These days we often find mainstream media feverishly arguing that “secularism”, the most coveted ideal of India is under attack from “communal Hindus”.
We will argue how the Indian state’s secularism, inspired from Western democracies, indirectly strengthens the very force it seeks to fight – “Hindu Fundamentalism”.
Why Secularism arose in the West?
Secularism is separation of state and church. It’s a concept wherein Church shall have no say in matters pertaining to the public governance. [i.e. to save government from church]. Its popularity in West is because of its unique history with respect to Roman Catholic Church.
During the middle ages, Church’s dominance on governance exceeded the king’s and this pervading influence caused friction. Protestant movement was political step to end the monopoly of Roman Church as the sole representative of Jesus Christ.
Secularization was essential in Europe as Church had a position on every socio-political aspect of public which was also enforced. This totalitarian approach made it impossible for it to co-exist with democratic and liberal ideas. Church had a problem with science and rationalism as they opposed its truth-claims. For example, Church prosecuted a number of scientists for discovering things that were incompatible with Bible.
It made truth-claims and most of these were mutually-exclusive to democratic governance. How does one deal with a group which claims monopoly on God and truth and prosecutes anybody who opposes this notion – the answer was secularism. Church can function at its liberty but shall not interfere in state affairs.
That, the West progressed to this stage after the dark middle ages, has made us all assume that this is a logical sequence in any country.
Secularism in India
Now, where does secularism fit in Indian context?
· What Hindu equivalent of Roman Catholic Church do we have?
· Did any such temple have any say in public governance? Did it prosecute anybody?
· Does Hinduism make any truth-claims i.e. does it claim its exclusive access to truth/ God? Does it have any position on public affairs? Could that be imposed?
We see that in India context, there is no necessity to separate State from Religion as there is no overlap between the two in the first place. No Hindu religious centre had ever enforced its religious convictions on people. While some kings patronized some religions, there is no history of prosecution based on religious differences [in pre-Islamic India and in Hindu ruled places in post-Islamic India].
Moreover, Hinduism doesn’t make any truth-claims at all. When Semitic religions like Islam and Christianity coexist in Indian soil, we have two contradictory types of religion which are mutually exclusive. Both Islam/Christianity believe that their religion alone is true and others are false. It takes a clear black and white position with respect to other religions – they are false, that’s it.
The crux is: Hinduism has no clash with other religions – it doesn’t claim monopoly on God, and doesn’t see other religions as either false or true. So from Hindu perspective, there is no clash at all between Hinduism and Semitic religions. However, from the Semitic viewpoint, Hinduism is “false religion”.
When Indian state protects right to conversion (an aspect of secularism), it accepts the biblical underpinnings of understanding religion – that religion makes truth-claims. It has to take a position that either (1) Hinduism or Semitic Religions have no clash (Hindu perspective) (2) A clash exists (Semitic perspective). There is no neutral ground between these mutually exclusive positions.
Semitic religions claim their validity through their exclusive access to God, His Messenger, Sole Scripture and His plan. On the other hand, Hinduism claims its validity through traditions. Whereas Semitic religions cite doctrinal truth in their scripture for their activities, Hindus merely cite traditions.
For Hindus, a tradition brings the community together and any external interference is seen as intrusion in their community affairs. Since all traditions are valid paths to human enlightenment, there is no necessity to impose anything from outside.
This brings us to the complexity in India between two opposing ideals: non-interference and conversions.
Any devout Christian/Muslim is duty-bound to convert as many heathens as possible and protect them from the “false religion” and take them towards the “True One and Only God”. They cannot leave idolaters as they are, because their religion prohibits them from doing so.
The Hindus see themselves as followers of a tradition and they do not take conversions lightly, as they see this as an external interference with their long held traditions. This “corruption” is something they cannot take easily.
Again this crystallizes into two contradictory ideas: (1) No religion is false [Hindu perspective] (2) Some religions could be false [Semitic perspective].
Why Hindus resist conversions
This is real reason why even non-passionate Hindus see conversions as a problem. They are not interested about the God-claims (they’ve no problem with personal acceptance of any God), but they are more concerned about disruption in their traditions. They strongly feel that no community should interfere with the tradition of another community. Since no religion is false, there is no necessity for (forceful) conversions – and conversions should therefore be banned.
Secularists argue that in a liberal state, they should be freedom to propagate religion and convert. However, this flies in the face of Semitic obligation for forceful conversions. It is clear that they have taken a position however unwillingly – that some religions can be false – a Semitic assumption totally irrelevant to Hinduism which takes no position regarding the falsity or truthfulness of any religion.
By allowing conversions, Indian state has inadvertently taken two positions: (1) some religions could be false (2) religion is about doctrinal truths.
A theist believes in the truth of his religion, an atheist doesn’t believe in truth of any religion and an agnostic is not willing to take a position on truthfulness of any religion. Yet, at a fundamental level, all the three categories agree that religion is about truth-claims (whether one agrees with the truth-claim itself is irrelevant).
This phenomenon has led to rapid Semitization of Hinduism which nowadays makes truth-claims [as against antiquity of traditions earlier] so as to be recognized as a religion in “secular” India. The rising wave of “Hindutva” is the product of Hindu compulsion to define themselves in Semitic framework to gain recognition as a religion. [Sikhs have already done that to considerable extent].
The West with its historical experience has created two categories (1) religious fundamentalism (2) liberal tolerant movements. But what about a pagan religion like Hinduism that doesn’t have any conflict between religious beliefs and rational ideas?
It is therefore important to distinguish Hindu revivalism from Semitic Fundamentalism. Whereas Semitic fundamentalism is as old as the origin of the religion itself [jihad of Islam and similar elimination of pagan religions by Christian Roman Empire and Vatican involvement in subsequent dark ages], rise of BJP (implied as rise of Hindu communalism) was a reaction to four decades of biased treatment by left-ideology dominated government which inherited the scornful attitude of British Raj towards Hinduism.
A lastly legacy of British Raj has been thorough erosion of confidence among our educated who seek Western perspective on every Indian concept and values. Further, the Western perspective is deemed “progressive”, “modern” and “rational” while those offering an Indian perspective end up being labeled as Hindu Communalist – a continuation of colonial influence.
The problems we face today began when Europeans started to teach India to Indians. Unfortunately, we sat down and learnt.