Right to religion

My post on the Managalore communal riots has generated some interesting comments:

https://rajivsramblings.wordpress.com/2008/09/17/mangalore-communal-riots-my-take/#comments 

In this context let me tell you all a true story of my college days:

I have all along been educated at Christian institutions.  I studied at St.Josephs Boys High School – which was (and still is) one of the premier educational institutions during my days.  It was run by Jesuits ………who had very liberal views on religion …..and who never discriminated based on religion.  However this does not mean all Christian institutions are like that.  During my pre-university years ……….I came into contact with many boys from different schools.  Some were from St.Josephs – Briand Square (Chamrajpet).  The boys from there ….had very unpleasant experiences about the way their Christian teachers would insult the Hindu Gods and would talk about Christianity the pre-eminence of Christianity over other religions.  Well those boys turned out to be Hindu rightists themself – who went on to support the Ram-Janmabhoomi Babri demolition movement (I did my puc from 1993 – 1995).  Now in retrospect I see that possibly the Christian teachers of their school had some influence in turning them into Hindu rightists.  Some of them were such bigots that they would not even shake hands with people whom they thought were from the lower Hindu casts – and would just do a ‘Namaskaara’.  I came to avoid them and detested them.  It actually made me a Brahmin baiter at that time.  I would hate all things that had to do with Brahmins. 

There was another incident which made me a Brahmin hater at that time.  I grew up in Vasanthnagar (which was a cosmopolitan area).  Vasanthnagar itself was called Uttarahalli earlier and had many Vokkaligas there.  There are some houses/families whom I still know personally in Vasanthnagar – who come from the days of Uttarahalli.  I grew up in 4th cross and usually used to stick to the boys/girls there.  I had plenty of friends in 2nd Cross too.  One day I happened to go there to play.  On that road there is a Tamil Brahmin family.  The boy from that family – also happened to study at my school.  We were all playing close to his house.  At a point we were all thirsty and decided to drink water at his house.  Once we went into his compound ……he told us to come behind his house.  So we all went there.  Water was served to us ……not in glasses ……….but the was dropped from above and we had to drink it – without touching the glass.  That incident had a profound impact on me and I decided never to go to their house.  The boy himself – was very embarassed himself ………..but couldn’t do much as their family was a ‘Madi’ family and we were ‘Mailgeh’ people.  From that day onwards – I hated the word ‘Madi’ and ‘Madi brahmins’.  Do we have ‘Mailgeh brahmins’??? I’d love to meet them.  Well although that sounds a bit sarcastic – I would certainly apologize if that hurts some sentiments.  It would be wrong on my part to say that all Brahmins ar like that.  There are liberal brahmins and there are conservative/narrow-minded brahmins.  Like in life – there are all shades of them.

The Christian teachers who taught me at school ………..inculcated liberal values.  The PUC years at St.Josephs Pre-University College were a culture shock for us as we came from an ICSE background and most of the students at PUC were from SSLC and were from different schools.  They brought in the culture from their schools …….and we found it very difficult to cope.  Besides PUC was very crowded.  We had 110 students in the class and it was extremely difficult to have meaningful interaction at class.  We had people of all shades there.  We had liberal Jains, conservative orothodox jains, liberal muslims, orthodox hindus, liberal hindus ………we had all shades of them.  I generally stuck to those who were liberal.

The traumatic years of PUC quickly got over and we moved over to graduation at St.Josephs Arts and Science College.  The first year was chaotic as we had many students coming in and going out.  Second year was when we built bonds for life.  Our gang was a gang of eight.  There was Chandra, Hemanth, Gopi, Vincent, Waseem, Aftab, Clement and me.  Of all the guys – Vincent, Clement and I were the most studious.   It was here that I saw both the sides of Christianity first hand.  Clement was a brother of the diocese.  After graduation he would join the seminary and go on to become a father.  Clement was born in Ejipura and grew up around the Viveknagar Infant Jesus Church.  In fact their parents were the very first couple who were married at the church there when it was started.  Clement came from a lower middle class devout catholic Tamil family.  Religion was in his veins and he was bought up that way.  But he was a gem of a person.  He never discriminated against other religions and would never claim the pre-eminence of his religion over others.  He would never even preach – despite his disposition.  He would invite us to Christmas to his house.  It would be quite a journey for us to trek all the way from Sultanpalya/Jalahalli to Ejipura/Viveknagar to his house.  But it was worth it.  The beautiful crib, the wonderful goodies, wine and nice food – were all good temptations for us to make ti there.  In fact we in turn would invite Clement to our houses and it was all fun.

Vincent on the other hand came from the Ulsoor area from a lower middle class protestant Tamil family.  He had applied to become a brother of the diocese himself – but they turned him down (fortunately).  He was a Christian fundamentalist – who would criticize Hindu religion and would claim superiority over his religion.  He did not have the caliber to engage in philosophical/theological talk.  He never invited anyone to his house (not even Clement) and became a loner at college.  However he was a terrific book worm – who would mug up his lessons and get good marks at the exams.   Clement was a true academic – who would internalize the concepts and still get good marks.  Clement and Vincent would always compete for the top spot.  I would usually come in third.  I would try to engage Vincent in philosophical arguments and he would always say ‘you don’t understand ….that’s not how it is’ and end it there.  He would never try to answer my queries and questions about some subtler points of christianity.  He was a bigot who thought never rose to a higher level.  I had a major fight with Vincent in my last year at college and stopped speaking to him altogether.  The main reason for me to have a fight with him – was his attitude of condemning others religions and his narrow minded approach.  Clement himself did not like Vincent attitude.  Many time Clement would be the go-between me and Vincent.  Clement tried to moderate me a lot and tried to change my adamant attitude on certain things.  Clement also tried to correct Vincents arrogant-narrow minded attitude on other things. 

After college Clement moved to St.Peters Seminary in Malleshwaram.  Many of us would often visit him there.  He came on top of all the students there and was the top academic there.  He went on to take on many responsible positions.  At a point he was managing the entire St.Peters Church and complex on Residency Road.  He was brilliant and GOOD.  We have still good contact with him.

Vincent went on to work.  He initially joined Bhoruka Gas – where he earned a bad name for this religious attitude of his.  Later he quite Bhoruka Gas and joined ITC.  After that he dropped all contact with all of us.

Aftab was a very religious person – who would do ‘Roza’ every Ramzan.  He was of lean build and travelled to college from Hoskote.  He came from a large family and was the eldest son.  He showed a lot of responsibility in his attitude.  Due to personal reasons he couldn’t pursue his academics a lot – although he tried his best – and we all supported him.  He did complete his graduation – and went onto to start his computer rental business. 

Waseem was a big built guy.  His family came from Hindupura.  He was related to one of the top Chemistry professors of our college.  His cousin, Yohann (the chemistry profs son) was my school mate and a boy of wonderful attitude.  Waseem – did not have a great attitude.  I wouldn’t say he had a bad attitude. He was neither devout nor a great friend to be with. 

Chandra, Gopi and Hemanth – were regular Hindus.  Chandra’s family were followers of the Radha Saomi sect.  Yet all of them had liberal attitude.

When I was in Australia – there was a Mormon missionary who worked with us.  All our colleagues (even Australians) in Australia had a problem with the way he tried to mix religion with work and get converts to the Mormon sect.  They complained to the senior management and they took him to task.  He stopped doing all that after that incident. 

Thus the morals of this whole story are:

1.  There are good christians, bad christians, good hindus, bad hindus, good muslims, bad muslims.   We see them all the time around us. 

2. If we see discrimination – we should not tolerate it.  But at the same time we should not discriminate in return. 

3. Everybody has their right to follow their own religion.

4. Preaching to others about the greatness of ones religion – is wrong and is really not needed.  I quite don’t support missionaries trying to preach their religion.  I see ISKCON missionaries trying to win converts to their Hare Rama movement from other religions.  I don’t support that.  I see christian missionaries trying to preach the Gospel to non-Christians.  I dont’ support that either.  You don’t need to do it.  The Church is not made of numbers – as Christ rightly said. 

5. If one tries to do some research himself/herself and shows interest in a certain religion and gets converted – there is absolutely nothing wrong.  But trying to project that as forced conversion is totally wrong – when the choice is individual.  Attacking a community because another community ‘perceives’ that a certain set of people were ‘forcibly’ converted – is wrong.

6. Giving economic benefits and trying to tempt people into conversion – is wrong.

7. Good/bad Christians/Hindus – will continue to be there for time immemorial.  People should have the maturity to rise above such bigotary and see things from a humane perspective.

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3 thoughts on “Right to religion

  1. You reminded me of our college days and pleasant memories of those days. I had been for only 3 years in St Joseph’s College. Those 3 years has had an everlasting influence on my life. Never in those three years I heard any of our Rectors, Fathers or any one else talk about religion or any other phaltu things. I have very high regards for Christian educational institutions.

    Coming to our friends I must say we were least bothered to what language we spoke or to what religion we belong. I only remembered Clement was Christian only on Christmas and you should blame the Biryani he served at his house for this for which we used to eagerly wait. I am so used to it that even though now I am no more in Bengaluru and Clement is busy in his Church and no more we visit his house I savor Biryani at home.

    I never had serious discussion on religion with Vincent for that matter I, gopi and Chandra were never serious on anything in college life we belonged to the care free lot like the song in Lakhsya. For me then religion was not worth discussion about and any body who did was fundamentalist and if Clement and Rajiv had seriously argued and discussed with Vincent they too are fundamentalist for me. Sorry it is hard for me to imagine Rajiv as fundamentalist never the less by his own account he falls in the definition of fundamentalist in my dictionary. We knew Vincent had very strong views and were careful in dealing him. The only serious discussion I had in college as I remember is only about Clement chosen path. I always thought Clement could serve better otherwise if that was his real intention. He had decided to become what he is today when he was just a kid. I am no one to challenge others choice but at what age you make your choice is also important. Clement may be happy and given a choice he may chose this life again now but I dislike the system which permits you and binds you to follow the chosen path at the age where you are not intellectually capable of making life long decision. This is true in all religions though theoretically it is possible to come out but we all know it is next to impossible to do so if you want to continue to live in the community with your honor intact. I want all the readers to comment on the last paragraph of mine though personally I feel we lost brilliant student who showed promise to achieve great things in life. I am sure I cannot ask this to Clement and I am writing this in the confidence that he will not read this but nevertheless I will be eager to know others opinion.

  2. Well I had a big smile on my face – when Hemanth called me a fundamentalist. I guess I am a new breed of ‘secular fundamentalist’ ….who doesn’t tolerate orthodoxy, conservatism. It in itself is a kind of ‘intolerance’. Pretty interesting.

    As for Clements choice of vocation ……..although I knew that Hemanth and Gopi were pretty much against it ………..I was very proud of Clement and his choice of vocation. Another possible reason for that is that I had immense respect for that vocation and in my early teens – I had fantasised myself being one!!!!!!

    I agree with Hemanth that you should be mature enough to take the decision to go on that route. Clement had enough opportunities – even after graduation – to rethink his vocation and come out honorably before getting into the seminary. However he chose what he chose and I am proud of him.

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