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Cover Story

Losing their religion

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A string of unfulfilled dreams prompted Hari Subramanian, 27, to lose his faith in god and declare it on Facebook

For a chunk of the younger generation hooked on to social networking sites, it’s uncool to confess one’s religious beliefs on a public platform

As a terrified seven-year-old, Hari Subramanian would often approach god with the same request. He wanted a new pair of parents. Whenever his folks reprimanded him for his poor academic performance, the second-grader would plead intensely with the framed pictures of various deities for a quick replacement which, of course, was never granted. In retrospect, the Mulund-based copywriter agrees it was juvenile. But when all the other prayers he had secretly directed skywards, especially those before, during and after an exam, too, never reached their extra-terrestrial addressee, his belief began to crumble. Some time ago, the string of unfulfilled dreams prompted the 27-year-old, who used to diligently follow the code of conduct expected of a conservative Tamilian Brahmin bachelor, to set aside his sacred initiation thread, lose his faith in "Him or Her or It" and declare it openly on Facebook.

On the profile section of this social networking site, next to the column which asks for 'religious views', Subramanian announces: "Not at all religious", staring directly from a photo as if to emphasise the fact that he's unflinching in his belief. "Many youngsters find it uncool to be religious as it is considered old-fashioned," he says in some sort of justification.

Scanning the religious status updates of youngsters like Subramanian is like looking at a new India - confusing to the sociologist and the census man - because, instead of Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Buddhist, this online population classifies itself into ambiguous groups like 'pantheists', 'humanists', 'agnostics' or 'spiritual'.

It's almost as if the youth is trying hard to avoid confessing one's religious beliefs on a public forum - an effort that springs partly from embarrassment about revealing one's "weaknesses" and partly from genuine disenchantment with this form of classification. Mumbai's Rahul Gore, for instance, who believes all religions are interpretations of historic events attributed to a supreme divine power, has jotted 'neutral' on his profile. "I don't want to publish an association with any particular religion," says the 26-year-old, who visits temples only to admire the architecture. "I believe it's a personal thing, a matter of personal choice, definitely not something I want as part of my public identity. " In application forms too he consciously fills in 'neutral' or 'agnostic' in the column marked 'religion'.

It is obvious they want to avoid communal labels, filling in the 'religious views' slot with phrases like "Live and let live" or "In the end lies soul blueprint". And if they are anything like online marketing manager Charles Theodore, who says "religion is man made and it's like a name given to an individual", they'd most likely quip: "Religious views: What's that?"

Twenty-eight-year-old Naina Rastogi's "happy community" comment has led to quite a few debates in her peer group. Rastogi says she would rather meditate than grumble to god. Every day, the PR executive devotes 20 minutes to deep breathing, which cleanses all her negative thoughts. "That's my idea of happiness," she says. "I'm a spiritual person and believe in karma. If you do good, good things happen." Yatish Suvarna, technical editor of a gadget magazine who loves his beer with "digital fries", agrees. His facebook religion is 'piratey'. "It means I do not plan things. . . I live for now as it comes and love the unexpected adventure. The only religion I follow is humanity."

sharmila. ganesan@timesgroup. com

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