We may subscribe to religious and other stereotypes, but at heart we Indians are tolerant and secular. There are so many instances to support this argument.

It was a video; more particularly the conversation that ensued in the comments section below the video that set me thinking – we Indians may be very aware of our caste, creed, religion and other communal subsets, we may also be rather racist at times – but deep down where it matters, we happen to be tolerant and fundamentally secular. While we may subscribe to various regional and communal stereotypes, we are actually respectful of religions other than our own.

The comments in question were below the music jukebox of the movie Highway. They went something like this: one commentator felt that A R Rahman “imposes his personal beliefs in his songs” and accuses him of being “insensitive to the masses” and “arrogant”. The commentator also asked people to become “conscious of the soft power of the lyrics”. The implication that the maestro’s music is an insidious attempt at proselytizing and that the innocent should beware of.

The paranoia of this silly comment triggered a barrage of responses: while some music lovers defended Rahman and his music, others responded to the absurdity of the comment itself.  One commentator humorously asked what the original commentator was smoking. Another pointed out what a specious claim this is because the music composer doesn’t even write the lyrics. Yet another commentator gave examples of some beautiful bhajans that Rahman has composed over time. One commentator also spoke philosophically about the importance of peace and unity.

This is just one example of how most reasonable Indians (I stress “reasonable” here) respond to narrow fanaticism and political attempts to communalise. There are so many other everyday examples of our secular mindset:

We worship side by side

Mathura is a place of pilgrimage for Hindus. However one of the things that is most noticeable on the Mathura bye-pass highway, is a Hindu temple and a Muslim masjid that share a common wall. Nor is this unusual in our country. Until political leaders try to convince us that there is a historical injustice that must be corrected, our essentially religious people are perfectly content to venerate their respective faiths in places of worship that stand cheek by jowl with those of other faiths.

800px Khajuraho India Parvati Temple 05 300x225 Indians – Intrinsically Secular

19th-century Hindu temple in Khajuraho India, incorporating a Hindu spire, a Jain cupola, a Buddhist stupa and a Muslim style dome

For centuries, Hindus have paid obeisance at Muslim shrines and dargahs; Muslim artisans have fashioned idols of Hindu deities and have helped build Hindu places of worship for ages. The shape of the dome and the tallness of the minarets never matters to us – our places of worship often are wonderful; often eccentric amalgams of Hindu and Muslim architectural styles. This is something we don’t give a second thought to – until someone incites us by pointing out some supposed inequity or instance of appeasement, that is.

The Sarv Dharm Sthal (multi faith place of worship) is present at most military cantonments all over the country. Our military is genuinely secular, and religious denominations are rarely if ever an issue of any kind.

We celebrate each other’s festivals

In college we were a group of 6 girls who called ourselves the Scintillating Six (the conceit of this amuses me today) – one of us a Muslim, one a Christian, one Parsi and three Hindus from very diverse backgrounds. While for the most part our religious persuasions had no bearing on our friendship, we delighted in sampling each other’s cuisines and joining in each other’s festivals. Such friendships are common in our country; in fact they are more the rule than the exception.

People belonging to different faiths have lived side by side peacefully for centuries and have happily participated in each other’s festivals – after all its another reason to celebrate! Going around to the neighbours with Diwali sweets and Sheer Korma for Eid is the norm that we take completely in our stride. Hindu’s participate in Iftar during Ramazan with as much gusto as Muslims burst crackers on Diwali or play with colours on Holi.

Our concept of secularism is different than the west

The western press often decries our ethos as non-secular. This is because our concept of secularism is different than theirs. While their secularism consists of a strict separation of religion and state, our secularism consists of an acceptance of different religions within the state.

Being Indian is about being inherently religious –we wear our faith on our sleeves and religion permeates each facet of our being. Our secularism reflects this. Our secularism is all embracing; it doesn’t subscribe to the Western doctrine of not acknowledging religion.

Now if only our politicians understood this…

By – Reena Daruwalla

See also

BJP’s Hindutva and Congress’s Black Mail Secularism: Two sides of the same Coin

“Imaan” a Hindi Play tracing a Moderate Indian Muslim

Kashmir, A Paradise? Not Quite

Image courtesy – Wikipedia

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