Deconstructing Indian Secularism – I

(An article by Barkha Dutt in the Outlook magazine triggered this article:

I must admit I was extremely surprised to see a 'liberal intellectual' in the Indian media, waking up and smelling the faint aroma of coffee (could not resist the pun) – and writing about it in public! We must appreciate Barkha's candor, for it's not easy to accept (at least the possibility) that everything that one stood for or believed in might have been baseless (well, let's say the secular fundamentalist ideology in this case). But that is the sign of the dawn of intellect in a person, to be able to take a good look at oneself and his/ her ideology and be able to turn everything upside down (once convinced of the incorrectness of it). Even in her middle-ground unfortunately, Barkha seems to believe that the Kanchi Seer is guilty (how convenient!) — I'll refrain from commenting on it and say that if a successor of Adi Shankara were indeed guilty of conspiring murder, he deserves the strictest punishment (but let there be justice in the way he's being treated, and let the media not brand him guilty before the completion of his trial).

First, some musings by the author…

Over the course of the past four odd years that I've been an avid reader of articles and columns on Sulekha, I've encountered inspiring pieces written by several contributors… thought provoking. Sometimes I found myself agreeing with their rationale, sometimes plain abhorring the ideas. I started writing some articles on spiritual topics, topics that were relevant to me, in my quest for knowledge. I stopped writing after I realized that I ended up amidst extreme slugfests between two opposing groups of thought. Initially I tended to categorize them as 'the traditionalists' and 'the modernists'…but with time observed that the majority of this second group displayed behavior very identical to the ideological fundamentalists that we so despise (closed minds, inability to make coherent arguments, loud noise to mask their lack of reasonable debating skills). That got me thinking whether the effort of writing articles or even participating in these public forums was worth the energy that was expended in repeating oneself ad nauseum, ad infinitum. I mean, beating my head against a stone wall isn't going to do my head any justice, sure as heck won't even dent the wall (and I've got a darned hard head)! But then I changed my mind. If everyone started thinking like me and didn't take up the fight, 'they' would, in effect, have won the war. This much being communicated, may I continue?

Diving into the topic now…

1) The phenomenon of 'Secular Fundamentalism' itself is the result of an ideology replacing a religion. The fervor that these secular creatures possess is like that of a religious zealot. One can see this kind of fervor in converts (for example, a Hindu converted to Christianity or Islam would tend to over-compensate by being more zealous and fundamental than the ones who are natively of that religion) — which in turn unleashes the process of conversions and so on.

2) Steeped in the 'high' traditions of religious denigration (since religion is a dirty word for them), these secular zealots — specifically those Hindus with the brown sahib mentality and education, do not realize that what they denigrate. It is a culture and not a religion (as Ms. Dutt so eloquently puts it …"we were blind to the idea that for most in India, religion is about culture, inextricably linked to the everydayness of their lives…"). It is an entire way of life [there are other cultures and other countries with similar traditions — the real Chinese (not the red brigands, but the Taoists, the Buddhists, the traditionally alive Chinese), or the Japanese]. By rejecting the validity of the religion, these secularists rejected an entire way of life (for 95% of their brethren).

3) The secularism that should have been the separation of State and Government, mutated into this ugly religion with no roots other than fear — a fear of being overwhelmed by a way of life that was all encompassing and ever flowing, a fear of losing control. Ever been afraid of being swept away by the currents of a river? It can be a very compelling reason to not get into the water, or if at all, holding onto that pier with all your might! With numerous roundabout checks and balances in place (pampered minorities, repressed majority rights, etc.) to maintain this control, the 'secularism' these zealots tout is anything but that (secularism); it is extreme fascism, albeit well camouflaged – but as virulent, if not more, as communism.

4) This elusive 'Average Hindu' she refers to is just an average guy (or lady) who's watching out for number one (1) right now. When the conditions are conducive (a secure future — financially and materially), he will definitely speak out, and perhaps with more intelligent arguments than his predecessors did (those you call the Saffronites). Then the 'secular progressive' fundamentalists will have to listen one last time, because it will be a deafening roar of many of these Average Hindus.

Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Indian Secularism as a fundamentalist religion

“Now what,” we may ask ourselves, “are the criteria that any religion must meet, in order to qualify as being a fundamentalist religion?”

A quick look at my online dictionary shows this as the meaning of 'Fundamentalism':

A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.

What then would be the salient features of such a religion? Right off the cuff, I can think of a few that I've listed below:

a) The belief that 'it' (the religion or ideology) is the 'only' true way and anything that differs from this is incorrect (to certain extents even criminal).
b) The belief that the adherents of this faith should have the ability to proselytize using any means, and try to convert as many non-believers into believers (this stems from the previous point).
c) The existence of historic figures or events that validate/ justify its righteous existence (to use a borrowed term – history-centrism).

Let's now try to see if Indian Secularism fits the bill (matches the three conditions listed above).

Condition a): According to the tenets of Indian Secularism, it, and only it can lead India to a state of political and cultural harmony (away from the chaos that is Hinduism) – thus, it does claim to be the 'only' true way. Everything else like normal Hinduism is considered a bothersome nuisance (riddled with superstition and farcical, thus worthy of contempt and ridicule) and the more vociferous, assertive form of Hinduism is considered a 'fascist ideology'.

Condition b): The secular brigade believes that it is their birth-right to try and convert the average 'Hindu' into a believer. They brainwash (if the political climate is conducive) by distorting history and feeding the youth (students) their divisive ideology in the guise of History, Social Sciences and Civics (the term JNU 'scholar' — admittedly an oxymoron, — ring a bell, anyone?)

Condition c): The peculiar conditions leading to the birth of Indian Secularism can be distilled down to the coupling of two (the father and mother if you may) — Communism/ Socialism and Jawaharlal Nehru, and leading to (in effect) the writing of the Indian Constitution (even though the history goes a few hundred years farther into the past from there).

Are Indian Secularists usually zealots with the sanctimonious fire of 'righteousness' burning bright in their hearts?

What does the word 'zealot' mean?

Per the online dictionary, it means: 'A fanatically committed person'.

Are these folks really then fanatically committed to their cause? In most cases, the answer would be in the affirmative. They can do anything for their cause. They routinely misguide, misrepresent facts, connive – meaning they are plain outright dishonest. They even infiltrate the 'enemy camp' in disguise and try to disrupt them from the inside. They take extreme pleasure in denigrating Indian heritage (at least anything that did not stem from the Mogul or other Islamic empires). They make comments similar to “Even a library full of Indian classical literature does not match up to a single book in English”.
They believe in the 'Aryan Invasion Theory' or if a little more sensible 'The Aryan Migration Theory' (neither of which are worth even a second look and have been proven to be suspect imperialistic propaganda initiated in the 19th Century by European Christian philologists) and try to maintain the Aryan-Dravidian divide myth, fanning anti-Brahminical hatred. They generically label everything Hindu as evil, propagating the myth that social phenomena such as the Varna and Jati systems are actually results of Sanatana Dharma. And this misconception thus established to be factual is used to browbeat anyone who tries to speak in favor of Sanatana Dharma (in defiance of the Church of Secularism in India). They harp on and on about the 'intolerance' of the Hindus (because there have been occurrences of Hindu-Moslem riots). Why, have they ever stopped to think of the fact that one cannot clap with a single hand (more effective in Hindi 'ek haath se taali nahi bajti hai)? Moreover, if one were to dig deep enough, I guess they'd find some very 'secular' politicians behind the outbreak of these riots. The average Indian has enough troubles as it is, and does not need to exacerbate these by adding rioting to it.

What should then, be the 'Role' of Secularism?

According to my trusted online dictionary, Secularism is:

The view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education.

What then does such an idea purport?

It requires that religion be a personal practice (either of an individual or a community), a way to pursue spiritual goals. By de-coupling the running of the State from the religious institutions, this idea creates an environment conducive to the fair and efficient operation of the State, without interference from any single community's religious aspirations. The 'God' I know, does not want to have anything to do with politics or the running of a state.

The law should stand separated from religion, with religion being solely a vehicle for spiritual pursuit. Any 'power-struggle' that exists between religions (and that the struggle exists, is a given fact, since the principal foundations of these religions are different, their aspirations are different and their realities different), would then naturally play out in a world separated from the realm of government. In the end, it is the common man who should decide which religion is best for him, should he not?

A different perspective

The problem also lies with the religions themselves. Let me elaborate.

I just finished reading a book by Robert Pirsig titled 'Lila' (this is the follow-up to his 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'), in which he proposes a new way of looking at things — the 'Metaphysics of Quality'. This book is about 'morals' and the way they are valued in the Metaphysics of Quality (MoQ) system. Here's my take on it and an analysis of Indian Secularism through the lenses of MoQ.

The MoQ deals with two patterns of quality (Static and Dynamic). The whole process of evolution (not exactly Darwinian evolution though) is based on a balance between the static and dynamic qualities. Pirsig's Dynamic Patterns are what we (Vedic people) have called the Brahman, the Chinese have called the Tao. The premise is that the natural state/ ideal state of existence is in tune with the Dynamic Patterns or Dynamic Quality. This shows up in different ways in various circumstances. Dynamic Patterns are the harbinger and the cause of changes, of evolution and society evolves as a result. But, to record the changes (so that a slip might not cause the evolutionary changes to become completely undone), particular checkpoints are created and these are the Static Patterns of Quality. According to the MoQ, evolution happens in ratchet-like steps – dynamic patterns bring about change, checkpointed at the various Static Patterns and so on. There are several 'facets' to this 'Quality'. They are Inorganic patterns of quality, Biological patterns, Social patterns, Intellectual patterns and Dynamic patterns (somewhat in an incremental order of evolution). The inorganic patterns combine to bring forth biological patterns. The biological patterns combine to bring forth social patterns. These are the three primary patterns that existed in most of the world (for convenience, with respect to the history of mankind). Though, the primary purpose of religion was to pursue dynamic patterns (or at least get closer to this dynamic quality), religions generally got bogged down at the 'ratchet-point' of the social patterns of quality. Thus, leading to elaborate rituals (as in Indic religions), dogma (as in the Abrahamic religions) – all for the purpose of reinforcing the static social patterns of quality. In other words, to enforce the hegemony of society in precedence over the dynamic, spiritual quality.

There is in fact a fork in the tree at the point of biological patterns (not mutually exclusive, but somewhat in opposition of each other). Here's how it seemed to me:

The biological patterns of quality can either take the turn of organizing into purely social patterns or purely intellectual patterns (but ideally a balance of both is desirable). Through early periods of Western culture to the early 20th century, the social patterns were dominant and thus we saw social moral codes (however insane) being followed – 'Witches burnt to the stake, scientific thinkers ostracized or murdered by the religious (i.e., social) authorities in Europe, rules and laws in place that enforced the authority of the Church and reinforced the supremacy of the social patterns of quality (in other words, society). But, after the European renaissance, the intellectual patterns started to pick up momentum as well.

But in the first quarter of the 20th century, the rule of social patterns was overthrown by the rule of intellectual patterns (meaning science and technology). Since religion fell in the realm of social patterns, the intellectuals rejected these outright. In Asia however, the scene was a little different. The religions that developed there (perhaps due to the age of the civilizations – Indian, Chinese, Japanese), managed to integrate the social patterns and the intellectual patterns, directed towards the pursuit of the dynamic patterns of quality (or spirituality). Of course, the development of religions as static social patterns led to the obfuscation of the true purpose of religion at times (sometimes, extended periods of time). India and Indic culture and religion suffered from the 'foreign' invasions by the Moslems and later the Europeans. These were carriers of static social patterns, which totally ignored the dynamic quality and were deeply dogmatic, un-evolved intellectually. They wanted to convert the whole world into adherents of their static social patterns (thus you have genocide in the name of religious conversions, forced conversions, etc.). The Moslem invaders rationalized their plunder and pillage in the name of Allah and the Europeans thought they were doing their 'colonies' a favor by spreading their static social values (Victorian, stifling, hypocritical values). Since the two religions (Islam and Christianity) were in tune with each other (at least to a certain degree), they more or less forwarded the same agenda – establishing the might of static social patterns of quality.

The Europeans were more devious (perhaps unknown to themselves); they concocted this process of analyzing a culture called Anthropology and made value judgments on Indic culture and religions with their static social values (morals) as the high-mark. As a result, they mis-interpreted and confabulated (in many cases) Indic history, literature and religions and somehow created this bastard culture that was a nasty mish-mash of their static social values and the Indic static social values – the garbage of the two cultures. The present day secularists are the unfortunate children of this bastardized culture and the intellectual static patterns of quality (science and technology). While in one hand they refute all religion as being evil (the intellectual split personality tells them that), on the other hand, they vehemently fear Indic religions because they bring forth the existence of dynamic quality (which negates their social static patterns – or pseudo-Victorian morals and religious notions). As a result, they prop up the Abrahamic religions (the hardcore upholders of static social patterns) – which they as intellectuals effectively control today. The way this unfolded in the 20th century Western civilization was totally different, where the bastardized culture (Indic + Western) had no role to play in the creation of the 'Secularist'. That is why, Indian Secularism is such a unique phenomenon.


1. Lila – An Inquiry into Morals by Robert Pirsig.

More posts by this author:

Please follow and like us:

Co Authors :

One Reply to “Deconstructing Indian Secularism – I”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.