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.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Time to get rid of false secularism

By Dr Dipak Basu

In India, everyone is confused about the definition of secularism. They equate secularism with religious tolerance. Secularism is defined in the Webster's Dictionary as: "A system of doctrines and practices that rejects any form of religious faith and worship" or "The belief that religion and ecclesiastical affairs should not enter into the function of the State, especially into public education."

George Holyoake and Charles Bradlaugh were two leading secularists and atheists of England in the 19th century, from whom we have obtained the word 'secularism'. According to Holyoake, secularism implies complete elimination of religious elements from life. A secularist is someone who rejects every form of religious faith.

Thus, Guru Nanak, Sri Chaitanya, Swami Vivekananda, Ramkrishna Paramhansa, Sri Aurobindo, although highly tolerant and respectful of other religions, were not secularists. Similarly, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Subhas Bose, Maulana Azad, and Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan were not secularists, as they were devoted to their respective religions. Hindu religion, which teaches us to respect other religions, cannot be a secular entity as it is a religion.

The definition of secularism implies acceptance of "secular reasoning', which is utilitarianism of the English philosophers, Bentham and John Stuart Mill. According to Bentham "what is good is pleasure or happiness, ...therefore one state of affairs is better than another, if it involves a greater balance of pleasure over pain."

Hindu ideals are based on selfless work without expecting any rewards. "When work is done as sacred work, unselfishly, with a peaceful mind, without lust or hate, with no desire for reward, then the work is pure" (Ch 18, verse 23, Bhagwat Gita). Sri Krishna also said, when a man dwells on the pleasures of sense, the lust of possession arises, which leads to anger, ruin of reason and ultimate destruction (Ch 2, verse 62). Thus, secularism embodied in utilitarianism is against the Hindu ideals.

In India, secularism is translated as Dharma Nirapekhsa. The intended meaning of Dharma Nirapekhsa is equal treatment of all religions. However, the India Government does not treat all religions equally either. Equality before law (Article 14), prohibition of discrimination on the ground of religion (Article 15) and equality of opportunity in public employment or for holding any public office (Article 16) are there in theory in the Indian Constitution but a series of amendments to the Constitution make those inoperative.

Article 28(1) lays down that no religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of the State funds. However, Article 28 (3) permits a State-recognised or a State-aided school to give religious instruction or to hold religious worship provided no student is compelled. Religious schools receive generous grants. Purely religious educations in madrasas for the Muslims are considered equivalent to the standard secular education.

Articles 29 and 30 went beyond equal protection by giving special economic, legal, and political privileges to Christianity and Islam in the name of 'minority protection' and 'secularism'. Even religious pilgrimage of the Muslims can be subsidised by the State. The 1981 Act on the Aligarh Muslim University describing it as an institution to promote the Muslims and established by and for the Muslims is fundamentally against every premises of secularism.

Indira Gandhi started the practice of giving Iftar parties for the Muslims during Ramadan. Now political leaders compete with against each other to throw lavish parties at national and State capitals. Former Muslim president of India, Zakir Hussain established a mosque inside the Presidential Palace. Religious groups like Muslim League and Akali Dal, and various maulanas and muftis are elected to high positions in the Government. Muslim League is a part of the current 'secular' Government of Manmohan Sing. Thus, in no sense can India profess religious neutrality.

There is hardly any secular state anywhere in the world. A few countries like the US, France, Turkey are officially declared secular, but a closer examination may reveal that these countries are not that religiouly neutral either.

There is hardly any secular state anywhere in the world. A few countries like the US, France, Turkey are officially declared secular, but a closer examination may reveal that these countries are not that religiously neutral either.

Secularism in the US

The Constitution explicity calls for the separation of church and State. However, the overwhelmingly Christian population allows for some lapses in this policy: for example, money bears the words " In God we trust", and the Pledge of Allegiance includes the phrase "under God".

In the US, the First Amendment (1791), confirms the religious neutrality in the Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition government for a redressal of their grievances."

However, there are traces of non-secular legal systems in the States of the US. In the South Carolina Constitution, Protestantism is specifically noted as their State religion, and even election of clergy as part of a State election process. The Pennsylvania Constitution advocates religious work for building human virtues.

Secularism in the UK

In England, there is a close alliance between the church and the State. The church of England became independent of the Pope in the 16th Century and is the official church of England.

The monarch of England is the head of the church. Though there is religious freedom in England, the Church of England has a special status inasmuch as the Monarch of England must join in communion with the church. Though there is religious freedom in England a Catholic or any one who marries a Catholic cannot be the Monarch of England. The Established Church in Scotland is the Presbyterian Church and the General Assembly of that Church is the supreme legislative and judicial body. Higher levels of priests (Bishops and Arch-Bishops) are automatically members of the Upper House (House of Lords) of the British Parliament and thus, take part in the legislative process.

Secularism in Russia

In Russia today, these three religions—Christianity, Islam and Buddhism—are officially patronised as well, but orthodox Christianity has the supreme position. Just like the USSR, Russia pays for salaries of the priests, maintains the places of worships, and builds new churches.

Secularism in Germany

In Germany the State collects taxes for two Christian groups, while other religious or atheist groups have to collect their membership fees without the help of the State. Furthermore, there are religious lessons at school given by the State, but only for those two Christian religions. Communists are not allowed to teach in schools or an academy in the university. Thus, there is neither secularism, nor non-discriminations.

Secularism in Japan

Since the 6th century until 1934, Buddhism was the State religion of Japan. In 1934, after a military coup in which the elected prime minister of Japan was killed, Buddhism was banned and Shinto, the original Japanese religion became the state religion. After 1945, in the new Constitution of Japan, religion and the affairs of the State were separated. However, Shinto priests still preside over all inaugurations and public ceremonies. Buddhists have their own political party which collaborates with the ruling party.

Secularism in Turkey

Turkey is supposed to be the only secular Muslim country, but it is a specific kind of secularism, which excludes all non-Muslims. During 1915 to 1925, the Ottoman Empire and particularly, Kamal Attaturk committed genocides against the non-Muslim Armenians and Greeks, in which about 2.5 millions Armenians and Greeks were killed. As a result, there are hardly any non-Muslims today in Turkey.

In the so-called secular Turkey,all religious affairs are carried out by a central government organisation, namely the Department of Religious Affairs, established in 1924. The function of this organisation is to carry out tasks related to the beliefs, divine services and moral principles of Islam, and to enlighten citizens on religious matters. One cannot take the Bhagwat Gita to Turkey.

Muslims and Secularism

Muslims in India are the most vocal supporters of secularism. Even members of religious groups like Babri Masjid Action Committee, Syed Shahbuddin, and Prof. Irfan Habib claim to be secular and Marxist. However, secularism has no support in Islam.

According to Islam, what Mohammed spoke is the law that controls everything in the Universe. The Rule of Allah (Shariah) is compulsory and has basic laws and regulations that cannot be changed.

Ancient India and Secularism

In ancient India, the functions of the priest and king were separated. The priestly function belonged to the Brahmins while the political and administrative functions were vested with the Kshatriyas. The king was expected to encourage piety and virtue and aid religious institutions. Government was not based on a theocracy and considerable impartiality was practiced in the treatment accorded to various sects—irrespective of the sect to which a king belonged. Ancient India was tolerant towards all religions, was equidistant from all religions, and generally gave equal promotion to all religions. Thus, the foundations of religious tolerance are indigenous to India. Max Weber put it thus "It is an undoubted fact that in India, religions and philosophical thinkers were able to enjoy perfect, nearly absolute freedom for long period. The freedom of thought in ancient India was so considerable as to find no parallel in the west before the most recent age." (The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism, Free Press Publishers, Glencoe, Illinois, U.S.A.)

Analysis

India is not secular if we accept the true meaning of the term, India is not religiously neutral or Dharma Nirapeksha either. Existence of differential legal system for different communities and reservation systems based on caste make India discriminatory. India particularly discriminates against the Hindu religion and Hindu ideals in the name of secularism.

Absence of religious learning in the schools in India in the name of secularism has the effect of creating a new generation which is hedonistic and without any moral values.

In Bhagwat Gita Sri Krishna said very clearly, "Even those who in faith worship other gods, because of their love they worshop me, although not in the right way" (Ch 9, verse23). That is the reason why Swami Vivekananda declared that Hinduism is the only religion that respects other religions.

Just like in the UK, US, Germany, and France and indeed in other developed countries, the legal system in India should have uniform criminal and civil laws for all religions, tribes, castes, and races. When millions of Muslims in the US, UK, France, Russia, and Germany can live under a unified legal system, why do Muslims in India raise an objection.

Positive discriminations for the disadvantageous groups should be based on poverty and physical disability only, irrespective of religion, caste, tribe, or language.

All citizens must be allowed to take up employments or to live anywhere in India. Special status of Jammu & Kashmir, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalya, and Arunachal Pradesh must be removed.

Communal political parties, like Muslim League, and parties with direct links with the terrorists must be banned. Recognition of their existence itself is discriminatory against their victims.

In Indian political system, secularism is a hypocritical word to demonstrate gross bias in favour of Muslims and tribal Christians. It also has the effect of making the evil caste system, a permanent feature.

It would be absurd for India to claim to be morally superior for its secular pretensions.

(The writer is Professor in International Economics, Nagasaki University, Japan. Email: Bose66@hotmail.com)

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