By Soumya Bisht, Batch Of 2019
Diversity has been India’s identity. Our country is a little too much of everything. Too many languages, too many cuisines, too many colours, too many people and, too many religions. Too many religions.
I meet north Indians who wish to satiate their taste buds with south Indian cuisines, south Indians that are intrigued by the language of the paradise- dogri, Bengalis that wish to embody the grace of bharatnatyam dancers and Rajasthanis that can’t help but appreciate the cultural potpourri that is Bengal.
But in my very limited years of experience and even more limited instances of exploring and getting acquainted with the Indian culture, I haven’t yet come across as many a number of Hindus who seek the knowledge of the Quran, or as many Muslims who seek the mysteries that remain hidden in the Guru Granth Sahib and well, you get the idea.
Religion has always been an indispensable part of many of our identities and maybe, rightly so. For practitioners of various religions, after all, the morning dua’s, weekly sunderkand’s, Sunday mass have been an inherent part of their daily routine. Not to mention, the figures you worship and the language you worship them in. But really, what else?(Finding a person’s religion is also very important because then you’d know their meat choices- something that is a very important parameter to know and judge a person you’ve just met).
When has the knowledge of the idols we worship become a much more defining factor than the clothes we wear or the languages we speak? Since when is religion so definitive a division that one cannot even think of peeking past it into another’s religion without garnering judgmental stares from those around? If a north Indian trying out a south Indian’s cuisine is totally normal, then how is a Hindu reading a Quran not ?
And most importantly, who are you to decide if it is normal or not?
How is a hijab any different from a ghunghat? Why are we forgetting that we are a nation whose strength lies in its diversity. A collection of ideas that are mulled upon by persons of all kinds of composition- isn’t that the best set of ideas to run any nation with? Tell me more about how you claim to be the largest ‘democracy’ when your primary narrative is to force followers of Islam to live according to Hindu beliefs just because Islam isn’t the predominant religion?
Yes, you, as Hindus, cannot have beef. But please explain how Muslims should be humiliated and mercilessly beaten to shreds like savages for eating a kind of meat that they are allowed to? Jainism prohibits the consumption of meat. Has the government of India gone to equal lengths to ideate and deliberate upon the banning of chicken for the comfort of its Jain citizens? No. It hasn’t. Is the Government itself forgetting the pillars on which it rests? ‘Secular state’ isn’t that dispensable a characteristic of a nation, in my humble opinion. Why then has the famed and ‘successful’ Modi Government- which has seen tremendous support from people from all religions- failed to uphold the ideals of secularism?
What is the importance of the word ‘secularism’? Let me give you an analogy for better understanding.
I am a Hindu who has been a resident of the State of Qatar for 17 years of my life. The State of Qatar explicitly recognizes Islam as its official religion (which is what it means to not be secular). This feature of the constitution gives the State the right to call for all non-Muslim residents to respect Islamic laws. For example, in the holy month of Ramadan, during the fasting hours of our Muslim brethren, non-Muslim residents are also asked to avoid consuming water/food in public.
And out of sheer consideration for the law, if not out of pure respect for the fasting Muslim brothers and sisters, we do wait for iftaar to resume eating/drinking in public places.
India, my dear brothers and sisters, is not officially a Hindu nation. If it is called Hindustaan, it is not because of Hinduism, it is only the effect of a crude pronunciation of the river ‘Indus’ being passed around through generations. So please refrain from using “Hindustaan= Hindus’+land” as an argument. The nation is secular. It is time we accept that. A party that practices Hindutva beliefs coming into power is not equivalent to a nation becoming ‘Hindu’. The word of the constitution is supreme.
If in case you do wish to ban cow slaughterhouses, do so with the ones for chicken, do so with the ones for pigs. Make India a vegan state and while you’re at it, make sure you make provisions to include Islam-centric laws like the one practiced in Qatar during Ramadan because hey, we’re secular. And it is either a law that accommodates all religions or it is one that accommodates none.
That, my friends-demanding-a-ban-on-beef, is the basic technicality of the idea of religious intolerance. Religious intolerance cannot thrive in a secular nation like ours so maybe pack your bags and move out? Much like Muslims should move to Pakistan, right?
Now coming to the moral inaccuracies of the concept of ‘religious intolerance’. Here is when I’d like to draw the attention of the readers to fundamental rights that go as follows : “Right to freedom of expression” and “Right to freedom to propagate and practice a religion of one’s own choice”. Living in a monarchical state like Qatar thought me the importance of measuring one’s words carefully and freedom to express my ideas became a luxury that drew me to India like a moth to a flame. Funny how India is an even scarier place for me to be in. Metros, buses, parks- you never know where the extremists may be lurking and just one idea of yours may end up being the last idea you ever have. That idea though, does not mean that we can exploit our freedom to express either. It may be difficult to draw a line between what’s acceptable and what is not. But one must understand that once our hearts hold respect for others’ religions, we can let our conscience do the ‘drawing-a-line’. When a Bollywood star talks about the sound of azaan being his wake up call and that he wished loudspeakers weren’t used, his words are misconstrued and called out for being offensive to Muslims. A more patient, educated person would realise that finding a sound ‘loud’ is not equivalent to calling the sound or its source ‘bad’.
It is completely alright to have ideologies that you stick to. It is alright if you are a Rightist or a Leftist or just Centre on issues. But to go ahead and express the views as a means of attacking other religions is a very malicious way of practicing your freedom to express. As a secular nation, one can only progress if its citizens practice their beliefs without having the need to force his/her ideas upon people of other beliefs with absolute disregard of their beliefs.
In other words, Mandir is an idea that should remain concrete in your hearts. For you to acknowledge Ayodhya as Rama’s birthplace, a Mandir shouldn’t be the means to do so rather, your faith and beliefs should be instrumental. Whether a Muslim believes in the same shouldn’t even be a parameter for you to validate this belief of yours. And for all those who scream out, ‘Mandir wahin banega’ in situations that may cause discomfort to the people around them without rhyme or reason or the understanding of the gravity of the idea, I pity at the thought of all the money spent on your education and upbringing in general.
Tl;dr: Mandirs should be built in your hearts. The moment you need validation for your faith by demolishing other religious structures is when you need to revisit the strength in your faith because that is where the problem lies. Or, perhaps, you just need to revisit your 6th grade civics textbook.