I have the proverbial bee in my bonnet…and i guess it is time to try and blog about it. A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a 5 yr old boy when he sneezed…without thinking twice, i said “bless you!” and without batting an eyelid or wasting a moment in though, the little boy looked at me and declared that he did not believe in my gods or anyone else’s but his own. I was too surprised to respond…i did not think that saying ‘bless you’ had religious connotations or would at any level offend a 5 year old boy. I dwelt upon it for a bit and then got busy with other stuff.
Fast forward to today when I was at a school and was told that the kids could not learn christmas carols because the school stayed separate from religion. We were talking about Jingle Bells and Rudolph the reindeer. For whatever reason this whole scenario has been bothering me. The school gives vacations for christmas and dassera and diwali and eid but does not talk about any of the above in the school?
In a time fraught with religious clashes, hatred, lack of understanding and acceptance of the other, I would imagine that the school would be a safe space where one could broach the topic of the other without any indoctrination..a place where exposure, exploration, understanding and tolerance would be possible to work on. Religion is all around us…from what we eat and what we wear to how we talk and how we react and respond to things. I am no devout follower of a specific God but I believe there is a greater power there and while I may not understand it I believe God exists. You can call him what you like and find him where you want. By that same token, I totally respect people who don’t believe in him.
But manifestations of religion and belief are all around us…the temple bells and the call of prayers from the mosque both drift into my balcony every morning. The almost innocuous looking cross that my cleaning lady wears…my husband praying at the altar in the morning. The beggar on the street who blesses you…the colourful brightly lit streets during diwali, the caroling around Christmas…how can you escape it? And why must you? We are in a secular country and a country of many religious beliefs. Looking at those beliefs and their manifestations in a safe and constructive environment is, in my opinion, dearly needed. It can help build understanding and respect. I don’t think the school should teach religion..that is for each family and child to choose or not choose…it is a personal choice…But, that does not mean one continues as if none of it exists at all. I see no harm in kids celebrating different festivals together..seeing similarities and understanding each other better.
I graduated from a protestant school…we sang hymns every morning at assembly and learned christmas carols and as far as i can remember there wasn’t a single protestant or catholic kid in my class. I walked out with a better understanding of crtain beliefs and way of life and I feel I am richer for it if anything.
Any thoughts on this? I would love some inputs because for some reason this very small thing has destabilized me..it has been bothering me through the day…Should schools celebrate religious festivals? Should the school try to expose children to other ways of life that the ones that the kids come in knowing? (once again, I am not in favor of the school ‘teaching religion’)