27.12.09

The battle for no religion

Islam was written on my birth certificate, but that did not ‘make’ me a Muslim. In school we had to fill such forms. In the later years of college, I would put in NA – not applicable. The clerk was too busy to notice. Most people are, unless it is in an exceedingly important context.

So, what is this hullabaloo over a well-educated couple choosing “to battle an unremitting bureaucracy from the very start and refused to fill in the column titled ‘Religion’ in their child’s most basic document, the birth certificate”? Incidentally, the TOI headline was, "No religion please, we’re liberals"! The amount of time liberals take to discuss religion cannot mean 'no religion'.

Aditi Shedde and Aalif Surti are the Hindu Maharashtrian mother and Gujarati Muslim father of the special baby. Says the mother:

“A few months into my pregnancy, we had decided that we would not give our child any religious identity. We are not against religion, but who are we to choose a religion on our baby’s behalf? We will expose him to the values of different faiths and cultures, and when he grows up he will be free to follow any faith—or none if he wishes.”


That would have been possible even if they had added a religion. There are many of us who do not actively practise any faith even though we have been branded. Heck, we get branded anyway.

If it is different cultures they want to expose the child to, then they could have made him a Jew or a Christian. As it turns out they had to fill in “Others”.

“Others is just to facilitate the generation of the certificate. We know our child has no religion.”


I do not understand. If they insist the child has no religion, why make such a noise about it? It only draws attention to the fact that they have a religion which they are not practising. Adults make these choices. Their baby will grow up and make several others. He could take to certain habits they may not approve of (and I am sure they do have certain values they believe in) – will they leave it to choice?

Why give the child a name when he can choose it when he grows up? Or will they select one of those abstract ones or something from Greek mythology to make certain that their respective religions do not come in the way to brandish their views?
If both of them belonged to the same faith would they have done the same thing? I doubt it. I think this is more statement than a practical reality.

Over a decade ago, I had written this:

But religion per se cannot give anyone an identity in the fluctuating late 20th century society. It can only provide the much-dreaded moral fibre and a mistakenly-interpreted formula for living. Besides, it does colour our interpretation of the world.


If the child under discussion were to make the choice, is there any guarantee he will not be exposed to any religion anywhere? Why are the parents identifying themselves with the different faiths they were born in? What will they tell him when he grows up a bit and sees people around with tags? Therefore, it is about religion, anyway you look at it.

When I was a kid I was asked whether I wanted to have the muliyani come over and I refused. When I stopped participating in certain rituals – which were anyway a rarity at our house – no one questioned me.

Identity is larger than a label. If it is not, then we are in serious trouble and no amount of battling bureaucracy and having something fancy on a piece of paper will change that.

What if the child wants to change his gender later? Why put 'Male' in the form? I know this is stretching it, but how else do you reach out?
- - -

In an incident that worked in an opposite manner I once filled out a form for my mother and put NA in the religion section, but the person insisted it was required. I later informed her about it and she shot back, “Who has given you the right to make this choice for me? I am a Muslim and that is a fact. I don’t tell you what you should follow, so don’t interfere in mine.”

12 comments:

  1. It is not too difficult to audit one's beliefs as an adult and re-evaluate the validity of the various things that we have internalized as part of growing up. I would say such re-evaluation is crucial to becoming a more well-rounded and "dangerous" personality in terms of survival.

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  2. Farzana,
    Mama was right.She raised you and allowed you to be all what you chose to be.I am glad she stood up to you and was not about to be bullied. That mother i choose for all.
    As in America their is no requirement to declare religion other than in hospitals so the preacher of the faith may visit the patient and dietry rules as well last rites may be observed for the patient.

    kul bhushan
    rxri.blogspot.com

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  3. Ms. FV
    What is 'muliyani '?

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  4. fv
    Religion is not made for humans. Humans are made for religion. Religion revolves around God and is God's commodity to get connected to humans via a tool called religion. So, God was unknown and lonely , so God created a medium to be known, to be identified, to be connected and called it worship.....

    God couldn't take this loneliness anymore and got sick and tired of being lonely......

    However religion is a medium only for those who are too thick headed and are unable to see God without religion's crutches, they use religion as their glasses to see God .....

    But, there are still those who get connected without religion....because, they are pure souls floating around....

    God is there , all God wants us to get attached to God. God doesn't care,if? we get attached via religion or not....

    religion for God is a medium for human feasibility....for those humans who don't need religion and get connections easily are more closer.....
    circle

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  5. First, It has become faishonable to declare yourself as aethist , which in my view is a little escapist attitude. You dont understand it... so junk it ...kind of approach.
    Two, There is something called default, your default religion is what you are born with either your father's or your mother's religion, children will have to live with default settings (just like your PC ) , your name , your religion and what not. When they turn mature enough (which is not a function of age at all), they should choose what they like religion, name, girlfriend and to stretch it really far..Gender orientation.
    Three, religions are pretty much like MNCs.. Rituals are more important than content ...Challenge it ..Question it ..
    Nutshell...Dont "escape" religion ...doubleclick it :)

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  6. Al:

    True. How 'dangerous' one becomes is not always in direct proportion to survival but also perception of survival, though.

    Kul Bhushan:

    Yeah, I was raised right and then decided do go wrong.

    Btw, who was bullying my mother - society? Or me when I wrote NA on that form? If it is the latter then I was merely being unthinking of her being different.

    Circle:

    Beautifully put. It follows more or less the path of the belief that religion has been imagined by humans.

    No wonder god is quite on my side even though I don't need any books. It s just a feeling of appreciating every little thing and occasionally getting a bit cynical. Am only protecting god's ideas and property :)

    One day I too will be a pure soul. Loved your comment.

    Manish:

    1. I am still quite fashionable then...sometimes sometimes.

    2. Default settings intact, but have to reboot everytime I reset. Waiting to become mature despite being old. Make all he choices - wrong ones. (Did you have to agree with gender orientation as stretching it?!)

    3. Oh, the "How can I help you, ma'am?" stuff. I ask the questions. So, nice.

    I don't escape it, nor double click. Just scroll and find those blinking ads for something else altogether.

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  7. Anon:

    Muliyani is a female maulvi who teaches you to read and perhaps understand the Quran.

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  8. Many thanks for explaining 'Muliyan'.
    Happy new year and all the best for your efforts to vent your views as you see.

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  9. Farzana,
    At the outset - sorry for commenting on older post.
    A small , but crucial point related to this post....
    We need to distinguish between Communal Identity, Religion (as is practiced) and Religiosity. The couple mentioned in your post may actually be talking about their communal identity. My own anecdotal observation is Communal identity does tend to acquire religious overtones. Somehow, I am unable to fit in the language part here. One would have expected the linguistic identity to be lot more dominant than religious and caste identity. Not sure, though, whether it is our public discourse that is obfuscating the issue or the divisive communal politics that has obfuscated the linguist identity. Caste is another factor that complicates the whole equation.
    Having said all of the above I still think the quest to erase traditional communal identity is not as bad as it may sound. Perhaps, it is even more likely that the communal identity is already weakened forever by frequenty large scale migration and the resultant rise of nuclear families.

    Cheers,
    Mahesh.

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  10. Hi Mahesh:

    Was wondering why you did not post on this one!

    The couple, from what is reported, was adamant about religion. I understand the differentiation you point out, but govt forms are religion specific in most cases and do not take beliefs as practised into consideration.

    (You might want to look at this:
    http://farzana-versey.blogspot.com/2009/01/why-i-choose-to-be-communal.html

    Regarding the linguistic identity, it really would not count here since the couple appears to be English-speaking. The linguistic identity is essentially about immigrant needs in cosmopolitan societies.

    Having said all of the above I still think the quest to erase traditional communal identity is not as bad as it may sound. Perhaps, it is even more likely that the communal identity is already weakened forever by frequenty large scale migration and the resultant rise of nuclear families.

    Wouldn't you say that language is part of the communal identity? The drawing board might embellish it with oneness, but there are specific colloquialisms that restrict a larger pooling in.

    Nuclear families have indeed lessened the divide, but they have given people the remote...and they can watch all that they want about different communities :)

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  11. Farzana,
    Sorry for delayed responses and postings. I am battling my own "workplace ghosts".
    Back to the topic...
    Your link from old postings here (http://farzana-versey.blogspot.com/2009/01/why-i-choose-to-be-communal.html
    ) pretty much articulates my intent.
    A point - though - about your reply....
    At one point you said : "Regarding the linguistic identity, it really would not count here since the couple appears to be English-speaking. The linguistic identity is essentially about immigrant needs in cosmopolitan societies. "
    At the same time another part of your response said ....
    "Wouldn't you say that language is part of the communal identity? The drawing board might embellish it with oneness, but there are specific colloquialisms that restrict a larger pooling in. "
    Well, it is kinda intriguing as I percieve. Despite all the "cosmopolitanism" people still tend to retain their communal identity. Personal observations at my end hint at stronger bond with linguistic identity. Perhaps - just perhaps - because for the simple reason that language is something which we are born and brought up with much closely compared to caste and religion which operate at much different level - given that as a society we tend to interprete Caste and Religious "Code of Conducts" pretty much flexibly suiting individual needs. It is here where I find the conflict - mostly accentuated by obsession of Caste and Religious identities in the public discourse.
    BTW, did you notice - a couple of weeks back MNS (Yes - Raj Thackeray's MNS) added Muslims - specifically, Marathi Muslims - to their "Marathi Maanus" bandwagon. Again, they are not first. A left wing organization - if my memory serves me correct , that would be sometime in 1990-1991 - had tried bolstering the same identity by conducting Marathi Muslim literary conference (Marathi Muslim Sahitya Parishad) hoping that it would negate the religious identity in the face of (religiously) communally charged situation then (Remeber, we are talking about late 80s and early 90s). Too correct, too little and hopelessly late in the game - one would say with retrospective diligence. Another glaring example - oftly missed by contemporary media - is JKLF (Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front) early agenda about kashmiriyat. JKLF - in it's earlier period - did stress much on "Kashmiriyat". In JKLF's position then Islam - on its own - never experienced "Khatra" in Kashmir , leave alone anyplace else in the world. A political position hated by ruling class on both sides of the border.
    Be that as it may , coming back to "Battle for no religion" - I still maintain my "Great Work Guys, Follow Up and Push the Government for No Religion Column" stand. So what that one is born Muslim or a Marathi Hindu brahmin. Who knows, next - it could be the Hinglish speaking fellas experiencing their identity crisis.
    And , BTW, I tend to agree with your mom that her identity is her prerogative. Nobody, not even her daughter, has a say in that. Guess, we infidels always tend to wind up with such strong willed mothers. :-)

    Cheers,
    Mahesh.
    P.S.: Just noticed , you haven't posted anything past couple of days. Hoping you to be busy on professional front and everything being fine on personal front.

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  12. Hi Mahesh:

    Apologies for the disappearance.

    The dissonance in my two statements is about practised reality versus projected reality. Therefore, “immigrant needs” do became a part of the “communal identity” in that the linguistic paradigm becomes a gauge for where you come from and what you are. What might have been deemed as survival expediency transforms into a community with specific religio-regional connotations. Therefore, as I said earlier, colloquialisms imbue what might have seemed a common location with ‘differences’. Language is not communication alone anymore for those who seek or are forced to possess a god-figure identity.

    Thanks for updating me on Raj Thackeray. He is only confirming my thesis that language does not exist anymore without a religion. Why, even poets like Namdeo Dhasal do speak a different language, in that have another voice. It is another matter that they politically work along with the Shiv Sena!

    The JKLF’s Kashmiriat stand was in fact also the position of the Panun Kashmir group of the Pandits.

    I still maintain my "Great Work Guys, Follow Up and Push the Government for No Religion Column" stand. So what that one is born Muslim or a Marathi Hindu brahmin. Who knows, next - it could be the Hinglish speaking fellas experiencing their identity crisis.

    Ah, but see you are specifying the Marathi Hindu Brahmin and leaving Muslims in a cesspool of being just Muslims without any moorings…how communal is that :) And I thought Hinglish speaking WAS the identity crisis.

    We infidels are probably what we are because of the strong-willed wombs that managed to keep us in for that long!

    P.S.: I was travelling and did not feel like writing. I ought to have been courteous enough to mention it, but that would require writing.

    Hoping you to be busy on professional front and everything being fine on personal front.

    Hmm…one cannot be busy on the personal front and everything not fine on the professional one?! Just wondering… Hope your “workplace ghosts” don’t haunt you for too long.

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