India That is Bharat
The many faces of secularism
That even half a century after the glorious birth of secular India there should be benighted souls who keep saying all sorts of nasty things about Indian secularists is unfortunate but understandable. After all, India that was Bharat has been a communalist country for ten thousand years, and old habits die hard. But when the very idea of secularism is not only called into question but dismissed as essentially and historically a political ploy, with nothing great or lofty about it, it is time for the defenders of the faith to sit up and take notice of an alarming situation.
Take this very journal. That it recently printed two articles debunking secularism in the same issue shows how Hindu heretics are indulging in ?journalism of courage? in reverse gear. One of these is titled ?Secularism is no virtue?. As if this is not vicious enough, it says, ?secularism is not a lofty ideal… It owes its birth to Christianity'sinability to maintain peace between warring Christian sects, especially as the state itself sponsored pogroms against different denominations. Wearied of prolonged intra-religious warfare, France invented secularism.? Good Lord, how can this presumptuous piece presume that a French product can ever be a ?bad idea? for globalised, pasteurized, progressive India? If French perfume is good for us, how can French secularism be bad? The only problem seems to be that the history of secularism, as given in the present pernicious piece, originates in the origin of the word itself. For secular comes from saeculum, which is an ecclesiastical Latin word meaning ?the world, as opposed to the Church?.
That is turn means that French secularism aimed at keeping the State and the Church apart. But should that faze Indian intellectuals devoted to Indian secularism? Satiricus is sure not. Rather, they can proudly claim that the improved Indian edition is superior. For while French secularism makes an invidious distinction between the government and the church, Indian secularism is Catholic enough to bring the government and the church (as well as the madrasa) so close that they become virtually one. Regrettably enough, this ?lofty ideal? of Indian secularism is apparently beyond the communal comprehension of this particular pen-pusher. So she says, ?The Indian State does not practise religious neutrality, and uses secularism as a tool to discriminate against Hindus.? What nonsense! The Indian state does not, repeat not, discriminate against Hindus. It is a secularist state, so it discriminates only against communalists?and if only the Hindus of Hindusthan are the communalists of India, how can the Indian State help it? More importantly, what is this rubbish about religious neutrality? How can we be neutral when Indian secularism is the official religion of the Indian State? So no, we are not unholy Hindu men and women, we are religious neuters.
India would be able to modernise best when it will be able to claim its heritage most.
The other article in the same issue has a rude heading that asks, ?What is so great about secularism?? Clearly the writer is a small-minded communalist-cum-Hindu incapable of comprehending the greatness of secular. But does this ignoramus have knowledge of his ignorance? Naturally not. So not content with declaring that the belief that secularism stands for all that is ?noble, exalted and virtuous? is a ?ludicrous theory?, he goes on to say that not only is there nothing ?great? about secularism, there is nothing even ?good? about it. Quoting dictionary of dictionary he pointedly points out that ?nowhere does one find that the word ?secular? is synonymous with good…? Good Lord! Can so many learned lexicographers be lunatic enough to clearly suggest that neither secularism nor secularists are automatically good?
In fact the article names some great secularists who were greater villains. Stalin was responsible for the death of forty million people, yet he was secular. Mao killed at least as many people as Stalin did. Pol Pot of Cambodia was also secular and he ended up murdering every seventh citizen of his country. And finally Hitler killed six million Jews, but not because they were non-Christians but because he considered them as ?inferior race? deserving elimination. At the same time he proved his ?secular credentials? by also killing millions of Christians. What does all this show? It shows what Shakespeare has already said?One may smile and smile and yet be a villain. Satiricus could even improve upon Shakespeare and say one may smile and smile a secular smile and yet be a murderous villain. Not that Indian secularism is murderous (apart from gunning down a couple of unarmad Ramabhaktas). Rather, Satiricus is assured that it is the spirit of secularism that informs our State policy. Does that mean he can heave a sign of relief and rest assured that if India is in extremely secular hands it is in extremely safe hands? Unfortuantely no.
For he recalls that a couple of decades ago a Harvard professor of History of Religion, by name Lamin Sanneh, had said in an interview with Indian Express during a visit to Mumbai that nations overemphasising the spirit of secularism as part of their overall policy ought to realise that religious fundamentalism is a direct reaction to secular extremism. Adding insult to injury he had said India would be able to modernise best when it will be able to claim its heritage most. Satiricus is stunned. He is stunned to see this historian of religion suggesting in so many words that there can be such a thing as secular fundamentalism and it is a dangerous religion. What would Arjun Singh say?
Satiricus would not be surprised if the Minister orders that on his next trip to India this damnable don be immediately quarantined and not let loose before being doubly detoxified.