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Does PM Modi's "One Earth, One Family" Slogan Apply To India?



An Indian talking from a global platform may be a routine occurrence today, but it wasn't on Sept 11, 1893, when Swami Vivekananda spoke at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, which was convened in a hall in that city's Art Institute. The space where the Swami spoke has been carefully preserved by this famous institute, where priceless exhibits daily draw large flocks of viewers.
Indians among the visitors to the exhibits are thrilled when they learn that only a few steps away lies the space where the celebrated address was given 130 years ago. Here is what Vivekananda, just 30 at the time, said there on a date in 1893, which in 2001 would become unforgettable for another reason:
"I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth."
Indians reading these words today cannot feel entirely comfortable. Our present government has declared more than once that there is at least one religion whose persecuted adherents in lands adjacent to India cannot qualify for Indian citizenship. However, the point I wish to make here is a different one, and it is this. While many today may mentally "accept" (as Vivekananda put it) that "all religions are true," some seem unwilling to accept Indians adhering to Islam or Christianity as neighbours or fellow citizens possessing rights equal to the rights we enjoy.
Accepting other "religions"? Yes, they are likely to say. Accepting Muslims and Christians? Sorry, no, would for some be the true answer.
After a face-to-face survey of 29,999 Indian adults of all faiths conducted between late 2019 and early 2020 - before the COVID-19 pandemic - the reputed Pew Research Center found 84% saying that to be "truly Indian", it was very important to respect all religions. 80% were of the view that respecting other religions was a very important part of what it means to be a member of their own religious community. These large majorities were found among Indians of all faiths.
Pew did not, it seems, ask the 29,999 Indians if they felt that fellow citizens of different religions should have full democratic rights. Nor can we be certain that all respondents would provide truthful answers to such a question. Still, we may safely assume that a majority of Indians want all their compatriots to enjoy full and equal rights.
We hear the oft-fiery voices of those who demand the abridgement of minority rights. At times, one might imagine that the poisonous winds that blew on our subcontinent in 1947 have returned after 75 years. Yet that is hardly the whole truth.
Years ago, in 2005, when my wife Usha and I interviewed people with memories of the 1947 violence in both halves of what until that year was a single, undivided Punjab, the phrase zahreeli hawaa was used in Lahore by Chaudhry Muhammad Hayat, a retired squadron leader of Pakistan's air force, to describe what had hit both halves of Punjab, destroying Hindu, Muslim and Sikh lives.
With warmth and emotion, Hayat recalled "Bhagat Saab", as he called him, an old Sikh teacher who apparently "knew all the principals and headmasters of Gujrat tehsil (north of Lahore, south of Rawalpindi) and used to get tuition fees excused for poor Muslim boys, especially poor Jat boys". Thanks to Bhagat Saab's goading and monetary help, Hayat went to school, matriculated in the first division, and began a successful career.