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Secularism: Our fluttering flags remind us….

Secularism: Our fluttering flags remind us….

Secularism - Our fluttering flags remind us....Flag flutters in the sky to remind us elders of our miserable failings, reminding us that the choice between right and wrong is easy if we want it to be.

By Nazarul Islam

Today’s young, have outnumbered the old in all countries of the Indian subcontinent. Are we not living through a time checkered by our deep divisions? Fact, fiction, half-truths! Nationalism pitted against patriotism (?) Whether we live in Bangladesh or Pakistan or India, we all go through intermittent waves of outrage, often conveniently selective, amidst a sustained campaign of othering those who yearn for sanity; those who want to believe and look for some sense, truth even, in the madness that surrounds us all.

But then, what is truth today? That what we see on television, read in newspapers and websites, or latch on to on twitter and WhatsApp forwards as mere reflections of what we want to believe? Or is there the other ‘truth’, the unsullied one, the old-fashioned one that we know deep down to be real, the kind we don’t need ancient scriptures and holy books to tell us about?

And just when we thought that the ‘truth’ had been buried for good, a teenager from Texas held up a beacon for us to see, as did a bunch of school kids in Calcutta, doing a deep dive into the introductory words of the Constitution to remind us what they stand for.

Jackson Reffitt assumed his father was planning something ‘unusually big’ that would lead-up to US President Joe Biden’s oath-taking. So, what did he do? He alerted the FBI even though he didn’t know what exactly his father, a gun-owning member of a far-Right militia, was going to do.

He found out, like the rest of his country and the world, via television images on January 6 when rioters stormed the Capitol in Washington. Two days later his father returned home and warned him: “If you turn me in, you’re a traitor. And you know what happens to traitors. Traitors get shot.”

We don’t know how Jackson might have reacted immediately after the threat. After all, it’s not normal for an 18-year-old to be faced with a death threat from his own father. Yet, Jackson’s later conversations reveal a self-assured young man, full of hope and faith in the inherent goodness within everyone. “I am afraid for him to know,” he said, unsure whether his father knew he’d turned him in. “Not for my life or anything, but for what he might think,” he clarified in the hope that his relationship with his father could be repaired. “It’ll get better over time. I know we will.”

For Reffitt Senior, who was subsequently arrested, the lesson has just begun. He’s lucky he has his son as teacher.

In Calcutta, a group of children not older than Jackson had their own lesson to impart in school.

After more than five decades, the people of India have renewed their focus on secularism, liberty and “we the people”, the three words with which the Preamble begins. India has to be a “secular society”, not just a secular state, said a 17-year-old during the online program. If the raison d’etre was to take the Preamble out of textbooks and have the children talk about it as a living document of ideas and ideals, the effort will be, well worth it.

For it was the elders’ back home, who were forced to take note when a class XI boy articulated them in succinct prose. The most important aspect of secularism, he noted, “Is mutual respect, acceptance and inclusion of every person in society despite religious beliefs”, his understanding coming from an earlier personal experience of having his tiffin thrown away because he had brought a chicken sandwich to a “vegetarian school.”

Amid the trying circumstances the citizens were faced with, long before the pandemic, schools across the country have not shied away from meaningful discourse on ideas that matter.

From a Third Theatre-style play on the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir to a pictorial depiction of human rights violations, these endeavors have done so much more than keep school children occupied during the lockdown.

It’s as though Reffitt in the US and the young adults of our own country (of origin) have together, unbeknownst to each other, spoken in unison. As the world lurches towards self-defeating extreme intolerance from one day to the next, these boys and girls have planted their own flag(s).

Our national flag symbolizes the soul of the nation, where we belong—that flutters in the sky to remind us elders of our miserable failings, reminding us that the choice between right and wrong is easy if we want it to be.


About the Author

Nazarul-Islam-1The Bengal-born writer is a senior educationist based in USA. He writes for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America.


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