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.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Is secularism dead? Let Hindus & Muslims come together instead of fighting

By M.V. Kamath
Source: Free Press Journal

Following Ayodhya and the killings in Godhra, Ahmedabad and Gujarat in general, a question is now being asked: Is secularism dead? The implication is that it is the BJP, the VHP, the RSS and the Sangh Parivar in general who are guilty of murder. And the further implication is that the practice of 'secularism' and the leadership in doing so devolves only on Hindus and that the minorities are exempt from the rule. In other words, Hindus, as the majority community, have necessarily and mandatorily to be secular, the same rule not being applicable to the minorities. This approach has proved to be costly. Secularism, in essence, means separation of religion from government.

It does not mean that Hindus should not defend their religion from alien assaults. Nor does it mean that they should not make any efforts to reclaim their ancient heritage. But the word has been misinterpreted and misused to suit the convenience of the Congress and the Left both of which have done untold damage to the country. The word 'secular' does not appear in the Preamble of the Constitution. It was during the Emergency that the word was cleverly inserted with the active connivance of Leftists. It was a mischievous move. As Durgadas Basu has argued in his 'Shorter Constitution of India', the insertion of the word 'secular' was "productive of more mischief than benefit". H.M. Seervai, a stern critic of the BJP has nevertheless argued in his own work 'Constitution Law of India'that the additions "have certain associations which are inconsistent with the enacting provisions of the Constitution". Writes India Today: "The fundamental divide in an India traumatised by Partition was between communalism and nationalism.Indira Gandhi reduced it to communalism versus secularism". It was the worst damage that she would do to India's polity. And yet it was the Congress that is most guilty of negating secularism.

It played the religious card with a consistency that, in retrospect, was appalling. It was she who encouraged Sikh extremists in order to outplay the Akali Dal in the Punjab, we all know with what results. Not only did she pay with her life for her monumental folly but when anti-Sikh riots followed her assassination that resulted in the killing of over 3,000 Sikhs, the ring leaders went scot-free. That was some expression of secularism. When the Supreme Court gave a decision in the Shah Bano Case, Indira's son Rajiv Gandhi gave in to Muslim orthodoxy to reverse the verdict of the highest court in the land. As an example of showing total contempt for secularism that act is hard to beat. In 1990 when Pandits were forced to leave their hearths and homes in Kashmir, not a dog barked.

Those Pandits still live under penurious conditions but Muslims, under Indian rule, apparently do not have to respect secularism, especially if they are in a majority. As N.S. Rajaram, a former NASA consultant has argued in India Today, secularists act under the assumption that it is safe to offend Hindus but inadvisable, if not positively dangerous, to offend Muslims. One suspects that it is this that an enraged Gujarati citizen was finally moved to challenge, following the Godhra outrage. It is as if he was saying: "Enough is enough". The most logical assessment of what secularism signifies is that made by retired Supreme Court Judge Kuldip Singh. As he put it: "Indian secularism has been reduced to apologetic communalism. The minorities must realise that they cannot disown the culture, heritage and history which happen to be in sync with the Hindu way of life... Minorityism cannot and should not be allowed to become a sub-text of anti-nationalism".

The tragedy is that there is no single authentic spokesman for Muslims, divided as they are into sects and sub-sects. According to one authority in Muslim Gujarat alone there are 130 categories listed - from the Sunni Bohra to the Khatri and the Memon. Unbeknownest to millions a caste system pervades among Indian Muslims that ensures a Sheikh or a Syed is unlikely to marry a Qureshi or Bagban. Muslims in India are no more monolithic than Hindus though habitually one is inclined to treat them as one. That is why the fundamentalists among Muslims are allowed to get away with murder. There is constant carping on secularism. But why isn't there a uniform civil code? Is the Civil Code only for Hindus? It is more than half a century and yet for all the talk of a Common Civil Code, it ends up in the air. Why? Who speaks for Muslims? Or for Islam? Syed Shahabuddin? The Muslim Personal Law Board? The Shahi Imam? They all make noises. And the rest of the Muslim world is silent. Why? To initiate a better understanding about Islam and its teachings among non-Muslims a meeting of Muslim intellectuals was convened in Mumbai on 31 March.

Several encouraging voices were heard. One Maulana Talahaq Qasimi is reported to have said: "The country has become a sinking ship because of intolerance and misunderstanding between the majority and the minorities. We always accuse the Hindus of not being tolerant towards us, but do we ever ask ourselves how tolerant we are towards our brethren - forget the Hindus. Let us all assemble on a common platform with teachings from the Quran, Bhagwat Gita, Vedas and Puranas and have a dialogue... Let us drain poison from each others' mind and work towards a secular country". More and more Muslims are speaking on these lines and that is all for the good. Relations have been strained between Hindus and Muslims not just in Gujarat but all over the country for a variety of reasons, the main grouse against the Muslims being they have allowed themselves to be manipulated by the Congress, the Leftist parties and such political vermin as Mulayam Singh Yadav to the detriment of the Hindus.

Was all that opposition to a temple being raised in what is generally acknowledged as Ram Janmabhoomi, necessary? A distinguished Muslim, and an Advocate General of Maharashtra, Goolam Vahanvati, recently wrote (Asian Age, 23 March) to say that "the time has come for Muslims to acknowledge that so much can be achieved with grace". He went on to say: "It would be a matter of grace for the Muslims suo moto to accept the fact that irrespective of historical arguments over title, if the Hindus passionately believe that this is the birth place of Lord Ram, then this sentiment, by itself, is good enough. No further arguments really need to be gone into". Vahanvati quoted a 21-year old Muslim young man as saying: "What are we really fighting about? What do we hope to achieve by continuing this dispute over a piece of land if it means so much to the Hindus?" And he added: "This is the sentiment which is increasingly being echoed by a large number of Muslims today... For God's sake, let us all realise this dispute is not worth the loss of even one more human life. For God's sake let the dispute be resolved here and now". That is the voice of wisdom speaking. One R. Sheikh, writing in The Tribune (7 March) put it in another way. He wrote: "I personally believe a 'janmabhoomi' cannot be shifted because it is the birthplace of Lord Rama whereas a mosque, a temple and a church can be shifted. If our Prophet can sacrifice his son, why can we not respect the sentiment of others?". A historian and social activist, Hossainur Rahman, writing in The Statesman (30 March) put it this way: "We should discover a new source of unifying power without delay. Religious leaders have it wrong. Social thinkers will have to right the wrong..." This can be done immediately by a new Muslim leadership asserting itself and listen to the voice of reason. Communal tempers will die down quickly the moment Muslims willingly give up all claims to Ram Janmabhoomi.

The Muslim community thereafter can be richly compensated with both land and money to build an even more beautiful masjid elsewhere with the active cooperation of Hindus. Muslims must not let themselves be fooled by the so-called secularists. We have had enough of them. Islam is not in danger. True secularism is not, by any means, dead. Consider this story as reported in The Telegraph (March 3). In the early 17th century, the sixth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Hargovind had built a masjid for Muslims in a place called Sri Harigovindpur in Punjab's Gurdaspur district. The masjid would have crumbled had it not been restored in 1997 by a US-based Sikh Foundation. Some time in 1984 it had been converted into a gurdwara by the head of the Tarna Dal of the Nihangs. But the question of restoring the masjid to the Muslims came to the fore in February last year.

Talks started between Baba Kirtan Singh and secretary of the Central Wakf Council, Mohammad Rizwanul Haque. The Baba said he would be most happy to return the masjid to Muslims - and this was done. Muslims were overjoyed and after nearly 55 years, 'namaz' was offered in what has always been known as 'Guru ki Maseet' (Guru's masjid). Gurmeet Rai, head of the Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative who worked for the restoration of the Masjid with Sikh money is quoted as saying: "The structure signifies the true spirit of India. Its secular values. It was built by a Sikh guru". The masjid has gone back to Muslims but its security is guarded by the Nihangs.

If only a Ram Temple is built on the Janmabhoomi land and its security is guaranteed by the Muslims, it will redound to India's true secularism. By egging on Muslim fundamentalists to fight over the janmabhoomi issue the Leftists and pseudo-secularists have done untold harm to India's image. They must be isolated. Hindus and Muslims must come together to heal an ancient wound. It can be done. It has to be done. The Nihangs of Sri Hargovindpur under Baba Kirtan Singh have shown the way.

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