Jackie Kabir

The rhythmic sound of the bus engine on narrow snaky road should have brought sleep in all of our eyes, but the weather and the environment were far too different that any of us has ever loved to see. It was far too exciting than any of us usually experience every day in our own backdrops.
Actually, when we reached Bangalore on an Easy Jet flight, it seemed to be the perfect place to have a discussion on interfaith issues. To my curious mind, it was only a beginning. Much more interesting, captivating places waited for us who gathered in south India for participating in an inter-faith discussion, aiming at understanding each-other’s religion to an extent of each-other’s acceptability.
There were twenty-nine of us. Twenty-nine youths from across South Asia gathered in the Indian city of Bangalore to attend an interfaith training. Fifteen of us were in each minibus travelling around South India’s best known historical places. We were singing in all different languages as we were playing antakshari.
I was amidst of a young and vibrant group of people who made me see life from a different vantage point. On our way to see the Mysore Palace on the road I saw a saree-clad woman riding a motorbike with two children on her back. This is a scene captured in my mind’s lens worth making into a post card even though it was a common scenario for the people living in South India; any part of India for that matter.
We saw a procession with some drums playing, there was a small altar made of flowers carried by four men. Immediately we thought they must be carrying a god or goddess; but to our surprise we saw that they were in fact carrying a dead body in sitting position. Upon enquiry we found out that there is community in Karnataka who carry the dead in sitting position before cremating them.
This was my first visit to Bangalore, the fourth largest and fastest growing city in the India. It is known as the Silicon Valley of India as it accounts for 35 per cent of India’s software exports. Bangalore is also known as the “Garden City of India” because of its lovely climate, greenery and the presence of public parks, including the Lal Bagh and the “Festival of Lights” which transcends demographic and religious lines and is celebrated with great zeal.
These young representatives of five different countries resided at Fireflies Ashram for ten days. There were people who were religious, people who were secular and people who were spiritual. The training was jointly organized by World Church Council and Meeting rivers.
The people in South Asian countries have cohabited with one another for hundreds of years without any conflicts. It was their colonial rulers who introduced the people of South Asia as different sects for implementing their famous theory of: “Divide and rule”. The seed of religious conflict was sewn by the British during 1947 when India and Pakistan gained their independence, resulting a distrust growing among the Muslims and the Hindus.
Prior to which Hindu Muslims have lived side by side since the time of sultanate. Roughly for 700 years. The colonial rule for 200 years shaped the history of South Asia. Hindus and the Muslims started moving in and out of India and Pakistan. There were riots, a lot of Muslims had to leave their home land and come to a new place where there was nothing for them and vice versa. The anger of those who left their home had always been the driving force in the demarcation between the religions.
In the 10 days all the participants lived in the same premesis sharing the same food, breathing the same air and being part of each other’s pain and sorrows. This was a unique experience for almost all of us. We toured around South India to visit some of the places which have historical signifcance. Among them were Chamudeswari Temple (a temple of Ma Durga which is situated 3000 feet above the ground level), Tipu Sulatn’s summer Palace Daulat Daria, the present king of Mysore’s Palace designed in Indo-Saracenic style by the well known British architect, Henry Irwin, the palace is a treasure house of exquisite carvings and works of art from all over the world.
Somnathpur Temple which was built in 1268 A.D. by Somnath and is dedicated to Lord Keshava. Somnathpur, a village, is located on the bank of river Kaveri. The temple is a symbol of Hoysala Dynasty that ruled for 350 years. While visiting these historical places the participants got to know each other better and came to the conclusion that all religions infact sprouted from the same tree echoing professor Rambachan’s (Chair and Head of Theology Dept. Olaf College, USA) famous saying “The one being the wise call by many names” was once again reiterated by the Bangledeshis, Indians, the Nepalis, Burmese and the Sri Lankans. The main four religions of the world shared their faith with the ones who believe that there Gods are the spirits of their ancestors (a religion known as Animism).
The most interesting place that we visited was the village of the Machur Kare Jenukuruba tribal village which is in fact situated in Rajib Ghandi National Park which is a government-owned area.
It’s a village of the adivasis the notable thing about the village is that there was not a single piece of litter in the whole village even though there was no water flow or sewage in the village. These villagers are very much conscious about their environment; they live on the fruits and vegetables that grow in the forest without exploiting the nature. We were welcomed by villagers with honey they collected as their livelihood. The tribe also shares their livelihood with the bears of the forest as the bears also live on honey. We were told that all tribal people follow similar lifestyles.
In the interfaith training session for youth was spread out for ten days; the first five days we travelled around South India. The second five days we had informative discussions about the four main religions of the world, plenary session and there were committees formed which would do the recording of the proceedings and prepare a report. We heard the voices of the minority communities of Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
The scholars of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam gave speeches about their respective religions; a lot of unanswered questions were answered and a lot of confusion about Islam, Christianity and other religions were cleared by the learned people who came from different parts of the world. The youth all agreed that all major and minor religions of the world talk about the oneness of the Supreme Being; they talk about loving all creations of the nature along with nature itself. And that there is no space in any religion for hatred or intolerance it’s only the followers who want to gain some earthly benefit use religion to do so. Ordinary people are always misled by these so called leaders of different religions.
The conclusion we came up to was that all the main religions and the minor religions of the world more or less talk about the same things. Believing in God, co-existence of different religions, loving nature and it beings are some of the commonalities of different religions. But then why do we have conflicts in the name of religion is a prime question of today’s youth? The fact that religion is the major reason for clashes between different ethnic groups can’t be denied. So it is up to the young people of today to stop violence in the name of religion.
When someone somewhere says that Muslims are terrorists we have to say that well I know Muslims who aren’t like that like wise when someone talks about Hindu fundamentalists we have to say that there are Hindus who believe that there should be peace among all religions and so on. Religion should be a private affair to the devotees. Politicians should not use religion in order to win the vote banks neither should they be allowed to politicise religion for their benefit.
The participants gathered and came to the consensus which came out in the poem written by one of the participants:

Hindus, Muslim, Christians, Buddhists
Secularist, indigenous people…
From India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar…
An international workshop
The cynic inside me, was searching for a
Pakistani and a Punjabi
Inter-religious harmony;
We were discussing and discussing.
But actually,
What’s the problem?
In the intervals of discussion,
I was striving to study that beautiful Nepali song
And every now and then,
I was humming,
Kanchhi hey Kanchhi,
I was laughing,
That khazur’s jokes….
But actually, what is the problem?
I was observing,
Two guys from the valley of the Himalayas.
One, with fire in eyes,
and power in words.
Other, gently speaking,
With full of innocence in eyes.
But anyway,
I couldn’t understand
what is wrong …
A friend, upon her,
Lord Shiva is residing,
And she spoke my National language,
Better than me.
And, we are from different countries.
When a friend’s Mom called,
Her room mate from a different country attended.
They talked in the language of love.
That language was Great to me.
Time to destroy all the walls.
These days,
We were not in water tight compartments.
We talked and shared.
Billy is a Christian from Myanmar.
Jackie is a Muslim from Bangladesh.
They love each other as we all do.
They don’t have any problem.Then what is the problem?

Jackie teaches English language and lives in Dhaka.

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