24 August 2020

Secularism in India Means Communalism Actually

Secularism practiced in India is certainly NOT an equal treatment of religions. Nor is it an indifference to religion and religious considerations, which is the definition of secularism according to Merriam-Webster. The State actually differentiates between people based on their religion. The State administers and uses the wealth of Hindu temples, but does not do the same with non-Hindu shrines. State interference in Hindu religious practices is widespread, like for example the sacrilegious hindering of worship of Sabarimala Iyyappa, an Ishta, a Hindu minority religion. And there is no common civil code in the country for all people; people are treated differently, based on their religion.

The State has been providing some rights to non-Hindu religious minorities, and those rights are not available to Hindus, including Hindu religious minorities like the Ishta Sabarimala Iyyappa worshippers. There is even a separate Ministry of Minority Affairs in the Government of India, whose mission is to improve the socio-economic conditions of the non-Hindu minority communities. The mission statement of the Ministry of Minority Affairs includes a list of non-Hindu minority communities, just as the Citizenship Amendment Act (2019) includes a list of non-Muslim minority communities in neighboring countries (it was bewildering to see the beneficiaries of the former inequality protesting against the latter inequality, but not asking for total equality everywhere).

What initially may have started as protection of non-Hindu religions (keeping in line with the magnanimity that has always characterized Indian culture), was very soon transformed into appeasement of those non-Hindu minorities, as a part of vote-bank politics. This appeasement of non-Hindu religions has often been at the cost of Hindus, thereby creating animosity between the different communities. Social organization on a communal basis is the definition of communalism, according to Merriam-Webster. Treating people differentially based on religion is communalism. Ironically, secularism practiced in India is actually communalism, favoring non-Hindu religions and being anti-Hindu, the exact opposite of what any reasonable person will understand by the word secularism in English and by the Hindi word dharma-nirapekshatha in India's constitution.

The mentally colonized Hindus or the westernized Hindus are the primary cause of this communalism-called-secularism. The mentally colonized Hindus, the communalists who call themselves secular, seem to be totally ignorant about spirituality, religion, Ishta, Hinduism, and India. Swami Vivekananda referred to this mentally colonized person as the Europeanized man. He said, in his 'Reply to the Address of Welcome at Ramnad' (Complete Works, 3: 151): "There are two great obstacles on our path in India, the Scylla of old orthodoxy and the Charybdis of modern European civilisation. Of these two, I vote for the old orthodoxy, and not for the Europeanised system; for the old orthodox man may be ignorant, he may be crude, but he is a man, he has a faith, he has strength, he stands on his own feet; while the Europeanised man has no backbone, he is a mass of heterogeneous ideas picked up at random from every source — and these ideas are unassimilated, undigested, unharmonised. He does not stand on his own feet, and his head is turning round and round. Where is the motive power of his work? — in a few patronizing pats from the English people... Therefore between these two, the case of the orthodox man who has the whole of that life-spring of the race, spirituality, and the other man whose hands are full of Western imitation jewels but has no hold on the life-giving principle, spirituality — of these, I do not doubt that every one here will agree that we should choose the first, the orthodox, because there is some hope in him — he has the national theme, something to hold to; so he will live, but the other will die."

The most crucial question is: Which is conducive to greater harmony — preferential treatment to one set of people based on religion (communalism, called secularism in India) or the doctrine of ‘sarva dharma samabhava’ ('all religions should be treated equally') advocated by Gandhiji? Equality would be the most naturally Indian way, since religion in India is a private affair and one's religion need not be made known to the State or anyone else (see my previous blog on “Ignorance About Indian/Hindu Religions: Root Cause of Many Problems?”).

Treating all religions equally will require the State to be unaware of or blind to a citizen's religion. Religion should not be a part of census or any identity document. The State should stop interfering in Hindu temples and religious practices. All communal entities like the Ministry of Minority Affairs should be dismantled. One's religion should be private and should not be known by others at all.

Treating all religions equally is different from negation of religion or being irreligious. "The vast majority of those who met in the Constituent Assembly in Delhi and voted the Indian constitution in 1949 were religious and not irreligious. And yet, they adopted the principles and policies of a secular constitution for their deeply religious country (Swami Ranganathananda's "The charm and power of the Upanisads" page 47). Irreligious India is an oxymoron (see my earlier blog on “What is India's Core, Like Existence-in-Water is to Fish?”).

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Vice President of India during 1952-1962 and President of India during 1962-1967, in his "Recovery of faith" (pages 184-185), wrote: "When India is said to be a secular state, it does not mean that we reject the reality of an Unseen Spirit or the relevance of religion to life or that we exalt irreligion... We hold that no one religion should be given preferential status, or unique distinction, that no one religion should be accorded special privileges... No group of citizens shall arrogate to itself rights and privileges which it denies to others... Secularism as here defined is in accordance with the ancient religious tradition of India. It tries to build up a fellowship of believers, not by subordinating individual qualities to the group mind but by bringing them into harmony with each other."

Communalism (treating people differentially based on religion), inappropriately called secularism in India, is a non-sustainable policy, since it divides people. Giving preferential treatment to any group based on religion cannot be a sustainable means for peaceful co-existence. It is high time that India started returning to equality of all religions, that has always been part of her unique culture and history for more than 5000 years. Unifying all people at a common higher level is transformational leadership. Dividing others to make a profit out of it is immoral and demeaning.

31 January 2020

Ignorance About Indian/Hindu Religions: Root Cause of Many Problems?

Hinduism is not a religion. It is a Weltanschauung or a worldview. One of the most crucial components of this Weltanschauung is the acceptance of all religions, sects or cults as true and valid. Swami Vivekananda (Complete Works, 3: 112-113) said: "In India the same competing gods had been struggling with each other for supremacy, but the great good fortune of this country and of the world was that there came out in the midst of the din and confusion a voice which declared, 'That which exists is One; sages call It by various names.' It is not that Shiva is superior to Vishnu, not that Vishnu is everything and Shiva is nothing, but it is the same one whom you call either Shiva, or Vishnu, or by a hundred other names. The names are different, but it is the same one. The whole history of India you may read in these few words. The whole history has been a repetition in massive language, with tremendous power, of that one central doctrine. It was repeated in the land till it had entered into the blood of the nation, till it began to tingle with every drop of blood that flowed in its veins, till it became one with the life, part and parcel of the material of which it was composed; and thus the land was transmuted into the most wonderful land of toleration, giving the right to welcome the various religions as well as all sects into the old mother-country.”
Hundreds of religions, sects, or cults accept the Hinduism Weltanschauung. They are sometimes referred to as the Hindu religions. These various religions were grouped into six clusters by Adi Shankaracharya, more than 1200 years ago: (1) Vaishnavism (Vishnu); (2) Shaivism (Shiva); (3) Shâktham (Shakthi); (4) Gânâpathyam (Ganesha); (5) Skândham/Kaumâram (Kârthikeya); (6) Sauryam (Sûrya).

It is not possible to get even a minimal understanding of Indian or Hindu religions without getting an idea of the theory of Ishta. According to Swami Vivekananda (Complete Works, 4: 51-57), “The theory of Ishta is a subject requiring careful attention because with a proper understanding of this, all the various religions of the world can be understood. The word Ishta is derived from the root Ish, to desire, choose. The ideal of all religions, all sects, is the same — the attaining of liberty and cessation of misery. All of us want to get rid of misery; we are struggling to attain to liberty — physical, mental, spiritual.

Though the goal is one and the same, there may be many ways to reach it, and these ways are determined by the peculiarities of our nature. One man's nature is emotional, another's intellectual, another's active, and so forth. Again, in the same nature there may be many subdivisions... Each one of us is born with a peculiarity of nature as the result of our past existence. There is a peculiar movement, a peculiar train, in each one of us; and therefore each one will have to find way for himself.

This way, this method, to which each of us is naturally adapted, is called the "chosen way". This is the theory of Ishta, and that way which is ours we call our own Ishta. Each one sees God according to his own nature; and this vision, conditioned by our own nature, is our Ishta. We must understand that truth seen from different standpoints can be truth, and yet not the same truth... We must remember that an absolute truth is only one, while relative truths are necessarily various. Take the sun. The sun is one; but when you and I and a hundred other people stand at different places and look at it, each one of us sees a different sun. So, in relative perception, truth always appears various. But the Absolute Truth is only one. Therefore we need not fight with others when we find they are telling something about religion which is not exactly according to our view of it. We ought to remember that both of us may be true, though apparently contradictory.

This theory of Ishta, therefore, means allowing a man to choose his own religion. One man should not force another to worship what he worships. For instance, when I am a child, my father puts a book into my hand which says God is such and such. What business has he to put that into my mind? How does he know what way I would develop? And being ignorant of my constitutional development, he wants to force his ideas on my brain, with the result that my growth is stunted.

We see then that a congregational religion can never be. The real work of religion must be one's own concern. I have an idea of my own, I must keep it sacred and secret, because I know that it need not be your idea. Secondly, why should I create a disturbance by wanting to tell everyone what my idea is? This Ishta should be kept secret, it is between you and God.

This is the theory of Ishta. It is the only way to make religion meet practically the necessities of different constitutions, to avoid quarrelling with others, and to make real practical progress in spiritual life... Why should I not speak of my Ishta to others? Because it is my own most holy thing. It may help others, but how do I know that it will not rather hurt them?”

A correct understanding of the theory of Ishta leads to three significant outcomes:

1. The theory of Ishta allows for infinite customization. One can worship the child Krishna, while another can worship the charioteer Krishna. The Krishna worshipped today may evolve into a different Krishna tomorrow. So, religion is dynamic. It also allows for adding another God, without throwing away the earlier God.

2. The Ishta is a very private entity. Often, even the husband may not know what the Ishta or religion of the wife is. It would be the height of ignorance to ask people to specify their religion or Ishta, for any reason whatsoever.

3. Moreover, religion is not hereditary. A father following Shaivism religion does not necessarily mean that his daughter is also following Shaivism religion. How can you call the daughter of a Shiva-worshipper (Shaivite) as a Shiva-worshipper, if she does not worship Shiva?

Swami Vivekananda (Complete Works, 2: 364-374) said: “So long as mankind thinks, there will be sects. Variation is the sign of life, and it must be there. I pray that they may multiply so that at last there will be as many sects as human beings, and each one will have his own method, his individual method of thought in religion... The greater the number of sects, the more chance of people getting religion. In the hotel, where there are all sorts of food, everyone has a chance to get his appetite satisfied. So I want sects to multiply in every country, that more people may have a chance to be spiritual... Our watchword, then, will be acceptance, and not exclusion. Not only toleration, for so-called toleration is often blasphemy, and I do not believe in it. I believe in acceptance. Why should I tolerate? Toleration means that I think that you are wrong and I am just allowing you to live. Is it not a blasphemy to think that you and I are allowing others to live?” Acceptance of all religions, sects or cults as true and valid means for attaining liberty, is the hallmark of Hinduism Weltanschauung, which makes a Hindu fundamentalist an oxymoron.