Friday, January 25, 2008

Do we need religion?

I am treading on unchartered territory here and for sure it is an issue for the courts to deal with. However, it seems like given the propensity of every religious' group in India to ask for Dalit status.  First, there were the Dalit Christians - meaning socially backward hindus who converted to Christianity and then now there are certain groups among muslims who are demanding that the hindu case system be applied to them. Well, where is the logic to this?

First of all, as a civilized society one of our aims should be to achieve a classless society where religion, caste or race should not be the basis for the state to bestow certain privileges to individuals.  We have lost that war long ago and have sort of come to live at an equilibrium where we all live with some level of apathy towards the downtrodden. the aggressive propaganda of Christian missionaries was one of the chief reasons for many conversions particularly in the rural backward parts of the country.  I have nothing against these conversions as long as the people who have chosen to convert to a religion that claims not to recognize "castes" or social classes, move on with their lives. These individuals who had chosen to convert had not realized that conversion of faith was not the panacea for the problems that they have been facing.  Either due to misguidance by religious groups or due to their own misconceptions these people had probably figured that if they chose a different faith their problems would vanish.  They did not.  Now, even after conversion they still face the same problems they had faced before their conversion to a different faith. They are back at the gates of the apex court demanding that their earlier status be considered although their religion is different.

This is an eye-opener to everyone of us. Religion does not offer solace to the material world's problems.  Belonging to a particular faith does not feed an individual and neither does it enable the person to help others.  Much good can be brought upon this world, by shedding all association with any particular faith.  Morality needs to be decoupled from religion.  Social problems will continue to persist and haunt people who are born into underprivileged communities, irrespective of which faith they move to.  Therefore, the solution does not lie in conversion but in targeting the root cause of this problem - the very basis for the existence of such groups.  In my opinion, that is religion.

One objective as a mature society should be to develop a social structure where one is free to choose a faith, denounce a faith publicly and profess for it publicly.  Right now, in India, we lack the tolerance required to enable such a structure.  In theory, we are a mature society capable of absorbing many cultures, religions and groups.  History has proven that.  In practice, we have probably failed miserably and never realized the potential of a tolerant and mature society.

I like ending on a positive note.  Despite all the gloom surrounding religion, I believe there are many like me in India.  I hope that in the future I don't have to declare my caste or religion on any government forms.  I hope there will be a day when arranged marriage will happen - but between individuals of diverse castes and religions.  That day, we don't have to group ourselves.  That will be a great day for India.

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