Faith is a matter of the heart, not clothes | columns | Hindustan Times
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Faith is a matter of the heart, not clothes

A third-generation Protestant, YS Rajashekhara Reddy had believed religion was a personal matter. Perhaps here’s a lesson for our politicians, writes Khushwant Singh.

columns Updated: Oct 11, 2009 18:29 IST

Till his death on September 2, not many people outside Andhra Pradesh knew that Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy was Christian. The names of his family members do not reveal their religious identity: his wife is Vijayalaxmi, his son Jagan Mohan, his daughter Sharmila. As chief minister he was not known to attend services in churches of the towns and cities he visited. He went to Hindu temples and Muslim dargahs to join in their religious celebrations and happily sported the dab of vermillion powder that Hindu priests put on his forehead.

He regarded religion as a strictly personal matter, not to be flaunted in public. In contrast, chief ministers of other states, barring those ruled by the communists, make a great show of going to temples, mosques and gurudwaras, or seek the blessings of godmen. So what? The point I wish to make is simple: in any society which pretends to be secular, public figures should not assert their religious identities because it creates an unnecessary gap between them and people of other faiths.

This brings me to the role of religious minorities in India. Christians form around 3 per cent of the population. There aren’t many big Christian landowners or industrial houses. The only really rich Christians I know of are the Matthews of the Malayala Manorama group of papers. Nevertheless, the community enjoys 100 per cent literacy and has done more for education and medical services in our country than the others put together. I would hazard a guess that crime rates, including corruption, among Christians in India are probably the lowest.

By contrast, the Sikhs, who are the richest minority and form around 2 per cent of the population, have 30 per cent illiteracy, a high rate of crime and violence, and probably the highest incidence of liquor and drug addiction. Worst of all is the plight of the largest minority, the Muslims, who form about 13 per cent of our population. Although they have multi-billionaires such as Azim Premji, the Hamdard family, Shahnaz Husain and a few others; the descendants of erstwhile ruling families like the Nizams of Hyderabad and the nawabs of Bhopal, Pataudi and Junagarh; and vast Wakf properties, their literacy rates are the lowest, particularly among women.

A majority of them continue to exhibit their separateness by their clothes. It used to be fez caps once; now it is skull caps and the Awami salwar kameez for men. A high percentage of Muslim women in urban areas continue to wear hijab — either full-length burqas or head-scarves which cover more than their heads. Instead of getting on with things that matter like education and healthcare, their leaders waste most of their time asserting their separateness.

I regard Rajasekhara Reddy as the best example of what a chief minister should be and the Christian contribution to India’s welfare as something other communities should emulate.

Come September

September is best described as a neither here nor there month. The summer is nearly over, but not quite. One day is as warm as any in August, the next day can be as cool as early October. You do not know whether to switch on your AC or do without it and switch on your fan. Watermelons and mangoes are on their way out; apples, pears, walnuts enter the market.

But we had hardly any rain during the rainy season and made up the loss with a few downpours in September. However, one thing is certain that even if there is drought in most parts of northern India, north Indian rivers will be in spate by late September and October.

The Himalayas get their quota of snows in winter and are exposed to the full blaze of the sun through the summer. The melted snow runs into all north Indian rivers from the Sutlej to the Brahmaputra, causing extensive foods as they go along on their sea-ward journey.

September marks the beginning of the season of fulfilment. Kalidas alludes to this in a beautiful verse translated by A.W. Ryder:
Over the rice-fields laden plants/ are shivering to the freeze;
While in his brisk caress dance / the blossom-burdened tree;
He ruffles every Lilly pond / where blossoms kiss and part,
And stirs with lover's fancied fond / The young man’s eager heart.

Statue Raj
Behenji is the true leader of the downtrodden
They can never, never
forget her contribution
And should somebody dare
to do
She has erected a reminder by building her statue
There is nothing wrong in it,
it’s no crime
She has become immortal in
her lifetime
In her lifetime, the poor and
not-so-poor have understood
That eight-hour outrages and
dry taps are only for their good.
That all her energy for their sake
she has bent
And all the public money on monument she has spent
They love her because she works hard
And fights the Centre with no holds barred.

(Contributed by Kuldip Salil, New Delhi)