Features Monday, February 16, 2015 - 05:30
The News Minute | February 16, 2015 | 12.36 pm IST Rajkumar Hirani whose film PK was the target of many protests for allegedly hurting religious sentiments, recently said that in India, more people die of religious wars. Hindustan Times reported that during an event organized by the Jaipur FICCI Ladies Organization, Hirani said: “Political parties and people who desire publicity make protests by raising a religious issue and used it for their personal gain. The film industry is a soft ta get to aim such protests. In our country people have died more of religious wars than diseases.” Well, if the quote is true, then here’s three things Hirani and others who think like him should know about health care and disease-related deaths in India: India has the pride of place in malnutrition deaths among children below of the age of five. According to WHO figures, 1.3 million children die of malnutrition every year. A third of the world’s malnourished children are Indian. Malnutrition is not connected with the amount of food a child gets, but also with access to health care, medical attention to the pregnant mother and child, and hygiene. Girls are more at risk of becoming malnourished because of social bias. Nearly 5.5 lakh people died of non HIV-related tuberculosis in India in 2013, which is half of the world’s TB deaths that year. Over one lakh children, below the age of 11 months, die of diarrhea in India annually. Tuberculosis is a disease, perhaps technically diarrhea and malnutrition aren’t. Hiraani does not further elaborate on what he calls religious wars, but as scholar Karen Armstrong explains, the relationship between religion and politics is long, complex and multi-faceted one and needs to be looked at historically. She says: “Before 1700, it would have been impossible for people to say where, for example, “politics” ended and “religion” began.” Explaining the meanings of the words used to refer to religion or faith in other languages and cultures, Armstrong says: “The words in other languages that we translate as “religion” invariably refer to something vaguer, larger and more inclusive. The Arabic word din signifies an entire way of life, and the Sanskrit dharma covers law, politics, and social institutions as well as piety. The Hebrew Bible has no abstract concept of “religion”; and the Talmudic rabbis would have found it impossible to define faith in a single word or formula, because the Talmud was expressly designed to bring the whole of human life into the ambit of the sacred. The Oxford Classical Dictionary firmly states: “No word in either Greek or Latin corresponds to the English ‘religion’ or ‘religious’.” In fact, the only tradition that satisfies the modern western criterion of religion as a purely private pursuit is Protestant Christianity, which, like our western view of “religion”, was also a creation of the early modern period.” Historian Romila Thapar too writes about the need to understand historical events and processes as they occurred in their own times, and not from the perspective and politics of the present. It is unclear if there is a compilation of the deaths that could be attributed to violence perpetrated in the name of religion, but the comparison is perhaps an unequal one. Both deaths due to inadequate health care and disease as well as violence committed in the name of religion are serious problems for Indian society and government and need to be urgently addressed. But to compare one with the other, and therefore to imply that a certain type of death is worse than the other, is just to trivialize both. One needs to remember that society and government have failed the people who die to due to either cause. Follow @thenewsminute

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