Religion is increasingly being used in South Asia by vested interests to create rifts in society for the sake of short-term gains and political power. While this is not a new phenomenon in history, it is definitely important for people to use the power of communication to call out hatemongering in the name of religion, says Mumbai-based interfaith research scholar and culturalist Urmi Chanda.
“In the hands of the wrong people, religion has always been used to polarise people. That’s because our faith or our religion is the most important identity marker for most of us from the time we are born,” says Urmi, who is pursuing her PhD as a Harmony Scholar at University of Wales Trinity Saint David.
She adds, “[Our religious identity] is an extremely emotional matter for us. That is why it is easy to sway people on the basis of that identity.”
Straddling the worlds of journalism, academics and activism, Urmi has written on religion, Indian history and mythology as an independent journalist for over 13 years. She has been a researcher for non-fiction TV shows and has given talks on various platforms, including TEDx. As a knowledge consultant, she has worked on several cultural projects, including in the museum and non-profit sector.
Calling for holistic education systems that incorporate religious studies in the curriculum, Urmi says, “Our education system is secular in India. So our schools are not places where our kids learn about religion. I feel that is problematic.”
She points out that the only source of learning about religion – whether one’s own or someone else’s – is either one’s family, religious community, and, “worse still, very propagandist media”.
“So our kids can only learn about religion from these extremely polarised and biased spaces,” she says. This is a barrier to correcting systemic flaws and discriminatory practices that are prevalent in every religion.
What is the difference in religion and faith? How do we create more interfaith harmony and put an end to communal hatred? Is a ‘religious revolution’ possible? Urmi, who also coordinates the India programs at the international NGO Seeds of Peace, discusses these questions and more with eShe editor Aekta Kapoor.
Watch the full video here.
Both Urmi and Aekta are volunteers at Sapan (Southasia Peace Action Network), a global coalition of peace activists and organisations working towards freedom of trade, travel and tourism in South Asia.
Ahead of UN World Interfaith Harmony Week in February, Sapan has organised a panel discussion ‘Can Interfaith Collaboration Contribute to Climate Justice?’ on 29 January 2023, to be moderated by Urmi. Click here to know more and register for the event.
The interview is also available as a podcast.