Once Religion Didn’t Hamper Humanity
Respecting and protecting the others’ faith is now the exception
It is an increasingly and frighteningly polarised world full of ‘us versus them’ rhetoric. The identity-driven world has brutally torn down the delicate fabric of basic humanity, inclusivity and generosity that was traditionally and typically afforded onto each other.
Insensitive and bloodlusting ‘leaders’ are sharply (re)defining the hardlines of our respective ‘tribes’ to such an extent, that complete intolerance towards ‘them’, is the only natural recourse. To deepen the divides, these so-called ‘leaders’, who could be from political, religious or social organisations, will gleefully reimagine, and redefine the admittedly complicated past to suit their own agenda of hate, intolerance and division.
In today’s times, it seems that it is not enough to just practise and uphold one’s own faith but to vilify, degenerate and attack the faith of the ‘other’. This is done to prove one’s own misplaced sense of piety and at times, even nationalism, a phenomenon that ought to accrue to only bigoted, unsecular and small-spirited nations like the one across the Line-of-Control, and not our proudly secular, inclusive and magnificent land of ‘Unity in Diversity’.
We had chosen a decidedly more noble and profound sovereign rationality, that manifests in our constitution. But does that historical and vital contrast between the glorious and large-hearted ‘Idea of India’, vis-à-vis the narrow and religion-inspired Pakistan that crucially differentiated the two born from the same womb, still differentiate us enough, today?
Now, most of us sit tightly huddled in our respective partisan/religious campsites, seeking refuge in the echo chamber of binaries that simply disallows restorative conversations with ‘others’. The scope for interdependence (let alone celebrating the ‘other’) has regressed to virtual invisibility.
We do not let ‘their’ pain, sufferings or wounded emotions worry ‘us’, for ‘they’ are not ‘us’, so we are told ad nauseum. ‘They’ have harmed ‘us’ in the past, is a constant refrain.
Our accommodation, concern and empathy for the ‘other’ in such harsh times, has almost disappeared. We are after all, people with monumental ability to make positive changes, as also unfortunately, to remain supremely unconcerned and even be evil.
And then, amidst this doom and gloom comes a rare and surreal picture of healing, and hope, that still reassures us of our interconnectedness, and of the relevance of humanity.
Last week, a viral video (purportedly from Jammu and Kashmir) showed a Sikh man rushing with an umbrella, towards a Muslim man kneeling in prayer, during a hailstorm. The Sikh man opened the umbrella over the praying man’s head, shielding him, oblivious to his own exposure to the fury of nature.
Clearly, the Sikh man was only concerned about protecting the praying man. He stood patiently with the umbrella giving cover, as the Muslim man continued with his namaaz. The hostile weather did not deter the Sikh man from putting himself to extreme discomfort, for the sake of the Muslim man. There was no ‘us’ and ‘them’, only the spirit of pure communal amity, love and generosity.
Just for a fleeting moment the narrative of hate and divide abandoned us, and it seemed that the world cared, after all. The realisation of just how broken we are as a people dawns, as what ought to be a normal situation and reaction, isn’t anymore!
Respecting and protecting the others faith, and of the metaphorical ‘other’ is now the exception, and not the rule, anymore. Perhaps tired and weary of the daily dose of hate mongering and ‘othering’, the netizens rejoiced and seemingly forgot the dominant scourge of the times, that be.
It is a powerful imagery that ought to humble, and equally shame, us for having forsaken and forgotten the path of basic decency and respect at the altar of partisanship or ‘othering’, as a new-normal.
The Sikh man who remains unidentified by name, surely believed in the fundamental tenet of Sikhism, ‘Nanak Naam Chardi Kala, Tere Thane Sabat Da Bhala’ (A popular Sikh prayer expressing the aspiration for continuous spiritual progress and the well-being for all, without discrimination).
Ironically, it is a belief that resonates, thrives and is proscribed in scriptures of all religions, but one that perhaps Sikhs more than most others, have internalised in their day-to-day conduct.
The concept of ‘Panth Da Sevak’ (a Sikhi title of respect given to someone dedicated to community service) is not just lettered in scriptures, but a belief to be lived, every day. The picture of a Gurudwara-initiated, or an impromptu gathering of Sikhs serving warm food and providing shelter to ‘all’, is a reassuring sight that routinely pops up. It is also seen during any natural or man-made disaster, across the country and just about anywhere in the world where the hard-working, god-fearing and valiant Sikhs reside.
They do so as a holy duty with the underlying spirit of ‘Sarbat Da Bhala’ (May everyone be blessed). Their scriptures insist on ‘Kirt Karo, Naam Japo, Vand Chhako’ (Principles of honest labour, meditation, and above all, sharing with others). That unidentified Sikh man in the viral video was, above all, a true ‘Khalsa’, one who commits to living by a set of ethical principles, as defined in Sikh scriptures.
It is perhaps due to this ingrained sense of sacrifice and ‘giving’ that the Khalsas make the most formidable soldiers of their faith, of the nation, and to any cause that they undertake. Since their foundation, history has witnessed that Sikhs have readily put their lives at stake to honour a word given or to uphold a matter of faith.
The hoary war-cry of ‘Jo Bole So Nihaal, Sat Sri Akal’ (Shout Aloud in Ecstasy... True is the Great Timeless One) can send shivers down the spines of those who dare diminish their country, faith, or even anyone who does a wrong in their presence.
Large-heartedness is only consequential in their lives (as it would be for any other faith, if practised with the same spirit of inclusivity). Standing up for the ‘other’, as opposed to only for ‘us’, is their practised belief. Sikhs are less than 2% of the nation but have steadfastly stood for the ‘other’ 98% since time immemorial. The nameless Sikh man giving protection to another, was just being another proud Khalsa.
Lt. Gen. Bhopinder Singh is the former Lieutenant Governor of The Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Pondicherry and an Indian Army officer who was awarded the PVSM. Views are the writer’s own.