Is unity always the essence of diversity?

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The case of Bharatanatyam dancer Mansiya VP is a sad commentary on the growing hatred of the other. She was not allowed to participate in a dance program at Koodalmanikyam temple in Irinjalakuda in Thrissur district of Kerala because she is not “Hindu”. She was born Muslim but married a Hindu. She also renounced Islam. have a religion that she can call her own. Hinduism is a syncretic religion in which even an atheist finds a place. She had a similar experience at the Sree Krishna temple in Guruvayur. What is strange is that all of this is happening in a state considered to be the most liberal and educated in the country. Interestingly, the temple in question is managed by the Devaswom (temple) board of directors headed by Marxists. Previously, she was boycotted by Muslim clerics because she chose to study Bharatanatyam, essentially a Hindu dance form. In other words, she is at the mercy of both religions because she has chosen to be a dancer and to marry the person of her choice. Her personal freedom, enshrined in the Constitution, allows her to do so. Yet, ev fr when there are no scriptural sanctions against her conduct , she is prevented from performing within the grounds of a temple.

In the neighboring state, Karnataka, Muslim traders are prevented from taking part in temple festivals, at the call of certain Hindu fundamentalist organisations. Festivals in temples, mosques and churches have always attracted people from all walks of life. Where people gather in large numbers, there are also business opportunities. Stalls selling goods and services are set up by people paying prescribed fees. At no time was the religion of the stall owner examined. It is surprising that the Karnataka government has not taken a stance on this issue after siding with the few who raised the hijab issue a few months ago. Instead, it was hinted that a similar rule applied under Congressional rule. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Fortunately, two MPs from Karnataka belonging to the BJP spoke out against the demand for the exclusion of Muslim traders. In a democracy, the people should have the right not only to choose their rulers but also to choose the stores in which they should buy. No one has the right to restrict the choice of stores or goods to a single set. Diversity is essential in a democracy and any measure that undermines this principle is reprehensible. One of the lawmakers aptly asked what would happen if certain Muslim countries banned people from a particular community from doing business there.

During the second wave of Covid-19, when thousands died from lack of oxygen or intensive care but were unwilling to touch the bodies of their own loved ones for fear of contracting the dreaded disease, there had an undertaker, Abdul Rehman Malbari, in Gujarat who performed the last rites for the deceased, according to his religion. The bodies were cremated or buried with dignity. Nobody asked him how a Muslim could perform the last rites of a Hindu. Similarly, Sher Singh made possible the increase in burials at Jadid Qabristan in Delhi. Between the two, they have rendered splendid services. It was also the time when the gurdwaras provided oxygen langars while even prestigious hospitals tried to chase patients away.

If death can bring Hindus and Muslims together, why not life? Once, when the Sabarimala Temple, considered one of India’s greatest pilgrimage centers, caught fire in the early 20th century, it was a Christian contractor who rebuilt it from scratch. No one finds it incongruous that the pious pilgrim first goes to the Vavar Mosque in Erumeli before climbing the 18 steps that lead to the sanctum sanctorum of the Sabarimala temple. Some of the most popular songs related to the Guruvayur temple where the Bharatanatyam dancer was not allowed to perform were sung by KJ Yesudas, who was born a Christian.

Alas, some fringe elements have tried to vitiate the social and political atmosphere by emphasizing the differences between the communities, rather than their commonalities. India has faced many challenges since independence including wars, famines and pestilence and it is a credit to the nation that the people, regardless of caste, religion or politics, united to fight them. Nationalism is not nationalism if it is not inclusive in nature. Dividing tendencies must be eradicated if India is to continue its journey of peace, progress and prosperity. Religions are by their very nature inclusive and the best place to keep God is in one’s own heart. Once this is accepted, the talented are welcome to dance within the grounds of a temple and the competent can do business on the festival grounds.

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Posted: Thursday March 31st 2022, 09:00 IST

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