RELIGION AND CITIZENSHIP
Economic & Political
january 7, 2012 vol xlvIi no 1
Hindu bureaucrats, corporate executives, media persons andacademics from Hyderabad were also liberal in terms of theirinterpretation of religiosity and wanted to be identied as goingbeyond the ritualistic aspect of religion. They regarded religion asa higher reality not limited by “rules which dene a particular reli-gion”. A dynamic woman civil servant was quick to confess that,although she believed in “prayer”, she was a “quintessential cos-mopolitan”, and did not take going to temple regularly as “beingreligious”: “I go there because it is a place which has a particularenergy. I could nd the same energy in a mosque or a church. ...Itis not as though I must go there. It is not a dogma.” A young pro-prietor of an
company in Hyderabad was clear that religion isabout realising oneself and not about rituals. In the long course of history, he suggested, people have forgotten the real meaning of religion and mistake the rituals that they practise for religion.Some of the bureaucrats and several corporate executives, inboth Punjab and Andhra Pradesh, also regarded religiosity per seas relatively unimportant, while emphasising the need to be “spir-itual” and follow the underlying philosophy and values professedby religion. A former chief secretary of the government, in his late70s, stated that he did not have any faith in rituals or what hecalled “superstitions”. For him, every religion has a spiritual basis,leading him to prefer to follow the teachings of those gurus who were, in his opinion, “mystics of the highest order”. Religion forhim was a thing of personal faith and spirituality.Similarly, an
ofcer and a managing director of a publicsector company in Hyderabad did not equate religion with ritual-ism, saying “I don’t run from temple to temple and perform allreligious ceremonies”. In addition, he claimed to believe in whathe called “humanitarian religion, where one human being is notpitted against another in the name of religion”, a view that wasechoed by a radio producer from the state-controlled All IndiaRadio, Hyderabad, who was of the opinion that: “We must be reli-gious in a very broad sense. Religion interests me in a culturalsense, basically as a thing which denes the way people behaveand live. In India culture and religion are not separate things.”The development workers interviewed largely attributed theirinspiration to work in the social sector to have come from religionand its teachings. As a doctor by profession and social worker by choice, the woman president of an internationally acclaimed homefor the destitute called her institution “a laboratory of the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib”. The main thing in the book, she asserted, isto work for the well-being of all creatures –
. Shethought rituals to be important because if one does not go to thegurdwara, it would be difcult to know what the gurus have writ-ten, but, she argued, if one only follows ritual and forgets ethics, itis of no use: “Do not just chant
[the name of God]; act according to the written rules and follow ethics”. A physician and social worker in a renowned medical centre inPunjab believed that his values come from his religion, and as-serted that Sikhism was unique in many ways –
the tenth guru gave us the tag ‘
’ and he gave us this form, hegave us this particular appearance. So, he said that with this appear-ance you can’t hide anywhere and every Sikh is the messenger of the Almighty – that itself alters your behaviour and everything, in per-sonal and ofcial life.
interviewee, an anthropologist and a public servant, claimed, “Ihave never really been a religious-minded person” as he “challengesthe opinions, beliefs and ideas propagated by religion and analysesthem very critically”. However, he claried, “I am an agnostic;I’m not atheistic”. Our interaction with representatives from dif-ferent social groups (both Sikhs and Hindus) revealed considera-ble diversity in the interpretation of “religiosity”, as well as “be-ing religious”. Professionals such as bureaucrats, corporate exec-utives, media persons, and academics wanted to be categorisedas “partly” or “moderately” religious (which they did not think inany way meant being “less” religious), as they are not particularly ritualistic in their outlook. Still others in the same categories em-phasised the spiritual and values dimensions of religion. Those inthe development sector insisted that it is only by the “practice” of teachings that one justies a claim that one is religious. Respond-ents who are traditional business people were emphatic in high-lighting the importance of both the ritualistic and symbolic as wellas the values and ethical characteristics of religion and made nobones about dening the role that religion plays in their lives. Theresponses from among the youth and students on professionalcourses were wide-ranging and many of their interpretationsreected one or the other of the four viewpoints mentioned here.
Religious vs Ritualistic
A majority among the bureaucrats, young corporate executives,media persons, and academics preferred not to be categorised as“very” religious, at least if a “strictly” ritualistic sense of the term were adopted. Sikh respondents indicated that they may notstrictly follow some religious practices, such as visiting the gurd- wara regularly, reciting the holy scriptures, baptism, and wearingof religious symbols. Among Hindus, rituals like temple attend-ance, fasting on holy days, doing pujas (special prayers), going onpilgrimage, and wearing of
(vermilion) on the forehead were suggestive of a person’s religious inclination. Although it was evident from the appearance of many of theSikh respondents that a majority displayed the prescribed symbolsof their religion, clearly many felt that this was not enough to becalled religious. As one bureaucrat who is the managing directorof a public sector company claimed, “I am religious by appearancebecause we have some [overt] symbols, and so I display thosesymbols”. But he did not want to be categorised as “stringently”religious, as he felt that his actions are not guided by ritualism. Heclaimed instead to be religious to the extent that he consistently follows “the basic tenets of every religion – humility, service tohumanity, and welfare of the needy and downtrodden”. A Sikh media person who considered himself religious said that“at the very crux of it, it means accepting and trying to understandcertain core values of religion as a part of your life and at a very supercial level it means adhering to the various symbols”. A publicservant and president of a trade association in Punjab suggestedthat there are two types of religious Sikhs: rst, the person wholooks Sikh, i e, is externally religious (by way of dressing), and sec-ond, the person who follows the path set by the gurus. The second,he asserted, is more important, but he also emphasised the need tobe a Sikh of the rst kind, as outward symbols, in his view, inculcatethe discipline of learning about and understanding the religion.