Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

A plural past under modern siege

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

M. Veerappa Moily

Successive bands of foreigners — Greeks, Parathions, Scythians and Turks (Kushanas) — came as invaders and were ultimately absorbed in India. They were completely merged into Indian society and adopted the language, religion and customs of the land without retaining any trace of their foreign origin. This reveals to us the catholicity of Hindu society of that period, in sad and striking contrast to the narrow rigidity and exclusiveness, which characterised it at a later age.

There is other evidence to show that the Hindu society of this age was a living organism, which could adapt itself to new environment and changing circumstances. An impression is sought to be — or is being — created that the future of India’s secular polity is at stake. This is highly misleading, if not mischievous. Excesses of this kind only give an erroneous impression to the outside world that India’s pluralist and liberal mindset is under siege, that we have surrendered our glorious inheritance, and have now embarked on a process of undermining our historical experience of successfully managing a multiethnic, multi-religious, multi-caste society and policy.

This is not for the first time that we have faced such challenges; in every such case in the past, reason and logic have triumphed. Our belief in our unity in diversity has never wavered over the years. There is no reason why this time the situation is different. The basic feature of a modern civilised society is that people belonging to different ethnic or religious groups should be able to live together with dignity, respecting each other’s rights, religions and cultures without subjecting any group or groups to hatred or ridicule or mental torture to them.

It must always be remembered that the citizenry is uniformly subject to the tax laws of the country, regardless to his caste, creed or religion, and contributes to the revenue of the state and is therefore entitled to equal treatment under the law from the state and its various instrumentality.

In a pluralistic society, where people respect each other, where there is opportunity for a free flow of ideas, a meeting of minds, this alone can generate an atmosphere conducive to national growth and integration. Hatred and intolerance are bound to vitiate the atmosphere and stifle economic growth. If a section of the population is discriminated against and denied participation in developmental activities, there will not be any ‘‘unity of purpose’’ and we will be drifting in different directions. Secularism suits the genius of a multi-religious, multi-caste and multi-lingual country like India best. The secular ethos, furrowed deep by Mahatma Gandhi in the minds of India, nurtured a sense of tolerance that had kept society together as well as democratic.

We are one of the poorest nations in the world. Most of our erstwhile third-world brethren have left us far behind. The need of the day is to show laser-focus on economic development. For such progress, we need an environment of peace, unity, enthusiasm and hope. If we start the divisive mindset, there will be no end to this — North Indians will discriminate against South Indians; Tamil against Telugu; right against the left; educated vs the uneducated; the rich vs the poor; the urban vs the rural, and so on. This is a one-way street with no u-turn; it has no upsides, only downsides. We should stop thinking in terms of leaders of a community, and think only of leaders of the nation. Moreover, we have to create a system where people elect leaders for their performance rather than their caste or religion. Modern, successful leadership is all about dealing with the contemporary and the future. It is not about fighting for relics, icons and ideas of the past. As we have seen, a nation is judged by its contemporary status and not by its past. We have to vigorously work towards economic progress so that the youth have hope in the future. As Aristotle has said ‘‘Hope is a waking dream’’. Our leaders have to send the message of tolerance, love and affection to the youth of the country through vivid examples. Ethnic and religious conflicts threaten to tear apart more societies today than any other issue. These conflicts rise out of identity movements that construct an enemy ‘other’ and characterise themselves as nationalist even though they are based on exclusionist agendas. Since these movements do not adhere to democratic norms they seek to achieve their goals through private armies or militias. Just like religion has been used by militants to enforce identity politics so as fundamentalist forces mix religion and militancy to mobilise civil society. The threat of multiple fundamentalism and the militia has torn apart many countries.

Hindu tradition is based not on acceptance of particular gods, dogmas, revelations and religious structures but on reverence for Dharma which is the rule of law and the ethics of the age. Dharma is not immutable but is liable to change to be in consonance with changing times — hence, the concept of Yuga Dharma. Today’s ethics, formulated by the constitution is secularism — that is the Yuga Dharma. When on January 13, 1948, Gandhi began what was to be the last fast of his life. Sardar Patel acknowledged that communal hate and violence had driven Gandhi to the extreme step, and when during the fast he heard some people demanding the expulsion of Muslims from India, the Sardar responded with these words: ‘‘You have just now heard people shouting that Muslims should be removed from India. Those who do so have gone mad with anger. Even a lunatic is better than a person who is mad with rage.’’

Consequently, the rights of the minorities to their culture and religion and the right to be protected against majoritarianism, were recognised as far back as 1928 in the Motilal Nehru Draft Constitution. Subsequently, Jawaharlal Nehru, writing a note on minorities in Young India on May 15, 1930, was to state that ‘‘the history of India and of many of the countries of Europe has demonstrated that there can be no stable equilibrium in any country so long as an attempt is made to crush a minority or force it to conform to the ways of the majority.

It matters little whether logic is on its side or whether its own particular brand of culture is worthwhile or not.’’ On May 25, 1949, Sardar Patel tabled the report of the Advisory Committee in the Constituent Assembly. ‘‘We wish to make it clear, however, that our general approach to the whole problem of the minorities is that the state should be so run that they should stop feeling oppressed by the mere fact that they are minorities and that on the contrary, they should feel that they have as honourable a part to play in the national life as any other section of the community.’’

The entire approach and thinking, moulded by Gandhiji, was to not mix religion with politics or the state. He said: ‘‘Religion is a personal matter, which should have no place in politics.’’ When he said that politics would be based on religion, he meant that it should have a moral foundation in dharma, not religion in the sense we generally use the term.

Pluralism was woven into the warp and woof of Indian society. Those who participated in the movement for Independence had a dream: ‘‘When India attains her destiny, she will forget the present chapter of communal suspicion and conflict and face the problems of modern life from a modern point of view. Differences will no doubt persist, but they will be economic, not communal. Opposition among political parties will continue, but they will be based not on religion but on economic and political issues. Class and not community will be the basis of future alignments and policies will be shaped accordingly.’’ Each incursion of foreign elements was a challenge to this culture, but it was met successfully by a new synthesis and a process of absorption. This was also a process of rejuvenation and new blooms of culture arose out of it.

Max Muller, the famous scholar and Orientalist, emphasised this : ‘‘There is, in fact, an unbroken continuity between the most modern and the most ancient phases of Hindu thought, extending over more than three thousand years. If we were to look over the whole world to find out the country most richly endowed with all the wealth, power, and beauty that nature can bestow — in some parts a very paradise on earth — I should point to India. If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered over the greatest problems of life, and has found solution of some of them which will deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant — I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature we here in Europe, we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans, and of one Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw the corrective, which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human a life, not for this life only, but a transfigured and eternal life — again I should point to India.’’

Aurobindo Ghose added a sad note: ‘‘If an ancient Indian of the time of the Upanishad, of the Buddha, or the later classical age were to be set down in Modern India... he would see his race clinging to forms and shells and rags of the past and missing nine tenths of its nobler meaning he would be amazed by the extent of the mental poverty, the immobility, the static repetition, the cessation of science, the long sterility of art, the comparative feebleness of the creative intuition.’’ India should learn lessons of history.

The message of the Gita is not sectarian or addressed to any particular school of thought. It is universal in its approach for everyone, ‘‘all paths lead to Me’’, it says. It is because of this universality that it has found favours with all classes and schools. Let us not limit the universal territory of Indian creed with sectarian, caste and religious fireballs of volcano.

(The writer is former Chief Minister of Karnataka and Chairman of the Revenue Reforms Commission)


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