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.