Recently, I asked a nine year old a casual question. “If you could kill one person, who would it be?” She answered “Shaitan” (Satan) before I clarified that she can only answer in terms of human beings. “Hindus”, she said later. I was shocked for a second but I soon remembered that I have been there as well.
About five years ago, when I lived outside Pakistan, I had an Indian Hindu friend. We were pretty close and we used to hang out quite often. This one time when I entered her house, she was sitting beside an idol, doing her routine ‘pooja’. Being someone who never really thought about accepting religions other than my own, a wave of sheer anxiety crawled up my spine. I remember immediately becoming a little uncomfortable. But wait. Why was I uncomfortable? If she was confident about inviting me to her house, why was I not able to accept her for who she was?
That day, I asked her if we could take a walk outside instead of sitting inside the house. I didn’t come back inside her house that day, not even for the food. She probably knew what went wrong and now every time I look back, I feel a pang of embarrassment as well as regret.
That was the last time we were meeting before the summer break and I could have enjoyed that day much more if I had learnt religious tolerance at an early age. I don’t know who to blame. My parents used to have a lot of Hindu friends and they always taught me to respect every member of the society. However, I still failed. Was it social media or was it the fact that I still needed more exposure in order to grow intellectually? Was it my own false critical thinking at that particular moment or was it the fact that I had never seen anyone from another religion pray before? I can’t say.
However, I learned. Over time, I realised that friendship knows no boundaries. If I start making friends on the basis of caste, religion or race, I will have zero friends. Fortunately, we are still good friends.
We rant about American teenagers not respecting our religion but we don’t realise that a lot of us need to inculcate these values into our own kids as well. I think the never ending Indo-Pak hatred issues have greatly contributed towards children believing that Hindus are enemies. During ODI or T20s, when children hear their family members chanting for Pakistan’s victory against India, just like some of our adults, they probably don’t understand that it’s just a sports game against Indians and not a hatred game with Hindus. We really need to work on this.
As per my experience, it is honestly extremely difficult to survive in a society if you’re not tolerant of other people’s religions or if you don’t respect the way others perceive this world. You might not realise the importance of tolerance right now but you will. You will meet people from all walks of life when you’re in your college or when you’re looking for a job and with zero tolerance, you will be making it hard for your own self to survive in the society.
One thing it has made me realise is that we have zero tolerance towards what our fellows believe and we don’t. This needs to change. We need to change.