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Faith, Belief And Customs:

Created On: 14-03-2019,7:35 AM

Is it time for their metamorphosis with changing societal order?

Every night when you go to sleep after putting an alarm, is that your faith or belief or your daily custom that makes you sure of waking up fit and fine the next morning? For some it is their faith in religion that makes them go to bed peacefully. At the same time for others, it might be a custom that they are performing subconsciously since perpetuity. However, the point that evokes attention here is the subtle difference between the terms faith, belief and customs that we are so accustomed to using interchangeably.

So firstly, we shall begin this article with a clear definition of these terms and then delve into the fundamentals of their relevance in the present changing world order.

Subtle Differences between the Terms

The two words ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ are almost the same in meaning.

“Faith” means strong trust in someone or something or strong religious feeling or a system of religious practices. To have faith is to believe in an idea or person, even though there may be no concrete proof of it. We can use the term faith in the context of a religion, doctrine or even an individual person. Faith may motivate you to do something out of the ordinary, even though there is no evidence that you can do it or have done it earlier.

Faith is a form of trust and loyalty to someone.

Belief is an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially something without proof. Belief is an idea or a proposition, which you accept as true and valid, even though it might not be logical.  Your reasons for fully believing in the idea or proposition may not be valid and might be even faulty, but you firmly believe in them. You believe in something called destiny and you believe in fate, even though there is no proof why you are hit by bad luck without any fault of yours.

To sum up, faith is trust while belief is an opinion or practice, which is backed neither by proof nor by logic.

Custom is a traditional and widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular society, place or time.For instance, playing with colors on Holi is a part of rituals and customs, which form an integral part of this festival since time immemorial.

With this clear definition in hand, let us analyze the popular events of recent times where the question of faith, beliefs and customs has taken centrestage.

Sabarimala Temple Issue

Is it a gender based untouchablity practice steeped skin deep in patriarchy?

The most contested issue since the last few months is the Sabarimala temple entry issue which has kept our news mills running day and night and kept our security forces on tenterhooks to avert any untoward incident. This is one narrativethat runs across faith, beliefs and customs, and has a bearing in one way or the other on our daily lives.

Sabarimala is a pilgrimage site in Kerala where women in the menstruating age (arbitrarily set 10-50 years range) are not allowed to enter the Ayyappa Temple. The genesis of this custom lies in 1991 Kerala High Court ruling which legally restricted the entry of women between ages of 10 and 50 (selected arbitrarily) in the Sabarimala temple. The court’s motivation behind this ruling was to keep impure menstruating women out of the holy premises of the temple. Although the practice was in place before the ruling, there is no evidence yet to suggest that the practice existed before 1950s.So this brings us to the question that should we adhere to the old age customs without reason blindly or should there be a review of their applicability in current scenario? In addition, since the issue pertains to religious faith of devotees, how far is it justified to interfere with their faith and customs?

Strike a Balance

While on the one hand we speak eloquently of women like Tessy Thomas of Kerala ( the missile woman) and their unprecedented feats, at the same time, we are holding on to a practice of denying entry to women in the place of worship. However, if we see the bigger picture we would realize that this restriction is only in one particular temple and other temples are open for women. So does that mean that this practice is totally an offshoot of gender discrimination and patriarchy? On the other hand, are we reading too much into the practice and stoking unnecessary discomfort in the society? Is it time for us to give a patient hearing to the ones whose faith rests on this ritual?

As stated by Justice Indu Malhotra in her dissenting note in Sabarimala Case “Balance needs to be struck between religious beliefs on one hand and the cherished principles of non-discrimination and equality laid down by the constitution on the other hand.” We should not bring the issues of entrenched personal faith to the doorsteps of the court until it is grossly unjustified. Here the better practice would be to let Freedom of religion prevail over others.

Why We Need a Middle Ground

This compromising solution is to be arrived at keeping in mind the repercussions of prolonged conflict over the issue. Economically, the protests over the temple entry issue have scuttled the tourism earnings of Kerala.This hurts the interests of not only practicing Hindus but also entire demographic entities of Kerala. Also due to continued tussle between pro and anti- temple entry factions, huge administrative machinery in terms of men and material is log jammed to avert law and order problems. Additionally, government itself is locked up interminably in this battle at the cost of other issues, which require urgent action like rehabilitation need post Kerala floods. In addition, centre-state relations have reached such a nadir that it threatens the very idea of Indian federalism.

Customs: Time to Rejig

To understand if we need to bring a change in our customs, let us analyze how it functions in the general milieu. Few months back there was a news regarding a school in some nondescript village of North India where parents had started withdrawing admission of their wards because their mid-day meal was being prepared by a Dalit women. From the lens of customs, these parents justified their stance because they were used to not hiring people of scheduled cast for cooking purpose. But, on the whetstone of fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution they were in conflict with law. However, to prevent the tempers from flaring, the district magistrate of the region took an innovative step. Instead of admonishing the parents, he himself went to the school and had meal prepared by that dalit women. His symbolic gesture was to put a point across that we should not practice untouchability in any form, through his deeds and not just words. This is what is the need of the hour is that able administrators use rationality and reason to dissuade people from their unjust customs. It is time for proactive actions to bring about a behavioral change in the masses through persuasion. In addition, if they do not see through one example it is imperative to bring forth other arguments. For instance, those parents can be persuaded by arguing that they cannot keep their children in silos created by caste and class boundaries, forever. Eventually, their children will migrate to bigger towns and cities where it would be next to impossible for parents to make them follow such discriminatory customs. Thus, is it better to give up on discriminatory customs and to cherish the ideals of equality enshrined in our Constitution?

Road to Peace is through Compromise

On perusal of such myriad conflicts that prevail in our society, we conclude that for a healthy and peaceful society a golden strategy is compromise. A good compromise is one in which the stronger side recognizes the weaker and gives a concession. Therefore, as an able administrator one must be able to perceive emotions of the people whose faith and beliefs get affected in conflict situation. Thereafter he must depersonalize himself from the act and arrive at a solution, which minimizes conflict and maximizes happiness of greater number of people.

The interplay of faith, beliefs and customs is a potent minefield which must be skirted with higher emotional intelligence and flexibility instead of straight-jacketed approach. Wherever customs dehumanize and degrade someone, corrective measure must be undertaken to bring it in line with law and fundamental human values. For instance, faith in spiritual leaders can be questioned if one finds them exploiting followers physically, emotionally and financially. Also if some customs perpetuate gender disparity and condescend through patriarchy, they must be called out and reformed completely.


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