Sunday, 18 October 2015

Is this the India we want?

I am writing this on the morning of 2nd October.  Gandhiji’s favourite hymns and bhajans are playing in the background.  Later in the day, the film Gandhi will be shown on television, just as it is shown every year this day. 

The day’s newspaper carries the screaming headline: the family of the man who was lynched for eating beef demands CBI probe, and eight families flee the village where he was living.  The irony is inescapable.

Is this the India Gandhiji would have wanted to see?  Is this the India you and I want? 

Over the last few months, there have been several instances of intolerance and superstitious practices that have made headline news.  No doubt, there are regional issues at play in the occurrence of each of these incidents, but taken collectively, they are indicative of the hypocrisy and misplaced sense of importance ascribed to certain matters that we hold dear.

Yes, go-raksha is important, but don’t we also come across several abandoned cows roaming our streets, blocking traffic, sitting in filth, and eating garbage?  If we were genuinely concerned about the animal’s well-being, there would not be a single stray cow in our urban areas. 

Why should the culinary habits of certain communities affect our sentiments so much anyway?  How different is the imposition of beef ban from ‘non-believers’ being forced to refrain from eating in public during the fasting month in middle-eastern countries? 

Besides, why confine your daya to the cow only?  Doesn’t Sanatana Dharma consider every living being to be an aspect of the divine?  Therefore, shouldn’t we be saving all animals; dogs, cows, donkeys, buffaloes, and birds in cages from a life of bondage and abuse?

A prominent weekly magazine recently reported that in a southern state – where animal sacrifice during religious festivals is rampant – there has been a spate of human sacrifices.  At least two individuals – a man and a child – were found murdered with their throats slit, and the paraphernalia of ritual worship were lying all around them. 

In another harrowing incident, this time in another southern state, a mother who went looking for her missing son, was shocked to find his body parts in her neighbour’s house.  The man had enticed the child into entering his house and carried out the deed.  Vigilantes later caught hold of the man and attempted to burn him. 

I can almost visualize the missionary exhorting his gullible audience: “Is this the kind of religion that you want to belong to?  Give up your barbaric faith, you heathen, and repent while you can!  Join the only true path and save your souls!!”

Hold on Mr Missionary.  Let’s look at what your brethren from a northeastern state have been up to.  Members of a certain NGO have apparently taken it upon themselves to “cleanse the society of homosexuals”.  As part of the anti-LGBT drive, volunteers have pledged to go door-to-door to “bring them back” to “proper culture”.  Further, they said, “we believe in God; as per our teachings, homosexuality is a wrongful deed, we want males to be like males and females to be like females.”

Over the last few months, as many as three rationalists have been shot dead, allegedly for publicly airing their opinions.  The fact that dissent and debate have been time-honoured components of free speech in India doesn’t seem to matter anymore.  Or perhaps, this must be a sign of emasculation; if you are unable to counter the rationalist’s view with a sane counter-argument, get rid of the source of the problem itself. 

Why does somebody else’s culture, dietary habits, sexuality and opinions rankle us so much?  Are we so insecure that differences such as these should erode our sense of acceptance, tolerance and peaceful coexistence? 

If our culture, religion and society do not evolve, and instead rigidly hold on to pietistic and deadwood practices, we would be in serious danger of turning into Taliban-land.  Or an ISIS-controlled state.  And that is the last thing we would ever want.  Before it is too late, we need to shun the narrowness, the hypocrisy, the superstition, and the intolerance.

Speaking of hypocrisy, the media should also accord equal importance to misdemeanours committed by adherents of all faiths.  Focusing entirely on the antics of a few fringe elements of the majority religion takes the attention away from the fruitful work that the present government is carrying out, which is so much better than that of the previous ridiculous government.  And the same request goes out to the 'civil' society of India, authors included.

So, to answer the question, this is not the India I want.  I want my religion and country to be free in every sense of the word.  How about you?   

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