Largely unnoticed, like summer ants through gaps in a window sill, two pieces of news crept into our collective consciousness in the past one week.
One was about Israeli writer Yoram Kaniuk winning a lawsuit, with a Tel Aviv court granting his request to be officially registered as 'without religion', and not 'Jewish'. It is not that none before Kanuik have refused to commit to a religion on a form, but he is perhaps the first to go to such legal lengths to defend his choice against choosing a religion.
The second piece of news was from Mexico. Lawmakers there have proposed temporary marriage contracts of at least two years each to avoid the grime and tedium of the divorce process. The new laws release marriage from being a timeless contract to a time-bound one, and show it up to be what it is: a contract.
These two tiny developments, separated by about 12,500 km, drive push-pins into the heart of civilisation's two biggest preoccupations - religion and marriage. Both ought to have been private matters, but they scream across our public space, our politics, our policies, our routine day-to-day decisions.
Kaniuk's fight is not a fight to be an atheist. It is for the right to not reveal one's religion even if one is religious. Recently, Australia witnessed a campaign to mark 'no religion' in the 2011 census form.
While religion has steamrollered spirituality, marriage has muscled into relationships for centuries. One can have great relationships inside or outside a marriage, but let us face it: a marriage, stripped of allusions, illusions, and delusions, is but a contract. It kept land ownership and inheritance in agricultural societies easy to handle and out of uncomfortable grey areas. The early industrial world was fine with it. But post-industrial, post-feminist, increasingly digital societies across the world have shown discomfort with inflexible terms of the contract. With cold pragmatism, Leftist lawmakers in Mexico have caught the bull by the horn.
The developments in Tel Aviv and Mexico will certainly not make these staggeringly huge institutions like religion and marriage crumble anytime soon. But they are mainstream legal thoughts from two civilised countries, and one suspects they are rooted in the principles of universal justice. They have the potential, like summer ants, to grow colonies in our collective consciousness. Some day, we may readjust our priorities. While love, relationships, children, spirituality will exist, religion and marriage may not be such a big deal. Standing at this point of time, that is difficult to believe. But a few years ago, we could not imagine that homosexuality would get decriminalised in India. Or that cloistered Arab hegemonies will see a spring of revolt.