“The people of India thrived in a pluralistic society from the time of Ashoka until the British arrived there and started their divide and rule policy,” said historian Dr Mubarak Ali.
“There are two kinds of societies –– pluralistic and monistic. Pluralistic society is a diverse society based on tolerance for all kinds of beliefs whereas theories of monism give way to a society where there is no freedom of thought and everyone is expected to have one belief. There are examples of such societies in old Europe where wars over religion and ideology would take place and people who didn’t follow Christianity migrated from their lands in their search for peace,” Dr Mubarak Ali said.
“During the Mauryra period Ashoka realised the effects of war over petty issues of difference and thought of starting a model secular and united society where all religions are accepted by everyone. Then when the Turks arrived in India, things further improved as they brought with them technology which improved the status of artisans and craftsmen. There were the Sufis, too, who saw the goodness of God Almighty in all people and hence everyone was equal. India also saw the Bhakti Movement that saw Bhagat Kabir go from village to village to educate people through his songs of devotion.
“Then we see during the Mughal era, Babar telling Humayun not to slaughter cows as the animal was considered holy by the Hindus and slaughtering cows for food would hurt the feelings of that community. He also made him respect the worship places of Hindus and all other religions. Within the kingdom all festivals were celebrated to promote harmony. Then in Akbar’s era there was a universal peace policy. Rajput Hindus got posted on big positions as traditions of sati or marrying girl children were abolished.
“Places of worship were open to all religions, too. Due to Akbar’s policies, the Mughal Empire grew stronger. He bound India together and made it united,” the historian narrated.
“The intolerance for other religions that we see in our society now is basically a thing from the British era in India. The British believed in divide and rule. But we also have before us the successful example of pluralistic societies. Doctors don’t ask a patient’s religion before treating him or her. We should all be like doctors to remedy an intolerant society. Our politicians should cure our society like that.”
In his address, religious scholar Dr Mohsin Naqvi focused on the wrongs in society. “There are two basics –– sin and crime,” he said. “Crime can be punished in this world but sin is punished by God. There are three types of people when they commit sin are not looked at as sinners –– children, people who are sleeping and those who may be mentally ill or not of sound thinking,” the scholar explained.
“There can be several crimes being committed here that may be reviewed as actions of insanity such as serial killing or compulsive theft. Because committing a murder or theft once is a crime but doing it again and again points towards something wrong in one’s head.”
By Dr. Mubarik Ali, the historian, speaking at a national symposium titled ‘Medical sciences, spirituality and mental health’ organised by the United Medical and Dental College (UMDC) in collaboration with the Dow University of Health Sciences. Published in Dawn, November 1st, 2015