By Chinmay Bajekal
Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago (1893) mentioned in his speech that he was proud to belong to a nation that gave safe refuge to several persecuted communities of the world. In history we find examples of the Jews, Syrian Christians, Zoroastrians, and in recent times, the Tibetan Buddhists who after being driven out of their homeland sought safe refuge in India. The native Indians backed them?the Hindus not only accommodated these refugees but also gave them the freedom to practice their respective faiths.
Long ago, even before the birth of the Greek and Roman Empires, our Vedic seers
had declared ?vasudaiva kutumbakam???the world is one family?. Long before the modern world came out with the concept of ?universal welfare? our Vedic prayer throughout the ages has been ?loka samastha sukinau bhavantu???may the entire world attain bliss?. Even the modern concept of freedom of thought is respected in the Vedic verse, ?ekam sat vipraha, bahudha vadanti???truth is one, the wise call it by various names?. The verse expresses a mature understanding of the human mind that the ancient thinkers of India possessed.
Centuries ago when sects like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism came as reformist movements to correct what their founders perceived as wrong or unwanted in the society, the Hindus did not suppress these reformers but gave them the freedom and space to grow. Sri Adi Shankaracharya brought many back to the Hindu fold not through force, coercion, incentives or threat but by preaching in the form of debates.
Thus, Indian virtues like ?pluralism?, ?tolerance?, ?freedom of thought? and ?universal welfare? pre-date the arrival of the ?secular? concept in India. This point needs to be emphasised as in today'sIndia ?secularism? is unjustifiably credited for all these Indian virtues and the term is being misused to suppress the movement of ?national renaissance?, also known as Hindutva that aims at preserving the very culture which actually deserves credit for these age-old virtues of India.
Secularism originated in Europe centuries ago when the kings revolted and overthrew the theocratic hegemony of the Pope from over their kingdoms and established their own rule. But India has never known such a conflict; thus the Western concept of secularism was never relevant for India. However, today many Indians perceive ?secularism? to be a synonym of ?pluralism? and ?tolerance?; they also perceive the very culture that blessed the Indian society with these noble features from the Western perspective of being a ?religion?.
The pseudo-seculars in India who swear by secularism would like to have us believe that any threat or challenge to the concept of secularism in India would endanger the age-old pluralism of the country. Little do these self-proclaimed defenders of secularism realise that wherever in the Indian sub-continent Hinduism declines, with it declines the support for secularism too (whichever kind of secularism that may be). Pakistan and Bangladesh, two of our neighbouring countries, were formed out of the same territory and people of undivided India, yet they are far from being secular.
The need of the hour for India is the recognition of the fact that India does not owe its great virtues of pluralism, diversity and tolerance to any Western concept or ideology, but to the influence of Vedic culture and philosophy over India. And also to be understood is the fact that India'sage-old virtues shall not be endangered by questioning the relevance of secularism to the world'soldest and most pluralistic civilisation.
India has always been a country that has welcomed reforms and encouraged new ideas. It has never resorted to prejudicial behaviour. Unfor-tunately, the manner in which the self-proclaimed seculars in India spew venom over the movement of ?national renaissance? and call for ?de-saffronisation? is in reality an act that is ?de-Indianising?, as it does not go well with the ethos of our ancient country which tolerated different views.