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.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Origin and meaning of secularism

Secularism Debate
By K.K. Gupta, IFS (Retd.), Former Secretary, NCST, GoI

It is a well documented fact that the word secularism has been coined by a British writer, namely, George Holyoake (1817-1906). The British writer first used this term in 1846 to promote a social order separate from religion, without actively dismissing or criticising religious belief. Nineteenth century British/European history is well known for liberation of state/society from the undue dominance of church or in other words this century was the Age of Enlightenment. It was in this context that the term secularism was coined.

George Holyoake’s 1896 publication, English Secularism, defines secularism as:

“Secularism is a code of duty pertaining to this life, founded on considerations purely human, and intended mainly for those who find theology indefinite or inadequate, unreliable or unbelievable. Its essential principles are three:
  1. The improvement of this life by material means.
  2. That science is the available providence of man.
  3. That it is good to do good.
Whether there be other good or not, the good of the present life is good, and it is good to seek that good.” As explained in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, the term connotes;…‘that certain practices or institutions should exist separately from religion or religious belief’; ‘…it asserts the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, and freedom from government imposition of religion upon the people, within a state that is neutral on matters of belief, and gives no state privileges or subsidies to religions’; ‘…it refers to a belief that human activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be based on evidence and fact rather than religious influence’; ‘…in European laicism, it has been argued that secularism is a movement towards modernisation, and away from traditional religious values’; ‘…in United States, some argue that state secularism has served to a greater extent to protect religion from governmental interference, while secularism on a social scale is less prevalent’; ‘…within countries as well, differing political movements support secularism for varying reasons’; ‘…in political terms, secularism is a movement towards the separation of religion and government’; ‘…secularism can also be the social ideology in which religion and supernatural beliefs are not seen as the key to understanding the world and are instead segregated from matters of governance and reasoning…and in this sense, secularism can be involved in the promotion of science, reason, and naturalistic thinking’.

It is thus evident that the true meaning of the term secularism is more of philosophical and sociological nature rather than political. The pseudo-secularists, with calculated designs, have deliberately given this term a communal blend for bane political considerations by wrongly coining the Hindi version of this term as dharamnirpeksh. It has been done on the premise that the term ‘secular’ emanates from ‘dharma’. That this premise is totally unfounded would be quite evident from the following points:

  1. ‘Dharma’ connotes the ethical, moral and spiritual values;

  2. The Hindi version of the Constitutional Amendment Act (by which the term ‘secular’ was incorporated) mentions panthnirpeksh for the term ‘secular’;

  3. Our Vedic and epics literature from where the term ‘dharma’ originated in no way indicates only religious (certainly not communal) connotation of this term;

  4. The following quotes from the lectures of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya on Integral Humanism amply clarifies the real connotation of the term ‘dharma’ and also discerns it from the term ‘religion’:
  • “In Bharat the principles of ethics are termed as dharma—the laws of life”;
  • “The principles of ethics are not framed by any one, these are rather discovered”;

  • “The English word religion is not the correct word for dharma”;

  • “When nature is channeled according to the principles of dharma, we have culture and civilisation”;

  • “Religion means a creed or a sect and it does not mean dharma”;

  • “Dharma is very wide concept which concerns all aspects of life sustaining society”;

  • “The fundamental principles of dharma are eternal and universal. However, their implementation may differ according to time, place and circumstances”;

  • “The nearest equivalent of dharma can be ‘innate law’, though even that does not express the full meaning of dharma. Since dharma is supreme, our ideal of the state has been Dharma Rajya”.

In this backdrop, let us look at the approach being adopted by various political parties in India in the context of ‘secularism’:

Congress/leftists/other pseudo-secularists:
  • Malicious propaganda to wrongly project ‘secularism’ as ‘dharmnirpeksh’;

  • Appeasement of particular religious group purely with the objective of ‘vote bank’ politics rather than their real well wishers;

  • Wrong projection as being protector of the minorities, whereas the historical reality points to the contrary—numerous communal riots triggered during their regime, the most notable being the anti-Sikh riots of 1984;

  • Questioning the very fundamentals of Hinduism by countering the well established facts about the existence of Ram and Ramayana;

  • Maliciously branding the political opponents as ‘communal’ on the mere force of a false and baseless propaganda, deliberately launched immediately after attaining Independence in 1947 with the sinister objective of perpetuating single party/family rule in the country under the garb of democracy;

  • Misinterpreting the ideals/ideology/philosophy of the opposite political parties, especially the BJP, through unfounded propaganda so that people remain in dark not only about the real approach of BJP but also about their true protectors.

Bharatiya Janata Party

The philosophy of the Party—Integral Humanism—has been spelt out in the four lectures delivered by Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya and the main features are evident from the excerpts 4(a) to (h) above and the following additional excerpts:
  • “Here in Bharat, we have placed before ourselves the ideal of four fold responsibilities of catering to the needs of body, mind, intellect with a view to achieve the integrated progress of man”;
  • “The longings for dharma, artha, kama and moksha (the four kind of human efforts) are inborn in man and satisfaction of these in an integrated way is the essence of Bharatiya culture”;
  • “Unity in diversity and the expression of unity in various forms has remained the thought of Bharatiya culture”
  • “A nation is a group of persons who live with ‘a goal’, ‘an ideal’, ‘a mission’ and look upon a particular piece of land as the Motherland. If either of the two—the ideal and the motherland—is missing, then there is no nation”;
The following excerpts (the Oath) from the party’s Membership Form clearly spell the approach of BJP:
  • “I believe in Integral Humanism which is the basic philosophy of the Bharatiya Janata Party”;
  • “I am committed to nationalism and national integration, democracy, ‘Gandhian approach to socio-economic issues leading to the establishment of an egalitarian society free from exploitation’, positive secularism (Sarvadharma-samabhava) and value-based politics”;
  • “I subscribe to the concept of a secular state and nation not based on religion”.

From the above exposition, is it not logical to conclude that Bharatiya Janata Party is secular in the true sense of the term and projects the actual meaning of the term secularism as coined by the original author and as evolved historically?


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