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Wisdom of the past

Education about India’s secular past must be central for countering religious intolerance

Wisdom of the past

Religion is a serious and sensitive human concern. A multi-religious society needs to remain ever-vigilant to sustain religious harmony, mutual respect and esteem for the other religions. India, a multi-religious society, has sustained communal harmony in spite of concentrated efforts to disturb and de-stabilise it. The basics of this inherent acceptance of diversity and its celebration are unique to Indian culture and society. To sustain it the times ahead, the youth of India must comprehend the strength of elements that have lead to the concept of 'equality of all religions' and essential unity of all human beings, irrespective of gender, colour, religion, caste, creed or region. It certainly is a logical and rational premise that the in-depth comprehension and consequent assimilation of cultures offered unique pragmatic strength to ancient Indian philosophy, thought, culture and religious practices. Based upon the same, India could offer unhindered space to diverse ideas, opinions and practices that arrived around and after olden times. It was the power of ideas and power of imagination which were identified by Gurudev Tagore as two of the most precious divine gifts bestowed on every human being, which led to the nurturance of curiosity and consequent intellectual creativity. This is the factor that distinguished ancient Indian civilisation from those flourishing elsewhere on the globe. In percept and practice, ancient India was more 'civilised' than the India of today! Ample historical evidence confirms how ancient Indian culture accepted the co-existence of diverse philosophies and religious practices without discrimination. Things changed only after the alien invasions in medieval times and arrival of missionaries and the East India Company. In his widely-quoted preface to a lecture of Nani Palkhivala published by Bharati Vidya Bhavan, Swami Rangnathananda refers to Abdul Razak, an envoy from the Court of Persia to the Indian States, around the middle of the fifteenth century, "The people (of Calicut) are infidels; consequently I consider myself in an enemy country, as the Mohammadans consider everyone who has not received the Koran. Yet, I admit that I was met with perfect tolerance and even favour; we have two mosques and are allowed to pray in public." The strength of ancient Indian thought and practice that envisioned the world as one family and accepted diversity of ideas and inclinations as an inevitable outcome of thinking minds, changed the initial perception of Razak's mind that he had come to the 'enemy' country. The sensitive thread of communal harmony has been systematically disturbed by short-sighted politicians. They have grievously damaged the age-old communal harmony and it is for the generations ahead to comprehend and correct the damage so inflicted after independence. The remedy lies in transforming the education system to the youth learn about the historic practice of secularism in Indian tradition and how was it different from the 'political secularism' of today.

It is indeed astonishing that the shining outcomes of Indian philosophical tradition and spiritual comprehension are just not part of the formal learning systems. In the strife-torn world of today, atomic weaponry could annihilate the very existence of human beings on the planet earth and the race for more lethal destructive power continues ahead unhindered! Religions are a reality and in most conflict zones, it is a religion that is being misinterpreted for the purpose of leading young boys to violence and to generate hatred against the followers of other religions. In several cases, it is hatred against different sects within the religion. India, the acknowledged Vishwa Guru of the past, could counter it effectively by making its youth aware of the importance of religious amity. 'Ekam Sat Viprah Bahudha Vadantih', meaning, Truth is only one; the wise call it by different names. It was this philosophy, transmitted to every family and individual that led to the great tradition of religious harmony in India.

After the amicable resolution of the Ayodhya issue, it is time to focus on the future. Let the education system reorient itself and let children be familiar with the ancient Indian culture, elements that sustained it and how it has been strengthened because of its dynamic nature, willingness to accept and assimilate new ideas and elements without any hesitation. Let every young Indian know Rama and Rama Katha in the present-day idiom. It exists in every Indian language, is traditionally known in every household and comes with fascinating variations. Its strength is well summarised by Sri Aurobindo: "The work of Valmiki has been an agent of incalculable power in the moulding of the cultural mind of India; it has presented to it to be loved and initiated in figures like Rama and Sita, made so divinely and with such a revelation of reality as to become objects of enduring cult and worship or like Hanuman. Laksmana, Bharata, the living human image of its ethical ideals; it has fashioned much of what is best and sweetest in the national character and it has evoked and fixed in it those finer and exquisite yet firm soul-tones and that more delicate humanity of temperament which is a more valuable thing than the formal outsides of virtue and conduct..." This is the time for nationwide deliberations on how Rama and his Saga could reunite and rejuvenate India!

JS Rajput works in education and social cohesion. Views expressed are strictly personal

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