I’m A Product Of Secular India, Living In Fear Of Losing It Forever

This is my journey as a kid from the 90s who grew up as a Hindu Brahmin to become an atheist. I was born in the late 80s and I feel really bad for the kids growing up in today’s hate-filled India. I feel sad for them because they are surrounded by this venom of communalism. Thankfully, I grew up in a liberal household where an atmosphere of religious tolerance existed.

I belong to a Hindu Brahmin family. My mother is a devout Hindu who took me to the temples on Mondays/Tuesdays and peer mazaar for the chadar ritual on Thursdays. My elder sister had a Sikh tutor who loved taking us to the Bangla Sahib along with her and we served food at the langars many times. Every year she invited us to celebrate Lohri and gave us popcorn and peanuts as a ritual. She was Bengali and her husband was Sikh. She didn’t convert and followed both traditions. Their interfaith marriage was accepted by their families in the 60s.

Every December her daughters, my sisters and I baked plum cakes and visited our local church during Christmas. We loved lighting candles and Christmas carols on Christmas eve.

My eldest sister had a Muslim friend named Zareen in college. When I was in school she used to take me to IITF Delhi with her and it was our favourite spot back then. We hung out with each other without any prejudices and also celebrated Eid with sweets a couple of times.

My sister was really fascinated with Christianity more than Hinduism. Every December she used to buy a small Christmas tree, decorate it with ornaments, dress up in Santa outfit. She loved lighting candles in church and cutting cake with friends. She was so crazy about it that she even celebrated her birthday on December 25 every year.

Nobody in my family raised objections. Our Hinduism wasn’t threatened by any of it. We practised Hindu traditions, celebrated Hindu festivals and respected other faiths.

My mom always told me that compassion for every living being is more important, humanity is greater than our religion. If you have empathy for others you are successful as a human. She taught me compassion through her love for animals.

Reading Premchand as a teenager planted this seed of secularism in me when I wasn’t aware of its meaning. His stories about Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian characters made me realise that ‘mera Bharat mahaan’ is about our multi-cultural heritage. I have been secular all my life just because of these experiences and when I practised religion, I was kind of a pantheist. I respected every religion, freedom of religion and different traditions equally. Later on, when I left religion and became an atheist I didn’t let go of my secularism. Even though my beliefs about religion changed, my respect for equality and unity are still intact.

I celebrated Diwali, Lohri, Eid and Christmas with the same excitement. Thought of discriminating or not embracing these festivities never crossed my mind.

I love Hindi, English and Urdu equally. I love Hindi bhajans, English songs and Sufi music. I attend Hindi, English and Urdu literature festivals.

It is not about being a tolerant country. We are not tolerating anyone or giving permission to anyone to practise their faith freely. Hindus are a majority but INDIANS are incomplete without Muslims, Sikhs and Christians and the majority of the peace-loving Indians have always embraced this fact.

It is about mutual respect and peace efforts. It is about love and compassion for each other. It is about protecting their fundamental rights and our freedom. It is about building a progressive society together so that we can fight against social issues as civilians. It is about acknowledging the fact that nobody is an outsider/’other’ on this land. Everyone is important for nation building and we are incomplete without each other. It is also about learning from the scars of our communal past and making sure we don’t repeat history. It is about preventing another partition, blood-soaked walls and floors, cities filled with dead bodies and drawing one more Radcliffe Line with our own hands.

India was founded on the ideas of coexistence, inclusiveness and unity in diversity. India belongs to every single citizen and people from different faiths have contributed to this country’s growth.

This is our motherland whether we are believers or non-believers. Our forefathers dedicated their lives to protect our social fabric so that we can be proud of this great nation. A nation that is too diverse to be claimed by one ideology. It never belonged to just one religion. Our artistic and cultural heritage proves that it is not a property of a single community.

So yes, these planned attacks on minorities, polarisation, communalism, incidents of hatred, acts of cruelty and more importantly, crimes against humanity taking place in today’s India and attempts are being made to make India a Hindu Rashtra. All of this disturbs my soul.

In these dark times, we have to remember that people from all faiths died for this nation. As Rahat Indori said- “Sabhi ka khoon shaamil hai yahaan ki mitti mein, Kisi ke baap ka hindostaan thodi hai.”

Make peace not war because the next generation can’t afford this bloodlust.


Image source: Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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