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New Dimensions Of Secularism

    - by S.Gurumurthy. New Indian Express Tuesday February 8 2005

Why did the Karnataka Chief Minister and other seculars proudly participate in the mass proselytising event of Benny Hinn, who abused Hindus and Hindu Gods? How is it that E. Ahmed of the Muslim League is secular and L.K Advani of the BJP 'communal'? Why is the Kanchi Matham being hounded while the raid on the Islamic religious school at Nadwa to catch ISI insurgents was called off and Central ministers sent to apologise to Ali Mian for the raid? How is it that secular intellectuals are asking for the release of the Godhra accused and none of them is bothered about Vijayendra Saraswathi in jail? How come even a Congress chief minister like A.K. Antony could not stand the pseudo-secular polity and was forced to charge the organised minorities for perverting secularism? Why..? How...? These and similar questions repeatedly arise. But no one cares to answer them. You want answers to these questions? Read on.

For secular India, secularism is not divorced between the state and religion. For them secularism is exclusively for the benefit of the minorities. Extend it, secularism means pampering the minorities. Go further, it includes being allergic to the majority. That is, unless one explicitly appeases the minorities and is overtly allergic to Hindus, one is not secular enough. How did secularism acquire these new dimensions? Simple: it became a tool of politics. Politics is all about uniting the supporters and dividing the opponents. In Indian politics, uniting a minority for votes is secular. It is secular to divide the majority into this or that caste for votes. Consequently, uniting the majority is anti-secular. And organising the majority is fundamentalist. In contrast, protecting organised minority is a secular duty. This is the high point of secular India. A novice in Christian history would know that secularism originated in Christendom as a rule of separation of the Christian church and the Christian state. But how come what started off as an issue of Christian church versus the Christian state has become an issue of majority versus minority?

Now we need to trespass into some history - not an interesting subject for many. With Martin Luther's revolt against the 'Catholic Church' arrived the 'Protestant Church'. This weakened the Papacy and eventually broke up the Holy Roman Empire. The broken pieces of the Empire, by permutation and combination, became the modern nation-states in Europe. But these separated nation states also owed allegiance to Christ and Bible. These developments were all intra-Christian, within Christendom. No other religion was in the picture. The Church had ensured that no indigenous faith survived after Christianity took charge of Europe. Till this point no one had heard of secularism. It was only when the national Christian churches clashed with the national Christian states for primacy that a formula had to be worked out. That formula was that the Christian State would prevail in worldly issues that were considered to be secular in Christian theology. In the Abrahamic world all matters pertaining to the 'other world' were sacred, and the worldly issues secular. This was how secularism was born. It separated what Christianity regarded as sacred from what it classified as secular. But the common denominator was the Christian theology and what it certified as sacred and secular. In the European model, the Christian state was not actually creed-neutral. It was neutrality between the Christian state and the Christian church within Christianity. Secularism mandated that the Christian church would not interfere in matters of the Christian state.

It was the advent of democracy, not secularism, which gave the survival space non-Christian faiths in Christendom. The Christian states ruled by Christian monarchs began clashing with the people when the people began demanding more rights. This is where individualism began conflicting with monarchies. The clashes triggered movements for democracy. It was democracy that really shaped the institution of secularism as later understood in the modern West. With individualism becoming the supreme institution, the society in the West lost its legitimacy. So religion became a personal affair, an individual right. Still, secularism in the West was an all-Christian affair. It was an intra-Christian discipline. The state stood neutral between the Christian church and Christians, whether faithfuls or heretics. But democracy offered space for atheists and agnostics. Added to that was emigration from the rest of the world which turned the Christian West multi-religious and multi-racial. This brought in the issue of religious minorities. But in the West the religion of the majority, the Christian faith, was organised through the Churches of various denominations, around the Bible and Christ. So the secularism of Christendom stood between the organised majority and equally organised minorities, both being essentially Abrahamic in character.

But here in India, while the minorities are organised around their book and their prophets, the majority faith, the Hindu faith, is totally unorganised. With the result secularism as understood in India protects the organised minorities. It leaves the unorganised majority completely unprotected and undefended. Vote bank politics made it worse. Since the minorities are organised they become readymade vote banks, mere ballot papers. But the Hindu majority does not behave or vote as majority. This is so even on issues of faith as the divergent faiths and Gods within Hinduism makes it difficult for them to unite like the minorities. secular India denies to the majority the rights it reserves for the majority. So secularism in essence treats the secular state as a majoritarian institution. In Christendom, the majority is Christian any way. And they are also organised additionally.

But, secular India will not allow the Hindus to unite. It will snuff out any attempt to organise the Hindus, label those who attempt it as communalists and fundamentalists. But, unless Hindus get organised, secular India will not allow Hinduism to survive. Then, will secular India not do to Hinduism what Christianity did to Roman paganism? The Encyclopedia of Britannica says that Rome did not know how to handle Christianity that negated all other faiths. The inability of Roman Pagans to handle an intolerant faith, as the encyclopedia repeatedly refers to Christianity, caused the collapse of the Roman Paganism. secular India's intolerance to Hindus is similar. The Hindus have to handle secular India like the minorities do. That is, the Hindus have to get organised and create a majoritarian regime. This is a rule of survival for them. And for the survival of a faith-neutral state itself! The question is, will they do it in spite of secular India's hostility?