For several years, I have been interested in studying and learning about Indian Society. My first real immersion into understanding society through the lens of religion, was my visit to the Kumbh Mela on January 26th, 2019 (). It opened my eyes to a new universe that I had never seen before. I understood the integral role that religion played in people’s everyday lives, and interestingly, this was true across social and economic strata. This sparked my curiosity to get a deeper understanding of religion in India.
In the last 4 months, I have met six religious leaders from different
religions to understand the similarities and differences between
religions. After speaking to them, I realised that all religions have more
in common than I had earlier believed.
For example, at their core, all religions teach that everyone is equal before God and there are no differences between people. Doing good deeds and treating people around you with compassion and kindness is the path to God. Similarly, on the question of the purpose of life, all religions preach that living a sinless life by doing good deeds is what people should strive for, and that salvation can be achieved by being at peace with oneself, and with those around us. Again, on the matter of death, while the manner in which the dead are treated is different in all religions, the belief that one’s actions during one’s life affect us even after death remains the same. In summary, all religions preach the importance of kindness to others, charity and living sinless lives in order to not have to atone for our sins after death. Unfortunately, despite the above mentioned similarities at the core of all religions, society today seems to be getting increasingly fragmented based on religion.
Hindu and Muslim conflicts have erupted in India from time to time post Independence - during the ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Kashmir in 1990, as an aftermath of the bombing in Mumbai in 1993, and post the Godhra train burning in 2002. There has also been some history of Hindu-Sikh violence, which led to the assassination of the then Prime minister, Indira Gandhi in 1984 and was followed by riots in which many Sikhs lost their lives. In the last couple of years, incidents of mob lynching in various parts of the country have ensured that tensions between communities have remained high. Furthermore, the virulent discussions on social media are only adding to a state of religious disharmony in the country today.
Having grown up hearing stories about my grandparents having to flee from Lahore, Pakistan, due to the partition, the topic of religious harmony is close to my heart. I want to be able to catalyse a change in the mindset of the youth of India concerning religious harmony. The reason I want to start this change in mindset amongst the youth is two-fold. One, the youth of today are the nation of tomorrow, and hence making a change here is creating a more integrated India tomorrow. Secondly, being young myself, I feel I understand the motivations of the youth, and will be able to connect with them to take this forward.
I want to begin a conversation and thereafter a movement on religious harmony amongst the youth of India. As a first step, a panel discussion was held with religious leaders and thinkers. The idea is to educate the youth and help them understand that, at their core, religions are very similar, and hence distrust or hatred of another person just because they follow a different religion is irrational, especially since they actually believe in the same things as you do.
I am using the content from the discussion to reach a large number of young people. High-quality videos of the discussion are uploaded on social media like YouTube, youth blogs, and this website. These will also be shared in school assemblies at my school in Gurgaon and premier schools in Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Chennai. I also plan to use print, electronic and online media to spread the message as far and wide as possible in order to increase the impact of the discussion and start a conversation all over India.