Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Muntaha Amin: What Studying At Ramjas College Did To My Unquestioning Faith In Religion

Born into a very religious family, religion and religious teachings were taught to me as a way of life. The teaching was spoon-fed to me right from childhood. The notion that you can’t question God’s words, rulings, and commandments no matter what, and I believed in all of this and was a practising Muslim. With these teachings being my worldview, I was indeed an automaton to faith. But faith had somehow been more of fear of God’s punishment to me than love for God. And I guess that was the first undoing. I had internalised and normalised all kinds of things and never thought of anything as unjust and repressive. Education in school and higher secondary was yet another training for being automatons and machines in the system, of being – a utility, never questioning, never trying to look at the world from any other perspective, never questioning the ways of seeing. The end product was, very exclusively exam oriented approach, well, almost mugging up and scoring good in the exams which would bring in a good job and add to one’s privileges.

After coming to Delhi and getting enrolled in Ramjas College, the real journey of immense breakthroughs started in my life. My course was an honors in English Literature and my professors introduced me to critical thinking, critical inquiry into social sciences, and I got introduced to different worldviews. In the initial days in my classes, I learnt about ideas I had never thought of or imagined before. The first lecture with Debraj Mookherjee was also one that would stay with me forever. He said we needed to question everything, starting from what we were taught in schools. Lectures with Vinita Chandra started with disbelief from my side, getting scandalised after hearing different notions about gender and sexuality and thinking of them as too radical. Vinita ma’am answered all my questions with utmost patience and never lost her calm to the most regressive defences I showed. I was a homophobe, yes.

Gender in religion slowly started making me very uncomfortable. Questions of choice, will, agency, assertion, wanting representation in all fields of life, visibility in public and political spaces, right to religion or no religion, right to privacy – all these ideas started burgeoning in my personal space.
Conflicting worldviews existing side by side got my mind messier than ever. Questions started piling up, nobody happened to satisfy me with their answers. On the other hand, there were answers in logic, rationality and looking at things from a material point of view rather than ideological. The pull of rationality was strong indeed, but my faith was no less stronger then. A year of questions, insomnia, rapidly losing weight, mind being impossibly active and thinking all the time, mental fatigue and anxiety followed.

Looking at religion critically, I realised that religion would make “us” and “them” of humans in the definition itself, that is where my problems with it started. The first writing tutorial with Vinita Chandra was to analyse John Lennon’s “Imagine” (the lyrics). I’d never heard or read that before. Imagine there’s no religion, nothing to kill or die for. Imagine all the people, living for today. I started imagining, and it wasn’t as difficult as it seemed. But the process and my journey weren’t all too easy. It was the hardest time for my mental health… read more:

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