The Spirit of Secularism

Communalism, casteism, regionalism and all sinister ‘isms’ have created preposterous and unnecessary ripples and tussles in the society. The vast presence of inequality and intolerance has given way to a gigantic amount of despondency which seems to indicate that insanity is ruling the roost but even amidst all this gloom, one is overawed with optimism when an institution named after an orthodox Hindu emperor who banned cow slaughter invites a Muslim as Chief Guest on its Annual Function and in his keynote address, the Chief Guest talks of Goddess Saraswati before honouring and giving away prizes to all meritorious students irrespective of their religious or regional affiliations. One starts believing in co-existence when a Professor hailing from Purvanchal openly denounces the political separatism being propagated by Purvanchali leaders with the intention of polarizing voters in East Delhi and one starts believing in togetherness when a UP’ite, Kashmiri and Punjabi sit down together, talk of contentious issues like separatism in Kashmir and insurgency in Punjab during the 80’s, listen to each other peacefully, are humble enough to disagree without being in disagreement and sign off with hugs and handshakes. Proud to be a part of an institution which practices what it preaches. A big salute to Maharaja Agrasen College, a bonafide beacon of secularism.

Ram Sethu Controversy

The Central Government seems to be obsessed and infatuated with the theme of status quoism wherein they try to strategically put every contentious issue into the cold storage. This dodgy behaviour is nothing but an appease-all ploy by means of making concocted committees and coming up with pseudo assurances.

Once again a demand has been made to declare Ram Sethu a national monument, a bridge believed to have been built by Lord Ram’s army and is considered sacred by Hindus. There’s no need to shelve the Sethusamudram project. An expert panel appointed by the Prime Minister and headed by RK Pachauri has already yielded and submitted a report in favour of executing the project through Dhanuskodi instead of Ram Sethu. Ram Sethu is considered holy by Hindus who constitute an astounding 83% of the population and it would be highly sacrilegious to tamper with an object considered divine by over a billion people.

Karunanidhi was once blasphemous enough to ridicule Lord Ram by saying from which engineering college had he graduated when he was defending the need for his pet Sethusamudram project. This kind of religious torment for the sake of development cannot be accepted in a pluralistic and secular polity. The Central Government should recognize Ram Sethu as a national monument and shouldn’t go ahead with any developmental activity which tampers or amends it in any form.

Hinduphobia Among India’s Liberals

On my way back to Allahabad, I grabbed two copies of the magazine, ‘Frontline’. Frontline has historically had the reputation of being a magazine of the ‘intellectuality elite’ and over the years, it has pioneered hardcore journalism in nearly all its issues. The former copy was dated ‘11-24 February’ and the latter one was dated ‘25 February-9 March’. The cover stories of the both the issues had a striking similarity. They were both related to the realm or ambit of the ideological philosophy of Hindutva politics.

One cover story was on how the RSS was carrying forward its Hindutva agenda on a milder basis by putting its core issues or demands of the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, abrogation of Article 370 and enactment of a uniform civil code on the backburner and instead, putting a forth a new agenda based on communalization of education and cow slaughter. The second issue was based on the 10th anniversary of the Gujarat riots which elaborated on how the riots were executed during those turbulent days and how many individuals are still trying to get the guilty behind bars. The prevalence of the poll season made me immediately suspect the timing and selection of both the cover stories. I realized that their contemporary compatibility wasn’t up to the mark. Doing a story on Gujarat riots on its tenth anniversary made sense to me but I wasn’t able to figure as to why did they do back to back stories on two similar themes which is certainly not the ideal business or journalistic practice?

I read one of the stories and came across excessive Hindutva bashing. In a few minutes I realized the pro-UPA leanings of the magazine which was evident because of its open admiration for 10 Janpath and 23 Akbar Road. It appeared as if Frontline was bent upon thwarting BJP’s campaign in the Assembly Elections by accusing them of majority communalism and by bringing to light their past faults and current communal activities. The bias was obvious but still I went ahead and read one copy which was related to the RSS’s new agenda. I had already read too much about the Gujarat riots and was no longer in a mood to take any more of it. In the cover story I found excessive Hindutva bashing as I mentioned earlier. I thought it was absurd and unreasonable.

The cover story said that the Sangh Parivar had instructed its political arm ie the BJP to make use of the anti-corruption crusade of Anna Hazare at the Union level and its State Governments to take up the cause of Hindutva by means of communal legislations. The magazine wrote on how the RSS was communalizing education by making children sing Hindu hymns, perform Surya Namaskar and by making reading of the Gita compulsory in schools run by it. I do not find this move communal at all. I am myself a product of a protestant school and for twelve years I remember repeatedly reciting the Lord’s Prayer of the Christians and also sung many carols. When one studies in an institution with religious affiliation, he must be ready to follow some of their traditions in schools and should not object to it. Another aspect that was highlighted was the Sangh Parivar’s missionary activities. This again sounded very ridiculous. The conversions were voluntary and not forced by the activists of the Sangh, so the question of indicting the Sangh did not arise. Another fact was brought to the table and that was of the various BJP State Governments trying to revive and promote Sanskrit. I did not find anything objectionable in this. Sanskrit is a dying language and if state governments belonging to the BJP are trying to resurrect and revive it by means of promotion then there is no need for anybody to be irked by it.

But yes, there were certain portions of the story which were indeed very alarming. The RSS can undertake any sort of teaching in its schools but they should not be of hateful nature. The article quoted an NCERT report which stated that the content in the books prescribed by the Sangh’s schools promoted bigotry and religious fanaticism. What was even more alarming was the fact as to how the BJP’s State Government in Madhya Pradesh was trying to communalize education in the schools of the state government. India happens to be a secular state and therefore, no government institution should make activities or practices belonging predominantly to the Hindus, compulsory in schools. For example in many government schools the Government was trying to make performing of Surya Namaskar, singing of Hindu hymns and reading the Gita compulsory as was prevalent in RSS’s schools. This is not acceptable because government institutions are not supposed to have religious bias. This sort of a curriculum can be made optional for students but they cannot afford to make it mandatory for all.

Another example which was very worrying was the one related to Gujarat. In Gujarat, government schools have introduced a chapter which traces Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s life journey to further strengthen his popularity. Government schools cannot be used as propaganda tools and this needs to be stopped. This move of the Modi Government is as shameless as Mayawati’s habit of erecting her own statues from the funds of the State Exchequer. The report said that the State Government in Madhya Pradesh was acting communally by making beef consumption a crime and by passing draconian laws to supplement their agenda. This law would empower police officers of the lower cadre to search, seize and arrest individuals on the suspicion of cow slaughter or beef consumption. This agenda of the RSS is bound to fail. It’s an open secret that the Hindus are among those set of communities who consume beef the most. Hindu scriptures also suggest that the sacrifice of cows for religious purposes and their consumption for sustenance was prevalent during ancient times. The issue has lost its relevance and would backfire. People cannot be put behind bars for consuming beef which is indeed one of the most affordable kinds of meat.

The cover story was highly critical of the Sangh, its ideology, activities and agenda but was far from being a balanced report. The magazine appeared like Congress’s mouthpiece and even though it raised many critical questions, it lost its credibility because of its over-excessive Hindutva bashing and its fanatical exaggeration of the threat posed by community-centric teaching in RSS schools but the fact that the same kind of exercise cannot be tolerated in secular government schools stands uncontested.

Right Wing Fanaticism be it Hindu or Muslim is a Threat to Society

India happens to be among the most communally sensitive countries in the world. Communal tensions, rioting and curfews are not new terms for Indian citizens who have become acquainted with warring in the name of religion. Combating communalism is one of the biggest challenges faced by India and for this purpose all communities need to come together and solve their internal feuds and conflicts. Right wing fanaticism be it Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian is a threat to society.

People have every right to talk on behalf of the majority as well as the minority, it is their prerogative to toil for them but neither the majority groups nor the minority groups have the jurisdiction to torture or try to terminate the other faction. The very idea of converting India into a Hindu Rashtra or an Islamic state is contrary to the principle of secularism as enshrined in the Constitution. This era has to be the age of co-existence and tolerance where religious fanaticism is pushed from the forefront to the backburner and is eventually made defunct.

Religious fanaticism in India is a byproduct of a feeling of insecurity and disillusionment among both the communities of Hindus and Muslims. It all began with the Partition of India which was marred by bloodshed and violence. The Muslim community of India became impoverished and economically fractured only after a few years of independence. There were four primary reasons for the socio-economic downfall of the Muslims. The first one was the abolition of the Zamindari system. It broke the spine of wealthy Muslim Zamindars residing in North India especially in Uttar Pradesh. The second reason was the decline of Urdu as a language of communication. Urdu was no longer being used for official purposes or for transacting business. The language was discarded and it took a toll on the competence of working Muslims. The factors stated above led to a sort of backwardness among Muslims. Under the Imperial Government, Muslims used to get reservations in jobs but now there were no reservations. Muslims had lost the ability to compete because of their backwardness and hence they lost out on jobs. Fourthly, the worldwide anti-Islam bandwagon further dampened the spirit of the Mohammedan clan. Frequent communal tussles with Hindus worsened the situation. In the midst of all this, political players realized the impoverished state as well as the electoral significance of the Muslims of India. No substantial work was done to liberate them from the vicious circle of social and economic backwardness but dozens of promises were made to woo them and to get their votes. The ‘Muslim’ agenda soon began to dominate the national political scene of India.

Noting the increasing stress and attention being given to the Muslims, the Hindus started feeling insecure and began to consider themselves as ‘second class citizens’ belonging to the majority community. They could not understand as to why the Muslims were being given so much of importance. They considered Muslims as the ones responsible for brutalizing the Hindus during the Mughal rule and for the Partition of India. As per Hindus, their condition in the country was no better and was as pitiful as the state of Muslims. The grief of Hindus accelerated when pseudo-secular leaders dubbed all those chanting for empowerment of Hindus as communal. Some opportunist leaders with political interests realized this grievance of the Hindu community and took up their cause. Their agenda was more of anti-Muslim rather than being Pro-Hindu. They accused the Government of Muslim appeasement but the fact remains that there was no appeasement at all because had there been appeasement, the Muslims in India would not have been in such a sorry state today but the fact that there was too much of pious posturing in favour of Muslims cannot be denied and this is what made the Hindus feel insecure.

The community of Muslims fell from bad to worse days and was further ghettoized. Some young Muslim men became robbers and criminals as they could not get jobs. They went on an evil no holds barred rampage and further deteriorated ties between the two communities. Meanwhile some leaders manufactured the political hot potato of the Ayodhya movement which culminated into the demolition of the Babri Masjid and all of a sudden the BJP assumed prominence and went on to form the Central Government in the coming years. Some Hindus became so emotionally attached with the Ram Mandir issue and were so frustrated of pro-Muslim posturing that they started justifying the demolition of the Babri Mosque. Foreign countries, international organizations and NGO’s condemned the demolition and this further angered the Hindus. Anyhow for Muslims, the demolition of the Babri Masjid followed by rioting was like insult to the injury. Riots broke out all across the country and several innocent human beings lost their lives. By now the Muslims had realized that they had been marginalized.

Some notorious elements within the community earmarked this weak nerve of the Muslims and started a movement in the name of Muslim Resurgence and Islamic Backlash. Their movement was based on vendetta and not reconciliation. These people had vested interests which were those of accumulating power, wealth and dominance. Thus came into being Islamic Terrorism in India. After the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Muslims started fearing for their life and were hesitant to go over to Hindu areas and work with them. There were serial bomb blasts in Mumbai which were planned and conducted by a Muslim group. 257 lost their lives. The Muslims of India began to sympathize with these terrorists because these attacks somehow helped the Muslims in gathering back courage and now the message was clear, if Hindus can kill Muslims then Muslims can also indulge in return of favour. Muslims were so hateful of Hindus that now they started openly supporting Pakistan during Indo-Pak cricket ties. The Hindus saw this as anti-national and their viewpoint regarding Muslims was even more poisoned. Fanatic Hindus wanted all Muslims to be sent to Pakistan and also held the perception that each one of them happened to be terrorists. Religious constraints stopped the Muslims from reciting Vande Mataram and this gave Hindus another opportunity to question their nationalism notwithstanding the fact that in Islam, followers are not supposed to worship any other thing apart from God. The term Vande Matram means that, ‘I worship the Goddess’ & Islam doesn’t allow Muslims to make such claims. Both the communities were at fault and they were nurturing a great amount of fanaticism within themselves. While the Hindus justified the Babri Masjid demolition as necessary action in the name of Lord Ram, Muslims started justifying the serial bombing in Mumbai as retaliatory action to the Babri Masjid demolition and the riots which followed.

The chaos continued and so did the communal tensions. Whenever Muslims were killed in rioting by fanatic Hindus, Muslim terrorists would retort by means of bomb attacks. Soon Hindu fanatic groups which till now had resorted to mob violence, converted themselves into full fledged terror groups identical to the Muslim ones. While Muslims targeted crowded streets and temples, Hindus started targeting Mosques and other places. The truth is that India faces a threat from both fanatic Hindu and Muslim groups. On the national scene today, there is no political party advocating a uniform Islamic law for India but there is a hardcore Hindu party advocating the conversion of India into a Hindu Rashtra amd it is being actively supported by other saffron groups. This is the reason why Muslims are sympathized with abd are seen as a lot which has been overly oppressed and deviously discriminated. The Hindus also need to be consoled. Tyrannical Muslim rulers who invaded India during the yesteryears demolished some Hindu temples and slaughtered innocent Hindus. They forcibly converted some of them into Islam and even ridiculed their religious beliefs. The communalization process began prior to the Partition only when Muslim rulers behaved barbarically with Hindus. The British utilized this historical loophole to dismantle the ties between Hindus and Muslims. Past wrongdoings cannot be undone and so it is better for Hindus to forgive and forget their Muslim brethren. Hindus don’t hold Christians responsible for the oppression meted out towards them by the British and so they should not blame the current crop of Muslims for the mistreatment which they received from many Muslims rulers, looters and invaders like Mahmud of Ghazni and Nadir Shah. We need to defy the ideology of sick religious outfits to establish a peaceful India which is the penultimate ingredient for its success. Muslims sympathizing with terrorists are wrong and so are Hindus supporting the rioters who loot and kill Muslims. Muslims cheering for Pakistan during cricket matches is unjustified and so is the ideology of Hindu Rashtra which is actively supported by hardcore Hindus. If certain Muslim fanatics are providing safe havens to Muslim terrorists inside mosques then the Sangh Parivar and several Hindu ashrams are also shielding Hindu rioters. All these practices and perceptions are unjust and they need to be discarded.

A Response to Dr Swamy’s DNA Article

A lot has been written and said about the article written by Subramian Swamy in DNA. The article was described as communally insensitive and following a furore over this article, Mr Swamy was expelled from Harvard where he used to teach Economics during the summer school for his alleged extremist views. Mr Swamy repeatedly argued in his favour and urged people to read his article before getting judgemental on the basis of the headpoints they’ve read which were printed and broadcasted by media houses. Mr Swamy said that his article was based on a series of analysis and reasoning. I refrained from commenting on it since I had not read the entire article but today I got an opportunity to do so. I went through it thrice and now I have every right to express my feelings on it.

Mr Swamy’s article is based on steps needed to be taken to tackle Islamic terror. It’s not based on any sound reasoning as Mr Swamy claimed but on deep prejudices which he is holding against the Muslims. I’ll easily prove how absurd his article really was. I want to make two quick points. Firstly, this article proves how communal Mr Swamy is and how he is trying to make use of the Hindutva agenda to fulfil certain political ambitions. Mr Swamy argues in his article that all the Hindus should rise above caste and language and vote for a Hindu Party (signifying his intention of dividing the electorate communally) so that a genuine Hindu Party can come to power and turn India into a Hindu Rashtra. Secondly, this article shows how violent he is in his approach. In his article he argues that since certain Islamic militants were targeting Hindu temples and its devotees, the Hindus should raze 300 mosques built on areas which are believed and perceived by Hindus to be the ones on which temples used to exist (meaning thereby more Babri Masjid Demolition like incidents). The above two mentioned points clearly indict Mr Swamy of wanting to promote communal disharmony. Let’s analyze Mr Swamy’s whole article and provide him with a point by point rebuttal.

Mr Swamy recognizes Islamic terrorism as India’s biggest national security threat. I doubt that even though I do agree that it is a significant threat but the biggest threat posed to India’s security is by the Maoists, that is left wing extremism. This fact has even been acknowledged by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P Chidambaram who described Maoism as India’s single largest internal security threat. Maoists have killed far more people than Islamic militants but for argument’s sake let’s assume that Islamic terrorism is a greater threat than Maoism. Mr Swamy claims that very soon the Islamic militants will take over Pakistan and America will flee Afghanistan. Then fanatic Muslims will look to assault India. Islam will rise up to settle unfinished business with Hinduism. Let’s be clear of one thing. Certain fanatic Muslim terrorist organizations’ don’t represent Islam in any way. They are terrorists. They plan attacks (with their primary target being the Hindus) but that doesn’t mean that in their attacks Muslims, Christians or Sikhs don’t die. They’re enemies of all Indians be it Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs. Therefore Mr Swamy’s claim that all Hindus need to get together to stop this is flawed. Everybody should get together to stop this, not just the Hindus. Certain fanatic Hindu right wing organizations target Muslims but that doesn’t mean they have to be tackled by only the Muslims. They have to be tackled by the entire nation including Hindus. Mr Swamy says that Indian Muslims were all being targeted by Militant Islamic Organizations with the intention of channelling them into becoming radicals but I don’t think that it means that all Muslims are terrorists. Right Wing Hindu Terrorist Organizations are trying to turn Hindus into radicals to get their support but that doesn’t turn all Hindus into terrorists. Similar thing applies to all Muslims as well.

Mr Swamy in his article wanted to suggest ways of tackling Islamic terrorism but his article fails to do that. He says that since Islamic terrorists want to turn India into an Islamic country, therefore the Hindus should turn it into a Hindu State meant for Hindus and for those whose ancestors were Hindus. He says that conversion from Hinduism should be banned in order to stop terrorists from converting people to Islam and from changing India’s demographics, he says that all those Non Hindus who don’t accept their Hindu ancestry should be stripped off their voting rights. Can anybody tell me how do these things help India in battling Islamic terrorism? Will converting India into a Hindu State by demolishing its secular character help in eradicating Islamic militants? Will making Non Hindus accept their Hindu Ancestry (Many of them don’t even have that) make a difference or what difference will it make in relation to Islamic terror if you strip Non Hindus of their voting rights if they don’t accept their Hindu ancestry? How can preventing people from conversion prevent bomb attacks? Mr Swamy is highly violent in his speech. He talks of bringing down 300 mosques as I mentioned earlier. How does this even tackle Islamic terror or address the problem of sleeper cells run by them? Since Right Wing Hindu Terrorists target mosques should Muslims also destroy 300 temples? Will this help in stopping Hindu terrorism? Mr Swamy says that if Pakistan doesn’t stop supporting militant groups in Pakistan from attacking India, India should actively start supporting liberation groups in Balochistan. If any country is using terrorism as its foreign policy which is hugely wrong, it doesn’t mean that we also act in the same reckless way. Mr Swamy argues that if Bangladeshi people illegally immigrate into India then India should invade Bangladesh and annex a part of it to accommodate Bangladeshi immigrants. This is another extremist take. Instead of searching for, identifying illegal immigrants and deporting them back, why should India go to war with Bangladesh? Some matters need to be resolved via dialogue. Mr Swamy seems to have lost touch with reality. He has been writing many fictitious and false articles about the Gandhi family and Sonia Gandhi in particular but this is way too much. I would like to tell Mr Swamy that hate hurts, harmony works. Kindly don’t base your ideology and agenda on vengeance and vendetta.