic, in terms of their nationality of origin. The bias against minorities goes to the point of finger-pointing, blaming and making scapegoat, in terms of several issues. In the process, the ‘inaccurate and harmful messages’ that are circulated is a matter of great concern for the motto of the nation, ‘satyamev jayate’, i.e., ‘truth alone prevails’. Stigmatizing gives birth to conflict between communities, to the detriment of the integrity of the country.
A ‘nation divided against its own citizens can never stand’. Manifestly, it is doomed to perish, sooner or later. One community alone, even if it is the majority, cannot flourish in any area, in the long run. Helping the smaller communities grow is the way the bigger communities can really be great. Therefore, different communities of the country have to learn to accommodate each other in mutual respect and acceptance and peacefully co-exist, in view of the unity and integrity of the country.
Faith leaders have to come out of their comfort zones and get involved in the pressing concerns of the society, global, national, regional and local. They have to publicly reject all sorts of ‘discrimination and division’ in the society, may they be under any disguise. ‘Negativism and hate’ are the worst enemies of the society as well as faith, and therefore, faith leaders have to raise their voice for eliminating them from the society. Attention has to be paid towards addressing all forms of prejudice, intolerance and violence against women and other racial groups. ‘Hate speech’ and faith can never co-exist, anywhere in the world.
Faith leaders in India have to ensure that ‘hate speech’ of all kinds indeed vanish from our country.
In sum, ‘faith leaders’ have to be firmly beached at the key ideals of ‘human dignity and human rights’. They have to be ‘champions of solidarity, partnership, fellowship and social harmony’ as well as ‘non-violence, good will, equality, respect, love and cooperation. Only ‘inclusive thinking’ can lead people of India towards making an ‘inclusive society’ out of the vast and wide-ranging diversities. Only an inclusive society can think of ‘harmonious living’ among one and all. ‘Making a global human family’ is the shared mission of the faith leaders and believers of all affiliations. Only fraternal and friendly sentiments can help reign ‘humane and divinely insights’ in the human society. Only then our nation, all nations as well, can effectively emerge out of such ‘socio-religious viruses’, along with Covid 19.
(Author is Founder Director of Institute of Harmony and peace Studies, New Delhi, and can be contacted at ‘email@example.com’.)(Published on 25th May 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 22)