Indian secularism is under threat from its fanatic proponents
 Source : News Bharati English  Date : 01-Apr-2013

Indian secularism is under threat from its fanatic proponents


Secularism is not a local word rather its a Western connotation. There is a hue and cry by a section of Indian intelligentsia that secularism is under serious threat. The perspective seems to be based on an assumption of permanent divide between majority and minorities.


- Prof Rakesh Sinha

There is a hue and cry by a section of Indian intelligentsia that secularism is under serious threat. In fact, such people treat and comprehend secularism as a State policy of ‘balancing act’ or merely a constitutional arrangement to harmonise the relationship between ‘majority’ and ‘minorities. Their perspectives and thoughts seem to be based on an assumption that religion makes permanent categories of majority and minorities.

Secularism is not a word originated in our country rather it was a Western connotation. It was coined by the British writer George Jacob Holyoake, an agnostic, in the nineteenth century. It is to be noted that there is a fundamental difference between the Western perspective of secularism and our own ageless tradition of secularism as Panthanirapakeshta. There are three major factors, which led the Western social science and civil society to adopt a new concept of secularism. First of all, there were constant and bitter religious feuds for hegemony among Semitic religions. Secondly, due to the disillusionment of people from the Church, whose greed for power was contested by political authorities. Therefore separation between church and the state was considered necessary. And finally, the growth of capitalism, which required the autonomy of the state from the clutches of extra constitutional bodies like the Church and concomitant peace and harmony for prosperity of market. Thus, secularism emerged as a policy of the state and a tool for good governance. Hence, it was a product of compromises and reconciliations between various social and economic forces. Thereon, the modern Nation States emerged with a banner of ‘secular-democratic State’.  However, such transformation remained largely confined to the Christian world.  The large Islamic countries, with a few exceptions, refused to negotiate with these forces of modernity.

Unlike the Semitic religions, harmonious coexistence and cooperation among sects, religions, spiritual perspectives are the foundational principles of the Hindu way of life. A Hindu gets indefinite, unquestioned and uncontested freedom to choose and evolve his spiritual perspective. The quest for truth is considered to be an indefinite, indefinable and unstoppable journey. Views not compatible to dominant spiritual idea has been privileged by providing them legitimate space. A classic instance from the pages of history tells that Swami Dayananda Saraswati debated with 300 Brahmin scholars in Kashi on the question of idolatry that has been a part and parcel of the Hindu belief and customs. Further, there are myriad examples and incidents which show that Hindus respected and facilitated other religious modes of worship.  The Cheraman Mosque in Kerala is an epitome to our commitment to pluralism or spiritual democracy. This mosque was constructed by a Hindu king of Chera dynasty in 743AD after remodeling an old temple to facilitate the Muslim immigrants for their spiritual fulfillment. It is one of its kinds as it is ‘east facing’ unlike other mosques which are usually ‘west facing’. Moreover, at the entrance of the mosque a brass lamp is perpetually alighted. This is the second oldest mosque in the world, the oldest being the mosque at Kaaba in Saudi Arabia.

In Indian tradition, religious discourses, contestations and emergence of counter debates and spiritual sects have never been subjected to political intervention. Also, these contentions have not influenced the contemporary political process. As the tradition speaks, the numerical strength of a religion is hardly a matter affecting its freedom and legitimate space. Hence, the concept of majority and minorities are contrary to our history of tradition and the essence of our spiritual life. The idea of Western secularism cannot be understood without reinforcing minority rights and majority hegemony. It was indeed the best possible instrument for the Englishmen to divide and rule our country. Subsequently, the so-called fortune-makers of this nation adroitly inherited this colonial tool from the British ruling ideology and most of the successive governments in India have utilised this tool more ambidextrously and shrewdly than the British Raj.

It is a pity that Bihar has forgotten one of its worthy sons- Tajamul Husain, a member of the Constituent Assembly, elected on Muslim League ticket. During the 1949 debates on the Advisory Committee of the Constituent Assembly on Fundamental Rights and Minorities, he firmly and self introspectively advised the Indian people to disconnect themselves from the colonial social philosophy. He rejected the idea and demand for reservation based on religion. But the most important issue which he underlined in his speech was the concept of minority as untenable and unnatural. He observed, “…I, as a Muslim, speak for the Muslims. There should be no reservation of seats for the Muslim community. I would like to tell you that in no civilized country, where there is parliamentary system on democratic lines, there is any reservation of seats. .... Reservation is nothing but a concession, a safeguard, a protection for the weak. We Muslims do not want any concession. Do not want protection, do not want safeguards. …Separate electorates have been curse to India; have done incalculable harm to this country. It was invented by the British. Reservation is the offspring of separate electorates…Separate electorates have barred our progress. Separate electorates have gone forever. We desire neither reservation nor separate electorates. We want to merge in the nation. We desire to stand on our own legs. We are not weak. We are strong. We are Indians first and we are all Indians and will remain Indians. I say emphatically that there is no difference between you and me. Because we worship the same God by different names, in a different way that is no reason why we should be considered a minority. We are not a minority. The term ‘minority’ is a British creation.

The British created minorities. The British have gone and minorities have gone with them. Remove the term from your dictionary.” He added, “I would ask the majority community not to thrust reservation on the Muslims…. Do not make us a minority community. Make us your equal partners. Then there will be no majority or minority communities in India.” Unfortunately, Hussain and people alike : AAA Faizee, Humayun Kabir, Moin Shakir, MH Beg, are not a part of secularist discourse on secularism. They have been eclipsed in the text books for our new generation.

Hussain was not the only one, who wanted to resurrect our tradition of secular social philosophy.  Vice- President of the Constituent Assembly, Dr H C Mukherji, who was a Christian by faith,  raised two fundamental questions before it: “The first is, are we really honest when we say that we are seeking to establish a secular state? And the second is, whether we intend to have one nation? If our idea is to have a secular State it follows inevitably that we cannot afford to recognize minorities based on religion.” He was right. India experienced a worst phase when the emergence of Islam as a religious- political community in the early twentieth century annihilated our long historical experience of common culture and civilisation. The Constituent Assembly endorsed the Tajamul-Mukherjee model which cautioned our political elite not to be trapped into populist and divisive politics. But such statesmanship has been replaced by political brinkmanship.  Structures of division have been fashioned to satisfy the minority appetite. First, the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) was created to deal with minorities problems. The NCM remains ineffectual not because of a lack of power but due to a lack of any substantial problems for the so-called minorities.  Thereafter, the ministry of Minority affairs emerged in the cabinet. This ministry has been doing what the Muslim League failed to do during the colonial era.

The UPA government formed Sachar Committee to examine the conditions for Muslims. It is a bogus report, a bundle of lies and an imaginary ghost created to strengthen majority-minority division. The 424 pages report is a carbon copy of the Pirpur Report presented by the Muslim League against the Congress miniseries in 1939.  Even after reading its nearly 40,000 background pages, one would fail to get even a drop of fact from that ocean of data. Not a single incident or fact can be traced from these papers that prove institutional discrimination with Indian Muslims. Where do we want to take the hands of the clock?

The Indian state is communal in the sense that it hesitates to enact laws on non Hindus and thereby privileges the medievalists to perpetuate their own way of gender justice. In the Shah Bano Case, this woman got justice from the Supreme Court that drew the wrath of the Muslim Community. The verdict of the Supreme Court underscored the directive principles of the Constitution (Article 44), which clearly indicates the need for a Uniform Civil Code – based on debate and accommodation.  Another historic case of minority appeasement was in 1986 when the Rajiv Gandhi Government sought to amend the Criminal Law on communal lines. The case of Imrana highlights the injustice meted out to a women in the process of appeasement. This poor Muslim women Imrana, was raped by her father-in-law. A brake was imposed on the whole legal process of the nation and finally she got the ‘justice’ from the lookalike of kangaroo court (Darul Uloom Deoband) which ordered Imrana to offer talaaq to her husband (henceforth to be treated as her brother!!) and remarry her father-in-law. Do we want to take the religion to that level – where the spirit of constitutional justice is killed?

The Indian State has always projected a double standard while dealing with religious affairs. The  Government passed the Hindu Endowment Act in 1950 as per which 83% of temple funds would be appropriated by the Government exchequer. However, no such laws were passed or even thought of enacting with regard to other places of worship. This blatant bias of the State compels one to quote the noted Socialist leader J. B. Kripalani, who during the debate on Hindu Code Bill said: “It’s not only Hindu Mahasabhites who are communal; it is the Indian State that is also a communal State.”

Even the issue of population growth could not be critically debated by the policy makers ..  It was the Census of 2001 report which indicated that Delhi’s general population (GP) , between 1961 to 2001, had  increased by 421 per cent, but the growth among Muslims there was 944 per cent. Similar was the cases in Haryana (GP178/M321), Kerala (GP159/M884), Assam (GP140/M200),West Bengal (GP129/M189), Bihar (GP136/M201)Uttar Pradesh (GP136/M196) and Madhya Pradesh (GP150/M222). The population growth rate of a particular community is not much of an issue. But the threat of communalism hijacking public policies is an issue of real concern.

No community can progress unless and until it strikes a balance between its tradition and modern ideas.  Muslim community has refused to go through the process of transformation. They are not ready for negotiation with forces of modern, scientific and rational ideas. Critical introspection is an integral part of Hindu way of life and religious dogmas could not deter its social progress.

Hindu civilisation does not believe in eradicating the religious identities of other people. However, the Semitic religions postulate the ‘Process of Othering’ (‘us and ‘them’) which means either me or you. According to them unity can be achieved through diversity. Hence they resort to proselytisation. This is the reason why many a Western nations have abandoned multiculturalism after Jihadi attacks in the US and UK. Unlike them, the Hindu world view considers the ‘process of othering’ as an anathema. Hindus believe in accepting, respecting and above all preserving diversities of what Bhikhu Parekh calls as ‘multiculturally one culture’. The contrast between the Semitic and the Hindu views is well articulated by Vinoba Bhave in these words: Only (hee) representing the former  and  Also Me and You (bhee) representing the latter.  We believe in diversities and multicultural evolution but the question here is if Semitic religions who expect all such privileges prepared to transform their religious philosophy to reciprocate our world view and merge with the Indian civilization and culture or would they prefer to enjoy the privilege of minorityism till the nation is again receded back to the Muslim League political agenda of 40’s? Sardar Patel had rejected the demand for religious reservation by Z H Lari and his Muslim League comrades in the Constituent Assembly  stating that he would not allow the disruptive politics leading to divide the divided part of India again. And Nehru had described such rejection as a historic and turning point. However, their successor’s lust for power is now proving thinner than emotion for the nation.


(Excerpts from a speech delivered at a symposium on “Indian Tradition of Secularism” in Patna Book Fair on March 18, 2013)

Courtesy : The Organiser