By Najmul Huda
April 09 2020
All is not well with India. COVID-19 is not the only affliction haunting us. Tablighi Jamaat’s suicidal placed the responsibility of establishing genuine secularism on its critics. So, they coined the deprecatory ‘sickularism’. In the minoritarian discourse, too, secularism was seen as little more than veiled majoritarianism. Thus, there has been a fall in the stock of this political ethic because of the cynicism with which it has been practised.
This has led some in the minoritarian section to feign a righteous indignation, and call for the formal renunciation of secularism and establishment of Hindu Rashtra so that the present apprehensions could be laid to rest, and the position of religious minorities could be redefined once and for all. They hope that safeguards and rights guaranteed to them will not only remain as they are but will be better recognised and respected.
Insofar as making India a Hindu Rashtra is concerned, isn’t it already one? With 80% of its population being Hindu, it couldn’t be anything but a Hindu country. No one appreciated this fact better than the Muslim rulers who gave it the name Hindustan, the land of Hindus. It remains the Urdu word for India. Only recently, the majoritarian, waking up to the ideological possibility of its semantics, have begun to prefer this usage over the Sanskritic, Bharat. Hindustan and Hindu Rashtra, being semantically same, should not connote different political meanings, either. If Hindu Rashtra portends a diminished position for Muslims, coinage of a new terminology may be in order since its opprobrious usage doesn’t warm the hearts of those who take pride in being Hindu. To an ordinary Hindu, Hindu Rashtra would seem as normal as an Islamic country to an ordinary Muslim.
Nation-state is a polity constructed by the group which identifies itself as homogenous in such ways as are important to its members. Most nations have done so on linguistic-cultural bases. India, being a land of diversity, had to come up with a broader and more embracing definition. And it did by defining Indians in an overarching geographical term as sons and daughters of the soil. The Vishnu Purana says: Uttaram Yath Samudrasya Himadrechaiva Dakshinam Varsham Tat Bharata Nama Bharati Yathra Santati (The country that lies to the north of the ocean and south of the Himalayas is Bharat and the people who live there are Bhartis) As regards religion, India’s practical wisdom has been succinctly summarised in Rig Veda's Ekam Sath, Viprah Bahudha Vadanti (Truth is one, the wise perceive," or God is one, the wise call him by different names).
These civilisational maxims when read into a modern polity became secularism. So, to say that secularism is extraneous to our socio-political ethic is incorrect. Our secularism is not a borrowed principle. We were a secular polity before the Constitution came into force in 1950, we were so during British rule and before that, too. Enshrining the principle explicitly in the Constitution, as was done by inserting the word ‘Secular’ in the Preamble in 1976, was merely an affirmation of a civilisational value aimed at removing any ambiguity about it.
Some ambiguity was, however, bound to creep in as the social outlook had not secularised in keeping with the demands of a modern and democratic polity. Right and wrong were still decided by what was good in religion rather than what would benefit the people. That welfare of the people should be the touchstone of right religious conduct is still a distant dream. In this regard, the Muslim community fared worse than their Hindu counterparts. They were barely touched by the process of social reform and religious reformulation that the Hindus went through. Thus, with an unreformed society and un-reconstructed religious thought, they were ill-equipped to embrace modernity, and couldn’t develop the necessary tools to engage with it.
That reflected in how they apprehended and responded to the national movement, which was premised on democracy. It meant the rule of majority, with guarantees for minorities. All individuals were equal but not all communities. The State had to reflect the society. It was going to carry every aura and aroma of the country. Naturally, the dominant flavour would be the majority’s. Such a possibility was anathema to a political theory that could not develop beyond Darul Harb (Abode of war) and Darul Islam (Abode of Islam) dualism. Darul Masawat (Abode of equality), the concept befitting a secular democracy, could not be conceived. This deficiency kept the Muslims caught in the time warp of ruler-subject binary, disabling them from appreciating an egalitarian political system.
The politics of separation emerged from this matrix. The country was partitioned in two and the Muslim community in three. Indian Muslims came to be sheltered in the secular democratic system that they had earlier scoffed at. Tragically, this cynicism didn’t end with Partition. The Muslim contribution to secularism has since gone little beyond highlighting the shortcomings in its practice by the State and polity. All this while they themselves remained an insulated lot who kept secularisation at bay and continued with separatism under the new name of identity politics. On the other side, among the majority, a matching pattern emerged that was proportionately bigger in magnitude and thus more serious in repercussions. It brought into question the very idea of secularism as perceived and practised in India.
This situation has led, ironically, to an opinion among the traditional Muslim leadership, the upper echelons of ulema and the practitioners of identity politics, that repudiation of secularism andadditionally, acquire the autonomy to manage their own community. This is what they always wanted. With the end of constitutional secularism in India, the process of secularisation of the Muslim community, exceedingly slow as it is, will end forever. They will become ever more insular, ghettoised and obsessed with religion and identity. At long last, their leadership will have a “state within a state” to rule. The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, at the end of World War I, put paid to reforms and instituted revivalism. Reforms could never be revived. History may repeat itself. Post-Secular India will be heaven for the ulema and their modern mutants. They will be the slumlords of the Muslim ghetto.
Najmul Hoda is an IPS oicer. Views are personal
Original Headline: Secularism in the age of coronavirus
Source: The Deccan Herald
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