In the last week our country has gone through so much. Fear. Distrust. Massacre. Violence. Hatred. Religious intolerance. Once again, the government of the day has taken it’s citizens for granted. Again, they’ve attempted to feed us a slew of lies. We’ve watched as several celebrities – actors and sports persons and sadly, bloggers, have sat on their hands, continued with business as usual or not spoken out to keep safe. The question that I kept asking myself is : where is the India I knew?
And then, we’ve watched young men and women rise to become heroes. To use their voices to speak up for people of other faiths. They’ve taken to the streets, defying orders and putting their lives at risk. We’ve seen some celebrities taking up this wave and speaking out against the latest Act passed in Parliament that is clearly a move against India’s largest religious minority.
It’s with deep sadness that I’ve been reading hate-filled tweets and barely veiled threats and then watched with horror as innocents have been gunned down or thrashed mercilessly. Their crime? To protest against injustice and religious intolerance.
But none of this has been really been a surprise. I’ve watched the rise of religious fundamentalism in all religions across the country. I’m not sure if assertion of their faith by the minorities has led to the majority feeling threatened. Or has there been a deep seated bigotry all along in many that has been fanned and given licence by the present government? I have no answer.
Where Is The India I Knew?
Some years ago, I was interviewed by an American blogger who was curious about how I live my Christian faith in India, which is largely Hindu. I revisited that post today, and I’m wondering if I can still say what I did with the same level of confidence.
My father and his brother served in the Indian Army and faced no problem because of their religion. My husband, brothers and I have never faced any discrimination in our various careers. We, therefore, see no need to immigrate or confine our social interaction to Christians.
I am proud to be an Indian Christian – and have never felt that my faith or beliefs have been threatened by Indians of other religious beliefs. I have been deeply influenced by the tolerance and inclusiveness of the Indian culture. My husband practices Vipassana which is Buddhist in origin. I love listening to Indian bhajans and would someday like to read the Hindu Scriptures. (One of my first gifts to my husband was the Bhagvad Gita.)I am more open to meditative and reflective practices than to the traditional rote prayers. I believe that we can learn a lot from our ancient Indian tradition and culture.
My Dad grew up in Hyderabad and had many Hindu and Muslim friends. In fact, my Dad was one of an Amar-Akbar-Anthony type group in school – Shankar-Nawab-Reggie. The three of them knew each other’s families and continued to keep in touch until their old age. Religious differences were never an issue. I can still see them in my mind’s eye teasing each other and laughing their hearts out. My Mum grew up in Secunderabad, then primarily a British Cantonment, and had plenty of Hindu and Parsi friends.
With Dad in the Army, my brothers and I moved around different parts of India. Religion never played a part in all our interactions with the many Army personnel and their families. We’ve visited a variety of religious shrines including the several temples in Ayodhya. Likewise, so many of my friends from other religions visited Churches and enjoyed the celebration of Christmas.
If anything, we were happy with the differences, the many festivals, the sheer variety of beliefs. I always try to learn more about these beliefs and understand both the cultural and historical aspect of various religions.
As part of his job, my Dad was one of the main organizers of the Maha Kumbh Mela in 1977 in Prayaraj (Allahabad). This was at the height of India’s Emergency and he spared no effort to make sure it went off without a hitch. On the most auspicious of days, my parents took us to watch the pilgrims take their holy dip. I remember my Mum was so moved by faith of the lakhs of people, that she too wanted to take a dip in at the banks of the Triveni Sangham. The lessons we learned from watching people, from walking through the Kumbh village and taking in the sight of the various Sadhus is something I’ll never forget.
Should I Be Fearful That I Belong To A Religious Minority?
However, observing the recent happenings in our country, it’s finally dawned on me that I am part of a religious minority. Should I start to be careful about what I say? Shall I have to be more guarded in my interactions?
But no. This is not the time for cowardly silence. This is the time to speak up for the rights of religious freedom for every one. It’s the time to reclaim the India I knew. The country where humanity triumphed over religion. The land for which our forefathers fought wrested back freedom from the colonists.
This is not the time, dear reader, for us to look at our religious differences. We as a nation should have moved beyond that. It’s time for to band together to fight the forces of darkness – poverty, lack of education, violence against women, superstition…. It is time for us to re-light the flame of unity, brotherhood and peace.
Are you with me?
For though my faith is not yours and your faith is not mine, if we each are free to light our own flame, together we can banish some of the darkness of the world.Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks