Bengali youths are no longer shy of asserting their religious self.
BELIEVE it or not but the fact remains that now-a-days more and more Bengali youths are getting attracted towards religion. As CPI (M) led Left Front is at the helm of affairs of West Bengal for nearly thirty two years, people living outside Bengal naturally inclined to draw a conclusion that Bengalis are, in general, atheist. Especially, Bengali youths do not have faith in religion. Sometime ago, a daily newspaper of Kolkata, had conducted a survey on this subject. Surprisingly their report hit on a completely different fact. One of the different questions the surveyors asked was: “Do you seek solace in religion?” and the answer recorded was “84 per cent YES and 16 per cent NO”.
The report headlined as Turning To God published in The Telegraph (June 4, 2006) said, “Among the devotees waiting impatiently under the sizzling summer sun is a young woman who, in slit denims and silver danglers, sticks out like a sore thumb in the mostly traditionally attired crowd. But Dia Mukherjee, 28, couldn’t care less as long as she catches a glimpse of Ma Kali before catching the evening flight to Mumbai, where she works in an advertising agency. “When I come home, I try and visit the temple at least once to get Ma’s blessings,” she says.
“Yes, it is quite true that today’s Bengali youth is no longer afraid to express his or her religious self,” says Ajoy Kumar Mitra, president of the Kalighat Temple Committee. “Compared to the previous generation, they are less inhibited and less embarrassed to appear god-loving.” And Mitra stresses that he is talking about urban, educated youth. At least one out of every two temple goers, Mitra stresses, is a youth—the footfall of the young was “a lot less”, he adds, even a decade ago.
Religion clearly is in the air. For some, it translates into ritualistic practices, and for others, it is often a way of life. Recently, “Sanskrit Bharati” a social-work institution organised ‘a ten-day Sanskrit speaking classes’ in different parts of the state. It was found that love for Sanskrit was so much that almost all the classes were over crowded. It is further noticed that a considerable portion of the participants were Bengali youths of the state.
Here there was no such undertaking given by the Institution that persons getting this training will be provided with employment. Still they are coming because they believe that only with the knowledge of Sanskrit they will be in a position to know the true Indian culture. It is the love for Indian culture that has pushed them to take such training.
But then, another startling fact came to light which said that even recently the colleges in West Bengal were planning to close the Sanskrit classes for want of students. There were 60 colleges affiliated to University of Calcutta where Sanskrit is being taught as the under-graduate level. But the fact remains that even before five years; these colleges were not getting sufficient number of students. Hence many of them started thinking to close down the department. As a consequence to this, the University of Calcutta was also not getting scheduled number of students. Sanskrit department of University of Calcutta started functioning as a full fledged Post-Graduate department of Calcutta University from 1907 and since then they had not faced any such problem. But after the advent of Left Front government in West Bengal, they simply deleted Sanskrit from the curriculum of school education. Not only that, they had started a vilification campaign against Sanskrit just to hurt the sentiments of the people who love their religion, culture and heritage. Of course, primarily the offensive came from the Congress rulers. They made Sanskrit an optional subject for the school students which was formerly a compulsory subject for them. Now these efforts have become counterproductive for them.
For whatever reasons there may be, the scenario has been totally changed and the latest report of the Sanskrit department of University of Calcutta said that the number of students in each year of M.A. 150 are there. In examinations the success rate is 94 per cent to 98 per cent. The report further says, “Among the students approximately 80 per cent are girls and more than 70 per cent of the total number of students (boys and girls) come from rural areas. About 30 per cent of the total students come from economically weaker section of the society.
Apart from this, colleges are now getting sufficient number of students. One remarkable point to note is many Muslim students are taking admission to learn Sanskrit. There are a number of Muslim teachers who teach Sanskrit in different rural schools of West Bengal.
May be, on the political arena they are always at loggerheads, but the fact remains that these teachers believe that they also belong to the same Indian culture.
Prasanta Ray, who teaches Political Science and Sociology at Presidency College, Kolkata, while reminiscing his student days, maintains that in the Sixties the ambience was different. “We were more secular. We grew up being exposed to a Marxist critique of religion – religion as a source of oppression, a justification for exploitation,” says Ray. “In fact, in Bengal education in the social sciences was modeled on the western value system —rationality, objectivity, scrutiny, and secularity.”
But there has been a change in recent times. Ray, who has been teaching for 40 years, holds that his students are a lot more religious today than they were earlier. “The secular understanding of religion is that it is basically a human creation. In my classrooms I initiate discussions on this issue. And I have noticed that the majority of students argue that there is a God,” he says. “It is now a rare experience, in fact, to have a student support for the secular point of view.”
Today’s Bengali youth is no longer afraid to express his or her religious self. They are definitely turning to God. The newspaper which had surveyed the minds of Bengali youth put forward five questions: (1) Are you religious? (2) Have you always been religious? (3) Is your family religious? (4) Do you often visit a place of worship? (5) Do you seek solace in religion? The answers received by the surveyors were astonishing if not unbelievable. Let me quote the questions and their answers:
1. Are you religious? Answer: YES 84 per cent, NO 16 per cent
2. Have you always been religious? Answer: YES 67 per cent, NO 33 per cent.
3. Is your family religious? Answer: YES 82 per cent, NO 18 per cent.
4. Do you often visit a place of worship? Answer: YES 54 per cent, NO 46 per cent.
5. Do you seek solace in religion? Answer: YES 84 per cent, NO 16 per cent.
Mitra, President, Kalighat Temple Committee, believes that the turn towards religion is a reflection of the Bengali youth’s desire to return to his or her roots. “Young Bengali intellectuals of the previous generation had by and large distanced themselves from religion,” he says.
Mitra believes that they had their reasons. The plethora of so-called gurus and godmen—from the 1960s to 1980s put people off religion, he argues. “Yesterday’s youth wanted to stay away from this brand of Hinduism. But the current generation of youngsters has realised the depth of their own ancient culture,” he says. “They see that even in the West there is great respect for eastern principles such as yoga and ayurveda, which are intrinsically associated with Hindu philosophy. So there is a growing desire among the youth to understand their own culture and religion.”
Some, like Prasanta Ray, believe that a turn towards religion underscores rising levels of insecurity in society. “Family support is dwindling. Children do not have the same network of family support that the previous generations enjoyed. They sometimes miss out on the protection of parents who work outside the home. They don’t even have a large number of siblings. And in this competitive and consumerist world today’s kids also have fewer friends.
There are so many other arguments as well. But the fact remains that the Bengali youths are turning towards God, is a pleasant feature of our social life. Hence the need of hour is to stand united to protect our culture and society and youths should be motivated towards that.