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.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Indian virtues pre-date ‘secularism’

By: Chinmay Bajekal
October 16, 2004

Swami Vivekananda at the parliament of religions in Chicago (1893) mentioned in his speech, that he was proud to belong to a Nation that gave safe refuge to several persecuted communities of the world. In history we find examples of the Jews, Syrian Christians, Zoroastrians, and in recent times the Tibetan Buddhists who after being driven out of their homeland sought safe refuge in India. The native Indians back then – Hindus not just accommodated these refugees but also gave them the freedom to practice their respective faiths.

Long ago, even before the birth of the Greek and Roman Empires, our Vedic Seers had declared ‘Vasudaiva kutumbakam’ – “The world is one family”. Long before the modern world came out with the concept of ‘Universal welfare’ our Vedic prayer throughout the ages has been ‘Loka samastha sukinau Bhavantu’ – “May entire world attain bliss”. Even the modern concept of freedom of thought is respected in the Vedic verse, ‘Ekam sat vipraha, bahudha vadanti’ – “Truth is one the wise call it by various names". The verse expresses the matured understanding of the Human mind that the ancient thinkers of India possessed.

Centuries ago when sects like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism came as reformist movements to correct what their founders perceived as wrong or unwanted in the society, the Hindus did not suppress these reformers but gave them the freedom and space to grow. Sri Adi Shankaracharya brought many back to the Hindu fold not through force, coercion, incentives or threat but by preaching in the form of debates.

Thus, Indian virtues like ‘pluralism’, ’tolerance’, ’freedom of thought’ and ‘Universal welfare’ pre-date the arrival of the ‘secular’ concept in India. This point needs to be emphasized as in today’s India ‘secularism’ is unjustifiably credited for all these Indian virtues and the term is being misused to suppress the movement of ‘national renaissance’ also known as Hindutva that aims at preserving the very culture which actually deserves credit for these age-old virtues of India.

Secularism originated in Europe centuries ago when the Kings revolted and overthrew the theocratic hegemony of the Pope from over their kingdoms and established their own rule. But India has never known such a conflict, thus the western secularism never was relevant for India. However today many Indians perceive ‘secularism’ to be a synonym of ‘pluralism’ and ‘tolerance’, but they perceive the very culture that blessed the Indian society with these noble features from the Western perspective of being a “religion”.

The pseudo-seculars in India who swear by secularism would like to have us believe that any threat or challenge to the concept of secularism in India would endanger the age-old pluralism of the country. Little do these self-proclaimed defenders of secularism realize that wherever in the Indian subcontinent Hinduism declines, with it declines the support for secularism too (whichever kind of secularism that may be). Pakistan & Bangladesh two of our neighbouring countries were formed out of the same territory and people of undivided India, yet they are far from being secular.

The need of the hour for India is the recognition of the fact that India does not owe its great virtues of pluralism, diversity and tolerance to any western concept or ideology, but to the influence over India of Vedic culture and philosophy. And also to be understood is the fact that India’s age-old virtues shall not be endangered by the questioning of the relevance of secularism to the world’s oldest and most pluralistic civilization.

India has always been a country that has welcomed reforms, and encouraged new ideas. It has never resorted to prejudicial behavior. Unfortunately the manner in which the self-proclaimed seculars in India spew venom over the movement of ‘national renaissance’ and call for ‘de-saffronization’ is in reality an act that is ‘de-Indianizing’ as it does not go well with the ethos of our ancient country which tolerated different views.

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