Secularism, as defined by any dictionary, with regard to governance, implies the separation of the administration and the religion – any religion. In other words, a secular country is one in which the government functions without placing any – any – emphasis on the religion of individual citizen. As far as the government is concerned, there is neither a Hindu nor a Muslim, neither a Christian nor a Jew – there is, but one definition, that of a citizen.
How far, if at all, is it applicable to India?
Let’s take a few cases…
*When her husband divorced her for another bride simply by saying, ‘Talaq,’ thrice, Shah Bano moved the courts. Not that, like the stereotyped Indian nari who takes everything dished out by her husband passively, she wanted to be reunited with the man, but because she did not want him to get off that easily. She did not ask for a share of his property or sue him for a million dollars; instead, quite reasonably, she expected a maintenance by means of alimony.
Which he refused.
Which made her turn to the courts.
The ball was tossed back and forth until the Supreme Court itself took cognizance of the merits of her side, ruled in her favor and ordered him to pay up, or else…
By which time the leaders of the community had built themselves up into such fits at what they perceived to be the transgression of their rights, as per their religion, to discard a woman – a dependent – merely by the thrice-repetition of the word that their wives (in plural) dreaded. This was not in the last century, not even in the younger years of this one – but about fifteen years ago, circa 1987 thereabouts.
So these leaders appeal to the powers at the center, more particularly to the man who had peremptorily summed up the genocide of over two-thousand innocent Sikhs as the effect on the ground when a great tree falls – though it was a single tree – and had ridden to power along with 470 other partymen. It was a defining moment – the conservatives imposing on the young and fresh technocrat, western-educated even, to vindicate their neanderthal stand. It was a defining moment… it was.
* When the first overture was made to dismantle the Babri Masjid and (re)build, in its place, the Ram temple that is believed to have stood on the same spot (and since then reiterated to a certain extent by the archaeological team that executed some excavations) the Masjid was a dilapidated, abandoned monument of Babar’s dominance over the natives. With the then PM Narasimha Rao vascillating on any concrete stand, and with tempers running high on both sides, it required but a simple evening of lost control to set in motion one of the bloodiest riots in the country.
* Which brings us to the third instance. The Bombay riots.
Even though the riots were spread across most parts of Maharashtra and UP, the panoramic metropolis bore the brunt due to two factors – the prominence of fringe groups like the PDP and the Sena, and the Ibrahim-Rajan feud. Interestingly, Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Rajan, thicker-than-blood pals up until the riots, turned sworn enemies soon after when they started their own brand of religious terrorism. According to Rajan himself, though, the former Don wanted to establish himself as an asset to the ISI – an extremely useful thing to put on your CV in the Arab countries – by waging a jihad against the ‘infidels.’ Rajan, of course, did not desire the communal colours adopted by the underworld and therefore tried to balance the scales. As a cynic, I can’t help but wonder what might have happened had Ibrahim not been so prominently a bigot.
(The Indian Mafia – especially in Mumbai – has almost always been dominated by muslims just as the American seaboard has been marked by Italians)
* It is a well-known, and yet ill-publicised, fact that on the eve of every election, the religious leaders of various communities all over the country advise their respective flocks on whom to vote for. While the Imam’s (of Red Fort’s Juma Masjid) entreaties are quite well-documented, the Sunday masses of various churches, especially in Kerala, are the platforms for their priests to decide their representative. There have been few instances of candidates, out of favour with these spiritual powers, eventually emerging victorious. Going through the records, I find that only PC Thomas managed to antagonise the Church with his links to the NDA and still end up the elected representative.
* With such blatant examples of organized voting by communities en masse, it should really come as no surprise when the Nair Service Society’s General Secretary PK Narayan Panicker and the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Kendram’s Vellapalli Natesan concurred on joining their hands towards the betterment of the Hindu community. It should be noted, in this context, that there is really not much of any Hindu unity within the state which, on the other hand, has quite well-organized Christian- and Muslim-interest groups. Immediately, from the very corners that scream Secularism at the drop of a hat come protests of hegemony and communalism.
For the past two years, ever since fifty-nine people were burnt alive at Godhra, the media has been like a rabid dog at Modi’s heels. And yet, even as people remember the Gujarat riots, few still mention the anti-Sikh riots, the Coimbatore blasts (masterminded by PDP chief Abdul Madhani, convicted and now leading out his life in the Coimbatore central jail) or the Marad murders… none of which were perpetrated by people even remotely saffron in outlook.
Jagdish Tytler, circa 1984 fame, is now a minister.
Madhani’s supporters are clamouring for his release on the grounds of his health (he lost a leg when one of the bombs to be planted in C’tore exploded prematurely at his feet.)
The first call from the murderers after the massacre in Marad was to Kunhalikkuty, till recently the Industries Minister in a state that has about zero industry.
The point I wish to make is that Hindus are not the villains that they are made out to be – well, anyway, not more than Christians or Muslims or Sikhs or Jews or whoever else… It was Babar and Mohammed who invaded India, not the other way around. They were the ones who looted temples, raped and killed the natives… and we keep monuments in their memory.
Another point that would not be out of context in this post is the current goings-on with regard to the Kanchi Shankaracharya’s incarceration for a crime that, it is now more than evident, is not his. Sure, Sankararaman was killed. And just as surely, the people who killed him must be sitting back and having a good laugh at how the police have been outwitted – or is it manipulated? The difference is that the same people who argue for the release of Madhani (a convicted criminal) on the grounds of humanity are just as vehemently passionate for the seer’s continued incarceration with little regard for the fact that everything he is made to undergo is a travesty to the intense discpline the Shakaracharyas are brought up with.
A couple of days ago, in Bangalore, there was a Dalits’ conference on the alleged monopoly of the Udupi Sree Krishna Temple by eight mutts. Their beef – that the mutts, run by Brahmins, were all in on the conspiracy to take over the temple wealth. Of course, in God’s own country, there is no such problem. We have a state-controlled Devaswom for the temples and a – oh, sorry, the churches and the mosques can look after themselves, thank you. It’s only the Hindus who are incapable of managing themselves.
Where, as a people, do we go from here?
It would be only too easy to disregard all these observations as either the rantings of a fanatic or those of a fatalist. It would be only too easy to claim persecution on the basis of religion, on the basis of caste, on the basis of creed. It would be only too easy to proclaim that this is India, that this is how we, Indians, are.
And at the end of the day, we are just the same damned lot we have always let ourselves be.
Gone are the days of Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. One even wonders if they would face the same reception now as they did in their times, or whether, mistaking their fervour and passion, they would be declared communalists, and hence persona non grata.
At the end of this long rant, I ask you the same question that I asked myself when I started this essay. Is India truly secular? Or are we just latching on to a catchphrase that has lost all its meaning?
Why can’t we have a Uniform Civil code?
Why can’t we have the same laws for all people?
Why can’t we just accept that we are all Indians first and believers second?
Why the hell can’t we all just be equal?