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, March 01, 2005

More secular than thou!

KHUSHWANT SINGH | Tuesday, March 01, 2005 11:18:43 IST
Aiyar is an atheist; Shourie a Hindu who rejects the existence of a compassionate God, subscribes to the Buddha's belief in all pervading dukh and visits Sufi dargahs

None of our languages have an exact equivalent for the word secular. It means something quite different in western democracies which are almost entirely Christian than in the Indian context: India, though predominantly Hindu, has a sizeable population of Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. So far I have arrived at only two means of deciding whether a person is or is not secular. One, anyone who subscribes to no religious belief is an atheist or an agnostic, is per force secular. Their numbers don't count because most Indians are proud of belonging to one or the other religion. My second test is even more down to earth and relevant to our present state. When it comes to the nitty gritty, what determines whether or not a person is secular is his or her attitude towards the minority communities, mostly towards Muslims who matter much more than Christians or Sikhs. I have a further test: anyone who did not condemn L.K. Advani's rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya and the destruction of the Babri Masjid is anti-Muslim and has no right to call himself or herself secular. This may sound somewhat arbitrary, but I stand by it. I also sought further enlightenment. So I went through Mani Shankar Aiyar's Confession Of A Secular Fundamentalist (Penguin Viking). It is a pretty comprehensive collection of articles embracing different points of view on the subject.

I will confine myself to a dialogue between Aiyar and Arun Shourie which took place in September 1995 and forms the first chapter of his book. I do so because I regard both Aiyar and Shourie as the brightest, cleanest and the most well-read and well-informed men in their respective parties. Aiyar is a minister in Manmohan Singh's Congress-led government; Shourie threw his lot with the mosque-breakers' party and was a minister in Vajpayee's BJP led government. Aiyar is an atheist; Shourie a Hindu who rejects the existence of a compassionate God (he has good reasons to do so) subscribes to the Buddha's belief in all pervading dukh (sorrow) and visits Sufi dargahs. He has also written books which hurt the sentiments of Dalits, Christians and Muslims. Aiyar chose to confront him on his views on Islam and Indian Muslims. Aiyar put it to Shourie as bluntly as he could:

"Does being a Muslim makes it more difficult to be an Indian than being a Hindu makes it to be an Indian?"

Shourie replied: "Adhering to Islam in purity would make it impossible to live in a multicultural, multi-religious society and still abide by the tenets of Islam. But for a Hindu..."

Aiyar pressed his point further: "If you're faithful to the edicts of Islam as enshrined in the Koran and the Shariat, you would have difficulty in being a good Indian."

Shourie answered in the affirmative and went further in defining a good Muslim: "If 'good Muslim' means brotherhood of man and so on, then there is no difficulty.

But if it means, as 1,000 verses in the Koran say, 'Spread Islam, have nothing to do with these Kafirs, kill them, they are untrustworthy, they are unclean, then?

The Hadith is full of this. There are rewards for killing the kafir. If this is a good Muslim, then a multi-religious society in India would become impossible."

I leave it to the readers to decide which of these two men are really secular.

Generally speaking

The day I read of General J.J. Singh's appointment as Chief of Army Staff, I got in touch with Munzar Khan, Head of the Oxford University Press which has published my two volumes of History & Religion of the Sikhs to include his name and photograph in the updated version due to publish soon. I acquired the General's bio-data and photograph. He is the first Sikh to become COAS. His appointment puts an end to the false propaganda carried on by a few bigots that by not entrusting a Sikh to the highest post in the army, successive governments betrayed an anti-Sikh bias. Two sikhs have been Air Chief Marshalls and Sikhs are more than adequately represented in all the three defence services. It could be maintained that there was more bias in favour of Sikhs than against them.

General J.J. Singh has not started well. The language he used e.g. "I am a ruthless soldier," is more becoming from a Nihang prone to indulge in braggadocio than the Head of modern army. His orders for everyone working under him to wear combat dress on Fridays is fatuous beyond belief. He has gone further and published his achievements as a marksman and has a plaque put up in his name. He should know better: Soldiers never brag; it is not done, it is not pukka. Since neither the Prime Minister nor the President have yet told him to keep his mouth shut and get on with his job, I feel the media should do so. If he goes on like this, he will end up by adding to the corpus of Sardarji jokes.

Salvation seekers

Longing to have Darshan of a DeviStriving to have dip in a sacred riverHundreds of devotees die in a stampedeOften do such mishaps occur!To achieve their hearts' desireDevotees choose a short, narrow pathThey want to wash away their sinsWith a single holy bath!

A stampede in a mammoth crowdCan cause havoc, can you deny?Pilgrims may or may not attain salvationBut won't they all together die?

Courtesy: G.C. Bhandari, Meerut

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