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Indian Tradition of Secularism

Source: IPF      Date: 21 Mar 2013 10:07:55


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In recent times, communal riots and secularism are the two major points hogging the headlines. Secularism is not a word originated in our country; rather it was a western concept to force the people to live according to the will of the State. But, the so-called fortune-makers of this nation adroitly inherited this term from the British. Yes, it was the best possible tool for the Englishmen i.e. divide and rule. And, later most of the successive Indian government utilized this tool more ambidextrously and wisely than the British Raj. We should not forget that tolerance is the basic feature of Sanatan Dharma and that is why one of the oldest mosques in the world (Cheraman mosque) was constructed by a king of Chera dynasty – after dismantling an old temple there. It’s the only mosque in the world – where namaaz is offered in the opposite direction. We have the long tradition of inclusiveness, democratic space for rational debate (shastrarth) and the spirit of reconciliation or accommodation of conflicting views (Charvaka Philosophy). But, ironically – it was seldom reciprocated by the followers of the exclusivist Semitic religions like Islam and Christianity in India.

Now, the other issue is of minorities! Friends, I am very sad to inform that Bihar has forgotten one of its worthy sons of the soil. Yes, it was Tajamul Hussain – who during the 1949 debates on the Advisory Committee of the Constituent Assembly on Fundamental Rights and Minorities debating ‘communal reservation’ for the members of the minority communities headed by Sardar Patel commented thus, “The term minority is a British creation. The British created minorities. The British have gone and minorities have gone with them. I am sorry to say that it is an attempt to come by the backdoor or side windows what is denied by the front door.” But, due to political reservations, Hussain was not heard. The question is not about who is minority or majority? It should instead be who is legitimate, just or right! We must not forget that Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, in his crusade against the evils of Hinduism like widow-remarriage, could get signatures of only 987 people in his favour, while conservative Hindu leader Radha Kant Deo got 36,787 signatures in his memorandum against it. But who won finally? Of course, minority! Because truth alone triumphs.

Do we want to make this country sovereign and secular? If yes, then we must not take a chance to declare a community minority on the basis of religion. It is because when we begin to see a community as a religio-political group, it spoils the very fabric of secularism. It also leads to competitive vote-bank politics and day-by-day they get involved in mud-slinging on each other. And, not to go far – like the present day situation on corruption, one defends his vice on the name of other’s corruption. Not only that, this vote-bank politics also diverts us from the original question and we are forced to debate on communal riots and appeasement, leaving our genuine character.

Now, I shall give the example of Sachar Committee reports on minorities. I read all its 40,000 pages, but failed to get even a drop from that ocean. Where do we want to take the hands of the clock? It was only a tool to continue the divisive process of division on pure communal lines. It was followed by Census on the basis of caste or religion – which gave birth to a new query that institutional discrimination does take place in India. I am sorry to inform you that the whole of Sachar Committee report failed to give any substantial evidence to prove any institutional discrimination. In this country of 1000 million people, I agree that some 100 incidents do take place. But we should not forget that exception is always an aberration and never a rule. And by sampling these stray incidents of communal riots – we are not crushing the divisive forces, rather we are feeding and igniting them to be more lethal.

What about Shah Bano case? A woman sought justice from the Supreme Court, as the directive principles of the Constitution (Article 44) clearly indicates the need of a Uniform Civil Code – based on debate and accommodation. But what Rajiv Gandhi government did in 1986? It divided even the Criminal Code like the Civil Code – without even taking account of Supreme Court’s observations in this connection! It is because of his cheap communal politics, he was afraid of debating and accommodating other rational voices – the bulwark of India’s truly secular Sanatan traditions.

Go through the Census data of 2001. Population is really a major problem across the globe. It has focused more on questioning the credentials of a particular community instead of finding the root cause of their problems. It was the Census of 2001 report which indicated that Delhi’s general population was increased by 421 per cent, but the growth among Muslims there was 944 per cent. Similar was the cases in Haryana, Kerala, Assam, West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It is not an issue that what is the growth rate of a particular community, rather the question is whether the communalism has overpowered the law here? When a poor Muslim lady 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 a 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? For being secular, it’s least important how much multicultural we are? Are we able to save our multiculturalism by detaching ourselves from the process of the vicious othering syndrome – ‘us’ and ‘them’?

It will be my pleasure to quote noted Socialist leader J. B. Kripalani, who during the debate on Hindu Code Bill said: “It’s not only Hindu Mahasabha which is communal; it’s the Indian State that is also a communal state.” Do we really need to be guided by communal law? Not at all!

I have been introduced as a professor, influenced by RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) ideology. Here, I shall like to quote Shri Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar ‘Guruji’ (second Sarsanghchalak of RSS) – who in the interview taken a few days before his demise – categorically said that no personal law should be eradicated, unless people from that community demands for it. Reform should not take place by law; rather it should be generated from the conscience of the society. When Raja Ram Mohan Roy fought against the Sati system, he was booed as ‘agent of Christians’ by the Hindu conservatives. But could this tag slow down his mission? A society cannot advance unless it makes balance between new ideas and negotiation. Without a proper negotiation between new ideas and convention, the political atmosphere of the society starts smelling foul. All the communities of this country will have to respect and adapt to the original culture of this great nation. You demand vision from others, but unable to subscribe to your own vision.

Now, about our roots and existence! Was our country born in 1947 or 1857?  India is the only country that is also a civilization. Here, nation is co-terminus with civilization. Here, I shall like to quote Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech on January 24, 1948 at Aligarh Muslim University’s convocation, “I accept that I am proud of our inheritance and our ancestors – who had given India the cultural and intellectual preeminence.” Then, he asked the audience, “How do you feel about this past? Do you feel that you are also sharers in it and inheritors of it, and, therefore proud of something that belongs to you as much as to me? Or do you feel alien to it and pass it by without understanding it or feeling that strange thrill which comes from the realization that we are the trustees and inheritors of this vast treasure? You are Muslims and I am a Hindu. We may adhere to different religious faiths or even to none; but that does not take away from that cultural inheritance that is yours as well as mine. The past holds us together; why should the present or the future divide us in spirit?”

After the Partition, Jinnah widened the communal gap amongst the religious communities of this great nation. In that sense, Jinnah was worse than Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb’s religious intolerance can be marginalized by Akbar’s tolerance and harmony, but the blunder of Jinnah of dismantling the secular civilizational ethos of this country, is incorrigible now. We do not need European lessons on secularism. I do not want to describe the Muslim’s status in the US after 9/11. What was the need to impose ban on burqa at Belgium, if only some 90 women wear it there.

I now conclude my speech with the lines of Vinoba Bhave: “Without considering ‘ही’ (only) and ‘भी’, (also) it will remain a mirage to understand secularism in the context of India.”
( Speech delivered by Prof Rakesh Sinha, Honorary Director of the India Policy Foundation at a symposium on “Indian Tradition of Secularism” in the Patna Book Fair on March 18, 2013)