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Religion, Personal Freedom and Violence

Discussion in 'Snippets of Life (Non-Fiction)' started by rvnachar, Dec 23, 2006.

  1. rvnachar

    rvnachar Silver IL'ite

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    Freedom, Violence, Faith and Religion

    A Writer’s Response

    Sudha Narasimhachar

    I often wonder why religions must have originated, and the only answer I can think of is: in order to discipline the mind, body and the community as a whole. However, history and the present situation in the world very clearly show that religion has failed dismally in this objective, for had it achieved its goal, there would not have been so many wars, so many conflicts and so many atrocities in its name. Most wars have a link with some religion or the other. It is strange that although most religions preach peace and harmony, they end up causing wars.

    Even within a family, religion often causes friction among the members. It may happen, for instance, that the head of the family follows a set pattern of lifestyle in the name of religion and expects all the members to follow suit, and when another member feels some other way or demands explanations, friction ensues. It gets more intense when the issue is between two different generations or between the original members of a family and new entrants like daughters-in-law, as is often the case in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:place><st1:country-region>India</st1:country-region></st1:place>.

    What do we really mean by personal freedom? This, to me, is the most misunderstood concept. Personal freedom does not mean that one is free to make any comment, hurt anybody to any extent, cause physical or mental harm to fellow beings or lead a selfish life. Personal freedom is the freedom to lead one’s life the way he chooses to, as long as it does not harm anybody else.

    I ought to be free to be a theist or an atheist. I have to be free to choose the religion I want to follow, if I want to follow one. I have to be free to wear the clothes I choose to wear, speak the language I opt to speak, live the way I want to, eat what I want to eat, marry the person of my choice and bring my children up the way I like. None of the choices I make should harm my family, neighbours, others, or the society in general. In my opinion, any religion that lets the society invade individuals’ personal lives causes only disillusionment and quarrels, and therefore, religion must essentially be a matter of personal choice and commitment.

    I believe I can talk fairly authoritatively about the religion I know best, namely the Hinduism of today, which I happen to follow. Like any other religion, Hinduism too has many preachers, leaders and gurus. People who want to follow them do so. But people who don’t want to follow a certain religious preacher, or don’t want to follow any leader at all, are not questioned or ostracized. I may not be allowed to enter a certain guru’s āśrama if I do not want to adhere to the code of conduct he prescribes. But I would not be detested by the society on these grounds. No priest or guru breaks into my house and checks on what I do within its four walls. It is left to me to follow a given rule or ritual, and I may decide on whether or not to do so based on whether it falls within the ambit of my principles and my conscience. I am not punished by any religious head for my personal or social misgivings such as infidelity, corruption or crime. I am answerable to the law of the land. Marriages are conducted as per Hindu customs but I can always take recourse to the law of the land to get problems, if any, in my married life solved.

    I don’t mean to say there’s no constraint whatsoever in Hinduism. I am bound, but only by a general code of conduct that has a wide scope of applicability, and a flexibility to fit into a given context. For instance, it prescribes practices such as monogamy, Brahmacharya and so on for appropriate sections of Hindus, but there is no strict supervision by any religious head. As a Hindu, I am considered by fellow Hindus to be mature enough to understand the need for such a code and to follow it. If I get into a mess, then there is always the law of the land to deal with me as it sees fit. This gives me a very free atmosphere, where I belong to a religion and yet am free to live the way I want to. I need not worry every instant about what I eat, what I wear, how I behave, where I go and what I do. If a person is to be consciously alert about such mundane things as these, his life is bound to become very tense and stressful. My religious gurus do preach about the essence of the various rituals, customs and religious practices in Hinduism. But they leave it to me to analyze the information intellectually and adopt the ones that I consider necessary for myself.

    For instance, certain orthodox Hindus consume only food they have themselves prepared. Previously, I often questioned the applicability of this practice as a rule, and was offended when a friend declined my offer of food just so she could adhere to it. But of late, as I see the number of diseases spread by unhygienic practices at public eateries, I understand that the custom must have originated just to ensure that one ate only things he was sure of. Nobody forces me to follow such a practice, but I will, if I feel the need to.

    The same holds for, say, monogamy. When I saw the dangers of multiple sex partners, I concluded that monogamy was a healthy practice. Again, nobody enforces it on me. There are thousands of Hindus living with more than one spouse and they are left to face the music.

    However, there are certain practices, such as the caste system in Hinduism, which are totally misconstrued customs enforced by the society in a very inhumane manner. I believe that the caste system is a result of certain followers’ narrow attitudes and not of the religion per se. I strongly feel that the original intention of the categorization was not what it reflects today. In fact, this is the only apparent scar in the face of Hinduism, and often causes disharmony among Hindus. I have a hope that even this can be mended, if only intellectuals and religious leaders analyze the philosophy behind this practice and guide the present society in the right direction. After all, all human beings are alike, and so why should people be segregated right from their birth? There ought only to be two broad categories of people, those of female and male.

    That apart, I feel very secure to belong to a liberal Hindu family where each of us is free to choose the religion he wants to follow, eat what he wants to eat, wear the clothes of his choice, marry the person of his choice and yet remain part of the family. I will not be punished by the religion if I marry a follower of a different religion. I know of families where sons have married Christian and Muslim girls and been accepted into the families, albeit after some hiccups, and even those on account not of issues of religion, but only of personal displeasures.

    Gradually, the world is turning into a place where the individual is what matters. This change is a very welcome side-effect of globalization. It is sad, though, that religion still happens to be the bone of contention on a larger scale – there rage controversies between Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Muslims, Hindus and Christians, and Jews and Christians, just to name a few. Unless religion becomes a most personal issue which only the individual is interested in, such conflicts will continue. Religion brought out into the streets can cause much disharmony and violence in the society.

    Sudha Narasimhachar

     
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  2. safa

    safa Bronze IL'ite

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    Liked this article..

    All religions preach Peace .Only the narrow-mindedness of Humans create all the troubles..

    Thanks for an effective work..
     
  3. meenu

    meenu Bronze IL'ite

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    very thought provoking

    hi,
    As you said, ultimately it isthe individual that matters. Religion is only a way of life and not life itself.
    Regards,
    Meenu
     
    5 people like this.
  4. sudhavnarasimhan

    sudhavnarasimhan Silver IL'ite

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    Dear Sudha,
    Another thought provoking article, very simple but effective. Enjoyed reading the line of thought and the easy flow u seem to have.
    i am yet to read more of your writings in Sulekha.........will have more time for mayself, after daughter leaves for uni....:cry: .
    But do post more of your writings here, i am sure we will allbenefit from these writings of yours!
    A very HAPPY NEW YEAR TO U AND UR FAMILY!
     

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