SUJATA RAJPAL writes: I often marvel at those who have the knack of identifying the religion/ region of a person just by looking at their attire, name, surname, or even accent.
I always goof up.
All Indians—Tamilians, Muslims, Malayalis, Punjabis, Parsis, Christians—all look the same to me. Of course, I can identify a turbaned Sikh from a non-Sikh, but that’s about how far I can get.
While growing up, we were told to focus on the inner quality of people, not their external features. We were told it was bad form to probe a person’s religion or language. We were told not to tease or taunt or make fun of their customs and traditions. Such sage advice now belongs to another world, another era.
That was then.
In “modern”, “new-age”, 21st century India, our politicians, irrespective of their political lineage, are falling over each other to remind us of who we are. And, more importantly, of who we are not.
The media is gladly playing along, and “We, the People” too no longer seem squeamish about joining in.
How many times in a day do we hear or read words that are predicated on our region, religion, language, caste? And what effect is such unconscious consciousness of who we are (and who we are not) having on us?
And our children?
And our society?
And our nation?
In the inter-religion vocabulary, the opposite of Hindu has become Muslim, and vice-versa. In the intra-country vocabulary, the opposite of Hindu has become non–Hindu.
The opposite of love has become hate.
Sanity has taken a backseat.
Be it the “struggle” for Kannada supremacy in Karnataka or for the precedence of the Marathi manoos in Maharashtra or the Assamese in Assam; be it the attack by the Sri Rama Sena on girls in Mangalore or Varun Gandhi‘s hate speech in Pilibhit; be it the ban on books or the burning of libraries; Kandhamal or Malegaon, the contours of our public discourse is now so clearly defined by language, region and religion that it boggles the mind.
All this passes muster in the name of protecting what is “ours”—our land, our language, our region, our religion, our culture, our this, our that.
But, hey, can even an overdose of Ganga jal be toxic?
As per our Constitution—a document few of these hate-peddlers, venom-spewers, nuisance-mongers can be troubled by any longer—India is a “secular” State; a word that has now been turned into a pejorative.
It was inserted into the preamble by the 42nd amendment act of 1976, during the Emergency, and it does not mean what it has come to mean. It implies equality of all religions—and religious tolerance.
Every person has the right to preach, practice and propagate any religion they choose. The government must not favour or discriminate against any religion. It must treat all religions with equal respect. All citizens, irrespective of their religious beliefs are equal in the eyes of law.
But it fails to state that every Indian has the liberty to form and practice his own definition of a religion and no one has the right to preach to others what Hinduism or any other religion is.
33 years later, we only seem to observe secularism in the breach.
The first lesson in Hinduism or Islam or Christianity or Buddhism or any other religion is tolerance and respect towards all religions and fellow human beings. How secular are we? Like many other things in life, the definition of “secular State” in our Constitution has become obsolete and needs modification.
Those who claim to fight for the protection of Hindu culture perhaps do not even really understand what Hindu culture stands for or else they would not be preaching others.
In these elections, the issues which threaten the very existence of India as one united nation like terrorism, growing intolerance towards people of other faiths, mounting crime rate, growing water scarcity, rising corruption in society, etc, have been summarily marginalized.
Our parties are happy to score over brownie points over each other on who is a true Hindu.
And who is not.
It is shameful that our politicians are trying to divide the country in the name of religion but it is even more distressing that we are allowing ourselves to be fooled by them.
Before 1947, it was British who tried to divide the country in the name of religion and they succeeded. The Britishers left but sixty years later their legacy lives on, happily but sadly.