How a Pakistani views India's beef ban
Pluralism and coexistence of diversity are not merely words, but the backbone of your billion-plus people.
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A few days ago, while I was in Kasauli for the Khushwant Singh Literary festival, I was asked, on record, by a couple of TV journalists: what do you think of the beef ban in India? And my response was three-fold, but very simple. No human life is to be taken or demeaned to uphold the sanctity of an animal, notwithstanding its religious significance. No ban ever works in its entirety if it is against the cultural sensibilities of many. And most importantly, there is no justification for hurting or insulting or acting against the religious sensitivities and sensibilities of anyone.
The reality is more complicated than it sounds.
To me, it is simply one of the foundations of my moral code: respecting your religious sensibilities comes as easily to me as living by my own. As a Muslim, as I say my prayers, observe Ramzan, cover my head before entering a holy place, and observe silence while the recitation of the Holy Quran is audible, my behaviour stems from the premise of attaching a certain decorum to religious rituals.
My reverence for my own religion and its practices has inculcated in me a reflex to respect those of other faiths and religions. As I buttoned up fully to enter the Vatican in Italy; covered my head, without being told, before entering the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India; and lit a diya at the Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal, my behaviour was in sync with my lifelong conditioning of respecting practices that connect the human to the divine.
The language may be varied, the rituals may vary, the words may not be identical, the mode may be different, but the premise remains the same: the mortal being in prayer to the Ever-lasting, the Eternal, the Creator, the Divine. The prayer is personal, and so is the faith. But the reality of human beings in constant interaction with one another assures the blending of the personal into that of the group, the community, society, and the state.
Each faith comes with its own lines, boundaries, the accepted and the prohibited. And while the relevance of certain precepts and practices becomes questionable with the passage of time, there is no other way to approach religious complexities and ambiguities other than with a sensitivity that is reserved for the very personal. Freedom of speech empowers you to question any and everything. However, there is a very thin blurring the distinction between your fundamental right to speak as per your intellect and mindset, and the desire to elicit a negative response by unnecessary provocation. That is where fault lines become deeper, and in certain cases, bloodied.
En route to Amritsar from Kasauli, I asked an Indian man in his 20s if the latest incidents of violence related to beef ban upset him and those around him. The pain on his face spoke louder than his words. My question to him was just one: had he ever seen a Muslim consciously insulting his religious beliefs or practices, or had he seen a Hindu do that to a Muslim? His answer was a categorical no. Even the "aam" Indian knows the value of coexistence of the opposite and the diverse, being aware of political games that are played to divide the population on the lines of religion.
To me, a practising Muslim, India is a deeply religious country, and that to me is one of its biggest strengths. Having said that, secularism is the only effective way to keep a huge population of varied faiths united, and this secularism is also one of India's biggest strengths. Respecting diversity, contrasts, and dichotomies, yet presenting a united whole that works on the premise of one rule for everyone is of utmost importance in a world divided on ethnic, communal and religious lines. For a Pakistani Muslim who has witnessed religious persecution on all levels in my beloved homeland, there is no denying the significance and imperativeness of the state acting in separation from religious institutions.
Your religious beliefs shape up your moral and social codes, but your religious beliefs cannot be the barometer of the behaviour of others, and how their actions are to be judged. All religions work on the same principles: good conduct that brings you closer to your Creator, inculcating traits in you that form your personality to be good to others. Religions unite people because of their fundamental similarity of message. Political agendas, hegemonic interests and delusions of grandeur draw lines, and as those lines deepen, consequences of long-term damage and irreparable divisions erect invisible, unbreakable walls, harming communal and national interests.
The redundancy of a ban is unequivocal. I do not need a ban to not play loud music outside a mosque, temple, gurudwara, church or synagogue. I do not require a legal punishment to stop myself from slaughtering a cow held holy by many Hindus. I do not need my government to impose a law on my country to not demean or degrade anyone's religious sensibilities. I do not get scared by a protest outside my house or office voicing displeasure at my spurning of a certain religious belief. I respect your religion, just as I respect my own. Without any ifs and buts. My questioning of certain things in my own faith and yours do not imply any disrespect, but merely a need to understand the relevance of certain practices in 2015. Whether you are a devout Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Parsi, Buddhist, agnostic or atheist, my opinion of you would not be based on how you fold your hands - or don't - to any higher being.
Pluralism and coexistence of diversity are not merely words, but the backbone of a billion-plus India. In that there are lessons of synchronicity of opposites and acceptance of contrasting beliefs. Religions teach tolerance and compassion and brotherhood and forgiveness. Do not allow political exploitation of your personal beliefs. Do not endorse TRP-driven communalisation of issues by media, which acting in sympathy with the underdog plays on your personal beliefs, while widening schisms and hyphenating injustices. Do not let the few very unfortunate incidents affect the solid edifice of your system that promise equality to all, irrespective of faith and ethnicity. Do not let your patriotism be shoved aside by ghosts of communalisation. Stay united, and stand up for one another. Stand up for each injustice. Stand up for all, without allowing your stance be swayed by selective outrage. Stand united for all your compatriots without any distinction of ethnicity or faith. Your unity is the best defence against extremist radicalisation. Your unity is the best antidote to an agenda of communalisation being played out in its ugliness for political power. And your unity is the most effective defence against the extremist, militant fringe from becoming the mainstream power.
All we need to do is coexist in harmony. Respect life. Respect the law. Respect your neighbour. Respect your compatriot. Respect those who are not like you. There would be no demolition of mosques, no desecration of churches and temples. There would be no drawing of cartoons or banning of books. There would be no flaunting of cow slaughter and beef-eating. There would be no killing of a harmless Hindu protesting beef slaughter. And there would be no lynching of a harmless Muslim to protect the cow. Respect. One word. And the reward is limitless.
To me there is no question of my god is bigger than your god. To me all human beings who pray to an unknown, an unseen being, pray to one entity. The names are different, but the being is one. Allah, God or Bhagwan.