My Transportation for Life
In the last few decades, “secularism” has become the subject of caustic debate in the Indian media. The dispute about the value of this idea to contemporary India is no longer confined to the academic circles. Politicians, journalists and others have strong views on the topic. Secularism regularly surfaces in newspaper articles, speeches and public meetings. The critics of the idea, however, are not often taken seriously at the theoretical level. The proponents of secularism dismiss all objections against their pet idea as misguided. Critics are either considered to be naive obscurantists, who dream of a return to a romantic image of Indian traditional society; or they are condemned as Hindu fundamentalists, who resist modern secular values and strive for a Hindu religious state.
Though the secularists are genuinely concerned about the tensions currently disrupting Indian society, their fight for secularism has not been very effective when it comes to putting an end to “the Hindu-Muslim strife.” In fact, the Nehruvian secularism of the first few decades of the independent Indian state appears to have had as its long-term result an upsurge – rather than a decline – of intercommunity conflict. The problem I will address is to account for the stubborn adherence to the value of secularism among the Indian intellectuals, in spite of this spectacular failure. This adherence seems based in dogmatism, rather than in rational, critical or scientific argument. To account for this state of affairs, I will first turn to the history of the idea of secularism and show the deep roots it has in the religious doctrine of the Christian West. Next, I will analyze the role it has played in the colonial domination over the subcontinent and its intellectuals. The idea of secularism has been one of the backbones of the colonial educational project, which approached India as a backward society in need of conversion to modern western values.
These two steps bring me to the conclusion that the Indian secularists are today sustaining the colonial stance towards their own culture and society. They presuppose that the modern value of secularism or toleration is the superior way of organizing a plural society. Given this assumption, they easily come to the conclusion that India should adopt this value like all other modern nation-states. This is not an exhibition of human scientific rationality, but rather an instance of the fallacy of petitio principii. That is, the secularists take as a presupposition what they actually have to prove: the superiority of the modern value of secularism. The consequences are dramatic. Alternatives to secularism – e.g., the “traditional” ways of living together as they have developed on the subcontinent – are not even taken seriously as solutions to the predicament of pluralism in twenty-first-century India. Anyone who dares challenge this supreme value is classified as a naive conservative, a Hindu communalist, or worse. Thus, secularism limits the options of the Indian intellectuals to two equally flawed positions: either one continues the colonialism of the last three centuries through a dogmatic adherence to “modern secular values;” or one fights this stance on its own terms by becoming an “anti-modern”, “anti-western” or even “anti-scientific” fanatic.
Fortunately, there is a way out of this dilemma. It is to be found in the old human pursuit of knowledge. At a time when societies all around the world are becoming more diverse, we have to be ready to re-examine our long-standing ideas about pluralism and tolerance. More than ever, the search for scientific solutions to the problems of humankind should direct itself at the knowledge developed in the non-western world. The ways of living together of several Asian cultures have proven successful at creating a relative stability and harmony in extremely plural societies. Therefore, I argue, we should set up a massive enterprise to examine the nature and the success of these alternative ways of living together.
1. A Modern Christian Value?
A recent exchange in the Indian weekly Outlook revealed some of the damage done by colonialism to the Indian intellectuals and their understanding of secularism. It started with an opinion piece by Kuldip Nayar, who criticised Ashis Nandy’s views on secularism (Outlook, May 31, 2004). Nandy’s reply, “a Billion Gandhis” (June 21, 2004), restated his critique of secularism as “a dry import” from the West unable to find roots in the Indian soil. This in its turn lead to a vitriolic reaction by the historian Sanjay Subrahmanyam (July 5, 2004). The latter accused Nandy of being ignorant of European history. The word “secularism,” Subrahmanyam suggested, has never been all that important in western politics. It has acquired “a deep meaning and significance” in India, which it never had in Europe. Therefore, it is ridiculous to call secularism an imported idea. Nandy, he concluded, keeps on repeating his views only because he is “profoundly ill informed” about the history of concepts. Neither the derogatory language used by Subrahmanyam nor his impressive career in the European academia should blind us to his own lack of understanding of the western history of ideas. Unlike what he thinks, the main problem in the Indian secularism debate does not lie in the fact that a thinker like Nandy has not studied European history. Rather, it is rooted in the way Indian scholars have blindly adopted the self image of the Europeans.
To deny that secularism is an export from the West to India, one cannot simply repeat the old story about the British thinkers who coined the term in the nineteenth century, and the way its meaning changed in India. Secularism is not just a word; it is an idea. As an idea it has a long history going back to medieval times, but it is as alive as ever in the nation-states of the contemporary West. European intellectuals and politicians may prefer to use terms such as “toleration,” “state neutrality”,“laïcité”, “de lekenstaat”, or “Toleranz.” However, like “secularism,” these terms refer to a number of norms and values regarding the way a plural society and its state should be organised. The basic idea is that the state and its laws ought not to mingle with the realm of religion. The state should be secular, that is, its laws cannot be based in one or another religion. Today, this idea is presented as the one rational and democratic ideal for all human societies. Like liberal democracy, the secular humanists believe, this political salvation for the humankind should be exported to India and other plural countries.
Fortunately, we have independent thinkers like Ashis Nandy, who challenge the universal value of this idea. He suggests we would better look into the traditional ways of living together on the subcontinent, before we impose the barren idea of secularism on the cities and villages of India. And a barren idea it is. How and why it is so will not become clear by studying European history through the standard framework developed by the western intellectuals. This might make for Indian academics who share the assumptions, the vocabulary, and the pretences of their colleagues at Oxford or Harvard. But it does not produce significant insights into the encounter between India and the West.
The idea of secularism or toleration has become as barren as it is today, because it has been detached from the religious background that made it significant and fruitful. In order to get a grasp on its history, we first have to understand the Christian theological framework from which it emerged. Early in the history of Christianity, the belief became dominant that the human world is split into two different realms. On the one hand, there is the spiritual realm. Each human individual has a soul, Christian doctrine claimed, and this soul should become as spiritual as possible. That is, it should turn away from “the carnal world” in which we live and towards “the spiritual world” of God. In this eternal spiritual realm, the Holy Spirit operated and it regenerated the human soul so as to convert it to Christ. This realm was opposed to the temporal carnal realm. Each individual also consisted of a body – “the sinful flesh,” as Christian thinkers liked to call it. This sinful body lives here on earth in the temporal carnal realm, which is ruled by Satan – “the lord of this world.” From Augustine to Aquinas, all of the dominant political thought in Christian Europe took this two-fold division of human society as its starting-point.
Then happened the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century – a cultural revolution that shaped the modern western culture. Its reform was also based in the opposition between the spiritual (or religious) world and the temporal (or secular) world. But it changed the relationship between the two worlds dramatically. Whereas the spiritual and the temporal had been equated with the clergy and the laity in the medieval Church, the Protestants claimed there was no such hierarchical division of humanity. There could not be a spiritual estate of priests as opposed to a temporal estate of laymen. All human beings lived in these two worlds at the same time. And all human souls should be left free to be regenerated by the Spirit of God. This gave rise to the entrenched normative belief that the state and its laws ought not to intrude upon religion. The Protestant thinkers asserted that one human being could not compel others as to what to believe and how to worship God, since “God alone was the Lord of our souls.” In theological terms, they said the following: (a) all human beings live in two spheres, the spiritual (or religious) and the temporal (or secular); (b) in the religious sphere, they strive for the salvation of their souls, and this is a purely individual affair over which God alone has authority; (c) in the secular sphere, they are bodies who pursue the preservation of their earthly interests, and here they should always obey the laws of the secular authorities. This was the Protestant theological framework within which thinkers like John Locke and Pierre Bayle elaborated their theories of toleration and liberty of conscience. The same religious motivation brought Thomas Jefferson to the famous claim that there should be “a wall of separation” between church and state. As he wrote in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, dated January 1, 1802:
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
This Protestant doctrine remains the implicit background of the contemporary political theories of liberal toleration in the West. The idea of secularism or toleration is dependent on a number of deep-seated Christian assumptions concerning the nature and the aim of the human life. It takes the conceptual schemes of Christian theology – more specifically, its division of the world into a spiritual religious sphere and a temporal political sphere – as though these correspond to the universal structure of human societies. Moreover, secularism suggests that plural societies will fall apart, if they fail to adopt the Protestant norm of separation of the religious and the political.
Naturally, this does not fit in with the story mainstream scholars like to tell about European history. This is the case, because they have accepted the West’s self-understanding – in which it is supposed to have released itself from Christian religious dogma at the time of the Enlightenment. This story is part of the mythology built by the western culture to claim for itself a grandiose place in human history. Earlier, it was the religion of Christianity that was to grant spiritual salvation to all peoples crowding the earth. Nowadays, it is the “secular” modernity of the West, which should bring political salvation to all cultures and societies. In between, the main change has been the shift from an explicitly religious language to a new “secular” vocabulary, which also claims to be “universal” and “rational” (this point is argued extensively by S.N. Balagangadhara in his “The Heathen in His Blindness …”: Asia, the West, and the Dynamic of Religion (E.J. Brill, 1994); a new edition by Manohar Publishers).
2. Secularism and the Colonial Project
If the history of ideas proves that secularism is a Christian idea, why then have so many Indian intellectuals appropriated it as the norm to be attained by the Indian state and its citizens? This question becomes all the more pertinent once we are aware of the many theoretical shortcomings of the concept of secularism. For instance, as I have argued elsewhere, we do not possess a scientific framework today that allows us to distinguish the religious from the secular or the political. We do not even have a clue as to what makes the Hindu traditions into religion. All we have is vague and useless definitions of the word “religion,” which do not offer us any understanding of the phenomenon of religion. Still, we keep on saying that “the religious” should be separated from “the political” or that the state ought to be “secular” and not “religious” as though it were eminently clear what distinguished these spheres. Without providing any convincing argument, the secularists never cease to preach that “secularism should be revived in India” (see my “The Vacuity of Secularism,” in the Economic and Political Weekly, September 28, 2002, pp. 4047-4053).
The danger is that this critique of secularism is mistaken for a justification of “the Hindu religious state” in India. But this is not at all implied by my argument. Rather, the suggestion is that the conceptual distinction between “the religious” and “the secular” does not help us to understand Indian society and that the norm of secularism does not help us to alleviate the inter-community tensions of this society. Still, a bizarre but often-heard reply suggests that this is equivalent to rooting for a Hindu state. In other words, the secularists assume that any deviation from – or opposition to – secularism amounts to “religious fundamentalism.” To understand where this comes from, we have to reveal the role played by the idea of secularism in the colonial educational project.
During its “golden age” in the nineteenth century, western colonialism presented itself as an educational project, which claimed to bring native societies to the developmental stage of the modern West and its “scientific values.” Colonial education intended to reveal to the colonized how backward they actually were. It either assumed implicitly or claimed explicitly that the practices, stories and traditions of the indigenous cultures had to be replaced by the law and order of western civilization. As S.N. Balagangadhara shows in a forthcoming article (“Colonialism, Colonial Consciousness, and Political Theory”), this stance makes colonialism into an immoral phenomenon. This is the case because of the following reasons: (a) Like all educational projects, colonialism tries to transform the experience of the colonized. It does so by replacing the cultural experience of the colonized with western colonial descriptions of his or her own culture and of the West. (b) But, the latter accounts have never been proven to be cognitively superior to the indigenous accounts. Instead, the colonial descriptions presuppose the superiority of the western culture and from this they conclude that the colonized culture must be inferior to that of the West. (c) The consequence is that fallacious colonial accounts, which beg the question as to the superiority of the West, are imposed on the colonized. As these accounts are not cognitively superior to those of the colonized, the use of violence becomes inevitable in this process of indoctrination. The colonizer does not have cogent arguments, so he is forced to take recourse to other means. Therefore, colonialism cannot be an educational project, though it claims to be that. In reality, it consists of a vicious circle that takes the “modern western values” as the beginning and end of human civilization.
Balagangadhara’s account of the immorality of colonialism is well illustrated by the imposition of secularism on the Indian people. When the British missionaries, travelers and colonial administrators described Indian society, it was self-evident to them that this society was suffused by religion, albeit a false one. The “Hindoo religion” and, to a lesser extent, its “Mahometan” rival were said to determine every sphere of life and action. In India, no distinction was made between the political and the religious, so the colonials asserted: in fact, religion was consistently abused for political ends and the state took the form of a pernicious theocracy. Naturally, this description was implicitly opposed to the modern West. In the European self-image, the Reformation and the Enlightenment had demonstrated that toleration and the separation of church and state were the necessary conditions of civilized coexistence among religious groups. This self-image also shaped the image of India: if the political was not separated from the religious here, destructive conflict would inevitably erupt between the Hindus and the Muslims. Obviously, the Europeans thought, the Indians could not attain this insight by themselves. Colonial schooling had to educate them in the virtues of modern secularism. The Indian elite – created by this educational system – adopted the view of India as a caste-ridden society living under the tyranny of religion. It embraced the colonial description, which was founded on the presupposition of the superiority of the western civilization. The results were a Raja Rammohan Roy in the nineteenth century and a Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in the twentieth.
A few steps can be discerned in the process of intellectual colonization that shaped these “makers of modern India.” Firstly, the Indian elite accepted the terms of description of the western colonials as though these were scientific. This could happen because the colonial educational system put these fallacious descriptions of caste and religion in India at par with the accounts of Newtonian physics and other scientific theories. Thus, the elite began to conceptualize Indian society in terms of the division between “the religious” and “the secular” (or “the political”), even though this conceptual distinction was rooted in Christian dogma. Secondly, the conception of the subcontinent as an inferior civilization brought about the conviction that India should become like Europe. In the present case, this meant that the state ought to steer clear from “the Hindu religion,” just as church and state had been separated in Europe. Politics ought to be based in “modern secular values,” that is, in the norms of nineteenth- and twentieth-century western Christendom. The third step made this normative order into the one viable alternative to inter-community conflict. Without these values, the story went, India would eventually be reduced to chaos and violence. The language of secularism became the only vocabulary in which a stable and harmonious plural society could be imagined. In other words, peace and order in society were conflated with a particular normative description of the way in which “India ought to be secular.” The final step caused a similar change in the identification of the problems and tensions of Indian society. The colonial descriptions of the inferiority of India became the standard textbook stories on this “backward, caste-ridden and fossilized civilization, permeated by irrational religion and blind ritual.” Again, this specific description was equated with the very structure of Indian society and its problems.
The outcome of this process is the dead end we have reached today. The current tensions in the fabric of Indian society can be conceptualized in one way alone, it seems: these are “the predicaments of caste, communalism, and religious conflict.” Thus, a particular description of certain phenomena continues to be conflated with these phenomena themselves (viz., the tensions among different communities in India). The distinction is ignored between a description and the phenomena it describes. When such constraints are put on the identification of a problem, these will also operate on the solutions that are developed. As a consequence, according to this view, the one supreme virtue India needs today is secularism. As Salman Rushdie once put it: “Secularism, for India, is not simply a point of view, it is a question of survival.” This value is seen as the safeguard of peace, order and sanity in society. In the absence of secularism, India is bound to fall apart, so our colonial intuition tells us. Therefore, this point of view transforms any critic of the idea of secularism into a proponent of communalism, fundamentalism, theocracy, caste, inequality, and other evils.
3. Ways of Living Together
The time has come to move beyond the constraints of this colonial stance. India does not need secularism for its survival. Hindus, Muslims, Christians and several other groups were quite successful at living together in relative peace for a long period of time in India. This plural society did not fall apart. Yet, it had never even heard of “secularism” or “toleration.” Therefore, the task ahead is to examine the ways of living together as they have emerged in various regions of India. In what remains, I will briefly consider two strategies that have been dominant in the search for alternatives to the modern western value of secularism. These strategies, I think, have had a harmful impact on this quest.
The first is the anti-modern and anti-scientific stance we find among some Gandhians, including Nandy. Considering what has happened to the world after the rise of industrialism, capitalism and modern technology in the West, this negative attitude towards science and technology is understandable. The problem, however, is that it takes a particular conception of science, its role in society and its value to humanity as though this is the only way to think about science. It confuses science with the western story on “modern scientific values.” However, one does not have to accept the latter story in order to appreciate and adopt the cognitive criteria developed by the natural sciences in the last few centuries. Science has given us the heuristics to attain reliable theoretical knowledge about the world. These heuristics and criteria of scientific knowledge cannot be thrown overboard in the search for alternatives to secularism. Rather, our hypotheses and theories on the traditional ways of living together in Indian society will be most fruitful when they share the characteristic features of any scientific hypothesis: refutable, refinable, coherent, and internally consistent. In the same way as the richest natural-scientific theories we possess today, they should have empirical consequences, strive for clarity of terms and identify the structures and mechanisms behind the phenomena. In this manner, our alternative theories of pluralism and co-existence among various religious and cultural groups will be able to outshine the normative dogmas of secularism.
The second strategy takes recourse to the widespread belief that the Indian traditions have their own doctrine of “Hindu secularism” or “Hindu tolerance,” which surpasses that of western secularism. Both the proponents of Hindutva and many Gandhians claim that the innate belief in the equality of all religions has allowed all kinds of religious traditions to co-exist peacefully in the past, and that it will continue to do so in the future. This claim is easily refuted. The belief that all religions are equal cannot possibly be accepted by Muslim and Christian believers. The very foundation of Islam and Christianity suggests that these religions are the unique revelation of God – the Creator and Sovereign of the universe. Therefore, they have to distinguish between themselves as the true religion and all others as false religions. All religions cannot be equal, according to the religions of Muslims and Christians. Nevertheless, in past centuries, various communities of these two religions were part of the relatively peaceful and harmonious co-existence of Indian society. They lived side by side with Vaishnava, Jaina, Virashaiva, Buddhist and other groups, while they ceased to take part in systematic persecution, religious violence and aggressive proselytization. This cannot be explained in terms of a shared belief in the equality of all religions. Therefore, this story on the doctrine of “Hindu tolerance” does not help us to understand the Indian mode of pluralism.
How, then, could we go about examining the ways of living together of the Indian culture? Let us have a closer look at these phenomenona. On the one hand, we have the “internal” pluralism of the Hindu traditions. Although there were clashes among these traditions, these never developed into the systematic persecution of some particular tradition or the other. Alongside these clashes, there was a tendency in each of these traditions to absorb or adopt elements from the other traditions. On the other hand, we have the interaction among these Hindu traditions and the religions of Islam and Christianity, which reveals the same kind of pattern. Again there were violent clashes, but Muslims and Christians were not assaulted or persecuted because of their religious beliefs or their worship of Allah/God. On the contrary, the Hindu traditions had no qualms about the adoption of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, or the prophet Mohammed as avatars. They would even include these new characters in their puja’s. Hindus joined Muslims in showing reverence at the dargahs of the Sufi pirs, or in the celebration of Muharram. Moreover, the initial intolerance of the Muslim invaders and Christian converts towards the “idolatry” of the Hindus soon disappeared from local Islamic and Christian traditions. Indian Muslims and Christians participated in Hindu festivals and revered some of the Hindu gods. They made contributions to traditions of Hindu literature, music, and painting – often adding Islamic or Christian elements. Importantly, the proselytizing drive of both Islam and Christianity was tempered to a large extent in their local manifestations on the Indian subcontinent.
The current explanations of these phenomena share a basic assumption: there must be a common framework – a shared set of values – which allowed these diverse groups to live together. To grant plausibility to this background assumption, one would have to identify this constitutive set of values shared by the different communities. The single candidate today is the account of Hindu tolerance, which says that these communities were able to live together because they all accepted the equality of religions. We have already confronted one flaw in this account. Another flaw concerns the Hindu traditions themselves: it is often pointed out that one cannot identify any one belief, doctrine, or principle on which they all agree. Still, if one explains the fact that these traditions did not persecute each other or Islam and Christianity in terms of a common principle of Hindu tolerance, one will have to show that they all shared this principle. But there is no proof for the claim that all of these traditions endorsed some orthodox Hindu belief that “all religions are equal” or that “the truth is one but can have plural manifestations,” besides the fact that they did not engage in systematic persecution. It seems that this explanation presupposes that there must be a common principle of tolerance, which has enabled the different traditions to live together. Consequently, one looks for such a principle in the “sacred texts of Hinduism,” and one finds it in the Sanskrit aphorism “Ekam Satya, Viprah Bahudah Vadanti” from the Rig-Veda, which is presented as the basic doctrine of Hindu tolerance.
Could there have been another framework of values that was shared by the various communities – which we are yet to discover? This is unlikely. It would have to be an extremely complex system of values not only to allow co-existence, but also to cause the different communities to absorb elements and attitudes from each other’s traditions, and to participate in each other’s practices. The question then is what has enabled the various Hindu traditions to co-exist with each other, and with others? What explains the peculiar interplay of vigorous clashes and mutual exchanges among these traditions? How come the local Islamic and Christian traditions interacted with the Hindu traditions in a similar way? At the Research Centre Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap at Ghent University, we are currently examining an alternate route to answer these fascinating questions. The route suggests that different communities were able to build a reasonably stable and harmonious society, not because they agreed on a common framework, but because they developed a specific way of going about with each other. This plural Indian society did and does not revolve around a shared belief in some set of values or in the norm of secularism – rather it hinges on a set of practices and attitudes that has allowed the various communities to live together. Our future work will analyse the mechanisms of these ways of going about.
Let me end by paying tribute to the main partisan of anti-secularism in India, Ashis Nandy. As he once pointed out in a pithy metaphor, secularism limits the options of humankind dramatically: it is either Coca-Cola or Ayathollah Khomeini. Though this may be a hyperbole, the image illustrates the constraints the story of “modern secularism” has imposed on our thinking about the problems of pluralism in India. Either secularism or violence. We should heed the insight of Nandy’s anti-secularist manifestos: chaos and violence will not erupt when we leave behind the barren idea of secularism. It is a pity this proposition can still lead to bitter retorts like that of Subrahmanyam. Naturally, as the historian points out, one should practice what one preaches in this matter and truly examine the nature and the history of Indian pluralism. To do so, however, a climate needs to be created that stimulates and sustains such research projects. Rather than singing the mantras of secularism, the academic world should provide a fertile soil for innovative research into the co-existence of communities in India. In more general terms, we are confronting a fundamental question: What direction should the Indian social sciences take today? Should they continue to gather empirical details that merely serve to sustain the intellectual colonialism of the West? Or should they move into exciting new fields where our current understanding of human beings and societies may be turned upside down?
Two years ago, on one fine afternoon, I happened to run into a congregation by Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, an Islamic organization, at Kolkata. The volunteers were dressed in a distinctly Muslim attire with the skullcap as their headgear. The temporary bookstall at the congregation offered a few booklets on the precepts of Islam—nothing unexpected. The demands of the assembly were familiar and again expected, which were generally geared towards supporting the Islamic way of life. Oh, I have not deliberately mentioned their principal cause which was prominently printed in the chest-badges of the participants: The demand for more…hold your breath…Secularism!
Ironies are not exactly rare in India but this one takes the cake, isn’t it? Typically, any discussion on an irony of secularism will end up with the discussants pinning down the responsibility on the poor ethical standards of the Indian politicians. Jakob De Roover tells us through his book why, at least in this case, our politicians are not as blameworthy as we tend to believe. Much more culpable are our scholars and jurists who have used this word in our constitution without comprehending its full implication.
The author motivates the readers through glaring inconsistencies in judicial interpretations of secularism in Europe—albeit the ironies are less stark than what I have described above—and start an exploration towards genesis of the word, Secular. It is a word that is universally characterized by a negation of the ideas that are religious. Therefore, to understand the word secular, we must have a definite understanding of the word religion.
What precisely is denoted by the word, religion?
The failure of the western scholars is colossal, De Roover illustrates, in defining religion. Their understanding of religion, as has been shown on a case by case basis, is limited to characterizing Christianity and simply assuming that such characteristics would be sufficient for any other phenomena they refer to as a “religion”, such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, the Chinese and Japanese “religions”. A part of this failure can be traced to being convinced of the superiority of the present Western culture and belief in a linear history that assumes that all cultures go through the exact same trajectory, and the present age technological superiority of the West connotes to its culture or religion being more advanced than the others. Therefore, Christianity “has to be” the most advanced religion and other religions are its primitive version.
The mode of defining Christianity is wholesome inadequate to define Hinduism—the Indian Constitution is a living testament to this fact. A Hindu, as per the Indian Constitution, is not defined in any affirmative way. Rather, the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 defines a Hindu as:
(a) any person who is a Hindu by religion in any of its forms and developments, including a Virashaiva, a Lingayat or a follower of the Brahmo, Prarthana or Arya Samaj,
(b) any person who is a Buddhist, Jain or Sikh by religion, and
(c) any other person domiciled in the territories to which this Act extends who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew by religion
The negationist principal of clause (c)—which incidentally defines the vast majority of the Hindus— demonstrates the problem of categorizing Hinduism as a religion, particularly when we bear in mind that no such problem comes up in defining a Christian, a Muslim or a Jew, the adherents of the Abrahamic religions.
De Roover correctly points out that the conceptual rigidity inherent to the terms Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism or Jainism makes sense only to a Western audience; these terms have no relevance from the point of view of the actual Hindus, Sikhs or Buddhists. No one knows where Hinduism ends and Buddhism begins. Almost all Hindus offer their respect to the Buddha as the ninth Avatar (the most respectable human being) without calling themselves Buddhists. One can easily find Buddhist scriptures that, as Subhash Kak notes, have many more verses on Hindu deities like Shiva and Vishnu than on Buddha.
Such a porous borderline between Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism or Jainism may not be very surprising to most Indians or for that matter to inheritors of the most Asian cultures; an average Japanese may identify himself/ herself with two different “religions”, Shintoism and Buddhism, at the same time, without any trouble. However, when S. N. Balagangadhara, the author’s illustrious mentor, presented his hypothesis to formally recognize this phenomenon, it appeared to be not so incontrovertible to the Western scholars. Balu—as Balagangadhara is popularly known—challenged the presupposed Western Academic notion that all cultures have religion.
The concept of religion, Balu argues, lies in theorizing. European cultures believe in theory; Indian and other ancient Asian cultures believe in “empiricism”. For example, Christianity theorizes itself into a monotheistic religion; on the contrary, nobody knows whether Hinduism is a monotheistic or polytheistic religion on account of lack of theorizing and focus on empiricism. No Japanese feels any contradiction in simultaneously being a Shinto and a Buddhist, but the European scholar finds it peculiar going by his textbook theory. The only religions, as per Balu’s definition, that exist are the Abrahamic ones. The other isms that are popularly known as religion—for example, Hinduism or Shintoism—are not exactly religions, much like the whale is not a type of fish but a mammal living in water.
Balu posits that European cultures are religious whereas Indian cultures are essentially non-religious: a proposition that diametrically violates our mainstream narrative. What about Western secular cultures? Can they ever be called religious? And, this is exactly the essence of De Roover’s core hypothesis. De Roover deconstructs Secularism and demonstrates convincingly that Secularism is—idea wise—akin to Christianity. The genesis of the idea of Secularism is rooted in the Bible in the words of Jesus: Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. (Matthew 22:21). The idea of demarcation of God’s affairs and Government affairs, of separation of the public sphere and the private sphere, all started with Jesus Christ himself and ended up as Secularism.
De Roover further explains: ideas do come from recurrent patterns in a tradition of thought, called “Tropes”, to a social sphere. An idea that takes shape as the popular narrative when the social ground is fertile for the particular idea is called “Topoi”. De Roover’s book traces the topoi of liberal secularism—such as the idea of separation between the public secular sphere and private sphere concerning religion, the idea of toleration, the idea of government being completely separate from the religious leadership—from the tropes of Protestant Christianity. The leading thinkers of secular liberalism simply presented the conclusions derived from Christian theology without explicitly justifying them using Christian theological terminology. The society accepted such a line of thinking on account of their deep-rooted support in the mainstream social narrative dominated by protestant Christianity. Therefore, liberal secularism is not even a break (forget about any radical departure) from the Christian tradition but part of the continuity of that very tradition.
De Roover’s book engenders quite a few iconoclastic positions. Take, for example, John Locke, the proponent of classical liberalism. Contrary to popular perception of Locke’s political thought being divorced from religious ideas, it is found to be “Christian to the core”. Nehru and Ambedkar, two prominent makers of modern India, are credited with espousing two causes of modernity in India, treating India’s lack of “scientific temperament” and undertaking the project of “Annihilation of Caste”, respectively. It turns out that both of these ideas are colonial projects. Christian missionaries rued the lack of scientific reasoning in India for Indian’s general unwillingness to embrace a rational religion (Christianity). Similarly, “Annihilation of Caste” is a colonial project in which the European social model is deemed ideal and the ‘other’ society is, naturally, found to be deficient for its lack of fit with the European model. The deficiency can be removed by means of an annihilation of the social system of the colonized people.
The implications of De Roover’s study are of enormous importance. First and foremost, though Secularism is hailed as the universal plan for pluralistic society, it is shown to be considerably untrue. As a matter of fact, European societies historically faced much more religious conflicts compared to other societies like India, Japan or the Mongol empire, even though the former societies were, religious diversity wise, much more homogeneous. The European nations discovered the road to pluralistic society through secularism which is a continuation of their own Christian culture.
So far, so good. There is, however, absolutely no reason that secularization for other societies will actually be beneficial for them. When Ayaan Hirsi Ali talked about reformation and secularization of Islamic society, she assumed the universal nature of the Secularism principle. Since Secularism is not a universal theme but grew out of European Christian culture, forcing secularism against the cultural matrix of the Islamic nations will not be successful and will provide no lasting solution to radical Islamism. Shah of Persia, Najib of Afghanistan or even Kemal Atatürk of Turkey are glaring examples of failure when a leader attempted to bring modernity to his society by ushering upon secularism in the same society.
Secularism is tantamount to all good things like progress, peace and harmony in the mainstream Indian narrative. The colonized Indian minds typically think that Secularism is the only path to ensure pluralism with Nehru as the Prophet of Secularism who revealed this ‘ism’ to Indians. However, none exactly seems to know how secularism would ensure peace and harmony in India. In Europe, different Christians denomination were vying for being the One True Religion, and secularism meant State’s non-patronage to any one of them to create a level field that was central to peace in society. Protestant Christianity is mostly about faith and has little to do with rituals; possibly that is how the idea of secularism worked there.
The context is radically different In India: here riots are not uncommon and the Hindus may participate in the violence (for example the post-Godhra riot in 2002); nevertheless no Hindu takes part in violence on account of anointing Hinduism as the One True Religion. Then, what is the relevance of divorce of the public sphere and private sphere in the Indian context? And, how exactly does Secularism plan to reduce the recurrent problem of riots in India? This is a question that academicians never attempt to answer.
The only way secularism can ensure more peace for India—as per standard understanding of the secularists—is that if Hindus become less religious, the basis of religious conflict may vanish. Even if (which is incidentally a big IF) this is a viable proposition, the idea is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Here is a real example: During 1999-2000, the question of the appropriateness of Saraswati—the goddess of learning and knowledge—Puja in public schools was raised in West Bengal. Secularism definitely means no “religion” in public sphere and no public school, therefore, should allow Saraswati Puja. But banning Saraswati Puja from the schools is deliberate destruction of culture when most of the Bengali children start their student-hood through rituals associated with Saraswati puja. From this sense, foisting upon secularism in India means imposing European protestant Christian tradition on Indian minds and total denudation of Indian tradition.
Why should India look forward to the same failed Secular model for social harmony? Why should India look forward to Uniform Civil Code for building a more progressive nation? Progress, now, demands a deep study of the Indian and other Asian models for a stable plural social system with decolonised social narrative. It is perhaps time to end the obsession with European models and attempt to build our own indigenous understanding. As an instance, Rajiv Malhotra has offered the example of Indian “Jati” system in his book Being Different, which used to ensure divergent laws across communities in India. In spite of non-existence of any artificial separation of the public sphere and private sphere, this system helped India maintain cultural diversity and pluralism for thousands of years. Instead of debating true secularism, wrong secularism, or pseudo-secularism, we should talk about modes of ascertaining pluralism in society that are beyond secularism.
Europe, India, and the Limits of Secularism (Religion and Democracy), Jakob De Roover, 296 Pages, Oxford University Press (14 September 2015).
If one wondered why former Congress prime ministers looked at Russia, while leading the non-aligned movement, the answer is that the Communists are a source of inspiration. Well, Communists can inspire others in how to perfect the art of HYPOCRISY.
When the revolution in Russia culminated in ending the Czar rule and began the ‘Rule of People’, in the name of people, Lenin and Stalin killed people. Perhaps, Stalin’s valor in killing his own people inspired some Indian leaders, so they named their kids after him. After all, we are a country, where people even name their kids after Timor.
Then there is the other Communist Country that still thrives; China. Well, Chinese mastered the art of hypocrisy more than Indians and Russians put together. Perhaps the legacy of Kung-Fu taught them the value of practice, they chose to practice even hypocrisy with the same devotion. Chinese leaders have simply replaced rulebook but retained the original cover. Incidentally the rulebook was for economics. Though the ghost of Karl Marx wanted to go to Beijing to protest the blatant blasphemy to Marxism i.e., practicing Capitalism with a capital A in the name of Communism, fearing for his life (even ghosts fear Maoists) he chose to remain in the liberal Germany.
The Indian Marxists, a bunch of smoking-room intellectuals who, much like Marx have never ventured to work and are now competing with their Chinese counterparts. Well, when even the school children know that the opposite of Chinese is ‘Original’, Marxists from the God’s Own Country want to be the original Hypocrites.
The unwritten code of conduct of Marxists is that they should not believe in God. Perhaps the logic behind this dictum is ‘if we pray to Gods, what will we do to Marx”? So, they choose to pray to Marx, while proclaiming to be atheists. Atheists or not, Marxists always retain the core value of Marxism i.e., Hypocrisy. That is the reason why they remain in air conditioned rooms smoking imported cigarettes discuss about ways to achieve equality amongst proletariat.
There is a temple in the town Azhikkal in Kannur district. Kannur district is normally in the news whenever CPM workers eliminate their opponents, as per the officially proclaimed strategy. Now, Kannur is in news for another thing, reaffirming the faith of Communists in Hypocrisy. In Azhikkal, during the annual festival of Paambadiyal temple, the goddess tours the town in a procession called “Thiruvayudham Ezhunnallathu”.
And the goddess, whom everyone (at least the believers) consider their mother is biased against Dalits. Bhagawati, while touring the town skips the homes of Dalits. All the while, Dalits participate in the procession, carrying the sacred swords of Devi. The place is primarily a Naga Kshetra, where snakes are worshipped.
The temple is primarily a base for ‘Thiyya’ community. And there is no bar on anyone to enter the Kshetra. Unlike regular temples, this is a place where there is a Banyan tree and a stone pillar. And this resembles any regular ‘Naga’ kshetras in the south. Alternate sthala purana says the place is also the same place where two separated goddesses (sisters) meet.
For some unknown reason (my bad mind thinks it is for money), the temple is controlled by CPM. Officially CPM cannot control temples, as it is against the stated principle of atheism. So, unofficially CPM workers practice the unstated principle of Marxism and thus control the temple and its functioning.
Like the typical way, Communism works, CPM controlled committee is for eliminating caste based discrimination everywhere, but in its own back yard. Now, Dalits are protesting the discrimination by the goddess (or the Marxists).
Dalits want the goddess visit their homes and bless them too. And the eternal villains, the Chaddiwalas (Oops, they are now upgraded into Trouserwalas!) want the goddess to provide the much talked about ‘social justice’ in the Marxist Country. Really it is frustrating for CPM workers as more and more Trousers are sprouting, despite regular killings. In fact, killings by CPM should be called ‘culling’ because of the high frequency.
Temple president says Dalits have no role in the temple and the procession is routed through the houses of communities that are associated with the temple. All the while, he wanted to utilize services of Dalits to carry swords.
His opponent one Thekkan Sunil, who is undertaking a 72-hour long hunger strike says the procession visits all Hindu households, despite the ritual follows the Thiyya and the exception is only for Dalit households.own
Does anyone in the national media has the time and guts to talk about what CPM does in the name of ‘equal rights’? Ever wondered why the hell all Communist parties choose ‘red’ for their flags, irrespective of factions? Because, the lands that are ruled by Communists were coated ‘red’ with the blood of those who got killed by the Commies.
I really would like to watch Ravish Kumar going to Azhikkal and ask a Malayali in Bhojpuri “Kaun Jaat Ho”? Well, nothing is going to change as nobody would like to waste their ill-gotten award over few Dalits fighting for their justice – against the most pious theology called ‘Marxism’.
It seems even the noted newspapers from the south, The Hindu and The New Indian Express have given this news a miss, as I failed to find the news reports in their sites. Maybe they are all waiting for the situation to take a turn so that they can report it later “How Chaddis are stroking caste based violence in the peaceful Azhikkal by provoking innocent Dalits against the liberal Marxists.
‘La Cream de La Cream’ is the same CPM fights for women’s entry into Sabarimala, which is the only place of worship where there never were any caste/religion discrimination. Girls before puberty and post menopause can visit. Women who could conceive are asked not to visit only because the deity there is a bachelor. Now, CPM wanted to test the capacity of the celibacy of Lord Ayyappan and so they wanted women to enter Ayyappan Temple.
But, the same CPM is against Mother Goddess visiting homes of Dalits. Well, Indian Marxists have proved they are original Hypocrites. Let the Chinese remain Chinese version of Marxists!