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Religion – A Perspective

~Saurabh Goyal

Jaipur

Our Collective Collusion

Religion is essentially the values one commits himself to. And over time with a consistent practice and relentless observance it becomes central theme running through that person. As there is no universal constant set of life-conditions, our responses to life too must differ over space and time.

One’s faith is such a personal thing that no matter how dispassionate and objective an outside analysis is, it always runs the risk of getting presumptuous. This is why both those who debunk the faith and those who vouch for it, end up impinging on the basic, fundamental right of every life on this earth- The right to self-determination.

So long as this personal aspect of our life does not colonize the space meant for our collective existence, we are fine- So everyone responds to his or her motivations and callings, everyone protects his right to his own choice and respects the choices others make (Not in a shallow sense that we understand it these days, where non-interference is always accompanied with condescension).

Such a society requires individuals who are self-possessed. But unfortunately we in India are not so self-possessed. And this leaves us in an abysmal state. So Religion in our country is no longer about compassion, humility, and renunciation; It is about authority, chauvinism and grandiose. It is no longer a personal quest; it is a collective sight of fight. Our Gods no longer are good enough to defend us; rather we must defend our Gods from reason and scrutiny. In collective spaces that we share it transcends an individual’s all other identities; so one is what his religion is, that too how I see his religion not as how it actually is.

It has become increasingly difficult in such an atmosphere to have a reasoned discussion about this state of conditions. Precisely because the moment one starts speaking on the issue, who he is becomes more important than what he is saying. And this lack of reasoned argument has rendered the reformative aspect of religion marginal. Argumentative Indian is gagged in insidious ways.

Who is to blame? As is the norm in Indian society our first response will be – The state. But the fact is that it is not the state that has diminished religion in our country; it is the religion which has fettered the state in so many ways. And now state too is busy is busy rent-seeking in the whole state of affairs, and has lost that reformist zeal which it had when we started off as a democracy. Part of the reason is that our politics has lost all credibility. Our representative Institutions are fundamentally undemocratic and unrepresentative in nature. Though we have elected them to those offices, but the moment they introduce a change we will be the first ones to raise scepticism. This is because elections in India have become an enterprise where you exercise your vote to make a choice not of the virtue but of the lesser evil.

In part religion itself is to blame. That it is not producing kind of progressive knowledge it should to cope with the dynamic nature of our existence ; and the fact that we have abdicated our responsibility to generate that knowledge to God men, Clergies and religious chauvinist. So a handful of people can claim to speak for the whole community; a community can kill an individual with impunity just because their customs tell them she is a witch; a temple will provide people a chance to pray in a sequence that is determined by the depth of your pocket. And the strangest and most saddening part is that we are so used to them that these things no longer seem implausible to us. In place of our Gods inspiring us for higher values, we have inspired our Gods to collude with us.

The vision of a prosperous, flourishing, liberal society that we had at our beginnings can be realised only with a fundamental shift in our thinking. It needs a society where we confront hard realities not brush them under the carpet; where our framework on secularism does not rest on community, diversity and scriptures but on individuality, rule of law, liberty and freedom. Diversity will flourish anyway. Individual protection against majoritarianism is the paramount responsibility of the state, state must be consistent and clear in its stand. After all individual is the smallest minority in any society. And we must learn that to be a democrat means much more than the shallow understanding of the word that we have been carrying all along.

And just so you know I am still figuring out my religion.