Under the campaign ‘Ekatvam’ by Tanishq, the brand released a commercial that had scenes portraying inter-faith love and marriage. The advertisement was met with severe reactions and attacked for glorifying ‘love-jihad’. Unlike the criticism aimed at the advertisement, the protagonists in the commercial, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, did not represent a fused identity but stood for their respective individual religious identities. Nonetheless, Tanishq ultimately withdrew the television advertisement.
In current times, with the revival of blatant religious chauvinism, and implicit and explicit intolerance, the outrage around the commercial is not surprising. But analysing or looking at issues and/or individuals through a one-dimensional reference frame of religion is incomplete and irrational, because religion is only one among several socio-cultural institutions in society.
Religions and religious beliefs are universal across human cultures. Like other socio-cultural institutions, religions were evolved as a mechanism to ensure orderly and peaceful continuation of human lives; assist individuals cope with the world they lived in and as a source of moral values. Religion has, indeed, satisfied the human needs and spiritual urges of individual human beings and enriched lives in numerous ways. Yet, religion has also provided legitimacy to group-based othering, discrimination and inequities in inter-personal dynamics. In addition, it has been a source of limits on the extent and reach of individual freedom and reasoned agency. To be fair, religion is not the sole reason for all these issues but is one among the several reasons.
In this piece, the focus shall be on the impact of religion on individual lives. With each religion preaching a set of ideals/philosophies and a way of living, an individual born into a religion often acquires and soaks it up “naturally”. They seep into their behaviour and are entrenched through religious education, socialisation among one’s own “kind” and endogamy. This acceptance has, in turn, enabled religion and belief-systems to be pervasive and guide the narrative of individual human beings. To cite a few instances of the same:
These instances provide a broad reflection of the influence of religion over individual lives.
Apart from absence of rationality and reasoning, the choices and narratives set forth by the religion are stifling because they are set by a top-down approach. The individual stakeholder enjoys limited scope for renegotiation or rearrangement of the status quo. Thus, religion takes away/confines an individual’s agency and thereby the freedom to lead lives they have reason to value.
Every society requires socio-cultural institutions for its own sustenance. However, an institution’s continuation shall depend on whether or not it stands the test of rationality and reasoning as well as moral values. To ensure that institutions confirm to these guiding principles, it is necessary to continuously assess them. In case of religion, such an evaluation is long pending. It is high time society evaluate this socio-cultural institution and make a decision on whether to update and keep it or design a more suitable framework.