Tired of rituals and the strife it causes, some parents are keeping children away from religion.
Every night before going to bed, seven-year-old Anika Javeri says a little prayer along with her mother, Lakshmi. But it does not involve folding their hands or thinking of god. They just list three good and bad things that happened to them that day. For example, Anika is happy about starting a new book but she feels bad about lying to a friend. She ‘prays’ that she doesn’t lie again. Lakshmi, a Hindu, and her husband who is a Jain, are raising their daughter in neither religion.
Thirteen-year-old Vaanya Kalra has her own non-religious perspective. “My friends and I don’t care about which religion people follow. Even if there’s a god, I think there’s only one and it does not have a name or identity,” says Vaanya, a student at Delhi’s Tagore International School.
Anika and Vaanya are surprisingly not alone in their religion-free childhood. Online parenting forums and WhatsApp groups reveal a number of parents who are bringing up their children without a religion.
In a country with nine organised religions and hundreds of gods, these people are telling their kids that there’s no one religion or god, or that there are many and each one is good, or that religion doesn’t matter but what’s important is being a good human.
Data corroborates this trend. The 2011 Census revealed that the number of people under the “religion not stated category” in India was 29 lakh, up from 7 lakh in 2001.
This figure is less than 1% of the population, but the next census is expected to show even more such people.
Swati Jagdish, a lactation consultant in Coimbatore, and her husband did not fill out the religion box on their daughter Maya’s birth certificate. “My husband is agnostic, he believes that there’s a higher power. I just believe in what’s in my heart and in what I do. I cannot associate my success or failure to a god, luck or destiny,” says Jagdish, though she was brought up in a strictly religious, regimented household. She won’t stop her daughter from embracing Hinduism or any other religion later in life.
Aditi Surit is also okay with her son choosing a religion when he grows up. “I should not have to decide his religion for him. As his mother, I have to provide for him, give emotional comfort and love. Everything else is a restriction,” says Aditi, a therapist in Mumbai. When her son Nirvaan was five years old, he came home from school one day and told his mother that his teacher had told him “we have to fear god”.
Aditi, had fought tooth and nail with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to keep the religion box empty on Nirvaan’s birth certificate.
(To be continued)
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