India and her Problem of Secularism

by Kalyan Viswanathan

2/18/2008 10:16:09 PM

Today Secularism is the fashion in India. It is the “in” brand. It is the brand to give oneself, lest one be called “communal”. Many Hindus who are born in Hindu families, who carry the seeds of their Sanatana Dharma in their blood and their consciousness, have become ardent and vocal secularists. This article is addressed to the Secular Hindus, and is an effort to engage their minds, in the hope that some of them may be open to a fresh evaluation.

First of all there are two kinds of Secular Hindus.

1. Type A - Those who think that all religions are equally valid – “Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava” kind.

2. Type B - Those who think that all religions are equally invalid – The Atheist, Anti-religious, Anti-Spiritual kind

Let us look at each one in turn. The first kind of (Type A) Secular does believe in religion, at least in his own Hindu religion, and values it. He believes in the dharmic values that the Hindu religion, inculcates in him, and he recognizes the place of Spirituality in human life. He may himself be a deeply devout, and spiritual person. He most likely goes to temples occasionally, performs some form of puja, bhajan or yoga or other devotional activity; he may even have studied the Bhagvad Gita or some other Hindu scriptures to an extent; But he has not done any serious study of the world’s other religions. He has not done any deep research on the Bible or the Koran, and cannot distinguish clearly the major distinctions between them and his own Dharma. So he naively believes that all religions are the same; they lead to the same goal; they are all different paths to the same end. He may have even been told by some well meaning Gurus and Acharyas that this is indeed so. So having reached this "secular’ position, he then proceeds to condemn as “Hindutva” and “Communalism” anyone who makes distinctions between the religions, and thereby raises a warning regarding the future of Hindu society.

The second kind of Secular (Type B) does not believe in Religion of any kind. He abhors and disdains them all equally and regards them as the superstitious by-product of humankind of a bygone era. He is modern, and does not need any religion, either his own or another’s. Thus having begun his inquiry into the subject with this prejudice, he then proceeds to ignore all scriptural study altogether. His acquaintance with his religion is therefore very cursory, and he does not feel the need to study this any further. He identifies himself, with a rational and scientific view of the world, easily gets carried away with modern western scholarship, which proposes all kinds of new philosophies, (like Marxism, Communism, Capitalism, Materialism etc.) which he deems adequate for his purpose. Not only does he not study other religions, he doesn’t even study his own. He most likely loathes “Swami’s” and “Gurus” and avoids them. Because he is a Hindu by birth, he is compelled to profess that he does not practice it, he does not believe in it, and he goes out of his way to condemn his own religion. He is deeply ashamed of his own religion, and keeps criticizing it at every turn. A few of them also take to studying the Hindu religion, but specifically for the purpose of criticizing it – The intention is not to learn, but to condemn. So there are legions of scholars, who pick up topics such as Caste, Sati, Idol worship, Brahmins and heap volumes of criticism on their own religion of origin.

The Type A Secularist is someone we can call the Gandhian Secularist. Mahatma Gandhi deeply and sincerely believed in the possibility of unity amongst Hindus and Muslims in India. Whether we agree with him or not, this was his stand, and he brought the great strength of his spiritual and moral force to bear upon this possibility. He hoped and wished that he could forge a unity between Hindus and Muslims that would allow the two communities to co-exist peacefully in Independent India. Whatever Mahatma Gandhi was, he was not ignorant. He took very studied positions on almost all issues. He saw that India’s Muslims were mostly Hindus in prior generations, perhaps long past, but nevertheless they carried the Hindu culture with them in some small measure. They had converted under the relentless pressure of Islamic rulers, and frequent threat of violence. But this was all long past. He saw that Hindus and Muslims were now cast together in this country, to weave a common destiny and they cannot be separated easily. He in fact may have been the one who created the slogan “Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava”. This is an inclusive Secularism, that believes that we must treat all religions equally, all people equally regardless of their religion etc. Even today there are many Gurus and Acharyas who say this – they even quote a Rig Vedic verse called Ekam sat vipraha bahauda vadanti and apply this verse to prove that all “Dharma’s” must be looked upon equally.

The Partition of India both on its left and right, (picture Bharat Mata with her two hands cut off) delivered Gandhian Secularism a decisive blow, and rendered the possibility of unity amongst Hindus and Muslims, as almost an utopian fantasy. The Partition was brought upon India, because the Muslim leadership decided that it was impossible for them to live in a Hindu majority India, and they needed their own Islamic State. The Hindus kept on saying that we can all be friends – Hindu-Muslim Bhai Bhai etc., and held out the hope that we can be one country. The Muslim leadership said – No; that is not possible. The matter is really simple – If in a relationship between a man and a woman, if the woman or the man decide that a relationship is no longer possible, then the relationship breaks down; it matters little whether the other person keeps saying “No, we can still be in a relationship”. Similar is the case with Hindus and Muslims – Only the Hindus keep saying “all religions are the same; we can all live peacefully together”; The Muslims laugh at the naivety of the Hindus, and say – “No Islam is special and different. We can all live peacefully together but only if you convert to Islam first”. So now we have unfriendly states on either side of India which have actively decimated the Hindu population within their respective countries, and are supportive of terrorists who have the most evil designs on India.

The Type B Secularist is someone we can call the Nehruvian Secularist. Jawaharlal Nehru believed that religion itself was irrelevant and somewhat backward and superstitious. With his western education and temperament, he was attracted to Karl Marx, Lenin, Stalin and the Russian experiment. These were all “Godless” and “Unspiritual” ideologies. It did not matter to Nehru, that the Communist experiment in Russia had resulted in the massacre of millions of people under the regime of Josef Stalin. He ignored that, (by what logic he justified this in his own mind remains to be discovered) and allied himself and our country closely with Russia and the Socialist way of life. Nehru thought that the primary ill of Indian society was its poverty and lack of development, and he committed himself energetically to India’s modernization, albeit driven by the State. In doing this he and his people fashioned a Secular State out of India, which ignored its Hindu Dharma, its Dharmic institutions, and Dharmic education.

Nehruvian Secularism has also been dealt a mortal blow in more ways than one. Communism is dying all over the world – Only in India it seems to have some left over momentum. Socialism has given way to Capitalism all over the world; In 1991, in India, a Congress Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and his Finance Minister Manmohan Singh presided over the reversal of the trajectory that Nehru had set for India. India is rapidly demonstrating that left alone, people develop themselves. Development need not be moderated and regulated by the State. Power when concentrated in the hands of a few, ultimately corrupts people – Indira Gandhi and her Emergency was a demonstration of that. But as much as she loved staying in power, even she could not cross the line as Joseph Stalin did – through dictatorship and murder on a vast scale. This can be attributed to the essential dharma of our land. Russian communism had no dharma at all – It was pure Adharma. Pakistan has no Dharma at all – It’s leaders have no regard for its own constitution. They amend it left and right to suit their private needs. Most of their transitions of power have been through murder and bloodshed, which is an essentially Islamic tradition.

But what is indeed strikingly common to both kinds of Secularists (both Type A and Type B) is that they don’t apply themselves and study the major religions and scriptures of the world, nor the history of major civilizations. Because even a cursory study of the Bible and Islam, will reveal how violent they are towards unbelievers and kafirs. Every religion has to deal with the ethics of human behavior – both amongst the followers of their religion, as well as between the followers of their tradition and those who do not follow their tradition. Equality, Tolerance and commitment to Peace, is good not only for the believers, but also necessary between believers of a particular faith, and those who subscribe to a different faith. In this latter characteristic, Hinduism is vastly different and has an infinitely superior record compared to both Islam and Christianity. While Hinduism is inherently pluralistic, and it allows many traditions to co-exist peacefully, Christianity and Islam are very severe towards the non-believers. While Hinduism is inherently Dharmic towards all people independent of what they believe in, Christianity and Islam offer their protection and allegiance to you, only if you convert to their creed. They prescribe the worst form of violence towards the kafirs and unbelievers – And this is borne out both by their scripture as well as their history. It only takes a cursory study of their scripture and their history, to find the patterns and correlations emerging. Their history is consistent with their ideology as embedded in their scripture, and their scripture contains the kernels of their ambitions and conquests, in the past, present and future. Christianity and Islam are fundamentally organized to be in a state of permanent conflict with the world of non-believers and kafirs. Whatever rudimentary notion of Dharma they may have, when it comes to their interactions with unbelievers, they are 100% Adharmic, even Asuric.

Why do Hindus reach their “Secular” positions and conclusions without proper inquiry? This is what is called “Avichara Siddhi” – A conclusion reached without much thought or research. It is like a conclusion “The sun goes round the earth”. Well it is obvious - We can see it go round and round, yet it takes some inquiry (Vichara) before we can say, No – The earth is spinning on its axis, and that merely creates the impression of the sun going around the earth. Why have Hindus become so lazy intellectually, that we will not apply ourselves to the proper study of these topics? Why do we jump to some conclusion first, without appropriate research and then keep repeating our position, ad nauseum? Why have we become mere sloganeers shouting ourselves hoarse with our position, which has not been properly thought out and formulated in the first place? Lastly in our hurry to embrace Secularism, we have thrown the baby out with the bath water, we have abandoned our Dharma altogether. Today, we find secularists everywhere – on TV, in the Radio, in the news magazines; in the universities; in politics. It has become our new creed. To falsify the Secular creed is to invite the worst form of counter attack and slander.

Today India is developing fast. Our economy is growing. A section of our society is becoming affluent. But corruption is also rampant in every walk of life. The politicians are leading the nation in being self serving and corrupt. The concept of Dharma, Ethical Values, a sense of Sacrifice and Service that Swami Vivekananda talked about has not permeated our public life. Will modernization solve all our problems? Is it sufficient to modernize without a corresponding effort to establish Dharma in the land? Corruption is Adharmic. Capitalism generates great wealth alright, but it distributes this wealth in a very uneven way. What are the rich of our land going to do with their riches? Will they use their riches in service of the poor? Capitalism is Adharmic too – in that it engenders no value system. What do the affluent do for their society – during their leisure? If we were to follow the inspiring example of the west – we know the answer. The great fruit of capitalism is mindless entertainment, endless pleasure seeking and non-stop shopping. Can the task of caring for the poor be left in private hands, or do we socialize it and give it to our politicians? We need to resurrect Dharma into the center of our lives. How are we going to do it, if we keep on swearing by secularism? Hindu Dharma emphasized people’s duties and responsibilities. Not their rights. Today, we have only a screaming group of casteists and castes, who are ever more shrilly demanding what is due to them i.e. their rights. There is no possibility of Dharma in this. A secular education does not guarantee an adequate appreciation of ethical values, duties, responsibilities and a deeply imbibed sense of discernment between right and wrong action. How do we give our children a matrix of moral values and norms, if we ignore our own Hindu Dharma in our secular schools and colleges? How do we inculcate in our next generation, a value for Dharma and Moksha which are indeed the unique civilizational characteristics of our Hindu society, if we don’t even address these in our educational institutions? This is the unsolved problem of our time. We sowed seeds of “Godless” ideologies drawn from the west, and we are harvesting a rich bounty of corruption across the length and breadth of our land.

So, we appeal to our secular brothers and sisters – Please think first; study your own scripture first; then study the other’s scripture; then study the history of all the religions; See the correlations and correspondences for yourself. Then let us see if you continue to be secular. You may discover that it is only in the comforting cocoons of ignorance, illiteracy and mindlessness that secularism can flourish. You may find that Secularism cannot stand even the most rudimentary intellectual scrutiny. But please do not defend your Secular value system on the foundation of your unwillingness to study these subjects; Please do not say – I won’t read my scripture; I don’t have time; I won’t read history; I don’t have time for that; I will not attempt to read the scriptures of other religions; I have even less time for that; But I know I am a secular Hindu; and I know I am right and all the rest of you are communal.

Any civilization is characterized by a continuity of culture, the sum total of its values, norms, institutions, modes of thinking, customs and practices to which successive generations in a given society have attached primary importance. It encompasses a world view and a way of life that is distinct and unique to a particular people and their original, creative process. It encompasses shared forms such as language, art, architecture, song, music, aesthetics, food, history, religion, philosophy, mythology and spirituality.

India"s civilizational character, is patently and dominantly Hindu. Whether we call this Hinduism, or call this Sanatana Dharma, or Arya Dharma or the Indic Civilization, or Hindutva, it does not really matter. These days, the word Hindu has become too politically charged with meaning - One can only say that India is not predominantly Hindu by mis-representing what Hinduism is fundamentally; by narrowing down what is meant by the term Hinduism into a creed or religion comparable to Islam and Christianity; There have been endless argument around this - Vinayak Damodar Savarkar made a fine distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva; the former having a more "religious" sense, while the latter has a more encompassing sense i.e. geography, culture, history and spirituality. Yet these distinctions are artificial, for who can adequately define what Hinduism is and what it is not ?

It is common to hear people say "Hinduism is not a religion - It is a way of life"; Yet even that is inaccurate. Perhaps it would have been better to say "Hinduism is not just a religion - It is much more than that". Even the best minds have struggled with this question "What is Hinduism ?". In his "Discovery of India" Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru grapples with this question. "Hinduism, as a faith is vague, amorphous, many sided, all things to all men. It is hardly possible to define it, or indeed to say definitely whether it is a religion or not, in the usual sense of the word. In its present form, and even in the past, it embraces many beliefs and practices from the highest to the lowest, often opposed to or contradicting each other. Its essential spirit seems to be to live and let live".

And yet we have to recognize right at the very beginning of his thesis, he commits an error - for that Hinduism is not just a faith; It accommodates those who believe and those who do not; and those who believe differently; There are those within the Hindu fold who are guided by faith alone; And yet there are those who come to Hinduism through the exercise of reason alone; And still others who pursue their Dharma or Yoga. It indeed is "amorphous, many sided" and that is its very basic character. It"s many sided-ness allows Hinduism to hold within its perspective both the narrow and the dogmatic, and the vast and philosophic. When I say I am a Hindu, I may mean that in a narrow sense, of a highly ritualistic, traditionalistic and conformist sense; I may yet mean that in an expansive mystic sense; Hinduism verily encompasses Bhakti, Jnana, Yoga and Tantra, Upanisad and the Bhagvad Gita, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Hindu saints include Vyasa, Vashishta and Vishwamitra, and equally Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhvacharya. The concept of Karma is Hindu essentially, so is the idea of Dharma; Our songs that celebrate the lives of Rama and Krishna are Hindu; Sanskrit is Hindu and so is the entire corpus of Sanskrit literature. And within this corpus we find all manner of secular knowledge as well, such as Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Tarka, Mimamsa and so on. We also have Charaka and Sushruta, Sayana and Kalidasa; Who can say Kalidasa was not a Hindu when he wrote Raghuvamsa, Kumarasambhava and Shakuntala ?

If we argue the case that all of this is somehow not Hindu, and Hinduism is a much narrower creed, (frequently called Brahminism by other authors) then we must deal with the question what is not Hindu - and why ? We think Buddhism is somehow not Hindu; yet its Nirvana is just another way of saying Moksha; It completely accepts and assimilates Karma, Dharma, Yoga and Dhyana into its philosophical framework. Ahimsa is a Hindu value; So is the notion of Sangha - as in Satsang; It may have de-emphasized Bhagavan or Brahman, but what it did emphasize is entirely contained within the Upanishadic thought process. Buddhism verily came from Hinduism; and the relationship between the two is more one of mother and daughter; and less one of equals. Sikhism then is even more a daughter, than Buddhism is. Hinduism is much more like a family of Sampradayas, a family of traditions, and in this family, Buddhism, Sikhism is all "sister" and "daughter" traditions. The daughter may say I have no relationship with my mother - but the mother cannot ever say "she is not my daughter".

Every which way we look, in India, it is filled with the history, geography, tradition, mythology, philosophy and culture of Hindu Dharma. We must therefore acknowledge that India is a Hindu country that has in its midst, the presence of many religious minorities, both those which descended from Hinduism, but are claiming separateness and those who descended from outside of India"s geographical boundaries. But ultimately, even the vast majority of religious minorities of India also descended from people who were originally Hindus. A conversion of religion, whether of the heart, of induced by force or allurement, renders a person religiously different; but culturally largely the same. This cultural sameness may disappear over time, and the Muslim or Christian of successive generations may become progressively differentiated, from the mother culture; Even then racially they continue to be the same.

If independent India had elected to declare itself a Hindu country, (albeit with a few minorities) would it have become suddenly less tolerant of its minorities? When it comes to religious tolerance and acceptance, when it comes to accepting and acknowledging a multitude of paths and means to the one same truth, the record of Hinduism is infinitely superior to other religions especially those that came from the Middle east. Could it be argued, that a Hindu India would have become less tolerant, and thereby endangered its minorities? Yet this was the very "fear" that was at the source of the partition of India into Pakistan and later Bangladesh. One can understand the minorities being thus "afraid" of their future - but the majority Hindus succumbing to that fear, only betrays a poor understanding of Hinduism altogether. Hindu history has been one of being conquered, and brutalized - Never have Hindus brutalized other people, in the name of their religion. Never have Hindus claimed some special status for themselves, simply for being Hindu. And yet we did not assert that truth.

In declaring ourselves a Secular State, we necessarily had to diminish Hinduism, to reduce it to the same status of the other religions of the world. In saying we look upon all religions equally, we necessarily had to betray the religion of India - We necessarily had to take the view that it mattered little to us that the Vedas and Upanisads originated in India; but the Bible and Koran originated outside India. In embracing this European concept of Secularism, we had to assert that we as a state, owed no special responsibility to the entire body of the creative output of our native civilization - we had to reject Sanskrit, the Bhagvad Gita, Upanisads, Yoga, and all of the different Sampradayas of our tradition. We had to make a distinction between the sacred and the secular, when no such exists in our scripture, where all things animate and inanimate are considered equally a manifestation of the divine. Where ancient India saw the divine in all things; modern India had to reject that idea completely, and diminish all thought pertaining to the divine into the narrow realm of religion. We had to say that the future generations of our children will grow up not even having a basic grasp of their Hindu Dharma; For that knowledge they will have to go elsewhere outside the realm of their secular minded schools. Is this not a colossal betrayal of our own past? In our hurry to modernize, and integrate with the world, we have committed a grievous injury to our society. This is what rankles most about India"s "Secularism" - It has no respect for itself; for its own past; it has no capacity for self-reference. Everything it stands for is borrowed from elsewhere, from Europe, from Karl Marx, from the west - from sand castles that cannot even last a couple of centuries.

Jawaharlal Nehru continues in his Discovery of India - "It is therefore incorrect and undesirable to use "Hindu" or "Hinduism" for Indian Culture". And that was his great discovery! That there is an India distinct from its Hindu past! That India"s legendary tolerance and acceptance of others, is somehow not Hindu. That India"s capacity to assimilate and synthesize many diverse cultures and traditions, even attempt such a synthesis with inassimilable religions foreign to it is somehow not Hindu. For he later waxes eloquently about these intrinsic capacities latent in the Indian people - yet he is careful to distance those capacities and tendencies from anything to do with Hinduism, calling them "Indian".

Thus, the modern secular state of India began with an error, a lack of understanding, and ended with a betrayal. For those who truly understand the nature of Hinduism, its Upanisads, its Bhagvad Gita and Vedanta, its vast philosophic framework, its capacity to synthesize different paths and sampradayas into a harmonious whole, its emphasis on the life of the spirit, and its legendary pluralistic view of this world - this error remains a historic betrayal that needs to be addressed. For we have in our midst generations of Hindus growing up, into a new ethos of capitalism, consumerism, and Bollywoodism - They have not even the basic knowledge of their extra-ordinary Dharma.

Hindus can be blamed for being too divided; too fragile; too soft; too gullible; too pacific and too fatalistic - but to say that India is not Hindu, is to betray even a basic understanding of Hinduism or of India"s past. India needs to be Rediscovered, by Hindus, on their own terms; for their own people - not as the Chinese saw us, or the Islamic invaders and scholars saw us; or the British imperialists saw us, or even the alienated westernized Indians. This is the unfinished work of our time - India must reclaim its Hinduness fully even as we modernize; for the full measure of what India may contribute to the world at large, does not lie in our secular institutions, nor our industries, nor our new found prosperity or in our Information Technology accomplishments, nor in Bollywood - The full measure of what India has to contribute to the world cannot be measured in economic terms at all - For that we will have to return to our core, to our spirituality, to our scriptures, to our native "Shakti".

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