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Of the gods and man

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Safe haven Youngsters turn to spiritual refuge for a number of reasons; from internal turbulence to peace of mind
Safe haven Youngsters turn to spiritual refuge for a number of reasons; from internal turbulence to peace of mind

Trends The greatest tragedy of modern times is religious fundamentalism. While the youth remain unfazed by these alarming developments, it also explains the rise of spiritualism, writes Savitha Suresh Babu

One of the most recognisable images on television today is that of ultra-religious, fundamentalist youth, from members of terrorist outfits in Afghanistan to the youth behind the walls of the Lal Masjid in Pakistan to organisations such as the Bajrang Dal closer home. Everywhere one looks, there are signs of youngsters drawn to organisations that form their identities through religion and grow by creating mythical enemies of the “other”.

However, while images of religious fundamentalism are multiplying, the idea of being religious is not only still acceptable but is also becoming increasingly attractive, as youngsters in the city reveal. Mahalakshmi, a final year BA student, for instance, says she is a “devout Hindu”. She goes to the temple everyday and observes Sankashti by fasting on Mondays. For many youngsters, religion influences the way they lead their personal lives. Arshiya Uzma, a Public Relations professional says, “Religion is a way of life. It is a part of the culture you belong to. One might not recognise this consciously, but many of our actions are influenced by the religion we are born into.”

For others, organised religion does not play as big a role in their lives, although spirituality does. Thus, for instance, Harsha Gubbi, a software engineer says of what religion means to him. “I am religious…in the sense, that I am not an atheist. But it is not a very big part of my identity. It is just one of the many things that make me who I am”, he says. Vikram, a post graduate student feels similarly. “The religion we are born into shapes our personalities in certain ways. But I think it is just one the many influences in my life”, he says.

Indeed, even as youngsters turn to faith, they also emphasise that this is essentially a personal matter and does not bear consequences on other parts of their identity and interactions. Mahalakshmi is clear that her religious beliefs have never influenced her perceptions of other people. “This is my personal faith. But I have great respect for other religions ”, she says.

Her sentiments are echoed by Dilshat Banu, an undergraduate student. “There are some restrictions that are peculiar to a religion. And up to that extent, I identify with my religion. But that does not hinder my relationships with people of other faiths in any way. I have been taught to respect all religions,” she says. Every youngster also has his or her own theory on why the youth are drawn to religion. Harsha says it is “internal turbulence”. “Youngsters turn to religion as a final resort,” he says. Jacintha, a post graduate student feels religion by itself can be a calming influence for many students. But, religious fundamentalism, is something youngsters are drawn to through brainwashing by organisations, she feels.

Religion is not consciously discussed in peer groups, at least mixed peer groups. But does it still influence perceptions of people? Has religion ever made one feel out of place? The immediate response from almost everyone is a “No”. After some thinking and hesitation, however, a few admit to incidents that made them feel uncomfortable. Zeenath, a B.A. student recalls an incident where a boy from another community tried to strike up a conversation with her and they hit it off. “But soon after that, some of the boy’s friends started scolding him, asking why he couldn’t speak to a girl of their own community. It made me feel a little bad,” she says.

Of course, there also exists the space for youth who wish not to hold onto a religious or spiritual identity as such. Arshiya dismisses with the idea of youngsters being drawn to religion, with an, “I don’t think so.” “I am not ultra religious. Nor are any of my friends. It does not matter much in social interactions or between friends,” she asserts.

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