Pseudo-Secularism

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, February 20, 2005

WHITHER SECULARISM ?

Shri C.V.Narasimhan

Introduction

1. 'Secularism' and 'Secular forces' have now become catchwords in our politics. Some parties have labelled themselves as 'secular' and project their opposing parties as communal and non-secular. In particular, the Hindutva ideology and culture stressed by the BJP is termed communal by the Congress and Communists who project their brand of socialism as secular. During elections these slogans have an emotional impact on sections of people. The poor and ignorant are carried away by the socialist promises while large sections of the middle and upper classes in the Hindu fold are impressed by the Hindutva call in the context of aggressive postures of non-Hindu groups who had enjoyed patronage under the British raj and the Nehru government after Independence. While electoral battles are fought on emotive issues, people have generally remained unaware of the hard factors that govern the economic well-being and progress of the Nation as a whole. These factors have suffered neglect over the decades. Values and ethics in performance of work in all sectors of community life have been badly eroded. Religion in the past had held people together by certain codes of conduct and practice of Dharma in community life, but the deliberate marginalisation of religion, specially the Hindu faith, in people's lives by the so-called secular government after Independence has badly weakened the role of Hinduism, as a religion and way of life, in shaping the conduct of its aherents and promoting among them the values from our rich heritage and culture.

Denigration of Hindu religion

2. The important role of religion in strengthening the fabric of society has not been appreciated by our people. Many English educated persons among the Hindus themselves consider it a matter of fashion to refer to a pious observance of Hindu religious practices as orthodox and conservative and therefore regressive. Little is done by them to project before their own people the lofty thoughts and perceptions embedded in Hindu philosophy and their universality. The other religions like Islam and Christianity do not suffer this handicap. Further, their clergy are duly structured with a well-defined hierachy who have a strong hold and influence over their respective communities. On the other hand the priestly class in the Hindu fold are relatively ill-informed about the higher levels of thoughts and concepts in their religion, and are ordered about by the community to suit its 'materialist' convenience! Rituals performed by Hindus have become oriented towards individual's material progress and welfare. There is little emphasis on social conduct and behaviour. The ethics flowing from Hindu philosophy have got relegated to the background. All these factors have weakened the structure and cohesion of the Hindu society. Since Hindus constitute more than 80% of India's population, their weakness has made India a soft target for intrusions and trampling by aggressive outsiders over several years. We should all now take a critical look at our'religious' situation and initiate steps to restore religion to its rightful place of dignity and pride to guide the conduct of people for securing the strength, welfare and progress of Indian society as a whole.

Secularism defined

3. Quite many people, specially in present day politics, interpret secularism to imply agnosticism or atheism. This is a wholly distorted view. It is also absurd to extol secularism as a fundamental attribute that should inform all activities in the community. Several activities of the common people in daily life, individually or collectively, are linked with their religious affiliations.determined either by birth or by choice influenced by factors encountered in adult life. Rituals and practices specific to one religion may not always be open to followers of other religions. The society as a whole cannot therefore be viewed as secular in all its activities. It is only the machinery of administration symbolised by the State that can be secular, and has to be secular in a democracy. This is well clarified in the following observations made by Dr.S.Radhakrishnan as early as in 1954 when he was Vice-President.

"When India is said to be a secular State, it does not mean that we as a people reject the reality of an Unseen Spirit or the relevance of religion Ito life or that we exhalt irreligion. It does not mean that secularism itself becomes a positive religion or that the State assumes divine prerogatives. Though faith in the Supreme Spirit is the basic principle of the Indian tradition, our State will not identify itself with or be controlled by any particular religion. This view of religious impartiality has a prophetic role to play within our national life. No group of citizens shall arrogate to itself rights and privileges which it denies to others. No person shall suffer any form of disability or discrimination because of his religion. All alike will be free to share to the fullest degree in the common life. This is the meaning of secularism".

Nehru era

4. In the first two decades after Independence Jawaharlal Nehru's own agnostic view of life dominated the State's disposal of all matters concerning Hinduism as a religion and Hindus as a community. The concept of secularism was taken to extreme lengths. A poignant example could be cited at the Kumbabishekam of Meenakshi temple at Madurai in 1963. It was a major event for Hindus and drew several lakhs of devotees from all over the country. President Radhakrishnan had programmed to be present at the holy celebration but it was cancelled at the last minute, apparently at the instance of Nehru who presumably deemed it offensive to the concept of secularism! It is interesting to note that a few years earlier Nehru himself had participated in an important function at Sarnath connected with some relics of Buddha which had drawn a large number of Buddhists from abroad as well. The point to be noted is that it was Hinduism that suffered most from the ultra secularism of the Nehru era. That has to be set right now.

5. It will also be relevant id recall here the likely 'inner situation' of Nehru in his last days. Michael Edwards has written a critical and objective biography of Nehru which is published as a Pelican book. The following is extracted from it :- "Those close to him at this time (1964) recalled after his death that Nehru was withdrawn, speaking seldom to anyone and radiating an aura of sadhess. He seemed also to be moving even further away from the agnosticism of his middle age. During the years in which he had sought to identify more and more with Indian Tndia, he had^moved closer to religion. His hatred of religious communalism had kept him away from formal faith but had not prevented him from trying to create a personal "syncretism that would satisfy both his desire for traditional roots in the Hindu world and his belief in progressive socialism. Intellectual rationalisation he had found in Vivekananda's ideal of selfless service. With it he had tried to articulate socialism with an Indian voice". Politicians of the day who swear by Nehru will do well to ponder over the above analysis of Nehru's mind as it had evolved towards the close of his life, .They should cry halt to destructive politics and participate in rejuvenating the people of this great country to progress in the modem world retaining their spiritual roots in the religious philosophy of our ancient heritage andculture.

Observation of Rajaji, Alfred Marshall and others

6. The importance of our ancient 'heritage and culture in the present times was succinctly brought out by Rajaji when he said in a public lecture at Mumbai in 1963:- "If there is any honesty in India today, any hospitality, any chastity, any philanthropy, any tenderness to the dumb creatures, any aversion to evil, any love to do good, it is due to whatever remains of the old faith and the old culture".

7. The great economist Alfred Marshall in the opening chapter .of his work 'Principles of Economies' has said: "The two great forming agencies of the world's history have been the religious and the economic. Here and there the' ardour of the military or the artistic spirit has been for^a while predominant, but religious and economic influences have nowhere been displaced from the front rank even for a time and they have nearly always been more important than all others put together".

8. In the book "The New Realities' by Peter F. Drucker, the Management gum of the West, published in 1989, he has made the following significant observations:-'The strong resurgence of religion as an element in public life in the United States, the resurgence of evangelical and pastoral chue6hes;?'is in some measure a reaction against the disappearance of the secular faith in salvatiols by society".

"Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant".

"Because management deals with the integration of people in a common venture, it is deeply embedded in culture. Therefore, one of the basic challenges managers in a developing country face is to find and identify those parts of their own tradition, history and culture that can be used as management building blocks"

9. John W. Gardner, the celebrated author of the book titled 'Excellence' has said the following in his another book 'The Recovery of Confidence'. "The first step towards the reconstruction of personal and social values is the re-discovery of values in one's own tradition".

10. Dag Hammerskjold, who was a distinguished Secretary-General of the United Nations (1953-61-) and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1961, was a religious believer. At the age of forty nine, he wrote: "The language of religion is a set of formulae which register-a basic spiritual, experience. It must not be regarded as describing in philosophical terms he reality which-is accessible to our senses and which we can analyse with the tools of logic. I was late in understanding what this meant. When I finally reached that point, the beliefs in which I was once brought up and which, in fact, had given my life direction even while my intellect challenged their validity were recognised by me as mine by my free choice".

11. I have quoted at length from these eminent men to highlight the importance of religion in the modern context in promoting a value system to sustain a developing society. A further point to be stressed is that the religion in which one is brought up is best suited to play this role.

Hinduism : The Mother Religion

12. This brings us to the concept of mother-religion on the same line as other similar and familiar concepts of mother-tongue and mother-land. Religion, language and culture are referred to in some Artciles of our Constitution. The language of the community group in which one is born is recognised by all as his mother-tongue. Emotional attachment to one's mother-tongue is accepted as rational and normal. Government also accepts the primacy of the mother-tongue as the medium of instruction, specially at the school level Language, culture and religion of any group of people are all inter-related in the sense that literary and cultural activities reflect in a good measure the background of religious philosophy and attitudes of the people. One cannot talk of preserving the rich heritage and culture of a people without duly recognising the important role of religion in people's lives. Emotional attachment to one's mother-religion should be accepted as rational and in keeping with the natural urge within mankind. Holding religion as irrelevant to a modernising society, 'pushing it to the background and trampling on it by State administration are detrimental to the society. Hinduism has suffered badly by such treatment over the last several decades. The words "Socialist" and "Secular" were added to the Preamble to the Constitution by an Act of 1976 during the Emergency. The word' 'Socialist' has a clearly understood connotation linked with social objectives, but the word 'Secular' cannot be viewed in the same light. In fact, there was no need to have added this word in the Preamble since Articles 15, 16, 25, 26, 27 and 28 were already there, and continue to there, to ensure secular administration. The special amendment to include 'Secular' in the Preamble itself makes one doubt if it was to pave the way for further legislation to ban all organised religious activities in the country. Propagation of Hindu faith alone would be affected by such moves since the other religions would be protected by their minority status under Articles 29 and 30. It is time that Hinduism got freed from such grim possibilities of State interference.

Renascent Hinduism: Swami Vivekananda

13. Resurgence of Hinduism does not mean revival of discriminatory and exploitative practices and social customs which had plagued it in the past centuries under influence from vested interests in the caste system. A renaissance is immediately called for in Hinduism, somewhat similar to the Reformation in Christianity. Swami Vivekananda's exposition of the Vedantic core of Hinduism provides the ideal guiding star for the reformatory movement. His interpretation of Hindu philosophy stressed four important elements, namely -

• essence of religion relates to attitude of mind and not the physical response of the body,
• social service with genuine concern for the poor and hungry should be an integral
part of a religious life, » awareness of the spiritual presence within oneself, and
• sincerity, straight-forwardness and troth in all one's dealings.

These tenets should be brought home to every Hindu for observance in life in the modem context.

Religion and value-oriented education

14. Nowadays there is much talk of value-oriented education. Values cannot be explained and imparted to the young against a blank background. It has to be done in the context of something linked with their daily life. Religions all the world over have provided an excellent context for this purpose. All the philosophy, mythology, social customs and inter-action within the community on festive occasions associated with religion provide a good base for propagating universal values to be observed in life. Religion should therefore be given its due place in our administrative structure and system. The wholly materialist Communist regimes in Russia and China have lately recognised the value of religion in keeping the community together under an emotional bond, and have revived churches, monasteries and other institutions associated with worship. We have a lesson to learn from their experience.

Essentials of Hindu philosophy

15. The essentials of Hindu philosophy as interpreted by modem thinkers are: -

• the existence of a Supreme Spirit as the primordial cause for all that is manifest in the universe,
• the concept of a soul within every being in creation, and the presence of Divinity in the soul,
• the law of Karma which stipulates the inevitability of one having to suffer the consequences of one's own action,
• the spiritual dimension of every life, and
• the primacy of love and compassion in working life to secure harmony in all that is manifest in creation.

The above principles are mostly common to other religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism that have sprung from the Indian soil.

Religious reformation blocked by politics

16. When attempts are now made by well motivated groups of people to revive awareness of the basic concepts flowing from our heritage and culture to reform our way of life and conduct of public affairs, power crazy and self-centred politicians immediately label these efforts as anti-secular and communal This is a diabolic distortion contrived by ruthless Machiavellian groups in politics. This has to be put down by an awakened public.

Spirituality in Hindu philosophy

17. The evolution of mankind has always included the process of a constant inquiry into the ultimate cause of all perceived phenomena. Different religions have appeared at different times in the world to reflect the apparent result of such inquiry by different groups of people. Hindu philosophy is acknowledged as the oldest among the religious philosophies, and is estimated high for the loftiness of its concepts, the sweep of its analysis and the universality of its application. The emphasis it lays on the mind and spirit as distinct from the mere physical body is a remarkable insight into the nature of things. Dr. Abdul Kalam, a Bharat Ratna, who has pioneered our nuclear weaponry research and brought our defence preparedness to a very high degree of efficiency, has noted in his recently published autobiography that 'For me, science has always been the path to spiritual enrichment and self-realization". The book further brings out that the philosophy of his working life has also been influenced by Bhagvad Gita. Hindus are heir to a great philosophy that is now coming to be seen as more universally relevant and meaningful to modem life than ever before. The average Indian's thoughts, culture and behaviour are substantially based on the core of Hindu philosophy. It is the duty of all elders to do all they can to ensure that the younger generation do not miss to imbibe all that is good in this sublime philosophy.

Tamil Nadu situation

18. The situation in Tamil Nadu has some special features. The Dravidian movement was started in the 1930's principally as a social reform movement for the removal of highly discriminatory and degrading social practices that operated against certain depressed classes. It was then appropriately referred to as Self-Respect movement and the allied party was called Justice Party. However, the movement soon got directed towards posts and positions of power in government and public life, and the elimination of disproportionate dominance of Brahmins in that sector. It then became an anti-Brahmin movement and acquired a distinct urban orientation. Since Brahmins were mostly associated with religious practices, specially in urban centres, the movement also acquired a distinct anti-religious dimension. It is however interesting to recall that the idol breaking campaign launched by EVR Periyar was directed against Vinayakar idols only. It is the identity of God Muruga or Goddess Mariamman that is associated width religious perceptions and practices in the rural areas and any desecration of their idols might have led to unpredictable situations. Vinayakar workship was not native to the villages in the south and therefore Vinayakar idol breaking campaign did not affect the rural areas where the innate religious feelings of the people remained undisturbed and continue to remain in good measure even now.

19. In the midst of such urban-centred activities the discriminatory social situation in the paral areas went out of focus. In the fight for participation and leading positions in administration and public life, the DMK and the ADMK were born and later became full-fledged political parties seeking positions of power in government. Since the original objective of social reform at the grass roots got blurred in this process, the discriminatory practices based on castes and sub-castes continued in the villages, leading to violent confrontations and serious disturbances to public peace. It is only now the Dravidian party leaders have woken up to the realities of the pervasive caste situation with all its ramifications and are desperately seeking remedial measures. The time is now ripe for the native but dormant religious feelings among the rural people to be revived and guided to grow on reformed lines towards an egalitarian society, bound by an abiding value system.

HR & CE Act of Tamil Nadu

20. The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act of Tamil Nadu enables the State to control the affairs of Hindu temples. Over the years, it has led to undue interference with temple affairs and the conduct of its rituals. This is the lot of Hindu temples only, and not churches and mosques. Article 26 of the Constitution gives freedom to every religious denomination to maintain its religious institutions. The only limitation mentioned in the Article is that the interests of public order, morality and health should not be affected. When these three factors are not at all involved in the running of temples, why should Hindu temples alone be subjected to a highly restrictive and intruding legislation? This matter merits a writ petition to the High Court or Supreme Court to test the vires of the Act and settle the issue.

Action plan

21. The present Situation in the country calls for an action plan to cover the following, among other things:-

(i) Value education programmes in schools should make substantial use of the supportive material available in our own religious literature. This methodology should be duly recognised by the State.

(ii) Parents should be made aware of the spiritual content of Hinduism, as perceived in the renascent view expounded by Swami Vivekananda and other modem philosophers including Dr.Radhakrishnan. Special lectures and discussion sessions for this purpose should be arranged by school authorities. This would secure healthy parental influence at home to foster genuine religious attitudes and feelings among children.

(iii) Managements of schools run by religious organisations and those run by other social service bodies should meet periodically and evolve programmes for strengthening the religious base for value-oriented education.

(iv) People should be made aware of the mischievous tactics adopted by some political groups to overplay the secular card and prevent the revival of our own heritage and culture. This should make people see that such tactics are only a ruse for self-centred groups and cliques to seize and retain power. People should remain vigilant against such tactics and secure the Nation's identity, integrity and progress.

(v) The intelligentsia should not remain silent witnesses to the deliberate and destructive distortion of the religious situation of the people. They should actively participate in educating the people about the relevance of religion in the modern context. Study group meetings, discussions, letters to the press and all such media should be availed for this purpose.

(vi) A lot of literature is now available, which points out the remarkable similarity between the thoughts and perceptions in the core of Hindu philosophy and the concepts and perceptions disclosed by deep research in modem science. There are also well-written books clarifying the rationale of Hinduism to a doubting modern mind. All such books should be listed out and circulated to school authorities for being added to school libraries. Presents to bridal couples at weddings and prizes to students in schools and colleges may invariably include a book or two of this kind.

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