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, August 18, 2005

Nation State or Dharmashala?

By R. Balashankar

Most of the problems India confronts today have their origin in the country’s Independence. We have inherited them with our freedom on August 15, 1947.

The freedom struggle against the British, which started in 1857, with the first War of Independence was also an exercise in defining our nationhood. The partition of India was a tragedy. It was artificial. It was the success and culmination of the two nation theory propounded by Muslim separatists, who were represented by the Muslim League, Aligarh Muslim University alumni, Deoband clergy and Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

The tragedy of partition could have been made into a golden opportunity to define our nationhood. If the composite culture of India, the Hindu heritage and the Bharatiya identity were declared the foundations of this nationhood many problems of today would not have been there. It was convenient for the Congress rulers then to leave things vague. The British too played a role in keeping the bundle of pestering sores alive.

Independent India could have identified and clearly laid down the frontiers of this Nation State. The Constitution is the basis of this Nation State. We have accepted the tricolour as our national flag. We have a national anthem and a national song. We have a national language and a link language, we have an inviolable geographical boundary.

A whole lot of issues which are today traumatising the nation could have been settled long before if the leaders at the time of Independence had shown the political will. Instead, they left it to the future generations of India to settle, enclosing them as “Directive Principles’ in the Indian Constitution. The issues of Uniform Civil Code, ban on cow slaughter, equal wages for equal work, total prohibition and many others could have been settled with finality. Having been divided on religious lines to create a Muslim Pakistan we had every reason to enact laws that were in keeping with our national interest, security, pride and culture.

Directive Principles of State Policy are in Part IV of the Constitution. They are not justiciable i.e one cannot go to court over the rights mentioned in this chapter. These are the the guidelines of the Constitution makers for good governance and progressing towards a strong Nation State.

The cow is worshipped by Hindus. But in many parts of the country, cow is slaughtered and the revered animal is exported illegally for its meat. There have been several agitations in the country demanding a complete ban on cow and calf slaughter. These have been mainly spearheaded by sants and religious leaders. But the successive governments have largely ignored the issue. Some states and religious groups behave as if slaughtering a cow is a matter of faith and pride. This, in the land of ahimsa, Buddha and the Mahatma.

Total prohibition is a far cry now, with the state governments (including the Delhi state) launching official vents. The revenue earned from liquor and the booty from the liquor contracts are too lucrative for the state to give up.

Women constitute more than half the workforce in the country. The early urban picture may have been slightly different. But in the labour intensive agriculture, construction and other sectors women have been working equal if not more. But even today, women are paid less than men. This provision of equal wage for equal work has been enshrined in the Directive Principles, and are yet to be implemented.

Uniform Civil Code is an issue which the politicians avoid like a mine field. They circumvent it, sidestep and never address it. A number of issues of serious concern, like women’s rights, equal justice, equal opportunity, ban on conversions by enticement, population policy, dowry and marriage and other civil laws are being subverted in the absence of a Uniform Civil Code. All unifying aspects of Nation State get ignored and diversity is emphasised from all possible platforms.

There is very little incentive to learn Sanskrit, the treasure house of our knowledge and heritage. But state funded madrasas teach foreign languages alien culture and semitic adventurism. More than 59 years after Independence the people of India are divided along religious lines in the eye of the judiciary, law and the legal system. For the same offence against women, a Muslim gets a different ruling and a Hindu gets a different ruling and so does a Christian. The recent spate of women abuse in the country has once again highlighted the need for a Uniform Civil Code.

Of the 19 Directive Principles, only the ones on Village Panchayat and Right to Education have been made into law. The others like participation of workers in management, separation of judiciary from executive, public health, free legal aid, universal humane working conditions, maternity relief and protection of environment and wildlife have remained just pious goals of the Constitution of India.

These are all issues confronting the nation, challenging the concept of India as a secular Nation State. The people who live in this country are expected to be loyal—worshipful—of the identities of our nationhood. And what are they? Has anyone attempted to define them?

Have we even launched a national campaign to propagate and popularise—create wider awareness of these concepts? Except for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and a few other nationalist organisations nobody bothers to campaign on these issues. The Constitution enjoins upon us to adhere to these principles, implement them and ensure respect for them in the conduct of the citizens.

But day in and day out we see these are violated, defiled even challenged by fissiparous elements. Politicians are always pussyfooting on issues of national honour. Divisive elements get a fillip whenever a government panders to divided loyalties. Reservations based on religion have no constitutional sanction. People or organisations challenging the integrity of the nation, asking for special rights or autonomous status are drilling a hole in the heart of the Indian Nation State. There should be no place for Article 370, for instance, in a free secular democracy. It was meant to be temporary.

Indians, especially Hindus are a very tolerant lot. We take a lot of nonsense, violence and even intimidation in our stride. But this tolerance should not be mistaken for timidity.

A recent survey in The Guradian said every two out of three Muslims in Britain want to leave that country after the 7/7 serial blasts! This is the result of the social and administrative pressure and communal ostracisation on that religious group. The open discrimination against the citizens who are colour different. One instance of terrorist violence where 58 people were killed and 700 injured has changed the attitude of an entire nation to a recalcitrant minority.

Compare this with the Indian response. For decades we have been facing Muslim terrorism, in which nearly 70,000 Indian lives have been lost. A religious minority in the North-east is encouraging militant insurgency. Yet, we have a political system that pampers minorityism in the name of vote bank. We allow millions of Bangladeshi infiltrators, to destroy our social fabric, destabilise our border states and imposes a debilitating burden on the economy. India once offered asylum for the tormented and persecuted. Now it is fast becoming a dharmashala. If India has to exist as a nation, we have to insist and enforce, that every individual living in this country has to unequivocally declare affinity, respect and commitment to the symbols of the Indian Nation State, the national flag, national song, the Constitution and geographic integrity. Our national heros have to be recognised and respected. And national sentiments honoured. This is the message of this Independence Day special.

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