It is heart-rending to see the polarization and discrimination that is happening in our country, primarily based on religion. The constitutional values of equality and fraternity appear to be treated like flashy clothes, just to cover a crumbling body.
I often wonder about the confidence, boastfulness, and righteousness shown by our leaders, and their followers, about religion and its props. What is the origin of the inflated egos that drive individuals to consider their religion to be superior than that of others?
What made a person a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, or Christian? Is a religion chosen thoughtfully and reflexively (like education, in some cases), thereby forming the basis of some superiority of having made a good decision? Or is it chosen because everyone agrees that it a wise thing to believe in such and such religion? What made me a Hindu and my neighbour a Muslim? How many of us have exercised any agency in choosing our religion, on basis of which we are ready to draw lines, inflict physical and symbolic violence, and discriminate in jobs, housing, and citizenship?
What made me a Hindu and my neighbour a Muslim? The answer, to me, is a random accident of birth. In most cases, our religion is determined by the family in which we are born, and of course, we have no control over it. So, essentially, a random accident of being born in a particular family becomes the basis of all the subsequent acceptance of discrimination, sense of false superiority, moral righteousness, and various forms of violence inflicted on the dominated. We forget that the surety of faith on which we are willing to give or take life is standing on a mere accident of birth. What if some of our ideological leaders, who profess unwavering faith in their religion, were born into an alternate religion?
If we can contemplate for a moment, on this counterfactual thinking, it may mellow down our pride, our bravado, and may pave way for true lessons any religion preaches, that of love, respect, and tolerance.
An accident of birth, of being born in a particular religion, is becoming a tragedy of life for many. We can see systematic measures, through structures of governance and propaganda, to aggravate a random accident of birth into a painful personal fault. There is a reason why societies, who want to consider themselves progressive, aiming to cancel the disadvantages of accidents of birth, be it due to religion, location, caste, class, race, gender, or sexuality. It is because any progressive society can’t reasonably attribute, without looking hypocritical, the poor conditions of its disadvantaged to accidents of birth. This is one of the reasons why we can take pride in our constitution, because it aims to cancel the disadvantages of accidents of birth, by valuing justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity.
I am not saying that religion is unimportant. It has its place in providing an important meaning structure to society. What is problematic is making one religion (or any identity for that matter) a basis of discrimination, emanating from a sense of pride and righteousness.
So, to all those who believe that whatever that is happening in our country on the basis religion or region is appropriate, what if you were born in a different family or location?
*Ankur Kapoor is an assistant professor of marketing. Views are personal opinion.