In today’s times, it becomes most essential for people to realize and be aware of the need to coexist respectfully, to not let anything come in the way of promoting free thought, free choices and free expression. The reason for the increased significance in these times are but obvious, when dissent of any kind is constantly clamped down, with intimidation, subversion and sheer power- all justified in the name of maintaining a particular social or religious or class order.
Most religions, in my opinion, invariably will contribute to restrictions on its ‘followers’ to all think a particular way, with a tad bit of deviation permitted or demanded. This leaves limited scope for individuality. Control on individual and independent streams of thought is the most effective means of establishment of power structures. While giving you a make believe sense of freedom, it will eventually mould you to believe you are part of a group to whom you owe your primary allegiance. This, needless to say has grave repercussions on expressions of individuality and daring to think differently from the group.
Most people have sources of inspiration. But it gets strange when all of ones ‘inspirations’ are from a particular stream of religious interpretation. If it’s a coincidence, then no worries. If not, then maybe this is when we need to alert ourselves to a sub conscious socialisation that prevents us from challenging our own selves.
Awareness that the tendency or inclination to seek out beliefs, thoughts that ascribe to only one religion could be a sign of closed opinions, is crucial. This awareness and more importantly acknowledgment to self, is a great way forward.
Maybe its time to collectively and inclusively think beyond narrow self built boundaries of morality, orthodox and discriminatory beliefs, break away from restricting paradigms and write new stories of ways of living. Stories that are written by individuals for themselves rather than following a herd blindly. Ofcourse, this will necessarily have to be a very open and free flowing stream of thought, not restricted by predefined structures that we read off a religious script.
Will we ever talk the rights based language and let it have precedence over all our differences? Take more ownership of our actions rather than attributing them to so called divine preachings which are in my opinon, nothing more than sermonising monologues. Break the larger narrative that promotes discrimination and intolerance? Believing that a particular religious belief or way of life, as some of them call it, is superior to others is a substantial demonstration of our ignorance and limited perspectives.
Well, I do understand the need for human beings to look for sources of power and inspiration, in order to reaffirm to themselves and to others that the path they wish to follow is indeed the better one. Its natural that we desire a certain acknowledgement of what we believe is noble and right. Theres no harm in this if it does remain personal. A consciousness that the person who you want to convice or ‘enlighten’ with your ‘religious knowledge’ may have their own opinions which can be very different from yours is essential. An agreement that what feels right and godly to you need not be so for someone else, is necessary. An honest feeling that what you think of as morally acceptable behaviour is what you have come to believe as being so, and not as something to be prescribed or forced down peoples throats, is non negotiable.
Yes, I do believe that interpretation and practice of religion in current times, as has been in the past, is divisive, oppressive and reinforces discrimination and keeps alive power and patriarchal structures. But I am ok if you think otherwise. To each, her own. Having said that, its unacceptable and unconstitutional to believe that you and another person are unequal or if you feel that you are superior in your status, from someone else, on the basis of your religious identity.
If we do need inspiration, why not look to nature? Can protecting ones environment, ones forests and rivers, mountains and the beauty that lies therein not substitute religion or atleast be more important to all of us? I remember what a friend in a tribal hamlet in Nyamgiri hills told me. “Our mountains and our forests are our gods. We will die to protect hem”. Now, these people seem to have really got it right. The majority of us though will find people who talk this language incomprehensible.
Will we see a tomorrow where we are all truly open, inclusive and vibrant in our existence, where we acknowledge that religion is but a floating and changing identity and there’s nothing constant about it? Far way off, I reckon as I meet with disapproving gazes and shaking heads all around me.
Shobha is a human rights activist and theatre artist based in Bangalore.