KOCHI: Is the Kerala society shedding the attire of rigid religious sentiments and ideologies to embrace an era of free thinking? According to a statement made by Education Minister C Raveendranath in the Assembly, the parents of 1,24,147 students have not entered the religion and caste of their wards while admitting them to the schools in 2017-18.
While the rationalists and Leftists claim it is an indication of the rise of a new generation of progressive thinkers, the devout and various religious organisations’ leaders rubbish it as a statistical aberration.
“This is the most pleasant and inspiring news I’ve heard in recent times,” said writer and activist M N Karassery.
“At a time when an impression is being created that Kerala has turned more radical and people are increasingly falling under the grip of religious slavery, the minister’s revelation ignites a lamp of hope. I urge the government to release a district-wise list of the children who have broken free from the clutches of religion. The media, activists and secular communities should give it wide publicity. There is a wrong impression among the people that if we don’t enter the details of our religion and caste, it will be difficult to get a job,” he said.
According to former forest minister and senior CPI leader Binoy Viswam, the fact that around 1.24 lakh students have not declared their religion and caste at schools is an indication that the society is growing.
“A secular state is duty-bound to encourage such trends. The fundamentalists and fascists are trying to use religion as an institution to divide people and undermine the social values of society. It is heartening to hear such a huge number of youngsters have come forward to give up religion, which is promising for the future of Kerala. The constitution of India upholds the need to promote scientific temper. Religion is a reality in our society and most of the people are religious. But the believers should think what is happening to the religion. Money and power are the new Gods. Those who believe in religions should be concerned about this deterioration of moral values,” he said.
RSS Prajna Pravah All India convener J Nandakumar said it has always batted for inclusion and equality in the society. “If it’s an effort to ensure social equality we will wholeheartedly support it. Our social reformers Sree Narayana Guru and Chattambi Swamikal have preached equality and were against discrimination in the name of caste and religion, but they never negated the religion. We can’t ignore the attempts to negate religious belief and to destroy our cultural heritage. It is not the students who have refused to declare their religion and caste. There is a political motive behind the revelation that needs to be debated. At a time when religious extremism and conversions are on the rise, the attempt to discredit a religion cannot be seen as a progressive step,” he said.
Dismissing the revelation as a statistical aberration, Muslim Educational Society president P A Fazal Gafoor said people who do not get the benefits of reservation never show interest to disclose their religious leanings.“This is not a revolutionary change. As the forward communities are not entitled to benefits, they are not keen to disclose their religion and caste. If it is a revolutionary change, there should be an increase in inter-caste marriages. Is there an increase in the matrimonial advertisements inviting proposals above the distinctions of caste, creed and religion? All arranged marriages in the country happen within the religion and caste. Even the Leftists prefer marriage from their own religion. Then where is transformation? In fact Kerala is witnessing a rise in religiosity. Earlier Leftists were atheists, but now they go to temples and mosques. I haven’t seen any radical change that indicates that Kerala has transformed,” he said.
Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council deputy secretary Fr Varghese Vallikkatt said the revelations were not shocking. There has always been a section in Kerala who refuse to identify themselves with any religion. However, it needs to be studied whether the new generation is distancing itself from religions due to the restrictions imposed on them, he said. “If the parent decides to give his child the freedom to choose his religion, we can’t blame him. We have a highly religious society and if it gives the individual the freedom to choose his faith, it is a positive development. In our experience the society has turned more religious. We haven’t conducted any study to check whether the youngsters are interested in spirituality,” said Fr Vallikkatt.