When religion crept into a conversation between old friends, question of what true secularism is arose
Over the ages, mankind had created multiple religions. And religions gave birth to a multiplicity of Gods. Today, we are fighting over these religions and Gods, forgetting that we all hail from the same common stock.
Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
By KP Sunil
December 25, 2014| 9.00 pm IST
I am proud to be an Indian. Not because India can be considered a developed nation. Certainly not because Indians as a nation are anywhere near being honest or corruption free. My pride does not arise from the fact that India is the birthplace of one of the oldest civilizations in the world with an unbroken, continuing tradition even today... I am proud for the sole reason that the founding fathers of our Constitution, in their infinite wisdom, decided to describe India as a secular country. I was born a Hindu. I studied in a Christian institution. I have visited churches and mosques, Gurudwaras and Buddha Viharas. I enjoy sweets for Deepavali. I relish the mutton biriyani dished out by my Muslim friends for Ramzan. The plum cake is a favourite during Christmas season...
While this is so, my tranquil, Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“secularĂ˘â‚¬Âť world was suddenly shaken up yesterday through a series of messages on WhatsApp!
We have this group of about 100 odd old students of Madras Christian College School Ă˘â‚¬â€ś Batch of 1975 on WhatsApp. We were all batchmates in school. We have played together, eaten together, worked mischief together, been punished together... There were no Hindus or Christians or Muslims amongst us. Just friends.
Yesterday, one in the group Ă˘â‚¬â€ś Sudhakar Ă˘â‚¬â€ś forwarded a video. A Christmas greeting, rather naughtily made. It was a good laugh.
But Anand Issac took umbrage. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“This video is in bad taste as it makes Christmas look like some vulgar festival...Ă˘â‚¬Âť, he griped. Benedict tried to soften things up. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“There goes Anand... Hey, just look at the talent...Ă˘â‚¬Âť, he reasoned. But in the process, he only managed to stir the hornet in Anand. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Would you guys take the same liberties with other religions?Ă˘â‚¬Âť he snapped. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Would you ever have the guts?Ă˘â‚¬Âť he challenged. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“What have jingle bells and Santa got to do with Christmas, anyway/Ă˘â‚¬Âť Benny reasoned. But Anand was only warming up. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“What has bhangra dance to do with the Sikh religion?Ă˘â‚¬Âť he asked. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Try posting a Bangra dance PLC with your middle finger up...Ă˘â‚¬Âť
Gurdeep Singh chipped in sarcastically : Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“No, they use the index finger...Ă˘â‚¬Âť Now it was AnandĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s turn to be defensive. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“I am sorry if I had hurt my Sikh brothers by using that exampleĂ˘â‚¬Âť, he said. Meanwhile Sudhakar, who had started the chain of texts with his video post, came in with his apology Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Sorry Issac, my apologies. No intention of hurting anybodyĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s sentiments. I just forwarded what I got. Cool please...Ă˘â‚¬Âť
And what threatened to break into a communal flare-up on WhatsApp cooled down.
This really got me thinking. If educated, mature, above-middle-aged, greying men could squabble like this over a virtual non-issue, how would things be like in slums and ghettoes where people of diverse religious groups and of varying temperaments, incited or egged on by vested interests? Little wonder in a multi-religious country like India, communal flare-ups occur at the drop of a hat.True secularism, obviously was a far cry away.
I looked up the world wide web for a definition of secularism. It threw up many answers :
According to one definition, secularism meant being irreligious. Another said a secularist is one who does not believe in God -- an atheist. The American concept of secularism is one where the separation of the Church and the State is absolute...
None of these definitions fitted into my concept of secularism. To me, secularism is acceptance of all religions. Secularism is the acceptance of all faiths as true. A secular nation is one where I should have the freedom to pursue any religion. I should have the freedom to visit a temple one day, a mosque the next, a church the day after... I should have the freedom to quote freely from the texts of all religions... I should also have the freedom to criticise, without being derogatory and abusive.
The only problem lies in the fact that here in India, as elsewhere in the world, the true meaning of the word tends to get distorted, to suit different perspectives; to suit individuals; to suit multifarious communal groups; to suit certain political interests...
How else can we condone the demolition of a mosque to build a temple on the specious claim that a temple had been desecrated centuries earlier to build the mosque? This certainly would not have happened if we had considered all faiths as one.Â
How else can we condone the offer of money and gifts as inducement to illiterate tribal masses to convert them to a different religion and then sowing the seeds of religious hatred between brothers merely to create a hostile atmosphere for them to fish in troubled waters? How else can we accept the mass killings of innocent men, women and children in public places and even schools and places of worship as part of a jihad or holy crusade? How else can we accept orgainsed mass re-conversion programmes grandiosely described as ghar wapsi or Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“homecomingĂ˘â‚¬Âť ?
Every religious denomination or communal sect has been guilty at some time or other of being insensitive to the other communities. ItĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s sad that the true secular fabric of India is being torn asunder by narrow politico-religious interests Ă˘â‚¬â€ś mostly with an eye on consolidating vote banks on religious or communal grounds.
If India is to move forward, it is necessary for Indians to truly understand the concept of secularism.
Over the ages, mankind had created multiple religions. And religions gave birth to a multiplicity of Gods. Today, we are fighting over these religions and Gods, forgetting that we all hail from the same common stock. In the beginning there were no religions. We merely followed certain codes of living, which were refined and modified from time to time. This is what the Indians termed as Sanathana Dharma or an eternal way of life. Dharma cannot be translated as religion. Dharma goes beyond religion. It is an Indian word that defies literal translation in English.
It was the Greeks who first referred to the people who lived on the banks of the River Sindhu (Indus) as Hindus. Over time, the entire country came to be known as India (a derivative of the word Hind) and the Sanathana Dharma followed by the people of the region came to be called as Hindu religion. Nowhere in any Indian religious text is the word Hindu used.
The highly refined tenets of Sanathana Dharma contained in the Vedas and Upanishads, over time got clouded. And the required to be simplified or annotated. Such interpretations were made from time to time by men of learning, who stood out as glorious examples of righteous living; to the extent that they wore extolled, often worshipped, not merely as Messiahs, but as God almighty. Veda Vyasa, Valmiki, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Adi Sankara... all interpreted the mores of right living according to the need of the times.
The tenets of Sanathana Dharma had also spread westward beyond the Persian Gulf, right up to Europe. In the West too, the need for interpretations and explanations arose over time. And the Likes of Moses, Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed.
The import of what I am saying will become clear if we care to compare some of the tenets of Sanathana Dharma (or Hinduism as we know it today), the most ancient of religions dating back about 10,000 years and Islam, which came into existence in the fifth century AD. Many similarities exist between the Quran and the Vedas. Maulana Shams Nawed Usmani, an avid scholar of Islamic, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh scriptures has brought out some of these similarities in his book Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Agar ab bhi na jage tho. The English translation of this wonderful work which espouses the cause of inter-religious unity, is NOW OR NEVER.
KP Sunil is a journalistÂ who worked with THE ILLUSTRATED WEEKLY OF INDIA (Times of India Group) and OBSERVER group (1983 - 1994) and was Vice President of Jaya TV (1999 - 2013). He blogs atÂ kpsthirdeye.blogspot.in
Praise be to the Creator of this world (Rig Ved 5.81.1)
Who is the Bestower and is Merciful (Rig Ved 3.34.1)
Praise be to the Creator of this world (Rig Ved 5.81.1)
For our benefit show us the right path (Rig Ved 40.16)
There can be no idol for this Parmeshwar (Yagur Ved 32.3)
He is the Owner of the great heavens and the earth. That Ishwar only will help us. (Rig Ved 1.100.1)
Praise be to Allah the Cherisher and Sustainer of the world (Al Fateha V-1)
Most Gracious and most MercifulÂ (Al Fateha V-2)
Show us the right path (Al Fateha V-5)
Knowest thouĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ not that to Allah belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth and beside Him ye have neither patron or helper (Al Baqarah V-107)
Parmatma created everything Â (Athur Ved 7.19.1)
It is He who created every existing thingÂ (Furqan V-2)
And spend in charity for the benefit of your own soul Â (Al Tagabun V-16)
How I wish there were more of Maulana Shams Nawed Usmanis in every faith...
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