“I spoke to the teacher and told her to not to teach this. If a god has created us then why would he/ she want to harm us? Why should we fear that god?” says Aditi, who then moved Nirvaan to a different, more tolerant school. But it took Nirvaan a couple of months to shake off the feeling that god could harm him. “He kept asking me if there’s a god and what is his name. I explained to him it can be a dog, a cat or a tree. There are many names and forms. And he understood that,” says Aditi.
Javeri says that she’s bringing up her daughter without religion but not without the idea of god. “People go about religion the wrong way. They are caught up in rituals and miss out on the larger message. And increasingly, people are becoming intolerant. That’s why I feel that it’s a good idea to keep my daughter off
religion,” she says.
But in a country like India, raising children without religion is easier said than done. It can be confusing. Anika wanted to visit a Parsi temple because of her Parsi friend, and was heartbroken to hear she couldn’t. “For a whole day she sulked about not being Parsi,” says Lakshmi. “Another time, she asked me why do we say, ‘Oh my god’ and not ‘oh my goddess’? So, I explained that it’s maybe because it rolls off the tongue more
Some studies show potential benefits in being religious, such as less likelihood of substance use and depression and greater life satisfaction. Others, like a recent University of Chicago study based on children from six countries found that religious children are less altruistic than those from non-religious families. In 2015, filmmaker N Padmakumar made a short video that asked Indian children what religion meant to them. Some said it was something that parents teach them, others thought it was a thing that people followed and believed in. When asked to imagine what the world would be like without religion, answers ranged from “There would be no bomb blasts” to “there would be no Partition” to “everyone would celebrate festivals together”.
Two-and-a-half-year-old Ananya is the first child in her extended family to be brought up in a non-religious way. Her Punebased parents, Sreeja and Vibhu, didn’t want to tie her down to any religious norms. They celebrate all festivals to expose her to different religions and faiths. “We hope it will make her a good human being who’s responsible and empathetic, but we can’t be sure. Tomorrow, if she wants to take up religion because it helps her be a good person, we’ll be okay with it,” says Sreeja.
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