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April 23, 2006
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April 23, 2006




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Home > 2006 Issues > April 23, 2006

Open Forum

Communication and the constricted secularism

By Mihir B. Verma

The post-Mandal polarisation propelled India?s castiest configurations into the orbit of secularism purely for electoral gains. What prima-facie was communicated as solidarity for a noble ideal, in reality became an even perverted extension of caste politics.

Does the diplomatic protocol allow any nation to reprimand another sovereign nation or call for an apology which an independent institution of that country does in its individual capacity? Can that act have been considered an act of a government against the sovereignty of India? This is an important question which we have not asked the fanatics and their secular godfathers.

Whenever moderate ideals are sacrificed in the society, the radical ones come at the forefront and become the rallying point. We definitely do it at our peril. In a media-intensive society that we live in, I try to understand as a communication professional how radical words and images indoctrinate our psyche, arouse passion, drive us follow the illusive and end of the day leave us disenchanted and directionless. The lofty ideals of democracy, socialism and one of the loftiest yet most abused ideals in recent times, ?secularism? have all been subjected to blatant misinterpretation and deliberate mischievous communication. Identifying certain words with certain images is a common social fallacy. In his book, ?Al-Qaeda, Casting a Shadow of Terror?, Jason Burke raises similar concerns. He says, Al-Qaeda is one of the most over-used and misunderstood words. A word which in Arabic simply means ?a pattern?, ?a formula? and ?a base? but its association with Osama Bin Laden has acquired a certain negativity and has become a symbol of conflict of militant Islam with the western ideology of which Laden is a catalyst. However, we must add that the theatre of this conflict is now not only confined to the western world alone but has spread its tentacles across the world and some of the bloodiest acts are being enacted on our Indian soil. It?s being enacted at the crowded festive bazaars, in the running trains, at the temples of faith and at the temple of Indian democracy, e.g., Parliament. Much has happened, but perhaps the worst is yet to come. Nevertheless, our relentless communication of India?s secular ethos strives hard to create an unflinching national psyche of eternal tolerance. So much so that the mere reference of any such issue is considered anathema by India?s over zealous secularists, a section of intelligentsia and a sizeable section of Indian media.

?O, what a revolution and what a heart I must have to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall? said the legendary British parliamentarian Edmund Burke in his famous essay ?Reflection on French Revolution.? The present secular democracy of India reminds us of something similar. What lofty ideals we built our democracy on and what have we made of it? A divided society, fractured mandate, extreme positioning, lack of political consensus on combating communal terrorism, aiding and abetting forces of national disintegration by making unholy alliances for voteful gains; the list goes on. In communication, it?s important to see who said what, to whom, through what channel and with what intention. If we analyse the so called secular communication and images in this perspective, we get some shocking facts. The post-Mandal polarisation propelled India?s castiest configurations into the orbit of secularism purely for electoral gains. What prima-facie was communicated as solidarity for a noble ideal, in reality became an even perverted extension of caste politics. Overnight the castiest in the Indian politics became the preservers and promoters of social justice and secularism. Politically the two most potent states UP and Bihar emerged as the centres of advance learning in secularism. At the pinnacle of their social-economic and political disintegration their leaders were boasting of having achieved absolute communal harmony! A situation which can only draw a parallel with the Taliban regime which boasted of having established the rule of Almighty when all the indices from human rights to human development were at the climax of their deterioration. At a juncture when the civil society around the world was looking at Osama as an icon of international reign of terror, the champions of secularism in India were nurturing his image as an icon of secularism by openly campaigning with his look alike by their side. Those who have keenly observed the recent Bihar elections would long remember those images. Though a symbolic communication which even boomeranged, but in effect it was stark and disturbing not only for millions of Hindus, but for the silent majority of Muslims in the country as well. You can?t choose your parents no doubt, but when it comes to choosing friends who would you align with? The seculars in the country perhaps have made their choice amply clear not once but at several occasions. Organising a violent protest against the visit of President Bush and turning it into an opportunity to unleash communal passion and riot in several parts of the country is fresh in people?s memory.

Desecrating any God, Goddess, Prophet, divine men or place of worship is unmistakably an act of condemnation and any civilised society must refrain from it. But in India our secular sword loses its sheen when the rich and famous MF Husain depicts Goddess Saraswati or our motherland Bharatmata naked or when in some western nations Kali, Durga or Shiva is depicted on ladies undergarments, chappals (slippers), bottle of liquor and so on. Such acts are considered innocuous and as one?s freedom of expression.

When the bunch of secularists in India support the incomprehensible demand for an apology from the Indian government for the controversial cartoon published in another sovereign nation, the secular Indian government opts to remain silent rather than controverting the illogical idea. Does the diplomatic protocol allow any nation to reprimand another sovereign nation or call for an apology which an independent institution of that country does in its individual capacity? Can that act have been considered an act of a government against the sovereignty of India? This is an important question which is to be answered by the fanatics and their secular godfathers.

A minister in the secular UP government can even issue a fatwa for killing the cartoonist and yet go scot-free. But the same secularists remained unruffled when the Russian Government decides to demolish the ISKCON temple at Moscow. They neither protested nor organised any solidarity march on the streets. Interestingly, it was one Ambarisa Dasa, the grandson of US automobile magnate Henry Ford, who visited Moscow to express his solidarity and support to the followers which is acknowledged by ISKCON, Moscow Chapter on its official website.

There is no need adding scores of instances to prove the ?secular credentials? of the secularists in politics, media and at other institutions in India. When it comes to communication, public memory may have a short retention but has intelligent comprehension and great recall ability. All actions, inactions, favour and opposition are subject to people?s observation and that helps create popular perception. The secularists with their act of omission and commission and gross misinterpretation of the very concept of secularism which refers to detachment from religion when it comes to running the affairs of the state, created an atmosphere of confusion and misguided people for long. Majority of Hindus and Hindustanis have a secular and democratic mindset.

Therefore, any communication which refers to such concepts with ideological inputs instantly appeals to them and gathers their support. But now we can see the growing disenchantment not against secularism but the blatant misuse thereof. The gap between words and deeds is now coming into open and doubts are being expressed. Where do we go from here? Should the interpretation of secularism be left to its self-proclaimed messiahs who have arrogated unto themselves the task or should their version be controverted with stronger counter points which are aplenty? Perhaps it?s time we also point out the fact that for the survival of democracy in the world, secularism should be an overreaching world ideal and not a constricted regional practice. We can?t think of its success in one when it?s absent in the other particularly in the globalised era where information and images fly by the wings of digital communication and cover wide distances in no time. India?s success with secularism will also depend on how seriously its neighbours and rest of the world take it besides its own people.
(The author is a Communication Professional and has keen interest in the socio-political issues.)




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