The recent string of violent attacks on Hindu households, women, temples, shops, etc, in Bangladesh by miscreants belonging to the Muslim community following an alleged desecration of Quran during Durga Puja celebrations in Comilla has once again brought to fore the dangers of not only increased religious radicalisation in India’s immediate neighbourhood, but also of the organised belief system per se fuelling such a dangerous development across the world.
Other recent happenings like the Taliban taking over the reins of Afghanistan and the terror unleashed by Islamist groups like Al Shabab, Boko Haram, ISIS, Al Qaeda, etc, too don’t inspire confidence.
Of course, this is not to denigrate organised religions or hurt the sentiments of their followers, but it’s definitely about time that the roots of the growing radicalisation in the society are identified. In fact, the recent happenings in Bangladesh are only in the long list of such series of events that have bedevilled almost all Muslim countries where minority communities have been systemically persecuted both by the State and non-State actors. And not just in the Muslim countries, which are a recent phenomenon.
The same religious extremism and intolerance towards followers of other faiths were displayed by many Western countries while aggressively promoting Christianity, mostly through persecution, in colonised territories few centuries earlier in the name of modernity. So much so that the natives across continents – from the Americas to Australia through Africa – were either wiped out or were forced to give up their traditional faith and customs. Many ancient culture and civilisations were thus erased from the face of the earth.
Unfortunately, the same zeal for proselytization continues to this day and has even spawned a multibillion-dollar trans-continental conversion industry. This poses a serious threat to the remaining ancient culture and civilisations across the world, including the Sanatan Dharma aka Hinduism. Hence, the recent incidents in Bangladesh should not be seen in isolation or as one off, but in the larger context.
The aggressive pursuit of religious conversion has brought death and destructions across societies. Innumerable religious wars – crusades then and jihad now – have been waged world over ever since the dawn of the organised faiths. While there’s nothing wrong in organised monotheistic faiths, what has spelt doom for humanity is the sense of entitlement – divine and political – that they seem to give to their followers. So much so, that some even consider spilling blood of the innocent as a part of their religious commitment. No wonder, terror groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda draw their cadres from different corners of the world in the name of religion.
On the other hand, practised since ancient times by people across the globe, Dharma is beyond god or faith. It’s about human soul and a heritage that’s in sync with Mother Nature and society, and thus democratic, scientific, timeless and universal. As it acknowledges the diversity in society, Dharma doesn’t insist on believing only in a particular god, or in addressing and worshiping the god in a particular manner. It doesn’t discriminate on the basis of faith, nor does it seek to build a global empire based on one particular belief.
No wonder, some consider Dharma as the future of human civilisation for, it doesn’t pit humanity against each other on the basis of faith. Besides Sanatan Dharma, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, etc, the various indigenous faith still practised by aborigines in many parts of the globe can all be termed as Dharmic traditions.
These Dharmic traditions are however in direct conflict with the basic fundamentals of organised religions – believing in one particular god and their assertion that only they are true. This has transformed most religions into unquestionable organised dogmas. Growing radicalisation and the resultant intolerance among followers of organised religions are direct consequences of this dogma. They never acknowledge or allow individuals to practise their personal belief.
But, sadly, a fallout of the relentless assault on ancient traditional faiths and culture has been that a sense of insecurity seems to have gripped a section of the surviving Dharmic tradition followers, who are wary about anything they consider not in sync with their traditions. They too are acquiring some religious traits, and thereby losing their Dharmic essence. But with major societies across the world getting increasingly radicalised, it would be naïve to expect that there won’t be any domino effect elsewhere. Unfortunately, this has brought the world dangerously close to the brink.
Against such a backdrop, it’s in the interest of humanity that Dharmic traditions world over are understood and respected. For, they have not only been misunderstood, but deliberately misrepresented for centuries. Even now, there’s a clear disdain in the intellectual space and in popular discourses, with a tendency to brush them as superstitions.
But, these Dharmic traditions hold the future for human civilisation. The use of fire, water, clay (idols), flowers, grains, animals, etc, in most Dharmic rituals are symbolic and represent the Nature and elements. Every organised religion professedly advocates peace, but there can’t be real peace unless diversity is acknowledged. This is not to advocate the cause of any particular Dharmic tradition at the cost of monotheistic faiths, but imbibing the former’s spirit of pluralism and universalism is crucial. Unless there’s space for individual belief and Nature, the survival of humanity is at stake.
Thus, it’s heartening to note that of late few theocratic States are displaying tolerance by appreciating diversity and even allowing setting up places of worship by followers of other faiths, while also cracking down hard on religious extremism.
For instance, in the backdrop of the recent attacks on Hindus, Bangladesh has already made it public its intent to remove the world “Islam” from its constitution to make it “secular”. Hindu temples have also come up in the Middle East, Central Asia, Russia, etc, in recent years, reflecting the growing tolerance and popular respect for other faiths in those societies.
(The author, Anirban Choudhury, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)