Some years back, I had a colleague who had married a person from another religion. My colleague and his wife were both quite comfortable with their different religious beliefs. Some ‘well-wishers’ advised them that one of them should convert to the other’s religion, but both my colleague and his wife were clear that neither would convert to the other’s religion just for the sake of satisfying anybody, even their own parents.
A few years after they got married, my colleague’s wife’s was diagnosed with a life-threatening disorder. Despite receiving the best available medical treatment, her condition steadily deteriorated and she passed away within a couple of years. On receiving the news of her death, a few colleagues and I rushed to my colleague’s residence. Seated next to his wife’s body, my colleague was torn between grief at her death and relief that her suffering was finally over, but he was quite composed. After spending a few minutes with him, we told him we would wait outside.
There were a few persons outside. I saw my colleague’s sister speaking with another person. She was gloating about the fact that, a few hours before her death, her brother’s wife had voluntarily expressed her desire to convert to their religion, and that they had managed to get a priest to the hospital in time to do the needful. I was shocked, not only by her gloating about the conversion, but also that she seemed almost indifferent to her sister-in-law’s death at a young age, and to her brother’s grief.
If I see something similar happening now, I would not be shocked. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised. Today, obsession with religion is all over the place. Most people display this obsession only in private, but some people wear it on their sleeve. Unfortunately, this obsession is often accompanied by hatred for, and blind intolerance towards, some other religions.
I was fortunate to have grown up with neighbours, friends and schoolmates belonging to many religions. I was even more fortunate to have parents, elders and teachers who, while being wholehearted followers of their own religion, impressed upon their children and students that equal respect should be shown for all religions. Hence, for me, a person’s religion, caste, etc. is incidental. But I am painfully aware that intolerant obsession with religion is prevalent among all cross-sections of society, and urgently needs to be drastically reduced.
This is what Mahatma Gandhi said on the subject:
“I came to the conclusion long ago … that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them, and whilst I hold by my own, I should hold others as dear as Hinduism. So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu … But our innermost prayer should be a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian.” (Young India, 19 January 1928)
I’d like to change that to:
Every person should be a better person, irrespective of her/his religious beliefs or lack of them.
How can we make this happen?