By Swami Agnivesh
The predicament of minorities in every society has to be understood sensitively and wisely, especially by themselves. On the whole, this is not the case. Religious minorities tend to live ghettoized, in a parasitical sort of relationship with the putative mainstream. It needs to be reckoned here in passing that ‘mainstream’ itself is as problematic category, often artificially constructed through a political process, more pronounced in democracy than in any other type of government.
Put factually, the situation of religious minorities may be likened to that of a foreign body in a living organism. Differences get emphasized, aggravating a sense of alienation as a result of which a sense of fellow feeling and universal kinship, which is the essential spiritual element in all of us, is suppressed in the name of religion. That way, religion comes to be a force counter to that of spirituality, which denotes a pathological state, like the skin becoming toxic to the body it covers.
The second problem in being religious minorities is that religious minorities relate to the state and function in the political domain in term of religion, and that too in a defensive outlook. They overlook, to their own peril, that this communalises the state, which is a terrible thing to happen especially for the minorities. So it is in the interest of religious minorities to rise above the narrow sectarian parochial interests and considerations. Unfortunately very few religious minorities are mindful of it.
The most significant achievement of the human species in public life over the last several centuries has been the emancipation of the state from religion. The modern state would not have come into existence but for this. The state became capable of respecting human rights and affording values like equality, justice and human freedom only when it got emancipated from religion.
If religious claims and rights are to be justified in the public domain, it has to be done on the basis of reason and constitutional provisions. That is to say, in the public sphere all have to, equally, function as citizens. We have to completely forget the fact that we are Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, etc. and function as citizens of India, citizens of Pakistan, citizens of America, etc.
Yet another issue religious minorities need to address upfront is the fact that no religious community respects religious freedom. Which religious community allows its members freedom to choose their religions freely? In fact every religion, especially those that aggressively convert others, try to brainwash its members into thinking that all other religions are domains of darkness and error.
Whenever state mixed up with religion it perpetrated unthinkable atrocities. This important lesson in history is overlooked by minorities
They begin to dictate terms to politicians. And politicians succumb to their electoral huckstering.
The foremost concern for religious minorities everywhere in the world is the ascendancy of irrationality, superstition, communalism and greed in their midst. God is Supreme Reason. Nothing incompatible to reason should be admissible into religion. Faith is the highest form of reason. If so, what is advanced as matters of faith should be explicable and defendable rationally.
The time has come for all of us to insist that reason must be the guiding light of religion. Unfortunately agents of obscurantism and fundamentalism create a conflict between faith and religion and make people believe that if they are rational they cannot be pious. The truth is just the opposite; you cannot be godly if you are not rational.
If you are not rational you become blind. To be blind is to be unable to admit light into you. God is light. If God as light does not dwell in you, you can be lead here and there by unscrupulous people in the garb of religion. This is not religion this is exploitation.
A spiritually awakened person is necessarily a global citizen. He puts his temporal faith in the constitution, reaches out to his neighbours, transcending all labels and walls created in the name of religion by vested interests. Ultimately, there is only one God. We are the children of same God. No force in the world should divide us and play one against the other to make us fools to serve their vested interests. I think the greatest need of the hour is liberating people from divisive religion.