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For a good 15 years of my life I was taught that “India is a secular country”, and “All Indians are my brothers and sisters”. The only playful addition, I made to these wise teachings was “unless that Indian is my husband, boyfriend or my father”, which is well expected out of a teenager.

I believed what the books, teachers, and elders told me. I believed in secularism, because I didn’t have to choose my friends based on their religion. Everybody was the same to me, and I could be friends with the whole lot.

It made me happy to go the temples and rendezvous with millions of God’s and incarnations, and listen to their fascinating stories of triumph. It gave me a sense of joy to cover my head with a cloth and enter a mosque and bow my head in prayer. It gave me comfort to sit in silence in a church and read and listen of the lore of a man, who did great things, and was proclaimed as the “Son of God”.

Eating ladoos on Diwali, relishing hot biryani on Eid, enjoying the sweet treats on Christmas, licking the langar food off my fingers, elated me and gave me a sense of belonging. I was proud of my country to have been a home to these interesting cultures and religions. I did not enjoy religion and respect all of these institutions because I believed in God, or was afraid of God. It is the cultures and message of peace that I respected.

I grew up with these thoughts and emotions strong in my mind, deepening with every passing year. But, one day someone just bludgeoned them, a beating deserved only by criminals. My carefully woven idea of secularism and peace was torn apart by everyone around me.

I woke up to see that everything I believed in was being burnt to the ground along with the withering bodies of people. People who were now turned to ashes, their religion, their lives, and beliefs turned to dust. You couldn’t see Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and countless others. You saw only dead people.

Then, a thought crossed my mind.

The books need an update. In my country, Secularism doesn’t exist within the living.

“We are only secular in death”

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