Respect for each other’s faith, ethos, customs, traditions, beliefs is the very cornerstone of pluralism. In order that a pluralist society survives, all have to contribute their mite. It is perhaps in this spirit that one has to look at the compromises reached between various communities whose festivals urged diametrically opposite practices.
The synchronisation of Mahaveer Jayanthi and Idul Azha this year had led to a piquant situation and it was in the fitness of things that the related communities reached out for arrangement whereby the spirit and the festive atmosphere could be maintained. Closure of slaughterhouses was as much desirable as the acceptance of the fact that sacrificing of animals in the privacy of homes should remain undisturbed. While the sacrifice of animals - several faiths including Hinduism proscribe slaughtering of animals on selected occasions — is a well recognised religious practice, in a multi-religious society, even the followers of faiths that proscribe slaughtering of animals have a legitimate case for urging restrictions on important days.
The March 29, 1999 was altogether a different case. Here was a clash of two festivals that demanded the diametrically opposite kind of duties to be observed by two different communities. It was here that one looked out to see how a society resolved its dilemmas. The test lay in its maturity to wriggle out of a situation pregnant with all kinds of prospects. Dogmatism on the part of either would have led them nowhere. Nor was it a case of asserting one’s religious rights which a Constitution like India’s, guarantees in ample measure.
Perhaps the day would go down as an illuminated example of the spirit of understanding and camaraderie shown by the two communities by striking out a middle path : of doing nothing to publicly offend each other’s sentiments even while allowing the traditions to retain their sway in the safe precincts of homes. Aberrations in practice apart, the fact that saner elements could perceive the dangers of letting everyone have his own way beforehand, and reached out for compromises, is in itself a healthy portent. Democracy may be a game of numbers. But maintaining the spirit of secularism in a plural society is not. It is a matter of attitude, of accommodation, of tolerance. Rigid postures based on the arrogance of numbers would not simply count. If numbers alone could be the yardstick, the spirit of pluralism would have to take wings. There could also be arguments for and against the concept of ahimsa (non-violence) or sacrifice of animals to please God. Debates can go on endlessly. Some communities may have weighty arguments to prove their point. But when it comes to respecting someone’s else sentiments, pragmatism would have to take an upperhand in the interests of peace.
At this moment, one’s mind goes out to a quaint aspect of inter-faith relationship. There are certain in-built asymmetries within various faiths. Take for instance, the case of worship to God and gods. A Muslim cannot worship any god other than the one Almighty God, Allah. But for a Hindu it may be immaterial before whom he prostrates. Similarly, for a Jain sacrifice of any animal could be a sin, more so on the day of Mahavir Jayanthi. If a Muslim could postpone the ritual by a day, for which Islam provides ample scope, and avoid public display of it, all for the sake of his neighbour, or a co-citizen, nothing could be more fruitful in the interest of peace. All faiths have these in-built asymmetries. Perhaps, tolerance of this aspect too would lend our kind of secularism, a much flexible character. Walking an extra mile in the quest of accommodation, peace and progress is worthwhile. As for Muslims, we can counsel with confidence that they would need to seek such avenues purely in terms of their existence in India.
If indeed the spirit that has made the current understanding prevail, were to continue in several other aspects of life in India, perhaps much could be achieved for the sake of peace.