Voluntarism across all religions needs to be increased with a wide humanitarian perspective
“Is it true that silver bricks will also be used for the construction of Ram Mandir?" a small tea shop vendor turned daily-wage labourer asked the question randomly when I was enquiring him whether he can work at my home. With a timid face, he informed me that his small tea shop business is closed since March 24, the day when the first lockdown was announced. And more importantly, the current flood has adversely affected his small paddy field where he cultivated rice last year at Morigaon district of Assam. Therefore, he does not have any alternative but to stand in the line of daily labourers in Guwahati.
While trying to cross him, he once again posed a question that while thousands of people like him have faced their worst-ever crisis due to lockdown and flood, how far justifiable to organise the Bhumi Pujan of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya in a massive and costly way.
He added that apart from Assam, flood also creates havoc in Bihar and Kerala. The undergraduate Horidhan Das sadly said, “The contributors who are now donating cash and sliver bricks to Ram Janmbhoomi Trust of Uttar Pradesh why could not come forward to donate money or food items when many daily wage migrant labourers died of hunger during the initial phase of lockdown.”
With utter frustration, he even showed anger and said, “Why could not such time of overwhelming donations come for our flood-affected people of the state.”
As a person crossing the age of 40s, he even firmly said that he is a Hindu by birth and performs prayer daily. While trying to avoid him, he lastly gave a concluding remark to me saying that religious temples decoration is more important in comparison to the lives of the poor hungry population.
As a Hindu coming from an Assamese Brahmin family, I was not so faced with such a complicated situation due to my religious denomination. One part of me is feeling happy to see a dream of a Ram Mandir coming true after a long battle. On the other side of my humanitarian perspective puts me in a dilemma after listening to Das' questions.
The timid voice of Das keeps whispering in my mind when he said, “Do not think that I am a supporter of the Congress Party as I asked these questions.”
The period when he and millions of lower middle class and poor people have to fight for their living, he could not resist saying that the costly affair in the name of religion gives a painful feeling not only to him but also to millions of people who have been going through trauma and frustration to run their families.
The interaction with Das provided deep anguish to me which provoke me to analyze the situation from a wider perspective with a humanitarian approach.
Coming to the scenario of the state, this year flood hits badly in Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Biswanath, Darrang, Baksa, Barpeta, Chirang, Bongaigaon, Kokrajhar, Dhubri, South Salmara, Goalpara, Kamrup, Morigaon, Nagaon, Golaghat, Jorhat, Majuli, Sivasagar and Dibrugarh districts where more than 100 people lost their lives. As per reports of the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) over 16.55 lakh people were affected.
The lives of the affected people are in very bad condition as thousands are still in the relief camps (https://thewire.in/environment/assam-bihar-flood-update-imd-alerts-kerala).
It is very interesting to observe that the COVID 19 crisis has not prevented devotees for making donations to the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teertha Kshetra Trust, which is responsible for the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya.
It is easily understandable that being a Hindu, we all want that Ram Mandir should be built in Ayodhya. However, it is in the current crisis situation, could it be done in a less expensive way. More funds are needed to repair damages done by floods in Assam, Bihar, and Kerala as well as reconstruction of our economy which has badly hit where millions of people in India lost their livelihood.
As a researcher of social science, I always believe that religion is a double-edged sword. However, religions are more used for conflicts rather than for peace and prosperity. The voluntarism of religions are not widely exposed. When I typed in the Google search engine volunteer work of Hindu religious bodies, I have found about 83,00,000 results and Muslims about 9,35,00,000 results and Christian about 10,30,00,000.
As a researcher, I admit that information received from a particular search engine could not provide a complete picture of voluntarism of various religions of the world. However, it can provide a guideline to reach the desired target. The mere reflection of data regarding three important religions on voluntarism indicates being the oldest religion of the world on voluntarism Hindu religion is far behind in comparison to the other two religions.
Perhaps, the voluntarism in Hindu religions are not well organized compared to other religions, or else the voluntarism approach in our religion is limited only to the construction of temples or organization of massive puja pandals.
Being a close associate of a local Durga Puja Committee, I myself now think that we need to think through the lens of Das on our way of religious practices. It is need of the hour for our religious thinkers to really introspect towards the humanitarian approach of religion. This may perhaps allow widening the constituencies of the religion and we need not feel any dilemma when someone from down the social ladder poses some serious questions about the religious approach.
The voluntarism across all religions need to be increased with a wide humanitarian perspective which can provide a sigh of relief of millions and provided the opportunity to bring back the smile in their faces.
(The author is a Fulbright Conflict Resolution Fellow. Views expressed are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)