To be honest, I haven't really thought about the Ten Commandments for a long while. Not since I last saw the Hollywood epic in a rerun on TV. In fact, I've lost track of the number of times I've seen the movie, but my first time was certainly during my growing up years in India, and it had a lasting impression on me.
As a young Hindu girl educated in an English convent school in New Delhi, as many of the children of the upper middle class were, I was certainly open to the Christian faith. We easily moved between the Hindu and Christian worlds of home and school. Nuns, who sometimes rapped us on the knuckles with a wooden ruler, were a part of our daily life. We'd kneel down every day for midday mass, and I could recite The Lord's Prayer at the drop of a hat.
Although I've often browsed through Bibles during my stay in motels, I've never read one from cover to cover. What I know of the Ten Commandments is from the movie, and each of the commandments, delivered with a bolt of Hollywood lightening, certainly has a place in my heart.
After all, who can argue with such great commonsense edicts as "Thou Shalt Not Kill" and "Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself"? These are teachings embodied in all the great religions of the world, and yes, all human beings, whether they are Christian or not, can takes these commandments as a guiding star in their lives. Even the injunction to worship but one God is fine by me, because as a Hindu I know there is only one God, but with many different names.
But now the Ten Commandments are back in my consciousness-and not in the most pleasant way. Why do I, who regard them as so benign, still feel uncomfortable having them displayed in public spaces? Kentucky-the site of one of the two cases decided by the Supreme Court-is a long way off, but even if I were to go into the local post office or a courthouse in New York and see a monument to this essentially Christian teaching, I would feel somehow imposed upon. As an immigrant and a Hindu, I would feel a little less welcome, a stranger in the neighborhoods that are now my home turf. And this is multicultural New York, a city with people of all faiths living together.
Justice is blindfolded for a reason-to be free of bias or favor. If the Ten Commandments can be displayed on the grounds of a government building, then why not wisdom from the religious texts of other faiths? I would have absolutely no problem if teachings from the Sikh Guru Granth Sahib, the Muslim Koran, or the Hindu Bhagavad Gita were also inscribed on tablets outside different courthouses.
If Christians feel nonbelievers could benefit from the Ten Commandments, I would like Christians to also benefit from Hindu wisdom. Lord Krishna's discourse to Arjuna on the battlefield encompasses the most wonderful principles of living, especially in our new global communities.
According to an AP report, the Supreme Court justices ruled that the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas capitol was "a legitimate tribute to the nation's legal and religious history." I didn't think the Supreme Court was in the business of promoting religion, but if it is, when will we see the sagacity of Manu Smriti, the ancient Hindu treatise on right conduct, enshrined outside an American courthouse? After all, Hinduism is no longer an alien faith, nor is Islam. These are the living faiths of thousands and thousands of new Americans. These are now American religions.
And that is something both the Supreme Court and the people in favor of Ten Commandments displays seem to have forgotten. Some defenders say these edicts have stood outside the courthouse for 50 years-and nobody objected before. Yes, and there was also a time when nobody objected to slavery or child labor either! They need to open their eyes: Contemporary America is a wonderful mosaic of many faiths. There has to be room for all religions-or no religion-in public spaces.
Indeed, at the heart of this debate is the constitutional wisdom of separation of church and state. The moment these displays stand on public property, there is a problem. It turns the government into nothing but a fire-and-brimstone preacher in a revivalist tent, proselytizing on citizens' tax dollars-Muslim tax dollars, Hindu tax dollars. And that doesn't sound right to me.