Prachi Mittal – Bachelors in Financial Markets , Persuing MBA at Thakur Institue of Management Studies & Research , Mumbai

“We want to lead mankind in the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran; yet this is to be done by harmonizing the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of The Religion, which is Oneness, so that each may choose that path that suits him best.” By Swami Vivekananda

The concept of “religion” connotes a belief in a supreme being and his worship through a specified ritual. Religion is based on a moralistic outlook or a way of life. In its doctrine perspective, it may be defined as a system of general truths which has the effect of transforming characters when they are sincerely held and vividly apprehended.

The concept of harmony connotes a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts; congruity.

India’s ethnic composition encompasses myriad streams of culture and religious faiths and sects. As a multi-lingual and multi-cultured society, India has served as an outstanding example of unity in diversity among the fast maturing democracies across the world.

Cultural diversity as a major component of secularism has been widely recognized and acknowledged in the recent past throughout the world when many countries have suffered ethnic violence and constant conflicts of faiths and beliefs. Today an already well-built cultural diversity of India needs constant the legacies of our saints and leaders remain a living source of inspiration for the youth of today. These luminaries desired to see India emerge as a lasting identity of communal harmony nourishment and it is in this respect that a great responsibility is thrust upon the youth of India today. These components of Indian society have been attacked frequently, especially in recent times by divisive fascist forces, which are bent upon upsetting the social fabric of a peace loving and fastidiously growing democratic society. The young minds therefore must know that the traditions of communal harmony and tolerance and respect for diversity have always been the redeeming features of our civilization.

Communal harmony is the sine qua non of a pluralistic society such as ours. Guarding and strengthening this core ideal, upon which our policy is based, requires ceaseless vigilance.

Nearly six hundred years ago, the saint Kabir blended the mystic aspects of the various religious traditions of our country, and provided to later generations a sense of what we would today call Unity in Diversity. Among his many luminous ‘dohas’, Kabir had urged each of us to find within ourselves the spark of goodness or genius to inspire everyone. He wrote:
‘Jaisay til mein tel hai, jyon chakmak mein aag,
Tera saayin tujh mein hai, tu jaag sakay to jaag.’

People who summon the will and courage to protect the life and property of others professing different faiths remain in the vanguard of our movement for secularism.

The emergence of certain interest groups that do not shun violence and seem to be inspired by a particular religious ideology has tempted many religion is often viewed today as having a negative role in world politics, particularly in cases where a religious revival is perceive to be taking place. After decades during which religion seemed to be largely and effectively relegated to the private realm, religious activists are staking out a new claim for religion as a central feature of public life. The wish to restore religion to what is considered its rightful place at the heart of society is the most notable common denominator of today’s religious fundamentalist movements. In order to achieve their aim, members of such movements may employ several tactics, including violent ones. They justify their use of violence by reason, often referring to a perception that we are not living in normal times, and that exceptional circumstances ask for exceptional measures. As a result, an unusual alliance has been forged in many cases between religion and politics.

The emergence of certain interest groups that do not shun violence and seem to be inspired by a particular religious ideology has tempted many observers, notably in the West, to assume an intrinsic connection between religion and violence. Hence, it is common today to consider religion as a source of conflict rather than a resource for peace. The logical conclusion then is to try and reduce the influence of the religious factor in the political arena. Typically in such a view, religion is deemed to be a private affair, something between individual believes and their god’s), a relation that should not spill over into the public domain. Whereas religion is expected to limit itself exclusively to regulating human relations between the visible and invisible words, it is politics, on the other hand, which is deemed solely responsible for regulating their relations with the state that they live in. the formal separation between the fields of religion and politics has been the hallmark of Western democracies for centuries and was introduced to other parts of the world, notably those which were colonized by Europe, and by extension, countries that were long under the influence of Western Europe and North-America. The worldwide resurgence of religion is increasingly seen as challenging the basis of secular state. Many commentators, at least in the West, have lamented the fact that religion is reassuming a public role, bringing together again two fields of operation that in the Western tradition of the enlightenment have long be kept apart. Due to recent conflicts in which religion also played a role, and notably after the events of September 2001, religion is often associated in the West with violence. The question is, however, are we simply dealing here with religious conflict, as is so often suggested, or has religion become a suitable instrument for political mobilization, providing a resource that-like any other- can be effectively exploited for rather mundane purposes. For anybody to answer that question, it is of vital importance to analyze the role of religion in society, and to do so from a historical perspective. This is important, first to be able to understand today’s world better, and second, in order to analyze the specific properties, and therefore the potential of religion.

No one living in the 21st century will feign ignorance of the diversity of the human race. The Telecommunication Industry has made the world a global village and open vistas never dreamt off by generations gone by. Beyond the diversity of the human race also lie the conflicts ranging in many regions especially as a result of religion. It will be foolhardy to pretend that religion has not been a source of major conflicts in centuries past, however religious intolerance has raised its ugly head in the early part of the 21st century. Ever since the event of September 11, 2001 a new chapter opened in the religious turf. The reality of the human rights situation in the world today is a picture of stark contrast, on the one hand, undeniable progress on the other, the painful reality of widespread violations. Over the last few years amazing changes have taken place in many parts of the world (Marten son 1993:927).We must be quick to add that the said changes that have taken place n the world have not affected human relations. Difference is perceived as inferiority and in-equality, and an avenue to perpetuate actions detrimental to human race and relations. The theory of Race Relations have always pointed out that there is no scientific proof and backing on some of the assumptions peddled by the dominant group. The question is: How do we achieve religious harmony in the 21st century? To this we now turn. Achieving religious harmony in the 21st century is the job of all; beginning with the state, institutions and individuals.

The Role of the State in Achieving Religious Harmony

The state is the political system of a body of people who are politically organized. (Black 2000: 1137) from the definition of a state, we construe a state to be that organ of government which is responsible to people but locally and internationally. Many modern states have signed and ratified Human Rights instruments such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) etc. What is important is the implementation of all this instruments. Religious harmony cannot be devoid of human rights, it is the respect for human rights that will curb religious disharmony. State must ensure that these principles are part of National Laws and their citizens must be educated on the importance of adhering to rights principles in human relations.

The Role of Institutions in achieving Religious Harmony

The United Nations through its various arms such United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, are saddled with the responsibilities of seeing to the implementation of human rights in various regions of the world. The United Nations must maintain and reinforce existing international machinery for the protection of human rights. The UN must ensure that all states irrespective of their economic and social systems, to work for the basis of humane order based on freedom, justice and peace, correcting inequalities, redressing injustices, and accelerating economic and social development would help to eliminate wrong notions and ideas about society, and expectations. It should be noted in today’s world many situations involving gross violations of human rights are marked by emotions and expressions of deep ethnic, national, racial and religious conflict (Boven 1993: 1944).Under international law there is clearly a duty on the part of states to prevent violations of human rights. The most forceful legal declaration to this effect can be found in the judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the Velasquez Rodrightz Cases, July 29, 1988 which concerned the disappearance of Angel Manfredo Velasquez Rodriguez in Honduras. The court was requested to determine whether Honduras had violated Articles 4 (right to life), 5(right to humane treatment) and 7(right to personal liberty) of the American Convention on Human Rights, and to rule that the consequences of the situation that constituted the breach of such right or freedom be remedied and that fair compensation be paid to the inured party or parties.The court went further to state:An illegal act which violates human rights and which is initially not directly imputable to a state (for example, because it is the act of a private person or because the person responsible has not been identified) can lead to international responsibility of the state not because of the act itself, but because of the lack of due diligence to prevent the violation or to respond as it as required by the convention.While, the United Nations need to hold states accountable for the acts of private persons especially when it relates to religious intolerance, it is pertinent that the UN and its various agencies must develop capacity to identify human rights violations at an early stage and act swiftly and effectively to bring them to an end.

The Role of Individuals in Achieving Religious Harmony

The society and the state is made up of individual, it is the individual who gives effect to laws and policies. Every individuals mirror his society. In tackling religious intolerance, a concerted effort must be geared towards individual enlightenment on the imperative of religious harmony. Violations of human rights often start with individual before it becomes a collective phenomenon. When individuals accept the norms of both democratic and human rights principles and strive to live it, then the state and human rights agencies will have less work to do. It is trite at this juncture to stress a social disease which has exacerbates religious crisis in recent times i.e. Racism. Racism is the theory or idea that there is a causal link between inherited physical traits and certain traits of personality, intellect or culture and combined with it, the nation that some races are inherently superior to others, (Encylopaedia Britannica 1980:360).While, it is accepted that in nearly all the worlds societies, men have apparently developed pride in the cultural accomplishment of their own groups and a corresponding derogation of those of their neighbors. However, the idea that certain groups of people are superior to others because of their genetic makeup does not appear to have been widespread. The menace of Racism and Religious fundamentalism is a backlash of colonial expansion and slavery. While, many states have gained independence, and are not longer subjects of other nations, what starves us now is reaction to perceived earlier grievance, which has now metamorphose to terrorism. Solving the scourge of racism, religious fundamental and terrorism is the work of all. The whole world must unite in condemning acts inimical to human rights, but we also must be part of the healing process. No one thinks, this fight will be easy, but it our belief that Religious Harmony can be achieved in the 21st century and beyond.

 Conclusion

Religion occupies a special place in the life of man, so also human rights has become as accepted way of living. Our problem has been balancing religious freedom with human rights principles.In this paper, we examined the idea of religion, we examined the rights discourse stating its evolution, we discussed religion and rights in the light of notable cases from two countries (Canada and Nigeria), we also examined the limits of religious freedom in several jurisdictions and suggested means of achieving religious harmony.It is our submission that Religion and Human Rights can co-exist if all and sundry will believe, accept and practice human rights principles and ideas alongside the tenets of their religion.