Yesterday we went to Pushkar. It was quite a long taxi ride in the intense heat, and by the time we got there I was already felt rather tired and tetchy. Pushkar is a vibrant town popular with tourists and westerners. There is a lake there sacred to Hindus. Getting down to the lakeside, though, proved rather difficult as there were only stairs down.
Getting there, we kept being asked to take off our shoes. I didn’t really want to do so, but I felt slightly guilty about that. That made me think, though, how much reverence should one show other faiths? As an atheist I hold religion to be an oppressive form of social control, used by the powerful to tell people what to think and how to behave. I have mostly thought this of Christianity, but it surely applies to all faiths. Taking my shoes off implied showing reverence to a particular religious discourse, submitting to its authority. I was very reluctant to do that. At the same time I didn’t want to cause any offence in such a beautiful place.
In the end my shoes stayed on, mainly for practical reasons, but I still wonder what I should have done. Would taking my shoes off have been hypocritical, given my dislike of all organised religion? Or should I have done the politically correct, tolerant thing and respected the local customs? It’s a question which I must say has me quite puzzled.