The last few days have been an eye-opener with respect to tolerance in India. Reports after reports are being thrust into our faces, whether we like it or not, about how we are becoming an increasingly intolerant nation. And then you have a deluge of people who were fairly unknown to the masses, despite the recognition of their talent by the authorities concerned, returning the very symbol of their achievement, all in an attempt to stem such intolerance. Phew! We must be really intolerant, really thick-skinned, attention seekers.
Now just take a minute to recall the ages of the people involved in the above ‘tamasha’. Can you even for a minute visualize a person below the age of 15 years? 20 years? 25 years? Probably not. Most of the people, who are screaming sacrilege, screaming intolerance, screaming injustice, are above the age of 40 years. Why are the youngsters of our country not protesting? Is it because they don’t care about politics or is it that they don’t care about religion? Don’t they want to have a say in what to eat & when? And we are a young country … we have a very young population, which is educated too (even the Muslims please). They are the future of our country; why are they not getting involved in this mess more vocally? This is wrong, right? We are doomed, no?
NO. History teaches us time and again that it is the youth who are most innovative, genuinely open to change and are willing to beyond the boundaries set upon them, to make the world a better place. They still believe in idealism and look forward to Utopia, something that old fogies have given up on. For the youth is the nectar of new opportunities, new friendships and explorations. Once they are guided well, automatically the world becomes a better place to live in. In the past we had ‘Gurukuls’ where children were kept away from their families while being taught. Why? This is because there they were amongst their peers, away from the conditioned minds of the elder generation. They only had their teachers to guide them. Before a child is sent to deal with the outside world, it is necessary that they understand the use of the powers of discrimination. At that age, if a child is taught humanity before religion, discrimination and conscience before punishment, the child will make the right choices when he/she becomes an adult.
Today, sending the child away to study has become impossible. But what can be done is that the child can still be taught how to respect all and be sensitive to the choices of others. I feel that we need a system in school life itself, where children are taught about all religions. Let the best verses from the holy books of all religions be taught to children. All religions, not just one religion. Let children understand that it is insensitive to smoke in front of a Parsi or a Sikh, to eat pork or partake in alcohol in front of a Muslim, to eat beef in front of a Hindu, etc. We are a nation where almost all religions are practiced. So let us train our children to know the basics tenets of all the religions that we follow. Why should a Muslim child not learn about the Upanishads, a Hindu child remain ignorant of the teachings in the Koran or a Christian child not learn about Guru Granth Sahib? But let us take care that the verses that are taught, only speak about Humanity, not about Gods. Half our problems are because we think that only our religion teaches good things. And yes, let the children be given homework on this, so that the parents learn it too. Let the children learn about their religion within their homes, but when they come out let them explore friendships beyond religion.
Our country has a vibrant culture. It is now observed all over the world that people want to return to their roots, want to learn more about their past culture and find themselves. Here, in India, we are lucky that our culture is still alive and kicking. When we forget our roots, we become rudderless and then find that we belong nowhere. A tree without roots firmly in the ground cannot thrive. One just has to look our neighbouring country Pakistan, to learn the value of culture. They share our past, but in their eagerness to forget it, have become subservient to other nations. They want to base their country on religion and not their culture, which is in the DNA and heart of every individual and thus have lost themselves.
I travelled to Kashmir this year and what I found was amazing. Though all Hindus have been driven away from Kashmir, our temples exist. Why? It is because the average Kashmiri, has pride in the fact that his land was that of Saraswati, that their ancestors were culturally more refined than the people in the plains. They know that Adi Shankaracharya travelled to Srinagar to sit on the seat of Sharada Mata. It is immaterial to them that Lal Ded could have been a Hindu or a Muslim … she was a great mystic and poetess and that is enough for them to remember her. They converge at the Kheer Bhavani temple and take blessings from Her, irrespective of whether they are Muslims or Hindus. All this is only because they want to still be part of the Kashmiri culture. Politics has made people forget this long enough to throw the Hindus out of Kashmir, but resistance to blotting out completely the ancient Hindu culture is very much visible.
Look at our North Eastern states. Even if the population has converted to another religion, they have not forgotten their culture. In fact all over India, you will see traces of this. Women get married in churches, not in gowns, but in sarees. Muslim women from Maharashtra wear their Mangalsutras proudly. A newcomer to Rajasthan will find it difficult to guess the religion of the bhajan singers. In a country where people still want to remember their ancient roots and culture, we need to devise a system for people to connect with it firmly. When we say that India invented the decimal system, is it the pride of the Hindus alone? Do you know how many Muslim Ayurveda practitioners are there? When the Kolis from Mumbai celebrate Nariyal Purnima, how many of them think that they are Christians? Let us teach our children about our culture and heritage. Let our History subject talk about these topics instead of talking about the Turks, the Mongols, and their governance or warfare. Let the History taught in schools reflect our warm, vibrant culture and our achievements. Shamefully many of us don’t even know about our achievements, save for what we discover on the Internet.
Let us make our children wonderful, tolerant adults, who are proud of our country and our culture and heritage. Our culture belongs to all of us, irrespective of religion. Let our children be Indians. Let us catch them young!