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Religious Masks



A teacher narrated her woe to me today. There are two girls in her class who belong to a particular religion and wear the headgear that the religion has draped them with. They now wish to participate in a dance that the class is putting up for a function. The girls offered themselves for the dance and the teacher was in a dilemma. She had a bad experience when she asked the girls to remove their headgear for a particular programme in which all participating girls had to wear the same uniform dress. The girls not only refused to do what the teacher asked but also brought their parents the next morning to squabble about their religious rights and privileges.
“How do I convince them either to wear the dress required for the dance which implies they remove their headgear or to stay away from the dance?” The teacher asked me.
I was helpless. The country has become so viciously communalised that it is impossible to convince people that their religion is not their headgear or some such trivial symbol.
People belonging to a particular religion in India today have become very defensive (and offensive at the same time – defence and offence are two sides of the same coin) because of insecurity feelings. I don’t deny that they have been unnecessarily aggressive for most part of their religious history. It is probably that aggressiveness and concomitant ferocity that brought upon them the present backlash from the majority community in the country.
Savagery is not the prerogative of any particular religion, however. People have fought in the name of their gods irrespective of religions. Religion seems to make people aggressive necessarily. Religion belongs to the savage side of human nature. Religion is a mask put on that savage side.
There is no way anyone can cure that savagery. Except to counsel people to get rid of their religion, or to treat it as just another social meme, a fad, or something that has to be endured.  We can’t obviously give such counsel to young students. Youngsters should go through the inevitable process of growing up into maturity by being part of certain familial and social systems before they accept or reject any of those systems. Religion is one such system.
“Why don’t you give the girls some roles in the dance where the headgear becomes part of the roles?” I asked. I suggested that in the given situation today it is better to let the headgear be. If you touch it, fire and brimstone will descend from the supernatural realms of scriptures and strictures.
The headgear is just another of the masks that today’s savage religions have imposed on people. There are plenty of them masks that all the “jerks” put on [to use a term employed by Salman Rushdie in his latest novel Quichotte for today’s people who have compromised their goodness and virtue].
Jerks, that’s who we live with today. Don’t touch their masks.

PS. I had a girl student a few years back who used to remove her headgear the moment she stepped into the security of the school campus and put it back on the moment she stepped out. She was a rebel. She wrote amazingly deep poems. She inspired one of my short stories: Shahina lets her hair down.

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