Over 90 percent of world population is affiliated to some religion or the other and for millions of people life would be unthinkable without the guidance of their religion. Religion provides a sense of peace and meaning to life and connects human beings to family and society.
Yet, in the present age, religion has emerged as a major source of conflict across the globe. Ideological strife has given place to the “clash of civilisations’ and it is felt that in the foreseeable future, religion will be a major source of conflict in and among nations. The possibilities of conflict are greater in countries such as India where different religions and cultures do meet. Such clashes can be prevented if appropriate strategies are formulated and implemented at an early stage so as to ensure religious harmony.
The spirit of the founders of the different religions was the same though rituals differ. All religions proclaim the same principles. Mahatma Gandhi, who devoted a large part of his life to the study of religion and to discussion with religious leaders of all faiths, affirmed that every scripture should be treated equally, that there is no justification to the claim of supremacy of any one religion and that we are all children of the same God. He said “What is needed is a living friendly contact among the followers of the religions of the world and not a clash among them in the fruitless attempt on the part of each community to show the supremacy of its faith over the rest” (Young India, 23-04-1937).
The Constitution of India provides that it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to promote harmony amongst all people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities. Respect for religious diversity and interfaith dialogue is an essential and urgent need.
Religious education should be imparted to children in the schools. The basics of different religions should be taught to them from a cultural and historical perspective without emotional involvement and in a manner children find interesting and will remember.
The major festivals of Diwali, Eid and Christmas ought to be honoured by all citizens. Deepawali is the festival of lights and signifies the victory of good over evil. At this point of time, in many parts of India people of different religions celebrate Diwali. In some countries abroad, Diwali is also observed as a mark of South Asian identity.
(The writer is a former Union Minister)