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Opinion: Is Religion Contributing To The Rising Tide Of Intolerance?

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We humans consider ourselves the most advanced species on Earth; however, neither physically nor spiritually are we independent of beliefs and practices. Faith or hope is something we all cling on to, in order to move forward. It could be a lucky shirt, a rock, scriptures, customs, or religion.

The concept of religion has evolved to take space in all spheres of our lives. Humans have always been spiritual creatures. We created religions at the same time we created works of art. These early faiths expressed the wonder and mystery that always had been an essential component of the human experience. 

An important element of a civilised society is the freedom to practice religion. Even the makers of our constitution realised this, and thus, practising and professing one’s religion has been considered as a fundamental right. No other nation in the world harks about its great religious practices, morals, and values, the idea of Sarva Dharma Sambhava or Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the way Indian society does. Yet, it fares poorly on the graph of minimum decency, values, and social practices. 

Today, people hate people. Religions hate religions because society has failed to come out of its rotten shell to connect itself with the nation. The world’s largest democracy, paradoxically, also has one of the highest intolerance indices. It is often considered that factions and religious animosity has always been present since time immemorial. However, that flawed account has been presented to us by the British Orientalists. Ironically, in our entire ancient and medieval history, we have never fought a war in the name of religion.

Nowadays, the concept of religion is being very closely associated with the concept of ‘nationalism’. We have quite conveniently juxtaposed these two imagined concepts into one, and its repercussions are being felt all across the country. Mob lynching of a particular caste or a community, demeaning their social status, and thereafter releasing the accused on account of ‘no witnesses’ has become a norm. Slogans of ‘azaadi’ are being considered as national conspiracies, and some sections are being tagged as the ‘tukde-tukde gang’. Intellectuals and scholars are being jailed and tagged with a new name of ‘urban naxals’.

Why The US Religious Freedom Report Is Bad News For India | HuffPost none
Representational Image. Image Credit: Hindustan Times via Getty Images.

The flames of initial riots of mandir-masjid have since then only inflated, and have now reached their peak. The current debate, however, revolving around the concept of citizenship. All the events have turned into a communal discord, with some religious fanatics igniting the rage and fear in the minds of people. Every faction is now in the race to dominate and feel superior. This sense of religious nationalism has left us being dangerously exclusivist and intimidating. It is beyond comprehension as to how a society that worships Ram, Krishna, Jesus, Nanak, Paigambar Mohammad could be so intolerant and callous!

Society is quick enough to forget about these incidents and so is social media, but what has made our society so intolerant that we are ready to kill our own fellow citizens at the drop of a hat? Our diversity has done more harm than good to our society and has created serious cultural conflicts. It is time for us to realise that it is not enough to just be human, but to be humane and value human life. 

Secularism has become synonymous with the politics of opportunism, setting up a dynamic of competitive victimisation. The deeper question is not about the ideological debates; after all, differences are inevitable and can be managed. It is the growing tolerance for prejudice that is unleashing ferocious darkness. The banning itch of anti-conversion laws and vigilantism over the slaughter of particular animals has now become an established norm.

Modernisation by the global north is now creating ruptures like anti-semitism, neo-Nazism, and white nationalist supremacy which are slowly gaining momentum in many regions. Fast-growing cities are slowly suppressing small and regional groupings, eventually taking the shape of secession. Capitalism has now been entrenched within the global south. Capital is killing social richness. It is more focused on producing private richness. This private culture of thinking of ‘this belongs to me’, and the ‘mine is superior to yours’ mindset is now being seen in communities as well. Burning a train, wiping out an entire population, or fake propaganda during elections can ferment anger in citizens. This pseudo nationalism is now turning itself into self-love for the nation with propaganda to spread hate. 

Freedom of expression in our country would remain under siege until and unless all groups accept that people can have different opinions and beliefs in a free country. Criticism must not be equated with causing offense or perceived as causing hurt in every statement. Instead, criticism should also be within its limits to not overstep the boundaries of rationalism and reasoning.

Today, we all need to accept that ‘culture’ is open. It is open to global influence. Culture expands because the notion of ‘rights to culture’ and of a ‘culture of rights’ has emerged in modernity. Only rationality, modesty, and accommodative nature in a society can help it survive. 

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Is our country Secular anymore?

The root cause is not religion, but rather it is the endless thirst for power, wealth, and supremacy that divides. The name of religion is used to quench the thirst of self-appointed saviours of culture and society. However, that does not mean we all have to be atheists. Human beings cannot endure emptiness, it is necessary to form a belief system to have order in life. We tend to fill the vacuum by creating a new focus of meaning.

The idols of fundamentalism are not good substitutes for God; if we are to create a vibrant new society for the twenty-first century, we should, perhaps, ponder on the history of religion for some lessons and warnings.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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