Secularism: a civilisational faultline
by Virendra Parekh on 04 Sep 2008 2 Comments

The recent separatist surge in the Kashmir valley has removed the fig-leaf of faux national integration of the Nehruvian variety, exposing its political and intellectual hollowness. It is time to re-examine and discard its basics. But does the secularist establishment care?


Nothing has exposed the political and intellectual hollowness of Nehruvian secularism as much as the recent surge of separatism in the valley of Kashmir. As fanatic mobs gleefully desecrated the Tricolour on Independence Day in Srinagar, as hordes of Kashmiri Muslims marched to Muzaffarabad waving Pakistani flags and holding aloft portraits of Jinnah, as shouts of Azadi rent the air, citizens in the rest of India began to wonder: is this all that we can expect after sixty years of Nehruvian secularism, of disowning India’s Hindu roots and ethos, of assiduous attempts at winning hearts and minds of the minority?


Kashmir is but a symptom of a larger malaise. At the heart of numerous monumental follies, abject capitulations, and Machiavellian machinations, lies a great misconception about the nature and role of the Indian state. The misconception, in turn, was fostered by a perverse concept of secularism, virtually venerated as India’s official religion.


For six decades, we were made to pin our hopes on secularism to dissolve communal barricades and weld society into an organic whole. That secularism was unfit to deliver what was expected of it was a doubt slumbering in the consciousness of many, but most people found it fit - and profitable - to suppress it. Those who indiscreetly voiced their misgivings were promptly dismissed as ‘communalists’ in order to keep the lid on the scandal. As Kashmiri Hindus were forced to flee their homes in the valley, as the annual Amarnath pilgrimage came to be openly designated as a ‘cultural invasion’ on ‘Kashmiriyat’, as terrorist attacks rocked one state after another, the high-priests of secularism pitched their exhortations higher and higher.    


Now push has come to shove, throwing Left-liberal bleeding-hearts into total disarray. In this context, therefore, it would be fruitful to trace the malaise to its roots. India’s secularism has nothing Indian about it, and is an out and out anti-India concept.


Secularism, as practiced in this country, is a perverse idea. The crisis in Jammu & Kashmir is a logical outcome of policies pursued in the name of secularism and the mindset fostered by it. Secularism did to society what Socialism did to the economy. Socialism kept us poor, backward and underdeveloped in the name of planned development and growth with social justice. Secularism has clouded our vision, confused our intellect and paralyzed our will in the name of national integration and communal harmony. We needed a grave economic crisis to get rid of socialism. Do we need another Partition to get rid of secularism? 


What is striking about India’s secularism is the total, intentional perversion of language. Words have not just become meaningless. In Orwellian fashion, they have come to mean the opposite of what they mean all over the world. In any other country, government subsidy for a religious pilgrimage like Haj would be considered a violation of secularism. In India, Haj subsidy is proof of secularism! If you support it, you are secular; if you oppose it, you are a communalist.


In any other country, a leader who says the same laws should apply to everyone would be considered secular; a leader who advocated separate laws for different communities would be regarded as a communalist. In India, the opposite is true - demand a common civil code and you are a communalist; oppose it and you are secular (unless you are a Muslim).


Anywhere else, the party which said all states should have the same rights and responsibilities will be regarded as secular; the party which demanded special status for a Hindu/Muslim/Christian majority state would be regarded communal. In India, if you oppose the special status of Muslim-majority Jammu & Kashmir you are communal; if you defend it, you are secular. Black has become white, and white has become black.


Who are strongest supporters of secularism in India? Chartered accountants, army generals, nuclear physicists? Neither. It is the mullahs and maulvis, bishops and cardinals, who are the greatest supporters of secularism, a fact should make us sit up and realize something is seriously amiss. All over the world, these are the groups opposed to secularism. If you ask a missionary in the Bible Belt of USA if he believed in secularism, he would vigorously deny it. Ask a Maulvi in Saudi Arabia or Egypt the same question and he would scoff at you. Yet in India, they are in the forefront of secularist ranks.


There is no real mystery here; mullahs and missionaries impose secularism upon Hindus, not on themselves! They want Hindus to behave as non-Hindus while retaining their right to think, speak and act as Muslims and Christians. India’s secularism thus wears a non-Hindu face; hence the premium on minorityism.   


The world over, Islam, Christianity and Communism have been traditional adversaries. Christianity had its Crusades and even today, Christian Europe makes no secret of its discomfort with the rise in its Muslim population. Islam has wiped out traditional Christian communities in West Asia - Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Turkey once had sizeable Christian populations. Stalin’s ‘regard’ for religion is well known. There is thus no love lost among the three ideologies, but in India they find common cause against Hindu dharma.


Who or what is the target of secularism in India?


In the West, secularism was directed against the Church which suspected reason, punished dissent and claimed absolute monopoly of truth in all matters, religious and secular. In India, secularism is directed against Hindu dharma which gives absolute freedom of belief or disbelief to its adherents, and has been praised even by its adversaries for its gentleness, tolerance and meekness.  


In the West, secularism was directed against a religious orthodoxy, which persecuted Galileo, burnt Bruno alive, frightened Copernicus into concealing his findings and frowned upon Darwin’s theory of evolution. In India, it is directed against Hindu dharma, which respects reason, tolerates dissent, celebrates diversity, claims no monopoly of truth and invites everyone to realize spiritual truths at his/her own pace and his/her own way.


In the West, secularism was a liberating force. It liberated the people and the rulers from the stranglehold of a theocracy and restored to them their power and freedom. In the West, secularism stood for rationalism, humanism and universalism. In India, it is a cover for irrational, inhuman and narrow-minded ideologies. India’s secularism is a united front of all anti-Hindu ideologies: Islam, Christianity and Communism. Each is intolerant, aggressive and violent; each wants to conquer the world by destroying other traditions; each has a history soaked in blood.


Yet the followers of these fanatical ideologies lecture Hindus on the virtues of liberalism, pluralism and tolerance! Hindu society, which is the national society, which has borne the brunt of all foreign invasions and fought every struggle for freedom, is driven into a corner and made to shout that it is secular, regards Islamic invaders as heroes, respects the right of missionaries to convert anyone by any means, and that it has no use for the lunatic fringe that continues to take pride in its ancient heritage.


Black has become white and white has become black. Culprits have become prosecutors and victims are paraded as accused.


The anti-Hindu character of Nehruvian secularism led to a passive repudiation of India’s cultural and civilisational ethos. Worse was the deliberate distortions introduced to win over Muslims’ trust after Partition. The special rights given to minorities in Articles 25 to 30 of the Constitution, the scrupulous maintenance of separate personal laws, the special status granted to Jammu & Kashmir, even the wholesale distortion and falsification of history, were part of this effort. Secularism has one meaning when applied to Hindus and Hindu dharma and another when applied to other religions and groups.


Implicit in all these special measures was the assumption that if the Muslim minority were allowed a generous measure of separateness and sequestered from intrusions of the secular state and civil society, it would fortify the emotional foundations of Indian society. In retrospect, it seems amazing that these policies were expected to foster communal harmony. They are tailor-made to achieve the opposite. What was regarded as a temporary accommodation to the sentiments of an apprehensive minority has been transformed into non-negotiable tenets of India’s secularism, inviolable guarantees beyond the scope of discussion. Experience shows that the longer a mark of separateness (special status, exemption, reservation) is allowed to persist, the more deeply the group concerned comes to believe that its identity, security, even survival, depends on the perpetuation of that mark of separateness. Separateness prepares the ground for separatism.


This is the price we are paying for departing from the true meaning of secularism. A democratic state is founded on individuals, not groups; certainly not religious groups. A truly secular state would refuse to divide citizens on religious lines; it cannot recognize majority or minority, only citizens, and treat them equally. Yet we are told, considering the diversity of our society and history of communal strife, that it is necessary and desirable to give some special rights to minorities to reassure them that their distinct identities are protected.


If minorities have some special rights as minorities, they should have special duties and obligations, such as the duty of respecting the sentiments of the majority. If the majority community has special duties and responsibilities, it should have special rights and privileges, such as the right to remain the majority and resist conversions, the right to be regarded as the national society, and the right to define the cultural ethos of the country.


But in India all rights, privileges and prerogatives belong to minorities and Hindus are left with duties, responsibilities and obligations. This arrangement cannot last; it contains the seeds of trouble.


The separatist challenge in the Kashmir valley and the confused helplessness of the State must be seen in this background. For the secularist establishment, Jammu agitators waving the Tricolour and Hurriyat supporters waving the Pakistani flag are two sides of the same coin - nothing more need be said about its character.


Jammu & Kashmir is indeed a special case. It is a border state geo-politically located in the cockpit of international intrigue, coveted by a hostile neighbour and partly under foreign occupation. It has been the subject (or object) of four wars. Anywhere else, such a State would receive extra-strong union with the nation, if not permanent Central rule. We have consciously done the opposite, with predictable consequences. Imagine China with such a province - what kind of status would it get?


I have said secularism has not helped us in the past. M.K. Gandhi was the best secularist and he could not avert the Partition. Jawaharlal Nehru’s secularism could not persuade Muslims to accept a common civil code, nor could he persuade his Kashmiri brethren to live as equals with other Indians. Indira Gandhi’s secularism prevented her from taking a strong line on Bangladeshi infiltration. Rajiv Gandhi, even after enacting the infamous Muslim Women’s Bill, could not persuade Muslims to give up their claim (not possession) of a piece of land in Ayodhya which has no sanctity in Islam but is central to Hindu faith. Nothing need be said about his successors; they were pale carbon copies of their predecessors. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee was no exception.


Secularism cannot help us in future. It was not designed and has not evolved to deal with our kind of situation. In the West there was a struggle between the Church and the rulers for political power, and a struggle between the people and the Church for intellectual freedom. But the people, rulers and clergy shared the same Western civilization. That is why Europe managed to retain its Christian ethos even after going secular.


In India, the struggle is among different civilizations. India has been a battleground of two civilizations - Hindu and Muslim – for almost ten centuries, and of three civilizations – Hindu, Muslim and Christian-Western – for over two centuries. None has been able to score a decisive victory by subordinating the other two; it is a civilisational stalemate.


This stalemate is at the root of the crisis of identity faced by the Indian intelligentsia for the last hundred years. Are we a Hindu Rashtra with non-Hindu minorities as the world has considered us through the ages, or are we a multi-religious, multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-national country, as secularists tell us? The truth is that India is an ancient civilization, gentle and non-proselytizing, which is under attack from expansionist ideologies of power masquerading as religions.


Secularism prevents us from recognizing this problem, forget about solving it. We are attacked as Hindus in Kashmir, Godhra, Akshardham, Ghatkopar; secularists say “we are not Hindus, we are secular, we believe in the equality of all religions. Therefore, please do not kill us.” Enemies laugh at our cowardice and attack us more ferociously. This has been our experience with Pakistan, with Bangladesh, and with the Church. In a different way, it has been our experience with China. Secularism is not a solution, it is THE PROBLEM.


The author is Executive Editor, Corporate India, and lives in Mumbai

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