The many faces of faith

The many faces of faith
Hindustan times; September 2, 2006

If there was a public opinion poll conducted in the subcontinent (comprising Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) on who is the most deserving person for a Nobel Peace Prize, I have no doubt that Asma Jehangir of Lahore would emerge as the outright winner. And for good reasons. She is a Muslim living in a mullah-military-male-dominated country in a stifling atmosphere of suspicion and where hatred of India thrives; where Draconian laws are used to stamp out heresy and punish blasphemy with death. She has been speaking out against all these for many years; attempts have been even made to silence her.

Pakistan, India and Bangladesh face similar problems; the upsurge of religious fanaticism (kattarpan) which often turns to violence against people of other faiths. Pakistan and Bangladesh are Islamic states on either side of India, ostensibly secular and largely Hindu. If the Pakistanis had their way, they would put the likes of Asma Jehangir in a burqa. But she refuses to wear one, leads demonstrations against repressive measures. Takes up cases of men and women persecuted by the government. She is often condemned for being an Indian agent.

Bangladesh is going the Pakistan way. Take a look at Hiranmay Karlekar’s Bangladesh: The Next Afghanistan (Sage). You will understand how serious religious bigotry has become. It has not thrown up a leader to fight it; woman like Taslima Nasreen who has a fatwa of death had to flee to Europe and is currently seeking asylum in India. I hope our government will extend her a visa.

Both Pakistan and Bangladesh find it convenient to let extremist elements turn to India for their ill-conceived jehads (holy wars) and get the martyrdom they seek. In its turn Hindu bigots preach hate against Muslim bigotry; both thrive on mutual hatred.

Our secular roots nurtured by Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Badruddin Tyabji, Netaji Subhas Bose, Maulana Azad and others are being destroyed by Hindu fundoos. They also preach hatred against Pakistan and Bangladesh. However, we do have a free press and quite a few willing to fight them. Efforts have borne fruit. The forces of religious fundamentalism are in retreat.

Religions were a powerful force when they were established. Gradually they became forces of backwardness and divisiveness because of preaching superiority over other religions. We are witnessing this phenomenon in all the three countries.

In many ways Asma Jehangir’s life has been like that of Aung San Su Kyi of Burma who has been under home arrest for many years. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace some years ago. Asma has been roughed up by the police, put under house-arrest and jailed. She had to send her children abroad for safety but continues to raise her voice against oppression and injustice. Can you think of anyone more deserving than her?

To read Asma Jahangir's profile, click here, and here


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