Friday, March 8, 2013

Keeping God away

When my father passed away eight years ago, it seemed appropriate to bid final farewell to him in the city where he was born and many of his relatives still lived. Despite living away from the place and people for over 45 years and visiting on 'earn leave' just for a month at a time, once a year, he still felt strongly for the place. I am told that my father had  not been a very religious man, but over the years had got increasingly so and had taken to the the rituals and traditions that come with it. So it was decided that we would do the thirteenth day ceremony in a  way that he would have liked. A 'hall' was booked and friends, relatives and countrymen were invited.

It all went on as these things usually do. People came, looked appropriately somber, said all the right things - some even shed tears and stated how much they had hoped to see him and how much they would miss him. Then they would spot some one they knew and had not met for ages, excuse themselves and you would hear exclamations of 'its been so long' 'how she has grown' etc. Eventually everyone settled down to a nice lunch that had all my father's favorite food. The soul is satiated seeing loved ones eating the food and transitions to the next world happily is the theory.

All through all this there was a ceremonial pooja being conducted by a priest . My brother, heir to the family name and lineage would dutifully do whatever he said. I, the married daughter did not have much to do. My mother, who had spent two thirds of her life with him had even less to do and sat a little way away observing all that was happening. At the end of the proceedings as he accepted the Dakshina, his fees for officiating the solemn ceremony, he declared that my brother was free from the sutkal/ sutak that kept him under mourning. From now he was free to go to work, weddings or temples- basically where ever he chose to go. He then turned to my mother who was standing nearby and told her that  as she had been recently widowed, she should mourn for the whole year- even visiting the community temple was out of bounds. A twelve year old who was standing close by summed up our feelings when he asked "Why is he asking her to keep away from God at a time when she needs him the most?" Obviously the priest knew less about being a spiritual leader (or for that matter about being a sensitive human being) than a twelve year old!

Why this story today? This morning one of the news items on TV was about how the church has apparently asked the Suryanelli gang rape victim and her relatives to keep away. I quote bits from a news item  " Catholic church in central Kerala has banned the Suryanelli gang-rape victim and her relatives from entering the church. As the residents in the area have come to know the identity of the victim and her family, it is better that they should stay away from the church until all the problems related to the case are resolved, the church is said to have ordered."   In stories that followed the church denies discrimination.

 But the point is that often the devout are denied the comfort their faith promises in their darkest hour. These  are not the only two people who have had this happen to them. And for some of those it happened to may have been all alone,desperate and needing someone to turn to. Are forgiveness and succor to the distressed not the basic tenets of any religion? Should not those who believe in Him have full access to Him? So why is God kept away from those who need him the most?

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