It’s a showcase story of India’s vibrant multi-religious pluralistic society. A Muslim girl, studying in the sixth standard at a Mumbai school, has emerged as the winner of an inter school Gita competition – the Gita Champions League – organised by International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). She stood first in the written examination, which had about a hundred questions, leaving behind more than 4,000 other students. The Uttar Pradesh government has decided to felicitate the 12-year-old girl for attaining the first position. The award is expected to send a powerful message across in the state about knowing and respecting all religions in the society, and should have special relevance in India’s largest state that is known for intermittent religious tensions and bouts of communal violence.
Beyond Religion: The Eternal Gita
Mariyam Asif Siddiqui, a student at the Cosmopolitan High School, Mira Road in Mumbai, underwent a month of preparation to understand deep teachings of religious Hindu poem-text, which encapsulates key tenets of the Hindu philosophy and way of life, with its focus on karma and dharma. Mariam has more reasons to soak in this triumph. A keen interest in reading and learning about different religions, she said, drove her to be a part of this competition. Her parents have actively supported her interest in reading about different religions. Her father said that “kids are the future of our country, they should not be divided by religion and should be taught to respect all religions…I have told children to respect every religion as they show us the right path”.
Talking about what she learnt from the Gita, she said: “I have got a lot of information about life from it. The holy book has taught me the golden rules of life”. The most crucial takeaway, she mentioned, was that humanity is the biggest religion in the world – a sublime and sobering thought much needed in today’s world facing the wrath of religious extremist groups (shown most recently in the Al-Shabaab massacre of 142 students in Garissa University in Kenya).
As the country struggles to contain the ugly face of communal violence, this story comes as a whiff of fresh air. A 12-year- old girl has understood what most of the nation has failed to understand- the importance of engaging with other religions, apart from those which we personally adhere to, and realizing that the common thread of harmony, tolerance, benevolence, love and care run through all. That each religion just gives us a message of living with each other, and not at the cost of each other. In a country where religious identities remain important, Mariyam’s achievement should be an example of spreading the message of peaceful co- existence and trying to engage with others religious beliefs as well.
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