Sunday, September 30, 2012

Secularism in India: Lessons on communal harmony, religious tolerance and humanism from the ground [Communal Harmony Project-20]

First the story about 'J' who runs a well-known coaching institute. Even though there are just one or two Muslims in every class, he ensures that the institute is closed on Muslim holidays.

I got to know about it and asked him why he did it? The man [J] said that he felt that even if there is a lone student, he would feel that he doesn't belong to this place, if we declare off on Diwali but not on Id. That's not all.

When a Muslim teacher joined, the institute owner told the newcomer, "We've a corner where we have put up idols.

You can also put an Islamic sign, a picture of your holy places [Kaaba Sharif], a calendar or whatever you want". I again asked him, 'How did you think of it?'. "It was natural. When we have Hindu gods, there must be a Muslim religious symbol also. It will also send good message to students, who will realise that their teachers set such example.

Hats off to the man. Don't you feel respect for him. J is a Hindu. But there is another person. A lady, 'T', who is a Muslim but runs a predominantly Muslim school but here Hindu kids not only read Sanskrit but also get teachings in Vedas.

The composite culture on the street

This happens because this is our culture. This comes naturally to innumerable persons in India. No one has taught us secularism. Some call it basic human values, for others it is what they learnt from elders & family and for others it is pure secularism or humanism.

From a Muslim who sells 'garlands' sitting on the premises of Bhawani Temple to a Hindu woman who cleaned the floor of a mosque for decades [no Muslim lived in the area or ventured there], we have such stories in abundance.

Living for centuries in such a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural society, our social milieu has evolved over hundreds of years. Still, it hurts when suddenly there are immature questions from people in this country, who seem to have got their worldview of religions from the post-9/11 America or countries that have no such legacy for multiculturalism. 

In India, a vast majority is secular. But now there is a small number of people who hide behind anonymity offered by web, to post communal and hate-filled messages on different forums including social networking websites like Facebook & Twitter, giving the impression that it is they who are in the majority. 

Nehruvian secularism, Hindustani cinema secularism

All of us have different stories, experiences. We had Nehruvian secularism in which Muslim wearing red Turkish cap appeared in government advertisements along with Hindu, Sikh and Christian kids, we had cliched Bollywood secularism but it was also important.

In movies, the D'Souzas and Khan uncles gave the same lesson. It worked on minds. Every minority felt that they truly belonged. It all affected us. This is a lesson for everyone in all places including other countries. Minorities should feel belonged. 

Sadly, the situation has changed with a generation that is educated. In 'bastis', slums and settlements, where there is are mixed neighbourhoods, people know so much about religious practices of other faiths. But in posh colonies, where there is little interaction, people are getting insulated.

Mosque with Ganesh idol, Temple with Muslim-Christian-Sikh symbols
Growing intolerance, Hardened attitudes

Colonies are being built on caste-basis also. I felt shattered when a Hindu friend said that the sound of Azaan  [not on loud speaker] was noise for his ear.

Just 1 minute, you can't tolerate it! Similarly, when a Muslim friend said that there was lot of religiosity in a particular Hindu event and he wasn't comfortable.

Why? Why should educated people get so intolerant. They can 'manage' everywhere, do all sorts of 'compromises' but when it comes to views about each other, there is strange fundamentalism, hardened attitudes and lack of understanding. 

There is nothing great in just looking at differences and point out each others' faults or looking at the other with disdain. We've a glorious tradition of composite culture [ganja-jamuni tehzib] from times immemorial and despite many faults, it is much more inclusive. 

These days there is such level of cynicism that if you write about good deeds of a person, you are instantly told, 'Look we are like that, but will you guys ever be even half as good'. So you keep balancing all the time, then justifying, explaining [arguing] and it goes on and on. Regarding communal mindset, I'd say that its all in your eye (and mind), what you want to see you'll see.

If you believe in harmony, you will find instances of it everywhere. If you believe in 'hate-filled' ideology, you will never get convinced by innumerable such examples, because it means the defeat for your ideology which you might consider as your personal defeat and hence you won't agree to the other point of view.

I just wish that rather than scornfully rejecting our traditions, we should take pride in our unique secularism and this value system which we inherited from our elders and that evolved on the streets and in the mohallas. The stories I recounted in the post initially are spread in abundance all around us.

This post is in context of the following post:

[*I didn't name J and T because I didn't take their permission. I wish to write about them and those on the same path, in much more detail later]