• Deepti Menon

The Difference in our Bones! by Deepti Menon



“The need of the moment is not one religion, but mutual respect and tolerance of the devotees

of the different religions.” Mahatma Gandhi

It was William Wordsworth who proclaimed, “The world is too much with us.” In the days of

yore, there was no organised religion, and people worshipped Mother Nature. Gods were seen

in trees, in rivers and in objects of nature. Life was simple, as man showed his gratitude

towards Mother Nature for sustaining human life. Pantheism was also prevalent, the concept

that God is all around us, throughout the universe, a concept that is often found in Hinduism

as well.

In Hindu philosophy and lore, when Mother Nature was overrun by avarice, evil and atrocity,

Lord Vishnu, came down to earth in His human avatar to vanquish the perpetrators of evil. Of

ten avatars, nine have come and gone, and the tenth remains, Kalki avatar in Kali Yug, when

evil is expected to hit its peak with its overweening influence.

The French seer, Nostradamus, also spoke of the anti-Christs who would ultimately be

vanquished for the good of humanity.

When did religion grow to the extent that it began souring relationships? Was it during the

Crusades or during the persecution of the Jews? Or did it burgeon further during the conflict

between the Catholics and the Protestants in the 16th and the 17th centuries?

How did Hinduism, a religion that is more a way of life, a religion that had always opened its

arms to accept other religions within its benign fold, begin to change colour? Religious

tolerance was the keyword in the past as other religions emerged from within and without –

Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

The Constitution of India drafted by Sri. BR Ambedkar proved to be a marvel of precision in

all aspects. On the question of religion, it gives the right to all Indians to practise the religion

of their choice freely, without facing discrimination.

As the years went by, the above tenet began to waver. Incidents like the 1969 riots in Gujarat,

the anti-Sikh violence in 1984, the 1989 Bhagalpur riots, the Kashmir turmoil in 1989,

Godhra and its aftermath in Gujarat in 2002, the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots and the Delhi riots

in 2020 forced communities to view one another as religious opponents. Every action proved

a provocation. The minorities who had co-existed peacefully with the majority groups found

themselves being pushed to the edge of society. The various communities circled one another

like wary boxers, trying to fathom weaknesses that could potentially topple the others,

lunging at their Achilles’ heel.

Sadly, the moral fibre of the country has been rent apart with the religious card being played

with impunity. Hate speeches have raised their ugly heads, hitting below the belt, hurting

sentiments as people do not stop to think of the harm they do when they vitiate the

atmosphere. Over the past few years, the public has watched in alarm as hate speeches create

discord, divide hearts and bring forth hatred and discrimination, a veritable Pandora’s box

where unlike the original Greek legend, there is no hope left. Only a churning cauldron of

violence, abhorrence and mayhem!

The perpetrators spew venom, the listeners react pugnaciously, and the venom continues to

make its way, polluting the viscous atmosphere further. Hate speeches have never done any

good – they uniformly incite violence and strife.

In 1988, writer Salman Rushdie published his book ‘The Satanic Verses’, stoking up a

controversy that set off irate demonstrations across the world. This book appeared to doubt

the divinity of the Quran, going to the extent of maybe even mocking some of its most

sensitive teachings. In 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s supreme leader, issued a

religious ruling, a fatwa, exhorting Muslims to kill the author who dared to deride their holy

book and their religion. For almost a decade, Rushdie hid from public view, going into

protective hiding till the controversy blew over. In 1998, the Khomeini died, and the Iranian

government revoked the fatwa. However, thirty years later, he still occasionally receives

threats to his life.

Before moving on to my next point, I would like to take you back to the Jyllands-Posten

Prophet Muhammed cartoons that came out in Denmark on the 30th of September, 2005.

These consisted of twelve editorial cartoons, visual representations of the Prophet. This

deeply offended the sentiments of Muslims across the world as Islam believes in the concept

of aniconism, or opposition to the use of images or icons to represent living creatures. Sadly,

the incident came at a time when social and political tensions between the West and the

Islamic countries was at their peak, including the September 11th attack.

Satire can sometimes be taken too far. In February 2006, the French weekly, Charlie Hebdo,

reprinted the above cartoons creating yet another furore. To make matters worse, the French

court ruled in favour of Philippe Val, the editor of the weekly, stating that it was the

fundamentalists, and not Muslims, who were being targeted and ridiculed in the cartoons. To

cut a long story short, on November 2nd , 2011, Charlie Hebdo’s editorial offices were burnt

down in a firebomb attack. The reason was that the weekly had announced a special edition

under the name ‘Charia Hebdo’ and named the Prophet as the editor-in-chief.

On 7th January, 2015, two gunmen barged into the Charlie Hebdo office and shot twelve

people, wounding eleven others. Thousands of supporters took to the streets of Paris shouting

the slogan, “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”), a slogan which sent a message of solidarity

across the world. On 14th January, the newsmen who had survived the attack drew a cartoon

of a tearful Prophet holding a “Je Suis Charlie” sign. The headline above read “Tout est

pardonne” (“All is pardoned”).

What a tragic situation! One would have thought that incidents like the above would have

doused many religious flames around the world. However, hate speeches continue unabated,

as motormouths bash on regardless!

In recent times, some very disturbing trends have been noticed. Right from hate speeches

delivered during a religious meeting, where strong words were used against a certain

community (Delhi), to an unrepentant seer issuing rape threats (Sitapur), a senior politician

making controversial remarks against the members of another community (Kerala) to a public

figure known for making hate speeches (Uttarakhand), the provocations have been myriad.

As educationists and writers, many of us worry about the impact such speeches have on the

youth of the country. To their developing minds, such impetuses cause a change in attitude

that could well warp their entire mindset. Again recently, the sight of a young boy shouting

malicious slogans during a rally hit the public eye. He had obviously been tutored by an

adult, his innocence wrested away as he spouted ugly words. Later, when the boy was found

and questioned, he had no idea what he had said or why he had done so. The innocence of the

lamb being exploited!

The youth of a country are its biggest asset. They are the ones who can be moulded into

leaders worthy enough to take the country to greater heights. For that, they need to have

leaders to emulate, and stalwarts whom they admire. The statesmen of the past lived lives that

were worth emulating. They measured their words and spoke words of wisdom. In times of

conflict, they maintained their silence. As the old saying goes, “A closed mouth catches no

flies!”

When a spokesperson of the present ruling party lost her temper and made outrageous

statements against the Prophet, statements that sent a frisson of disbelief and disgust across

the world, many Islamic countries promptly responded with sharp criticism. Years of amity

and co-operation unravelled, creating discord amongst friendly nations as many of them

demanded an apology from India.

By then, the harm had already been done, provoking the said party to suspend the

spokesperson and an errant colleague who had shared a screenshot of her derogatory tweet.

She received death threats on Twitter and Instagram in the aftermath of a public outcry.

Several FIRs were also lodged against her across the country and in two police stations in

Kolkata.

In Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, protests broke out in which there was stone-pelting, arson

and vandalising. Two of the protestors were injured and finally succumbed to their injuries.

The protests continued across the country, with many baying for the blood of the person who

had dared to insult the Prophet.

The most horrific incident took place on June 28th , 2022, when a tailor named Kanhaiya Lal

was beheaded by two assailants for having posting content supporting the spokesperson who

had insulted the Prophet. This incident happened in broad daylight in Udaipur’s Maldas

Street and was roundly condemned by people from all parties. The two murderers have since

been booked and arrested for the heinous crime.

On June 13th , 2022, the Delhi High Court said, “Hate speeches by elected representatives,

political and religious leaders based on religion and caste bulldoze the constitutional ethos

and violate constitutional provisions and therefore warrant stringent peremptory action on the

part of central and state governments.” It went on to state that leaders occupying high posts

and offices, and those have mass appeal, needed to conduct themselves with utmost integrity

and responsibility and refrain from indulging in acts or speeches that caused rifts among

communities and tore apart the social fabric through communal tensions. Elected leaders had

a responsibility towards their electorate, the society and the nation, and ultimately, to the

Constitution.

There is no doubt that religious grounding happens at home, most of the time. Parents

inculcate religious beliefs in their children at a young age, often creating mindsets in them

that are similar to their own. Schools add on to these beliefs, cementing the ideologies

followed by them. Social media has a huge role to play as well, in this indoctrination.

It is only when the child grows into an adult that he begins to ponder on the enigma that is

religion. Most people stick to the religion that they were born into; a few convert, maybe

because they discover more benefits in other faiths. However, it is a fact that even a person

who is not overly religious turns into a tiger when his own religion is denigrated in any

manner, proving that religion is all-pervasive and all-powerful.

If that is the case, should we not be using religion in a positive manner to bring harmony to

the world, instead of creating divides and rifts that stoke disharmony? Would it not be a

wonderful world where religion looms like a giant umbrella, sheltering people of all faiths

under its mantle? The Armed Forces are an institution in which all religions are revered and

celebrated. Often, a temple, a church, a mosque and a gurudwara can be found in proximity,

with prayers of all faiths being chanted. I am a Hindu who goes to the temple, but I have also

found perfect serenity within churches and been inspired by the spirit of service that is found

in gurudwaras.

Finally, there is a beautiful poem by the English poet, Leigh Hunt, titled ‘Abou Ben Adhem’

which remains one of my favourites. Abou was once awakened from deep slumber, and in the

moonlight in his room, he saw an angel writing in a book of gold.

“What writest thou?” he asked.

The angel replied, “The names of those who love the Lord.”

Abou asked the angel if his name was on the list, and the angel said “Nay, not so.”

Abou did not lose hope, and said cheerfully, “I pray thee, then; / Write me as one that loves

his fellow men.”

The angel did so and vanished. The next day it came again and showed Abou the names of

those who had been blessed by the love of God.

“And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.”

What a beautiful concept, so well delivered in the simplest of words! That, indeed, is the

glory of poetry. Love thy fellow human beings, and God will love you.

It is said that a great philosopher was searching for something in a graveyard. As he

scrabbled amongst the bones, a passer-by stopped and asked him what he was looking for.

The philosopher paused, looked at him and said, “I am looking for the difference between the

bones of all the men buried here.”

“The call to religion is not a call to be better than your fellows, but to be better than

yourself.” Henry Ward Beecher



Author & Poet: Deepti Menon

Deepti Menon has always loved the written word. She began to write at the age of ten and was lucky enough to have travelled around the country, being an Army kid, and later an Army wife. Her experiences during those years helped hone her interest and her flair for writing. Meeting new people helped her to notice details and put them into her interesting characters. (In fact, her friends and family shy away from saying anything to her, for fear of seeing it in print the next time they open a magazine.)

Her first book, 'Arms and the Woman', published by Rupa Publishers in 2002, took a light-hearted look at the life of an Army wife. This book was written mainly to reveal the warmth and camaraderie within the great institution.

For Deepti, both teaching and writing were wonderful learning experiences in their own ways. Teaching brought out the extrovert in her that revelled in being with children, creating that much-needed rapport and opening up their minds to not only academics, but also the little things like curiosity, fun and good humour. She loved the fact that she learnt much from her students as well.

2013 and 2014 were lucky for her, as many of her short stories were chosen for anthologies. She had a number of stories in the various ‘Chicken Soups’ as well. Short stories with deft twists and tongue-in-cheek articles that tickle the funny bone are her forte.

A book of her poems, dealing with life, love and loss, titled 'Deeparadhana of Poems', was lovingly compiled by her mother, herself a talented writer. ‘Shadow in the Mirror’, a psychological thriller published by Readomania in 2016, was well received by her readers. After that, she brought out two more anthologies of thriller short stories titled ‘Where Shadows Follow’ (2020) and ‘Shadows Never Lie’ (2021). Together the three books are now known as the Shadow Trilogy.

Deepti has also worked as a freelance journalist for over seven years and brought out humorous pieces, lifestyle articles and hard-hitting non-fiction in many publications.

As she loves to say, “Writing runs in my blood, as teaching does, and I have been fortunate enough to be able to do both. I can never forget the thrill of seeing my name in print for the first time, a thrill that has only intensified over the years. Writing is an endless journey that I revel in, with all its winding twists and turns! Never a dull moment, never time to regret... life is truly worth living!”

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