The disease of false secularism has befuddled our minds and invaded our good sense as a society. The glaring truth before us is that secularism, as has been practised in the last sixty-five years since Independence, has failed as a political and social creed. Yet, the intellectual class is bent on preaching the same old false secularism more than ever now.
Ever since the Narendra Modi government assumed power at the Centre in 2014, the intellectual and ‘secular’ political class of this country has been at the risk of being wiped out, losing out in the domain of academic institutions and vote-banks, respectively. Threatened by the hold of the Modi government over the popular psyche, in both urban and rural areas, the ‘secular’ class of this country has started to politicize every small incident and action of the government, terming it as communal and right-wing.
This is unfortunate. Even with the spread of Islamic radicalism world-over, we seem to be living in a bubble of our own. The argument our secularists advance is that there are two types of Muslims (just like in any other religion) viz. good or educated or peace-loving Muslims and bad or radical Muslims. They say that the problem is not with Islam – since, like all religions, it also preaches peace – but with its outer radical deformations which are confined to a section, albeit a large section, of Muslims.
This is a flawed belief. There is now a re-questioning of Islam itself in the current scenario. Muslim public figures like Tarek Fatah and Taslima Nasreen have come out openly to say that the problem is not with the Muslims but with what Islam preaches. If we don’t expose this root cause of Muslim radicalism, we will never be able to administer the medicine which society so badly needs. Otherwise, it will be like saying, like Obama, that there’s good Taliban and there’s bad Taliban – an ill-founded assumption that has now landed Americans on their nose.
Islam’s Koranic premise is that: “Fight them until idolatry is no more and God’s religion is supreme”.1 (1Jain, 2004.) It treats other communities and their people as kafirs or non-believers destined to go to hell, with whom there is a fundamental problem, precisely because they are the ‘other’ and not the same as itself. It ordains that the Prophet and his followers wage a holy war or jihad against these non-believers. Conversion to Islam, under duress, has been admitted from the very formative years of this religion and even in the presence of the Prophet, as documented by various Muslim authors like Husayn Haykal.2 (2Pathak, 2015)
In fact, even a minimum divergence from the injunctions of the Prophet is not tolerated. Therefore, within Islam, the differences between different sects have resulted in an enmity that now threatens to destroy its followers world-over, especially in the Middle-east. As one commentator succinctly summed it, “Sunnis consider Shias as kafirs, both of them consider Kurds, Ahamadiyas and Khojas and other minor sect peoples as kafirs. All of them in turn call each other as kafirs. Sufis are the most prominent sect with strong spiritual overtone. They too are no exception…Sufis are under threat from Salafis all over the Islamic world.”3 (3 Pathak, 2015)
If this is the character of the religion itself, then certainly, even a so-called moderate Muslim would be moderate in spite of Islam and, perhaps, by going against it, and not because of it.
It is this point that we seek to make in the series of articles on secularism that we will bring out. In this article, we will expose the present context and the double-speak and false foundations of secularism advocated by the ‘secular’ Indian politicians and intellectuals.
The Present Context
The attack on the ‘secular’ credentials of the present government was revived following the ‘intolerance debate’ in the country last year. The trigger for the debate was the killing of rationalist M.M Kalburgi in September last year by right-wing elements. This led to protests by intellectuals against the government-funded Sahitya Academy for not condemning the killing, and they even revived the killing of rationalist Govind Pansare in Maharashtra in February 2015. The intellectuals went on an award-returning spree, with even celebrities joining in.
This was compounded with the beef ban controversy, which led to the lynching of a Muslim man in Dadri, outside Delhi, in September 2015. Even though the perpetrators of the crime could not be ascertained and the killing was apparently attributed to the flouting of the beef ban, the ‘secularists’ lost no time in blaming the central government for the death.
Finally, in the winter session of the Parliament, the battle lines were drawn as the debate was revived from day one, resulting in an unproductive outcome and confrontationist position by the opposition parties.
Through all these developments and even going back into history, it is clear that we have lost sight of what secularism means and what really are the serious issues at stake. Right from day one, the flaws in the intolerance-secularism debate were clear – that is why it divided society so sharply.
- It was clearly politically-manufactured, with many of the intellectuals having clear affiliations to the Congress party or the Left. In November 2015, key party members became a part of a widely publicised conference to capitalize on the ongoing debate, by inviting a number of well-known academicians.
- The debate was entirely divorced from any serious reflection on history and real issues. To the contrary, infamous figures like Tipu Sultan were raised on a pedestal by the Congress government in Karnataka, despite massive protests.
- Even though the secularists accused the government of stoking a climate of intolerance, they were the ones involved in baseless allegations and double-speak. Never once did they comment on the attacks perpetrated by the Muslims on the office of Lokmat for its cartoon on ISIS around the same time. There were also numerous instances of gruesome murders of Hindu activists protesting against the flouting of the beef ban. Yet, because these murders were committed by Muslims, there was never any investigation nor were such instances of intolerance given space in the media.
Secularism, as understood by the Indian media and general public, is a discourse that has trickled down to us from the academic society. These academic discourses have never been able to reconcile the role of religion with state and society. They believe that secularism is related to justice, which, in turn, automatically means the protection of the minority communities and the vilification of the majority. Their brand of secularism does not permit any space for other definitions of the term.
They believe that Hindu nationalism is against the principle of secularism. The simple declaration of the RSS and Hindu organizations that they are secular has been vehemently opposed by the left-wing intellectuals. Unlike the self-styled secularists of today, the nationalist idea of secularism is not based on the vilification of the majority community or pandering to the minorities. They simply state that minorities will get full space and religious freedom in the country, but without the majority having to compromise their religion, culture or nationalism.
That is how secularism should ideally be practised – and is often practised in countries like the US – in any country, as a practical creed. It means tolerance and about necessary affirmative policy actions for the minorities. It does not mean elevating the minority religion as the centrepiece of public discourse and giving them excessive social and political power. This will completely destroy the social fabric of the country and this is what parties like Congress and the intellectuals have been trying hard to achieve.
Even though secularists advocate the separation of religion from the public domain, Indian secularists openly promote the minority religions. For instance, the whole debate on Uniform Civil Code is about this. After Independence, even though the government (and, before that the Hindu social reformers during the freedom struggle) reformed the Hindu personal laws completely, Muslim personal laws and those of other minority religions remained untouched. What’s more, Nehru gave a Haj subsidy to the Muslims.
Despite the awareness that Muslim personal laws resulted in large-scale exploitation of Muslim women by the Islamic religion, feminists and social activists campaigned against bringing the Muslim religion under a Uniform Civil Code which can guarantee equality to Muslim women. And, after the Supreme Court’s Shah Bano judgement of 1985 on alimony due to a divorced Muslim woman, which went against Muslim personal laws, the Congress government passed legislation diluting the judgement to appease the minority community.
Is this justice or selective bias to enhance minority vote-banks in the name of religious freedom?
Such appeasement is at odds with the crackdown on Islam the world-over, especially in Muslim countries. After the June 26th, 2015 attack, Tunisia ordered the closure of eighty mosques for spreading extremism. Prior to that, in Pakistan, the government had cracked down on forty-eight madrassas in Sind for promoting terrorism.4 (4 Pathak, 2015) In Europe, the liberal policy towards refugees and migrants from Muslim-majority countries has resulted in a massive backlash. News of mass Muslim attacks – attacks by skilled, educated migrants – on German women recently, has led to Europe closing its doors to migrants.
Certainly, it’s a false belief that education alone can moderate the Islamic influence. Moderation is unlikely unless one breaks away from the religion entirely.
Going Back to History: Why is Current Discourse of Secularism False?
As we have seen, the Congress-dominated and intellectually-sponsored history has placed a misplaced narrative of secularism before us. We are told that Hindu and Muslims co-existed harmoniously before the advent of the British rule, and later the British used the divide-and-rule policy to create religious strife. This is a completely false view and there are ample historical records to refute it. However, when the historical record of Muslim atrocities in India is presented, as also that of the Catholic Church of Goa, it is dismissed by weak counter-arguments.
The two main arguments given by intellectuals are:
- Attacks by Muslim rulers like Aurangzeb and Akbar on Hindu temples and on Hindu communities were not consistent. Some historians give examples saying that even though Aurangzeb attacked temples, he, at the same time, was known to give cash grants to Hindus, motivated by practical and not religious considerations. Also, they argue, that many Hindu kings also attacked Hindu temples to confiscate their wealth.
This is clearly a flawed argument. Attacks on the Hindu society and symbols, as documented by early Mughal historians, were based on religious instruction and personal inclination and orthodoxy of the rulers, especially Aurangzeb and Akbar. Giving of cash grants were rare and used as an occasional practical measure. Moreover, the rare attacks on Hindu temples by Hindu kings were not motivated by any Shastric injunction 5 (5 Jain, 2015) and, after the attack, the idols were worshipped and treated with respect. This is unlike the Muslim rulers whose attacks on the Hindu heritage were inspired by the Koranic injunctions, treating the Hindus as kafirs or non-believers who needed to be either converted or wiped out.
- Another false argument advanced by the current secularists is that Indian history cannot be studied in terms of a Hindu versus Muslim discourse, a view which was perpetuated by the British. The so-called secular historians argue that, new categories have evolved in our historiography – such as gender, caste, ecology, class etc. Again, this argument masks the fact that a history of a Hindu-Muslim divide did exist and cannot, and should not, be wished away if Indian society is to get an accurate picture of its antecedents.
To be continued…
Jain, M. (2004, March 21). Hindu Internet Defence Force. Retrieved from Hindu Internet Defence Force: https://hidf1.wordpress.com/2010/12/03/meenakshi-jain-on-romila-thapars-somanatha-of-history/
Pathak, P. (2015). Dialogue – A Hindu’s views on Islam and Muslims – II. Organiser, pp. 1-4.