Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Friday, April 08, 2005

92 per cent `secular', 98 per cent pseudo

Friday April 8 2005 00:00 IST

It is interesting, also instructive. It is about a chat on the Net in an Irish website ``'' hosted by ``The Irish Politics Forum'', a politically conscious group. The subject of the chat was: `No national day of mourning' for the Pope in Ireland. Catholics make up 92 per cent of the Irish population. For the Irish, Catholicism is not just religion; it is a cult. Yet, the Irish Prime Minister refused to declare state mourning for the Pope. This triggered the chat.

``My daughter and I are sitting here just having heard Egypt and India are having a day of national mourning for the death of Pope John Paul, but Ireland is not having one. What a country we have turned into.... We will not give in to people's wishes.'' This is how an Irish mourner started on the Net. The time then was 9.44 a.m. on April 3. Within minutes, at 9.48 a.m., another intervened. ``What makes you think `the people' want a national day of mourning?'' he asked. ``Would I get a day off? Should we have a national day of mourning when the Dalai Lama and Ayatollah die as well?'' he questioned.

A third one joined the chat at 9.52 a.m. ``I am not a Catholic,'' he said and continued: ``If we can get a day off I am all for it. If we don't, I do not see the point of declaring national days of mourning for international figures.'' For him, the Pope was like any `international figure'. Instantly, a fourth one came on the chat and said, ``We have to be mindful not to hurt anti-Catholic people's feelings.'' That is, state mourning would hurt the 4 per cent Protestants.

``Why don't the people who wish to mourn the Pope just take a day off? Isn't that freedom to worship?'' asked one chatter. Another said, ``Surely national mourning for the leader of the Church would mean the same for others - Queen Elizabeth, leader of her Church for 53 years. Ian Paisley, leader of his Church for 29 years. Also Dalai Lama. I am a Catholic who practices once a week. My way of remembering is to sign the condolence book in Pro-Cathedral. Death of Pope will not change the world as the deaths of 9/11 did.'' Thus went on the debate in a 92 per cent Catholic nation.

Imagine such a chat in India whose 98 per cent population is non-Christian. The seculars would have set upon the chatters.

Equally instructive is the story in another Catholic nation, France. Of the French, 90 per cent are Roman Catholics. Yes, Roman Catholics whose head is the Pope. Minorities are just 4 per cent - 2 per cent Protestants, 1 per cent Jewish, 1 per cent Muslims - and the unaffiliated 6 per cent. French President Jacques Chirac ordered the national flag to fly at half mast for the Pope.

Secular politicians of France tore him apart for making the national symbol fly at half mast. They also questioned Chirac and other officials who are planning to go for Pope's funeral.

Not just Ireland and France. The Christian US did not, nor did other European Christian nations declare state mourning. Not England, not Germany, not Holland, nor the Scandinavian countries. Not Russia. Not Greece. Not even the most Catholic nation, Spain. Of about a hundred Christian nations hardly a dozen, most of them insignificant, declared state mourning. Except Italy and Canada no significant ones did. Egypt was the only Muslim nation to mourn officially. China has banned Chinese Christians from recognising the Pope.

But look at home here, India, whose 98 per cent population is non-Christian. `Secular' India followed, of all nations, the unsecular, all-Christian Italy. Italy was the first to declare three-day mourning. India followed promptly, but soon got into trouble. After declaring state mourning for three days, officials quickly remembered that the Uzbek Prime Minister was to start his visit to India from April 6, the third day of mourning. But with mourning announced already, frantic messages were sent to Uzbek government to defer the visit by two days. But their schedule was too tight to oblige us. So a compromise was struck within the government. The three-day mourning was divided into two parts: first two days of mourning, then an interval of three days - so the Uzbek Prime Minister's programmes are accommodated in the interval - and the third day of mourning deferred to the funeral day! By following the Italian three-day mourning norm, our government got into a mess and barely escaped.

But, why should the `secular' Indian state mourn for the Roman Catholic Pope? Obviously, we cannot declare state mourning for a religious leader. If we did, that would open a Pandora's box. A religious country with hundreds of religious leaders would fly its flag at half mast most of the time should the state have a policy of declaring state mourning for all religious leaders. So, at least on record, the mourning is not for the head of the Catholics but for the head of Vatican state. But this interpretation makes things worse. If the Pope were the head of the Vatican state, how come three Cardinals from India are flying to vote at Vatican to elect the new head of the Vatican state? Who are they - citizens of India or citizens of Vatican?

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