The First Class — Part 2

Continuing from Part-1

Back at the university, Bhagat gave his students ten minutes to ponder and students started to take notes of their points that they wanted to bring up. He shouted,”Time Up”.

Nalini initiated the conversation with a hard ball,”I have seen religion transform good people into evil beasts. There have been numerous studies that quoted the average church-goer(which could be any religious congregation) being more evil than one who doesn't. There have been studies that scientifically mentioned that theists are more likely to be selfish when compared to atheists”.

Vasant interjected her,”I have been brought up in an orthodox family. My values system emerged from the religious scriptures. Are you telling me I am more evil compared to the dude right next to me?”

Nalini retorted,”I have only know you for a year. I have no idea about your personal life and it would be unfair on my part to comment on that loaded question. I am only pointing out studies that support my case.”

Bhagat had to set some ground rules now. He said, “Everything that is said in this hall stays in the hall. Don’t let it burst your personal bubble. The aim of the discussion is to find some answers. I hope a group of young minds can stay civil,not get into mudslinging. You should stand your ground but that doesn't mean you take it personal or offence”. With that he let them resume.

Abhijeet added,”I am not really sure if religion is the culprit here. Human beings have evolved to find their own groups — sometimes it was the colour, sometimes it was the language, sometimes it was the God within the same religion, sometimes it was a Cat vs Dog, sometimes it is a windows vs Mac. As far fetched as the last two are, there is enough reason where human have to differentiate amongst themselves and identify groups to bolster their numbers.In the process, one group bullies the others. It is just evolution. The stronger group prevails.”

Bhagat was stunned and so was the rest of the class. That was an interesting point of view, one that he wasn't expecting so early into the debate.He was staring at the class to see how they would respond.

Nalini took the lead once again, “That is a fair point. But most of the scenarios you mentioned fall under the category of — Who is superior among the options? Only while talking about religion do people get into wars arguing which among the options was the peaceful one. Also, the fighting which God was better amongst the same religion is no different from fighting among different religion. It is like whether it was a duck or a rabbit. Just difference in interpretations but the underlying difference is the same as that of different religions. There seems to be some common ground within the religion but there also seems to be a vast difference on the other issues, which I believe should be treated as two different religions in my mind.”

Bhagat wanted the class to head in a different direction, so he asked,”How many of you have seen a religious ceremony that eulogised the God and recommended people adhere to it strictly? How many of you have witnessed some sort of conversion attempt”

A lot of hands went up in the class. He responded, “Do you not see that as a part of the problem? The idea of spreading the religion might have been the root cause of the problems. With money coming into the picture, that game is tilted heavily in favour of some religions, leading to guerilla war-fare. There is only some much the small guy can take before he goes all pyscho,especially if his religion asks him to defend”.

He wanted the class to give it a thought. He is not supposed to play favourites but he knew what his answer was. He was only trying to get vindicated.

Back at school, Anastasia was waiting for her class to begin. In walked Alekhya Mam. She was looking different today, in bad way. Her hair looked crumpled. She looked like she didn't get enough sleep. She looked like she was hit by a truck. The class was shocked to see her that way, but soon greeted her in unison,”Good moooorrrninggg teacher”. Alekhya tried to acknowledge the greeting, she tried to speak but her voice was squeaky, very different from her confident commandeering voice.

Anastasia walked up to her and enquired if she was all right. Alekhya responded with an affirmative. She grabbed a chair, sat on it and began the class. She said, “Today we are not going to talk about constitutional amendments. We are going to talk about me. We are going to talk about my story. You are going to hear some bitter truth today.”

Alekhya began,”I was born in a tribal village that had little access to any schools,hospitals. The closest government building was 15 KMs. The village comprised of 45 people and the most educated person in the village studies till 4 standard. He can hardly read or write. The tribal’s worked in the nearby village as cotton pickers for a nominal wage of Rs. 10 per day. To put that in perspective, with Rs 10, you can hardly buy a days meal, forget about getting treated if you were ill. When I was 11, a team of doctors visited our village for the first time. It was sort of a spectacle watching such clean people for the first time.”

“They set up a camp in our village and provide free medical examinations to everyone. The eldest person in the village was diagnosed with Fluorosis. The next person was diagnosed with the same health issue. And then the next one, the next one. In the first 15 people that were examined, 14 of them were diagnosed with the same disease. Some of them in late stages, some in the early stages.I was the other person who wasn't diagnosed.”, said Alekhya.

The doctors were stunned. They enquired where we drank our water from. I pointed out to the only well in the village. They took samples of the water and said they needed to perform tests on the water. They left for the day and promised to return in a week days with the results. News reached the head of the village where we worked. He was pissed. He was furious.He reached our village with a bunch of goons and threatened the village of dire consequences if we ever interacted with the doctor’s on the visit.

Alekhya said, “Little did I know back then that this innocuous visit of the doctors was going to change my life forever. I didn't realise the impact this visit would have on my village. I never imagined that this visit would haunt me even after 25 years.”

<To be followed>