Saturday, May 30, 2015

Religion in times of disaster: serving humanity or politics of opportunity?

No doubt religious organizations have been at the forefront of addressing the needs of those affected by the earthquake in Nepal, but we must try to analyze this critically as well, given the propaganda politics which various religions have been part of over the centuries.

In India, we have seen volunteers from religious groups actively participating in rescue relief work in the disaster hit zone or in times of other tragedies. Though they provide relief work, they also use the opportunity to extend their follower base. Various religions and its subsidiary organizations can only survive if they have members to boast about. For instance, Jat in the state of Haryana were for a long time not considered Hindu. But political parties, with the help of religious groups, ran the propaganda that they belong to a particular religion. Thus creating a new voter base. Similarly the various tribes in India were never part of any religion. But with time, many of them were converted to Christianity and Hinduism.

In earthquake hit Nepal, we have seen participation of almost all religious groups active in the region in relief processes. Lack of a stable and strong government has made it possible for the religious groups to reach out and work more evidently in every region in the country. The country is largely considered a Hindu nation. But there are other religious groups also actively present in the country. There is a visible presence of Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. 80% of the population consists of Hindus, but like India, the figure may be slightly misleading. The various tribes are also considered part of the larger Hindus in the country. But there is no clear historical evidences available as to when the various tribes started considering (or were made to consider) themselves part of the religion. In an article written by Dr Dilli Ram Dahal of the Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, titled ‘Social composition of the population: caste/ethnicity and religion in Nepal’, he suggests that data relating to religion has always been sensitive in Nepal. And the erstwhile monarchs never released the data due to the sensitive nature, trying to show the country as a homogenous population following Hinduism. But with the onset of democracy in 1990 (the king became the constitutional monarch), there were few segments in the country which started talking about it.

We are not taking away the credit the volunteers of various religious group must be given for the noble work of helping those in need. But just trying to suggest that there is a larger picture which we are missing. Can it be a possibility that the religious groups are proactively helping in times of disaster to re-establish their following base? We are not sure. But we hope humanity survives all odds.

Let there be peace.

The article was written for LokMarg and The Emergency (a temporary portal to report from earthquake hit Nepal). It was published on May 21, 2015

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