As I realize the sociological implications of the social engineering going on in the name of Secularism, I am filled with a deep sense of nausea and revulsion for the concept of Secularism as it is practiced in India today. This essay is an attempt to explain the reasons for my belief
Secularism, as it is practiced in India today is bereft of any integrity and / or intellectual honesty, nor is there any internal consistency. What is good for the goose (the minority) is rarely good for the gander (the Hindu).
What is the dictionary meaning of secularism
sec·u·lar·ism (sĕk’yə-lə-rĭz’əm) pronunciation
1. Religious skepticism or indifference.
2. The view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education.
secularist sec’u·lar·ist n.secularistic sec’u·lar·is’ti
The simplest definition most people associate with the word Secularism is that it is a form of governance that is not affiliated with any particular religion.
In political terms Secularism is a movement toward the separation of church and state as opposed to a union.
As the term “secularism” is often used in different contexts, its precise definition can vary from place to place. A democracy need not necessarily be secular. For example, the United States of America is a democracy but still has “in God we trust” printed on its currency. Another example is the Iraqi Constitution which seeks to establish a democratic government but also calls for the Supreme Federal Court to be made up of judges who are experts in Sharia (Islamic Law).
Its proponents argue secularism is the concept that states should be governed by a process of reasoning rather than dogmatic belief. Its opponents argue that secularism is a concept which, instead of preserving freedom of religion, actually holds all religions in contempt.
A government based on the peoples ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity being protected by the rule of law are seen as superior to a government based on the divine rights of kings, however the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity existed for over a century before the Laicité law (introduced in France in1880 )was introduced.
Secularism may also be defined as the idea that religion should not interfere with or be integrated into the public affairs of a society.
The reason I draw attention to the above definitions is that the Indian model of secularism does not conform to any of these definitions. In fact no definition of secularism is offered in the Indian constitution. While the general public in India understands it to mean “equal respect for all religions, and Morarji Desai’s Janata Party government introduced the Constitution (45th Amendment) Bill seeking to define ‘secular’ to mean ‘equal respect for all religions’, the Congress Party refused to endorse such a definition
1. In practice the Government of India and the legal system do not treat all religions and in particular the Hindu faith with equal respect, nor does it treat all religions equally under the law. There are countless examples, of which some of the most egregious are the separate civil law provisions for Muslims, in which the civil law sections of the Indian Penal code do not apply to Muslims.
2. Another is the special status of Jammu and Kashmir state simply for no other reason than the fact that it is a majority Muslim state
3. A third is the special subsidy given to Muslims to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage, which runs into very large sums of money. No such subsidy is available for Hindus to visit their places of pilgrimage even to proximate locations such as Mt. Kailash
4. While the government maintains a hands off attitude to the administration of Mosques, it administers Hindu trusts through the appointment of a Administrative officer (there is no requirement for him or her to be a Hindu) and not only does not subsidize the maintenance of Hindu temples many of which are in disrepair but diverts money from Hindu trusts to Muslim religious Waqfs.
5. Minority Educational institutions get subsidies that are not available to Hindu educational trusts. The situation became so dire that the Ramakrishna math started by Swami Vivekananda himself, petitioned to be classified as a non Hindu institution, in order that they be eligible to receive subsidies.
Such unequal treatment under the law is becoming intolerable to the Hindu, who is becoming increasingly alienated in the land of his own forefathers, which is another reason for the nascent self awareness of the Hindu and his increasingly vocal participation in the Hindu renaissance movement .
What are some postulates of Indian secularism?
Secularism Sutras or the Aphorisms of the Secular (adapted from Vishal Agarwal)
1. Majority communalism is reprehensible while minority communalism is understandable. Hindu communalism is worse than Muslim and Christian communalism. In fact any communalism by groups other than Hindu is rarely referred to as communalism.
2. Highlighting any act of minority communalism invites being branded as a Hindu fanatic and is itself considered a communalist act.
3. Dams and Factories are the modern Temples of India. But they cannot replace mosques and churches.
4. India is not one nation but a Multi-national state, in other words, it is only notionally a nation state.
5. Hinduism is the opiate of Indian masses.
6. Secularism is the greatest good, to which all other goods are subordinated. All morals and ethics can be ignored in the defense of Secularism. In fact to be secular is the highest accolade that can be awarded in the secular parlance
7. If you are not `Secular’, at best you are a `Communal’ and are most likely to be elevated to a right wing Hindutvawadi who is closely connected to the murder of Mahatma Gandhi, even though you may not have been born then.
8. Marx, Mullah and Missionary are the Trimurti of Secularism. Secularism leads to omniscience. What do communalists know?
9. Majority communalists deserve no human rights. Minorities, including their communal elements, are entitled to special privileges.
10. Hinduism is a colonial construct, and to call it a religion is at best a stretch and at worst against the secular ethos of the country. Tribals are magically transformed into Hindus only when they rape nuns.
11. It is `Progressive’ and `liberal’ to eat beef and to oppose it is to be obscurantist, elite and well on your way to become a fascist.
12. Children should be indoctrinated with Secularism when they are young.
13. Conversion out of Hinduism is a fundamental right of human beings. The right to Conversion and the resultant act of conversion to Hinduism is communalism. Acculturation of tribal Hindus with mainstream Hindu culture is a deep and conspiratorial fascist act of the Sangh parivar.
14. Secular Jihads, Secular Crusades and Secular Pogroms are all kosher as long as they restrict their attack on Hindus and Hinduism. When 50 women and children were burnt to death in Godhra, the newspaper reports made a special mention of the fact that they were Hindu Karsevaks (volunteers), implying that was the motive for killing them. Karsevaks were the children of a lesser God and their murder was therefore understandable. They had brought it upon themselves.
15. Hindu lives are cheap. According to the Sharia, they are worth 1/16 the life of a Muslim, according to Secularism, they are worth even less. It is interesting that the number of Hindu Lives lost in the subcontinent since independence in wars, riots etc is more than 16 times that of Muslim lives lost
16. Secularists cannot be Hindu. They can call themselves of ‘Hindu descent’, or ‘Hindu and Muslim’ or ‘good humans’ or ‘Good Muslims’ or ‘Good Christians’, but never, never, as ‘good Hindus’.
17. All Hindu acts of self assertion are Hindu fanaticism. All Hindu organizations that do not say ‘all religions are equally good’ are Hindu Nazis. To assert pride in being a Hindu is an automatic qualifier to being termed a nationalist Hindu
18. All charities that do not cater to Minority victims are fascist. However, it is OK for NGO’s or other charities to cater to minority communities preferentially.
19. . Secularists claim to be virtuous because of their indifference to religion. But they draw the line when they are faced with the real test of acceptance of diversity in ideas. In general they tend to be extremely bigoted when faced with a viewpoint other than their own.
My view of Secularism
Let me start of by saying that genuine acceptance of diversity is very much a part of the tradition of Sanaatana Dharma and not only would I have no problems with such a stand, but in reality I embrace it with all my heart and with great gusto. If secularism is defined as an embracement of diversity not only of ethnic and religious communities but also diversity of ideas, then one can safely say that preaching secularism to the Hindu is like carrying coal to Newcastle. But just because the Dharma is genuinely accepting of other belief systems does not mean it should be held up to a higher standard of conduct than the rest of the world . For example the word secular is synonymous with apostasy in many countries which profess that their state religion is Islam. We do not feel such countries have anything to teach India about secularism and have no business lecturing India on the virtues of secularism. Similarly, such is the case with Communism . In communist ideology, secularism is synonymous with atheism and the communist ideology is for all practical purposes a state religion with little tolerance for any other belief system. China is a typical example where there is very little tolerance for most religions and those that did not originate in China or did not have a substantial Chinese tradition, are treated with special suspicion. China can hardly be termed a secular state. But we never hear the Indian left , many of whom are ardent admirers of China and rarely have a word to say about lack of secularism in China
The Hostility of the Western Civilization towards the Hindu Faith
In general it is our view that for a communist to preach secularism to a Hindu is like Lucretia Borgia preaching chastity to Mother Teresa. But this is what happens in India. The bulk of the criticism of the Hindu comes from Left wing ideologues, both in India and abroad who while making no secret of their abhorrence for Hinduism are careful to conceal their equally vehement dislike for protecting the freedom of the individual. In fact a large part of the antagonism towards the Hindu faith in the West stems from the freedoms which are enshrined in the core values of Hinduism. As far as the West is concerned, the Hindu is in an unenviable position of drawing the ire of both the left and the right wing. We know why the left wing abhors Hinduism. The Hindu represents to the Communist everything he abhors – reverence for tradition, acceptance of the individuality of humanity in general, a tolerance for ambiguity, a strong and objective ethical value system which is independent of the subjective circumstances, a freedom to choose his God (the embodiment of the supreme spirit or Brahman) and to (or not to) worship in any way he or she chooses. It is also interesting and a telling commentary that while nastik (atheistic) traditions are accepted within the Hindu fold, the converse is certainly not true. Communist ideology considers theistic beliefs in general and Hindu beliefs in particular to be the opiate of the masses. Such intolerance and bigotry towards Hindus would automatically disqualify most Communists from calling themselves genuinely secular, if the operative definition is that there should be equal respect for all traditions under secularism
The right wing abhors Hinduism for reasons which are ironically not all that different from those of the communists. First and foremost there is deep mistrust of Hinduism because it is regarded as a Pagan religion and the fact that it does not have a single founder or Prophet. The implications of this criticism are profound. What is being implied here is that such a person would much rather let his life be dictated to by the edicts of a prophet who may have preached to an audience in an era which has little relevance to the conditions extant today, rather than rely on the powerful instruments of his own mind as exemplified in the rational approach to scientific knowledge gathering (which is what Hinduism espouses even for PAra Vidya ,higher knowledge) using techniques such as observation, perception, logical inference. The five instruments of knowledge gathering (Pramaana, or PramAna) associated with Jnana Yoga or the Yoga of Knowledge are (see link below on acquiring knowledge)
PramAna: The Instruments for acquiring knowledge
shabda (testimony–sacred [shruti and smRti] & secular)
arthApatti (implication of hypothesis, postulate)
anupalabdhi (non-apprehension, non-cognition)
This is a choice which every individual makes, whether to accept on faith the words of a Prophet or to reason out for one self the belief system that is best suited for his or her individual circumstance. The choice depends clearly on the predilections of the individual and there is no right answer that will be suitable for everybody. Unfortunately the right wing in the West does not see it that way. They take the reductionist view that there is only one correct path and that is the one prescribed in their belief system.
The net result of all these observations is that the Dharma does not appeal to either the ideologues of the left or the theologists on the right and it becomes clear why there is extraordinary opposition to the very conception of the Hindu faith. It also explains the very vocal opposition bordering on pathological hostility to the notion that the very antiquity and the unbroken Civilizational tradition of the Hindu bespeaks a timelessness and the fact that it bestows a wisdom that is adaptable to millennially long time spans.
The consequences of the hostility of the Political Left and the Political right
The left wing is more perspicacious in its choice of weapons and more thorough in its quest to bury the uniquely Indic antecedents of the people who live in the Indian subcontinent
First and foremost it seeks to deny an indigenous/autochthonous identity to the very foundations of the Hindu faith, namely the authorship of the Vedas. Secondly they try to undermine the antiquity of the Veda by making the authors the descendants of a mythical race of people called Aryans, about whom little is known except that they were blonde and blue eyed and rode on chariots drawn by 4 horses and entered India after the decay of the Saraswathi Sindhu civilization. So much at variance is this viewpoint to the historical record of the vast literature of India (in fact the only extant literature of that period) that it borders on the incredulous. Third it seeks to fragment the historical legacy of India by divorcing the archaeological and linguistic heritage from each other. In the words of Nicholas Kazanas, the British Greek Scholar
“The Harappans were obviously a literate and highly civilized people who maintained their 1000 year old culture with peaceful means through trade and perhaps religion rather than conquest and expansion. The area they inhabited was, according to Rao (1991: 1), ³1.5 million square kilometers² though I suspect it was much bigger. Then at about 2000 down to 1800, because of ecological and environmental changes including the alteration of the routes of some rivers and as a result, the desiccation of the Saraswati river, they, or many of them, began to move eastwards to the Gangetic basin while their culture was breaking down. At about this time, then, enter our illiterate barbarians, the Aryans. Here the Allchins (Parpola and Witzel) fail to notice the glaring contradiction in their theory: if the Aryans had acquired the ³material culture and lifestyle² of the Harappans before they entered into Saptasindhu, then the RV hymns ought to reflect Harappan elements (urbanization, fixed fire-hearths, bricks, silver, cotton, rice); but it is the later texts (BrAhmaNas and sUtras) that do so, and not at all the RV hymns. Anyway, the Aryans take over and after 2 or 3 centuries produce a most astonishing collection of hymns, to be followed by other collections, various prose works about cultic rites and codes of social behavior. Lord Renfrew (ignoring the archaeological evidence he cites) suggests they came as mounted bands and formed an elite (1989: 197) presumably with their horses alone since in all else they were just like the natives. All that the natives left were their ruined brick-built cities and some seals with inscriptions the nature and use of which is still unknown. In this Region of the Seven Rivers, then, we have an archaeologically well attested culture that seems to have no literature at all (other than the briefest inscriptions) no code of laws, no religious hymns or secular songs, no fables and tales, and then an illiterate people that is not archaeologically attested yet produces, in quick succession, all the kinds of literature that the previous culture lacked. It is a most amazing paradox, an astonishing coincidence of space, time and people. All this is, of course, possible just as it is possible to be struck by lightning in one¹s bed, or to fall from the 10th floor on the lawn below and live with only a few concussions. Many wondrous things are possible in life, but the question is do they really happen? “
Kazanas can be excused for the incredulity he displays at this rank exhibition of negating the most logical conclusion , namely that the Saraswathi Sindhu civilization is really the archaeological evidence of the presence of the Vedics at a later stage in their evolution from the time they talk about the battle of the Ten Kings, which is described in the early phases and mandalas of the Rg.
Blaming social ills on Hinduism
Having consigned the Indic civilization at best to an also ran and a mere spectator to the drama of unfolding events in the rest of the ancient world, the next step was to show that all that was bad in current day India was the result of the Indic tradition. That this was the goal of max Mueller from the outset when he was assigned the task of translating the sacred books of the east into English is clear when in a letter to his wife he wrote in 1886:
‘The translations of the Veda will hereafter tell to a great extent on the fate of India and on the growth of millions of souls in that country. It is the root of their religion, and to show them what the root is, I feel sure, is the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last 3000 years.’ ,
-Max Muller, Letter to his wife , Oxford, December 9,1867
So, the purpose of translating the Vedas was not so much an academic exercise to learn what they contained, but in reality to show the world that all that was reprehensible in India was directly attributed to them. In other words, the effort by Max Mueller was a hatchet job to portray the Hindu faith in a less than stellar light. This has been the general approach of most of those who followed in the footsteps of Max Mueller and claimed to be Indologists and the British colonial administration, which has also taken the same approach. We come now to the present, where , almost every social evil in India according to the Wiki, is attributed to the tenets of the Hindu faith
“Hinduism is criticized, wrongfully or rightfully, on the basis of some past and some current regressive social customs such as Dowry, Sati and Casteism. These trends are however on the decline in recent times due to a growing population of large well-educated Hindu middle class. “
How the connection is made to the Hindu faith as propounded in the sacred texts is not very clear, since rarely is there a quotation given that explicitly condones such behavior. The contrast with the treatment of social evils in the west and in Islamic societies is glaring. For instance, slavery was widespread in the west and still is extant in Islamic societies like Saudi Arabia or in the Sudan, but there is very little mention that many in the west regarded the practice as being sanctioned by their religion and the fact that they fought a civil war in America because of slavery indicates to us the righteousness of those who espoused support for slavery. And yet there is very little attempt by those who should know better to hold the Church responsible for the actions of the vast majority of its flock. The same is the case with the widespread practice of serfdom in Eastern Europe or the practice of the ‘Droit de Seignior’ (the right of the Baron to have the first night with the newly wedded bride). Such a practice gets explicit mention in Mozart’s musical (the Marriage of Figaro). There is very little accountability of the church in many of these matters, which was in many cases an active participant. We will not speak of the active complicity of the Church in matters such as the Inquisition, the genocide against the native American peoples by the Spaniards and the rest of the Europeans and numerous other instances.
The double standard by which the Hindu faith is held responsible for everything under the sun is ubiquitous and endemic, while the attendant bigotry associated with such a stance, in part resulting in Hindus being treated as the children of a lesser God is usually ignored. Then there is the question of the so called Hindu Nationalism. To quote Wiki again
“Hindutva and the Hindu Nationalist”
Another criticism is directed towards the rise of Hindu nationalism in India, which has followed similar trends as the rise of the Christian Right in the west. This movement has been blamed by its critics for religious riots, such as the one which followed the destruction of Babri mosque in 1992. The Babri Mosque was believed to have been constructed by Muslim rulers after destroying an original Hindu temple at that site which marked the birth-place of Ram, the most highly revered God in Hindu religion. Many believe that the rise of Hindu Nationalist movement is a reaction to suppression of the Hindu civilization by Islamic invaders in the middle ages, followed by a lengthy British rule of India in the 18th and 19th centuries.
That there was a reaction to the century’s long holocaust (see for instance Will Durant’s History) during the Islamic era and the abuses of authoritarian rule by the British without any accountability is not in question and should hardly come as a surprise to anybody. What is incredulous is to make a facile comparison to the many egregious acts of the church over the centuries to the Hindu renaissance. The Babri -Ramjanmabhoomi incident as been blown up out of all proportion without considering the historical background to the case. There had not been a prayer conducted at this so called mosque for well over 30 years at the time of independence. The case had been under litigation for well over 100 years and justice delayed is a case of justice denied. The structure had been one of hundreds built over the centuries over the remnants of temples destroyed by the Islamic invader. So pervasive is the perverted form of secularism prevalent in India today that even to mention that such destruction happened is to draw the wrath of the secular brigade. In the entire operation of the destruction of the structure not one life was lost. Still, it was an illegal act and the perpetrators should be brought to justice. Yet the fact remains that there are several misstatements in popular accounts of what I would like to term the Hindu renaissance as exemplified in Wiki’s Hindutva article and the portrayal is not balanced and accurate. To brand an entire religious following for the acts of a few are neither just nor will it be considered an unbiased portrayal.
Tolerance and Secularism
And then there is the issue of tolerance. Hindus are constantly exhorted to ever more demands of tolerance, at the risk of being branded as anti secular, should they summon the political savvy not to comply. This is despite the fact that the Dharma is acknowledged to be one of them most eclectic traditions of the world. There is scarcely a religious faith in the planet that does not have representation in India, many of whom have been living in India amicably for centuries. We maintain that the Hindu should be far more discriminating than he has been in his determination as to what should be tolerated and what should not be tolerated
We ask ourselves whether there is a minimum subset of ethics which are universal in nature and which transcend the limitations of geography and ethnic identification. Suppose we found ourselves amongst a civilization about which we knew nothing. Is there a universal set of ethics that could be used to establish rapport with an otherwise alien population? And finally is Tolerance a universal ethic or virtue? I will explain why this is an important ethic in the current era.
Most values which we like to think of as universal are transmitted to us thanks to our parents at a very early age. These values originate in very familiar familial admonitions e.g., be courteous to your guests , treat people with respect and dignity, be kind and helpful to seniors, heed the admonitions from elders in the family , do not indulge in gratuitous violence, do not be derisive of those of who are less fortunate than you are, tell the truth, etc. etc.. If one follows these simple rules, the question of intolerance does not arise., because if a person follows these universal principles , there is very little incentive or opportunity for him or her to be intolerant. Generally the teachings we imbibe in the home before we get into our teenage years are universal values and the exceptions that do occur in these behaviors are not of relevance to young children. It is our contention that tolerance is not a part of the set of ethics that are taught at a very early age as a universal ethic. There is good reason for this , because immediately questions arise . Should we tolerate evil and if so what constitutes evil.
We maintain that neither an individual nor society should tolerate evil in general and intolerance in particular.
And yet in our zeal to be liberal and our natural tendency to think well of people from other ethnic or religious backgrounds, we choose to overlook the blatant intolerance that sometimes pervades the world. We tend to argue that because we observe a universal set of ethics that others do so also. Herein lays the problem . Not every individual or society will profess to have the same set of values as you may have . In particular, not every society will have the same reverence for life as you may have. It is certainly the case that when it comes to tolerance towards other faiths there are significant differences between religions and societies. Whenever the Occidental stepped out into a new world his first endeavor was to convert the people in the new world to his own faith . And once they were converted to the new faith , they could exercise considerable control over the mind and body of the newly converted person the main reason was that they had very little tolerance for the native faiths..
Similarly there are significant differences in the reverence for life that are observed by different societies and faiths . So the question arises , should we tolerate faiths that are inherently intolerant. I mean by inherently intolerant if the faith calls for extermination of those who do not belong to the faith. But one might argue that most members of a faith do not take such injunctions (to kill the infidel) seriously. That may very well be true but even if the percentage who believed in the injunctions of their holy book are only 1% that could still be a very large number, enough to do harm to you or your family should t he occasion arise.
So what to do ? I say , that it is legitimate to ask that such injunctions in a holy book are not acceptable in the modern age and should not be tolerated in any civilized society .
There is one more problem with tolerance . And that is , it is not particularly proper to talk about tolerating other faiths or civilizations , because that raises the question of putting ourself on a pedestal and judging who or what we should tolerate and the question here is what right do we have to arrogate unto ourselves the right to tolerate others with all the attendant condescension . If one embraces diversity , then one should say so and act accordingly rather than grudgingly tolerate diversity.
1 Tolerance can never be a universal ethic
2. It must always be qualified
3. Even when it is qualified, should we put ourselves on a moral pedestal and tolerate others or should we be genuinely understanding of other faiths
4. No society or individual should be placed in the position of having to tolerate evil or intolerant behavior.
The Hindu in India is faced with a unique situation. While he is theoretically part of a majority, he is so fractured ideologically speaking into various ideological groups that he is virtually powerless to influence the politics of the country. His adversaries know this. The entire burden of maintaining a secular state is placed on the hapless Hindu, when the real perpetrators of anti secular behavior lie elsewhere in the electorate. The minority consistently appeal to their minority status to ask for special privileges, knowing full well that the Hindu is powerless and is in reality has no more powers than the Muslim and is for all practical purposes a minority . The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that no political party including the Bharatiya Janata Party will fashion an electoral platform to appeal solely to Hindutva sentiments. The Hindutva vote while considerable, is stuck currently at 23% and shows little signs of increasing, despite the palpable effects of the Hindu renaissance. In numerical terms this is the single largest ideological grouping in the country. However, little attempt is made by the strategic thinkers to coalesce other groups around this admittedly largest single group. In contrast the attempt to garner Muslim votes is unabashedly anti-secular in tone and most of the parties fall over each other trying to appease this second largest group in India. The remainder of the Hindu population appears to be content to be reduced to second class status in the land of their forefathers. Of course the simple answer to this is that the Hindu should adopt a unified stand at least on those key issues that affect the exercise of their faith. However, one constant characteristic of the Hindu, throughout the ages, has been his inability to stay unified even when confronted by blatantly disruptive forces and there seems to be little hope that he will change his behavior anytime soon.
I do not see a practical way out of this impasse. This is evident in the increasing frustration of the 20% of the electorate that regards itself as Hindutva. They see themselves as increasingly embattled and under siege. It is dangerous for the future health of the republic that such a large constituency, even though it may not be a majority, sees itself as helpless to influence the politics sufficiently to advance Hindu causes. Till now the Hindus have eschewed by and large violence as a means of achieving their ends, as the Muslims have done repeatedly using riots as a means of expression in most of the country and using ethic cleansing in Jammu and Kashmir to drive out the Hindu population. The question facing the Hindu is stark. Will he go the way of the Buddhist in India and disappear into the sunset or will he resort to means that he has hitherto been reluctant to use. There is no clear cut answer to these questions and we do not have the ability to prognosticate the future.
The definition of Secular
The Secularism Sutra