Primary Motifs: Better Democracy

Monalisa Changkija

Religion is a difficult subject but it impacts enormously on an individual’s life, which dictates and determines her thought processes, the way she looks at life and those around her and what happens around her. In brief, religion dictates and determines her world view and her interactions with people. This then also spawns tribalism, racism, sexism and numerous other isms, which in turn spawns political ideologies that ‘others’ those not like-minded. So we have countries and nations, as much as communities and societies that base their identities on their religious ~ and as an extension, cultural ~ markers, albeit religion and culture are not synonymous. The problem arises when these religious, cultural and political beliefs and ideologies are sought to be mainstreamed and imposed in multi-religion and multi-cultural societies and countries that have as many political ideologies or constitutionally allow adherence to. This is the problem we now confront in the country today.

In the past decade or so, there is increasing intolerance towards ‘others’, who do not belong and subscribe to the majority community in India. We see shocking attacks and victimization of these “others”, reported in the media. That such intolerance, attacks and victimization are allowed to happen even in the Northeast is appalling because for centuries this region was liberal, open-minded and had unparallel generosity of spirit. Now, to allow a dominating political ideology and political ambitions to crush the blossoming of a thousand flowers, so to speak, is disquieting. Surely, in the Northeast, we are so much more than our political ideologies and political ambitions?

In the Northeast that used to be ~ that I used to know ~ while our cultural markers did identify us and they still do, which are brazenly sought to be commercialized and monetized today, religion was never a big deal. Culture and language perhaps to an acceptable degree, but religion was never perceived as a threat to an individual or community’s existence. Unfortunately, it is made out to be so today. And it is from this politically imagined threat emerges the opinion to “curb evangelism”. I was born into a Baptist Christian family hence I am a Baptist Christian but that has never made me see people of other religion as a threat to my community, my religion or to me. Among Christians of all denominations, perhaps Baptists are in the minority but that is no reason for me to perceive Christians of other denominations, or other religions, as threats simply because for me religion is one thing and faith is another. Therefore, to me numbers ~ majority, minority ~ does not increase or decrease my faith in my Maker. And I would advise anyone subscribing to any religion, belief system, to look at the strength and conviction of their faith, not at the numbers of other religions and faiths.

We see a deliberate political attempt to impose markers of one religion across the country; in the Northeast, notably in Assam. But Assam also comprises multi-religion and multi-cultural communities that have lived together for centuries. Now, with this “curb evangelism” political move, how much would Assam allow political clouds to besmirch its multi-religion and multi-cultural markers and credentials? It is for the people to decide. The thing is politics ~ always transient ~ is all very fine but long after the politics of the moment is past, the people still go on. So, what legacy do we create now? What history will future generation inherit when the next and the next generations write history? No doubt, it is good to sow seeds for an imagined and aspired future but what assurance do we have that the sun will smile on these seeds and the soil will not be washed away by Monsoon rains? In the future, when we are not around, how do we explain and justify our intentions to posterity? There is no escaping Karma, which follows us like our own shadows, and destroys all Ozymandiases in its own time.

Anyway, talking about evangelism and conversions, which seem to scare the be-Jesus out of so many political and other worthies, the thing is in the Christian precept, it is never a human being that converts another. It is the Holy Spirit that speaks to an individual and conversion (or change of heart) either takes place or not, depending on how the individual reacts and responds; the evangelist/preacher/pastor, reverend only talks of the Good News that ‘Jesus Saves’. It is up to an individual to decide ~ to believe or not to believe ~ and, if there is no genuine belief that ‘Jesus Saves’, even baptism is just a ritual. One understands that even the edifices of the Roman Empire was shaken and stirred by this belief but as history has shown the Roman Empire’s policies to curb this belief or evangelism has not suppressed this belief or deterred evangelism. Then we have China and Russia since the communist revolutions, which couldn’t defeat faith. The best thing then is to do our own thing and live with our and others’ beliefs and faiths. Christians in the Northeast, especially in Assam, are a miniscule community and that this small community should shake and stir the powers-that-be speaks volumes of so much insecurity, so much ignorance, so much bigotry and so much political ambitiousness.

Christianity is basically a relationship between an individual and her Maker based on faith. Unfortunately, over the centuries this faith has been institutionalized, commercialized and politicized. But then the same could be said of so many other religions too, no? Nevertheless, it doesn’t take away the fundamentals of Christianity or any other belief-system from any individual, who believes. The other precept of Christianity is evangelism, which is to disseminate the significance of the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ for any individual to decide her relation to her life and living. This being so, wouldn’t any policy to “curb evangelism” infringe on any citizen’s right to information? While some religions may not be evangelistic, surely any citizen has the right to know about all religions? While the right to religion is unambiguously enshrined in our Constitution, the right to information is equally unambiguous and imperative for any citizen to make informed choices and decisions ~ the very foundation of democracy. If the tenets of all religions are equally disseminated, who knows the religious demography of our country could well be very different. And we may not have the problem of majorities and minorities.

Ignorance, fears, suspicions and insecurities are dangerous in and for any democracy. In fact, democracy is meant to enlighten citizens to make informed choices and decisions. Hence, leave aside religion and/or evangelism but consider the very existence of the Fourth Estate, the media. So, what scares some should be brought centre-stage, dissected and analyzed to enlighten people and get rid of their fears. At the end of the day, what needs to be done is to liberate the human being, not push her further into the dark and cob-webby caves of ignorance, fears, suspicions and insecurities. This may not be good politics but it certainly is better democracy.

(The Columnist, a journalist and poet, is Founding Editor, Nagaland Page)