This past week two news stories caught my attention. Two deaths. What unites them? Religion. One fought for it and another died because of it. One could not be saved, another was refused survival. Here is their story.
Bal Thackeray (1926 – 2012):
Bal Thackeray was a cartoonist and politician who founded the “Shiv Sena” organization in India. The objective of the Shiv Sena is:
1. Ensure job priority to Marathis.
2. Deny jobs to anyone not Marathi-speaking.
3. Stop playing cricket with Pakistan.
4. Don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day.
Anyone who breaks these rules is either attacked or banned or labelled a traitor. Bal Thackeray was a Hindu leader. His conflicting views on Islam made him a Muslim-hater. Bollywood (*cough* Amitabh Bachchan) praised him. His followers worshipped him. His detractors criticized him and I ignored him. His views were not just controversial but were sewn with contradictions. He wanted India to unite under Hinduism but advocated for a separate Marathi state.
Today he is no more. The city of Mumbai is in mourning. It has shut down for the man who died in it’s arms. His funeral is conducted with State Honours. His funeral procession is huge. My suspicion; it’s probably the Shiv Sainiks and not the general Mumbai public. My association with him is limited to the newspaper and T.V. And I do not endorse any of his values. Advocating Hinduism is fine, but the means with which he chose to do it—by inducing hatred—is wrong. Hatred is never a medium to unite people. But he was one thing others are not. He was powerful and thus will be hailed as a fighter, a son of the country, a martyr.
Savita Halappanavar (1981 – 2012):
Thousands of people in Ireland have gathered in mourning for a woman who was unknown a few days ago. Why? Because she died. So what? She died because of negligence and ignorance.
Savita Halappanavar was a daughter, a wife and would-be mother. Fate intervened and she miscarried. Termination of the fetus was the only way to save Savita’s life. Unfortunately, her doctors did not share the same feeling. Her request to save her life was denied because the doctors were busy trying to uphold laws to save the fetus that was long dead.
They informed her that it’s a Catholic country and they cannot abort as long as the fetus was alive. In the end, neither the fetus nor Savita lived. She died at the hands of a law that respects the book rather than a human being.
In wake of her death, people came together to support her family and decried such laws that don’t uphold the right to live. Her death opened up the hearts of the few thousand who believed that she could have been saved. They were not Hindus or Christians or Jews or Jains or anything, they were people who mourned the loss of an innocent human being. They stand united to bring peace to her soul.
Religion as a standalone is meaningful and divine. Religion in the wrong hands, especially ignorant ones, is disaster. Where Bal Thackery united people with hatred, Savita united them with humanity.