Belling The DisCriminATion
The past weeks have seen the sentiments of our Community hitting an all-time-high as numerous issues have converged upon us – the two most prominent ones include, what is popularly known in the circles as ‘the Goolrukh Gupta case’, where we keenly await the Supreme Court’s verdict as regards the religious rights of Parsi women married inter-faith; and the uproar against the construction of the Metro Rail which seems to threaten the structure and the sacred energies of our Agiaries and Atash Behrams. As should be the case in any free-thinking, progressive Community, even ours has its own share of supporters and opponents for both issues. The uprisings, resulting from both these issues, are, fortunately or unfortunately, closely linked to religion. Whereas one endeavours to save the Community from religious dilution and loss of ethnic identity, the other strives to safeguard our sacred institutions and buildings from structural and spiritual violation.
Some of us have once again resumed our ‘Guardians of the Religious Galaxy’ garbs, to the relief of some, and to the chagrin of others. Over these weeks, I have been at the receiving end of countless contradicting opinions and beliefs. And I know I speak for many, when I confess, it can all get quite confusing. Then again, how can it not, when both lobbies are extremely well-meaning in their own right?! But here’s the good bit that came out of all that – all the on-goings have forced most of us to reflect into our own unique sense of ‘who I am and what I believe in’.
Maybe this is a good time to confront and address our religious and ethnic confusions/blurs, so that we may emerge more strong-minded and longevity-inclined-without-having-to-forego-our-ethnicity, as a people, as a race and as a community. Maybe it’s time to bell the cat and ask ourselves the questions we’d really rather pretend we didn’t hear, because answering these would make us end up questioning our own sense of ‘assumed self’, and we’d find ourselves stuck between our own confrontational personas of ‘who we’d like to believe we are’ and ‘who we really are’.
The great philosopher and theologist, George Santayana, known for his aphorism, “Those who do not learn from the lessons of history, are condemned to repeat it”, is also known for his keen observations on religion and religious behaviour. In his words, “Every living and healthy religion has a marked idiosyncrasy and its power comes from the special and surprising message and the bias which that revelation gives to life. A religion offers another world to live in, and another world to live in is what we mean by having a religion. People who care about civility in a civil society have to care about the ‘tolerance’ aspect and people who care about religion have to care about the ‘dilution’ aspect.”
And that’s the ‘insecurity laden dilemma’, which we, as a community face today – the insecurity of racial extinction versus the insecurity of ethnic dilution. Both equally threatening and deadly, and more than ever, both calling for the community to unite in one voice to subvert it. Will our religious tolerance invariably lead to our religio-racial and irreversible dilution? Would you be comfortable having a non-Parsi or half-blood Parsi born of a Parsi mother and non-Parsi father – a la Harry Potter’s ‘muggle-blood’ – stand next to you and pray in our Agiaries? Bet that brought out a lot of cringes! Alternatively, would you be comfortable that the Parsi race simply dies off (with all due and genuine respect to numerous efforts working against that sad but inevitable reality)?
This brings forth the need for a more elementary understanding about religion itself… getting to the bottom of it all – organised religion was structured by seers and prophets to help the common man find his sense of peace, and consequently – his sense of existential freedom or liberation, by comprehending the ultimate truth – that is, the convergence of his being/energy/soul, with that of God’s. And that process helped establish and build a sense of spirituality in us, so we could feel closer to God – the ultimate reality, the ultimate symbol of love, unconditional acceptance and equality. But today, we seem to be heading towards realising the unfortunate equation: ‘Religious Growth is inversely proportional to Spiritual Growth, and vice versa’. If religion is the path to God, then why is this path, which leads us to the ultimate destination of non-discriminating divinity, riddled with such prejudice, racism, sexism and hatred? How is this taking us closer to God? How is this enhancing our spiritual quotient?
As members of an educated and respected community, we owe it to ourselves to reflect on our raison d’être as a ‘Parsi’. What does ‘Being Parsi’ embody? What does it mean to you? How has being Parsi shaped your life and your destiny? And that effort doubles up for my fellow Parsi women, who need to also examine their stand, in addition to being a Parsi, as also being a ‘Woman’ and, more importantly, a ‘Parsi Woman’, in this day and age. Immaterial of your being a Parsi man or woman, your answers are your own sacred reality, and these will collectively steer us all towards shaping the destiny of our Community. So, do think about it for yourselves. Skim (and verify) the endless information and opinions on Facebook and Whatsapp, but if you let the ceaseless rants on social media make up your mind for you, you will find yourself lost in your own virtual reality. And that would be not just irresponsible, but also unfair to you.
And speaking of unfair – as expected, last week threw up yet another media circus, only more elevated this time, as we made it to panel discussions on two national TV channels, both questioning the Parsi religion as regards a Parsi woman’s religious rights. Relevant as the topic may be, this ‘Trial By Media’ failed us, deservedly so, on numerous levels. Immaterial of which side you’re on, it was the responsibility of the program and its host to ensure, at least, a fair panel… fair in the number of debaters representing both sides; fair in choosing more knowledgeable participants; fair in attributing time-slots to them to speak. Unfortunately, both these debates achieved close to nothing. We now await the Supreme Court’s diktat next week, and the community could be on the verge of receiving a path-breaking or heart-breaking verdict, which will bear great changes for our women and our religion.
Friends, do take this weekend to think things through, enough to rightly claim your place for your well thought out opinions, based on your reasoned beliefs. I did a bit of questioning around the past few weeks, and a few of my fellow Parsis did sheepishly confess that some of us could be closet-racists/sexists, hiding behind the blinding sheen of religion. And that’s ok too (I guess), just as long as you know who you are, because unless we do, there’s no way we can bell the cat that’s incessantly purring inside our heads, dividing us in the name of religion, race, gender-discrimination, politics, et al.
Have a thoughtful weekend,