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Should We Really Look For Morality In Religion?

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By Astha Savyasachi:

“But what they did to my sister-in-law’s sister Kausar Bano was horrific and heinous. She was 9 months pregnant. They cut open her belly, took out her foetus with a sword and threw it into a blazing fire. Then they burnt her as well.”
Source: Saira Banu, Naroda Patia (recorded at the Shah-e-Alam Camp on March 27, 2002)
– Godhra Riots

Terrified by Israeli bombardment on many neighbouring homes, a three-year-old boy entreated his pregnant mother: “Please mommy, hide me beside the baby in your tummy. I’m afraid of the missiles; they have become so many and everywhere. Hide me mommy please.”
– Attacks on Palestine by Israel

About 260 Palestinian children killed out of each million
About 150 Palestinian women killed out of each million
About 1650 Palestinian children injured out of each million
About 1060 Palestinian women injured out of each million
About 500 Palestinian children have become disabled out of each million
About 320 Palestinian women have become disabled out of each million
– Attacks on Palestine by Israel

Deaths of 2,996 people.
More than 6000 people were injured.
September 11, 2001 attacks on WTC

The list is endless and extremely dreadful. This is not merely a list but a reflection of how we have interpreted religion. Almost all these riots, attacks, wars and massacres are in the name of God. Either they were trying to safeguard the esteem of their God or they were trying to prove the superiority of their religion over the others. Is this what religion has taught man over the years; from barbarism to civilisation?

Religion has always being as an enigma; God being the mystery mankind has always tried to unfold but the more it’s untangled, the more complex it becomes.

No concrete substance has come up to describe how the first religions evolve. Anthropologists, evolutionary biologists and researchers have been speculating that religions must have been a result of human fears. Religion is common to all the cultures and civilisations right from the history of humanity. Its origin can be traced from the Upper Paleolithic Revolution, about 50,000 years ago.

Unravelling the threads of the origin of earliest forms of religion has always been fascinating. Historians claim that we can trace the origins of religion from back to the age when agriculture developed. Before the advent of agriculture, when man lived as hunter-gatherer, there was no religion as such. Cris Campbell, a renowned anthropologist says, “Hunter-gatherers did not have religion, instead, their worldview can be termed as ‘animism’.” Hunter-gatherers practised transhumance so they came across many phenomena which their experiences and logics could not explain. So they used animism as an explanation. Jared Diamond states in his book ‘The World Until Yesterday’, “The original function of religion was an explanation.”

They could not discern the differences between animate and in-animate. Also they observed the positions of moving celestial bodies; hence, they treated the sun and moon to be animate.

Animism is based on the attribution of a living soul to plants and inanimate objects. They believed that spirits were controlling them. They believed that if they ate an animal, its spirit would go into them. Since they did not distinguish between body and spirit, they preserved corpses to preserve the spirit. Also, spirits were defined as ‘will’ to do something. They believed that the sun and moon move because of their will to do so. Oceans produce tides because of their will.

With the advent of agriculture, came the existence of religion. Even today, after the invention of all the imperative equipment for agriculture, we need the sun to shine, clouds to rain; so did early man. For the sake of this, he started worshiping sun and rain. We can trace the existence of gods of sun and rain in almost all the religions. Early man treated God in the like manner as later humans did, i.e., with same love and anger. Robert Wright states in his book ‘The Evolution of God’, that Japanese aborigines, the Ainu, offered beer to God. If things did not improve, they withheld the beer until God responded. Medicine men approached God ‘Gauwa’ and called him an idiot for making them ill.

Worshiping god in fear came much later with the rise of authoritarianism.

Given all this, albeit many of us believe that God created man but we can uncover how religion came into being and how it has evolved just as humans did from hunter- gatherers to their present stage. So, religion should be comprehended in its totality, not just as we find it today. Its origin can be traced. But what made it stand over the years; is something intriguing.

Need For Religion

“Life is unreal; death is real and certain.”

Probably this is why religion exists. Death is the bitter truth, or, say, the biggest fear which made man believe in something that could make him oblivious to his trepidations. And even if he realises the existence of his fears, religion is the tranquiliser that comes to rescue.

Religion is something that never untangles the mess in life but ‘sometimes’ envelopes man with a belief which turns into a confidence which ‘may’ help to solve the problem. And this is the reason for the existence, and for the actuality of religion. This is the cause which has always pushed religion in our society and has successfully placed religion on a pedestal much higher than science and logic; which is unfortunate. Religion came to existence as an answer to man’s uncertainties, his qualms and his apprehensions. This is the reason religion reflects its followers, their character.

Religion: A Reflection Of What We Actually Are

Every religion has various contrasting shades. For instance, Manusmriti quotes ,“yatr naryasto pojyantay, ramantay tatr devta [3/56] (where women are provided place of honour, gods are pleased and reside there in that household).” But we cannot shun the innumerable derogatory remarks about women in the same book which is treated as a sacred book in Hinduism.

Hinduism:

Manusmriti says,

1. “Swabhav ev narinam …..” – 2/213. It is the nature of women to seduce men in this world; for that reason the wise are never unguarded in the company of females.
2. “Balye pitorvashay…….” – 5/151. Girls are supposed to be in the custody of their father when they are children, women must be under the custody of their husband when married and under the custody of their sons as widows. In no circumstances is she allowed to assert herself independently.
3. “Ati kramay……………” – 9/77. Any women who disobey orders of her lethargic, alcoholic and diseased husband shall be deserted for three months and be deprived of her ornaments.

And so it goes with all the religions.

Islam:

1. “Your women are your fields, so go into your fields whichever way you like…” (MAS Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an)
2. “If a man invites his wife to sleep with him and she refuses to come to him, then the angels send their curses on her till morning.” (Sahih Bukhari)

Christianity:

1. “The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes.”Martin Luther, Reformer (1483-1546)
2. Women are made to be led, and counselled, and directed…. And if I am not a good man, I have no just right in this Church to a wife or wives, or the power to propagate my species. What then should be done with me? Make a eunuch of me, and stop my propagation.” – Heber C. Kimball, venerated early LDS apostle (1801-1868)

Tulsidas in Ram Charit Manas says, “Dhol Ganwar Shudra Pashu Nari Sakal Taadana Ke Adhikari,” meaning that the drum, the bucolic, the low caste and the women, all deserve to be thrashed. And the list goes on.

Religion has varied colours. We all can interpret religion according to our disposition and our character. Different religious books share views (on any aspect) which are poles apart. There exist explanations that can quench any thirst. This is what has made religion persist through the ages. But here the question arises, “If we perceive religion with our eyes, how does religion teach us morality?” Because what we discern from religion, is already lying within us. A noble, a magnanimous, a generous one would find religion altruistic. While an unkind one would find out his ways through the religion.

“Morality may exist in an atheist without any religion, and in a theist with a religion quite unspiritual.”
– Frances Power Cobbe

Do we need religion to uncover what is actually lying within us? Is there actually a bond between religion and morality?

Religion And Morality

“The greatest tragedy in mankind’s entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion.”
– Arthur C. Clarke

Although a misconception but religion and morality stand poles apart in reality. They can never be synonyms. Almost all religions preach morality but ‘what is only expounded and never practised, can never be learnt’. And it goes with morality as well.

Religions preach equality. We offer lump sums to the deity inside religious places yet outside stands a breadline of beggars. Is this equality? It was religion which divided us on the basis of the castes we are born into.

“If the Shudra intentionally listens for committing to memory the Veda, then his ears should be filled with (molten) lead; if he utters the Veda, then his tongue should be cut off.”
– Manusmriti

This is how the stakeholders of religion have thrown a large percentage of the community to the darker side of the margin; that’s penance the society today is paying and yet have not been able to bring them to mainstream completely. The scars on the self-esteem of Dalits have not been lightened yet.

Religion ‘sometimes’ conceals within itself a face that triggers massacres, bloodshed and brutality. It’s like a drug which stretches man’s devotion to a level where he loves the one he worships more than his fellow humans; where he values piety more than someone’s life; where religious symbols and spirituality mean more than humanity; where offerings to the deity mean more than helping someone in need. It drags him to level where keeping aside his discretion, he can do anything in the name of God. It is this kind of imbalance in the character of the society instigates ‘holy wars’.

Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod in their book ‘Encyclopedia of Wars’ state that out of all the major wars in the world seven percent were religiously motivated. From Crusades (1095-1291), French Wars of Religion (1562-1598), Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) in the Holy Roman Empire, Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) to present day’s terrorism and riots, all are byproducts of religious fundamentalism.

“When you symbolise and put your beliefs on a pedestal; then your volition breaks down, you stop to question and you blindly follow what the stakeholders of religion ask you to.”

This is how all the religions, despite being the largest preachers of peace, end up being the largest reasons of war. This is why we must not look for morality in religion. They are not synonyms. Instead, our character defines morality. Someone rightly said, “You don’t need religion to have morals. If you can’t determine right from wrong; you lack empathy, not religion.” Not only for empathy, but also for discretion we tend to depend on religion.

But Is It Worthwhile?

“Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet. Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.”
-Napoleon Bonaparte

It was religion that made the Dalits believe that it was their unalterable fate to be untouchables. This is what kept them away from resisting against the so-called upper castes. It was religion that kept the women in purdahs, in burkhas and treated them as objects. Religion suppresses logic, the power to question the conventional morals, the power to question the taboos, to break stereotypes.

Following (any) religion may be a personal choice but looking for religion to teach us morality is something that seemingly cannot happen. Morality is what lies within us. We need to unleash it; not depend to religious to teach it to us. Maybe this is what we need to ponder on. We may or may not be religious. But anyhow, it is the need of the hour to question and to believe in logic, not to simply surmise on something that is taught.

Be thirsty, and quench your thirst for knowledge. Build your discretion, filter out what is dangerous for mankind by developing your morals, transcend beyond your limits and soar above what is taught.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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