The humanity that India represents today is a product of a civilization 12,000 years or more old. The spirit of tolerance and assimilation are the hall marks of this civilization. Never has the question of communal harmony and social integration raised such a wide range of emotions as today. The gradual and painful change of each man’s allegiance from his own ethnic group to a wider circle of the entire social milieu constitutes one of the great revolutions of our time.
Writing of the common origin of humanity Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i Faith, states: “The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: “Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch….” Elsewhere, speaking with the voice of God, He asserts: “Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other.”
Fear, suspicion and hatred are the fuel which feed the flame of communal disharmony and conflict. Though the Indian masses would prefer harmony between various communities, it cannot be established through the accommodation ‘separate but equal’, nor through the submergence of minority culture into majority culture – whatever that may be. The present milieu offers no lasting cure. Though some benefits result from political action, until hearts are changed there is, at best, the outward form of equality without the spirit.
Lasting harmony between heterogeneous communities can only come through a recognition of oneness of mankind, a realization that differences that divide us along ethnic and religious lines have no foundation. Just as there are no boundaries drawn on the earth to separate nations, distinctions of social, economic, ethnic and religious identity imposed by peoples are artificial; they have only benefitted those with vested interests. On the other hand, naturally occurring diverse regions of the planet, or the country, such as mountain and plains, each have unique benefits. The diversity created by God has infinite value, while distinctions imposed by man have no substance.
Within the people of each ethnic group or culture lies an important piece of the human experience. Each has something to contribute to the larger society. “Consider the flowers in a garden: Though differing in kind, colour, form and shape, yet…this diversity increase their charm, and add to their beauty.” The unity of peoples that Baha’is work towards is, therefore, not a blending of humanity that overlooks difference, not an isolation in separate gardens, but a conscious appreciation and forging of unity in diversity.
A model of communal and religious harmony is found in the Baha’i Community. Bahá'í's strive to rid themselves of prejudices found within Indian society. Responsibility falls equally on the majority or higher cast, who must trade their “sense of superiority” and often “patronizing attitude” for “genuine friendship” and “close association”, and minorities, be they religious communities, ethnic groups, or castes, must demonstrate “readiness to forget the past” and eliminate “every trace of suspicion” resulting from a long period of “grievous and slow healing wounds.”
Support for inter-communal and inter-cast marriages are further demonstration of Baha’i recognition of the oneness of mankind. Baha’i marriage involves not only the union of the bride and groom but also their parents, who give consent and support. Children of such marriages are evident proof of the unity and oneness of India, and are realized with an understanding of and respect for the values of their diverse heritage.
A house divided against itself cannot stand. This warning to India torn by internal war holds true for the nation today – and for the world. Differences between nations are even greater than those between diverse religious groups in India. One of the essential responses to this challenging issue is the development of a long range programme to eradicate every vestige of communal hatred and prejudice. Such a programme necessarily involves the dissemination of factual information as one means of eliminating misconceptions and superstitions about cast and religion, so that positive relationships with persons of other backgrounds may be established with confidence and ease.
Every individual who desires to take part in the great task of promoting and establishing true communal harmony in India can do so by becoming well-informed about the findings of science in regard to caste and religious prejudice, by participating continually in the work of social integration, by helping to eradicate those general conditions in the Indian sub-continent that bring frustration and hardship to many groups of people, and by encouraging others to join him in these worthwhile endeavours.
There is yet one other factor prerequisite to the success of any programme designed to remove prejudices – a source of motivation to bring about remedial action in spite of social resistance to change. It is extremely difficult to undertake the necessary actions which will change and develop both self and society. The enormous drag of human prejudice sometimes seems impossible to overcome.
Unfortunately, mere knowledge about social injustice and ethnic discrimination will not necessarily inspire any one to do anything about it. Intellectual convictions and collective action accompanied by socio – political will and emotional confirmation are necessary before they result in persistent action. The peoples of India must have a desire to overcome the accumulated superstitions and unfounded notions about their fellow-citizens and things which many are prone to accept as true simply because they have been repeated time and again by close friends, relatives, and associates.
It is the firm conviction of the Baha’i Community of India that “Religion is the greatest of all means for the establishment of order in the world and for the peaceful contentment of all that dwell therein.” The great avatars, sages and seers of India down the ages have taught us religion is a source of motivation toward good works and good conduct which is necessary for the elimination of differences as group prejudice and hatred. The current situation of paralyzing conflict and devastation in the country calls for deep soul searching to its own negligence, to the clarion call to which it has not listened, for the source of misunderstandings and confusion perpetrated in the name of religion. “Those who have held blindly and selfishly to their particular orthodoxies, who have imposed on their votaries erroneous and conflicting interpretations of the pronouncements of the Prophets of God, bear heavy responsibility for this confusion – a confusion compounded by the artificial barriers erected between faith and reason, science and religion. Far from a fair-minded examination of the actual utterances of the Founders of the great religions, and of the social milieus in which they were obliged to carry out their missions, there is nothing to support the contentions and prejudices deranging the religious communities of mankind and therefore all human affairs.” Further the Baha’i Writings state: “The teaching that we should treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated, an ethic variously repeated in all the great religions, lends force to this latter observation in two particular aspects: it sums up the moral attitude, the peace-inducing aspect, extending through these religions irrespective of their place or time of origin; it also signifies an aspect of amity which is their essential virtue, a virtue mankind in it disjointed view of history has failed to appreciate.”
In this present age, religion must again support all efforts to solve the problems in this most challenging area of human growth.
Today, thousands of socially and culturally united Baha’i Communities in India and abroad demonstrate the great power of the Baha’i Faith to provide this essential confirmation and motivation. The laws of the faith, it scriptures, prayers and meditation all pivot around the basic principle of Oneness of Mankind. Belief in this fundamental teaching of Baha’u’llah commits the Baha’i Community to the progressive eradication of all forms of prejudice, disharmony and conflict.
Through widespread knowledge of facts provided by science and the invigorating sprit of this new religion, lasting communal harmony in this vast land of such rich cultural and religious heritage, can be achieved.