India’s own sacred ecology – Michel Danino

Peepal Tree

Prof Michel DaninoThe notion of a creator apart from his creation, superior to it, more often cursing than loving it, is a wedge that Judaism and its two daughter religions vertically drove into a hitherto seamless cosmos. – Prof Michel Danino

We saw in the previous article (Decoding the idea of India) how the creation of a sacred geography for India was a major instrument of her cultural integration. Not only the countless teerthas, but also the mountains, seas, rivers, forests, trees and other plants, animals big and small, were imbued with divinity. Of course, most pre-Judeo-Christian cultures shared this worldview: from the Nile to Mount Olympus, from Yggdrasil, the cosmic tree of Norse mythology, to the phoenix, that universe was crowded with living symbols drawn from nature. The notion of a creator apart from his creation, superior to it, more often cursing than loving it, is a wedge that Judaism and its two daughter religions vertically drove into a hitherto seamless cosmos.

In the Rig Veda, India’s earliest text, earth and heaven are addressed as a single being (dyavaprithivi); they are “father and mother” but also the “twins”; together, they “keep all creatures safe”. India’s Yggdrasil is the ashvattha (the pipal or Boddhi tree) which the Gita turned upside down: the cosmic tree, the origin of India’s tree-worshipping traditions, has its roots above and branches below—a transparent symbol for this creation, which can be represented by a cosmic cow, the source of all food. Indeed symbols endlessly multiply, from celestial rivers to the gods’ vahanas. More importantly, the Upanishadic precept that “all creatures are impelled by consciousness” unites us to the humblest plant or animal.

Dr Meera NandaIs this the origin of the Buddhist and Jain doctrine of ahimsa or the concept of wildlife sanctuary in Ashoka’s edicts as in Kautilya’s Arthashastra, perhaps a “world first”? If so, this tradition is more than just idyllic. Not everyone agrees. Meera Nanda, for instance, a self-styled historian of science whom I had occasion to critique in earlier articles, condemns this “Dharmic ecology”, which she defines as “an unabashedly Hindu supremacist, nationalistic version of the same religious environmentalism that the anti-Enlightenment left has been preaching and practicing.”

Nanda sees this worldview as a dangerous weapon in Hindutva’s arsenal: “Dharmic ecology of Hindutva right is emerging as the hub of a new neo-pagan International. Neopaganism in Europe and America has deep and historic ties with Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups,” and, as we know, there is a “long history of the Nazi and neo-Nazi involvement with occult and paganism.” Thus the syllogism works as follows: Indic traditions of sacred ecology (as I prefer to call it) are pagan; Nazism was involved with paganism; the said Indic traditions are thus obscurantist and dangerous.

The fallacy of it is glaring: the premise is incorrect; Hindu beliefs behind sacred ecology are not just “pagan”, a term of contempt created by medieval Christianity; they are founded on a philosophy and a spiritual experience of the “nature of nature”. And the association with Nazism is a vicious case of reductio ad Hitlerism. (to put it crudely: if you wear boots, you may be accused of a link with Nazism, since Hitler wore boots too). It has indeed become a fashion among certain intellectuals to “reveal” hidden connections between Hinduism and Nazism. Nanda’s more serious criticism is that there is no evidence that India’s sacred ecology “encourages wise use of nature”.

Instead, she advocates “secular environmentalism” as a “source of secularism and a class-based collective action”. It may be true that today’s Indians have by and large poor environmental awareness, wantonly contributing to the destruction of forests, the disappearance of wildlife and the spiralling pollution. But perhaps that is because Indian society has hardly had any transition between tradition and modernity. From the rich ethno-botanical traditions of the Bishnois, Bhils, Warlis, Santhals or Todas to the current urbanite disaster, there has been almost no time to adapt. – The New Indian Express, 5 December 2016

Pilgrim offering a lamp to Ganga Devi at the Kumbha Mela 2013

Interview given to a student of religious studies – Koenraad Elst

Koenraad ElstThis is an interview given to a student of Religious Studies collecting material for her dissertation – Dr Koenraad Elst

Q : You have written that a Hindu simply is an Indian pagan. This raises the question: What is a pagan, exactly? Or what is paganism?

A : Strictly a “rustic”, “peasant” or “village bumpkin”, as opposed to the Christians in the Roman Empire, who were at first mostly city-dwellers. The textbook definition since the 4th century is “a non-Christian”. After Islam became more familiar in Europe, it often came to mean a non-Abrahamist, or better, anyone who does not subscribe to prophetic monotheism. The category “Pagan” strictly includes both atheists and polytheists, but mostly it is only used for a type of religious people, excluding non-religious atheists and agnostics.

When the Muslim invaders brought the Persian geographical term “Hindu” (“Indian”) into India, it came to mean “Indian by birth and by religion”, excluding those who were non-Indian or who were Indian but followed a non-Indian religion. In those days, people remained conscious of their original nationality for very long. When in the wake of the British, some Indian Zoroastrians settled in South Africa, they called themselves “Persians” though their families had lived in India for a thousand years. By the same token, the Syrian Christians counted as Syrians; but even if they counted as Indians, they would still not be Hindus, for they followed a non-Indian religion.

By contrast, all Indians without foreign links are Hindus: Brahmins, upper castes, middle castes, downtrodden, tribals, Buddhists (“clean-shaven Brahmins” according to the 8th-century Muslim chronicle Chach Nama), Jains. By implication even sects that did not exist yet, were Hindu upon birth: Lingayats, Sikhs, Arya Samaj, RK Mission, ISKCON. Today, “Hindu” is a dirty word, so they all try to weasel out of it and declare themselves non-Hindu, also to enjoy the legal benefits of being a minority. (Indeed, under the prevailing anti-secular Constitution, non-Hindus are privileged above Hindus.) They see Hinduism as a sinking ship, and being rats, they leave it. But I am not impressed by this. People should simply grow up and face facts: they satisfy the definition of “Hindu”, so they are Hindus, Indian Pagans. I don’t care what elephants think of being called elephants; since they satisfy the definition of “elephant”, they are elephants, period.

Since roughly 1980, the RSS family of Hindu nationalist organizations have tried to water this clear historical definition down by saying that “Hindu” simply means “Indian”. That would have been the pre-invasion usage, when Persian and Arabic were not tainted by Islam yet. But when the word was brought into India, it immediately differed from “Indian” by its religious dimension. Muslims and Christians are by definition not Hindu. But because the contemporary Hindutva leaders are not clear-headed (or not brave) enough to face difference, they try to spirit the difference between Hinduism and Islam away by calling the Indian Muslims “Mohammedi Hindus”. And likewise, “Christi Hindus”. I think that is the summum of cowardice.

Look, I don’t claim to be brave. I just sit behind my computer screen. Writing articles that displease some people doesn’t require more courage than posting cheerful holiday messages on Facebook; it’s just words. It is nothing compared to a soldier on the battlefield running into enemy fire. Here in Flanders fields, we are presently commemorating every event that punctuated WWI, a hundred years ago. When you read about those events, you come across unspeakable acts of bravery. So, compared to that, scholarship is nothing, even when a bit controversial. But conversely, when even words can intimidate you, when even a purely logical application of the definition of “Hindu” is too much, when even a word of disapproval by the secularists is too much, that is really intolerable cowardice. To be sure, even the secularists approve of a difference between “Hindu” and “Indian”, but the so-called Hindutva people now try to out-secularize the secularists by even denying that there is a separate religious category “Hindu”, different from the secular-geographical term “Indian”. They have come a long way: from flattering themselves as being the “vanguard of Hindu society” to denying that there is even such a thing as a “Hindu Indian” different from a “non-Hindu Indian”.

Q : You have criticized both Christianity and Islam for being basically a set of superstitious beliefs. Yet many would claim to the contrary that there is a lot more superstition in Hinduism. For instance, while Christianity and Islam at least have a historical basis to many of their most important stories, this is less the case for the Hindu stories about various gods and goddesses, which are more akin to the stories about Greek or Egyptian gods. Furthermore, the practice of image- or idol-worship could itself be considered superstitious, since it leads the worshipper to fetishize the idol as a source of magical powers, or as a divine being in itself. What is your response to this?

A : The core beliefs of Christianity and Islam are superstitious. Or without bringing in any psychologizing jargon like “superstitious”, they are, more simply, untrue. It is not true that Mohammed had a direct telephone line with God, and that the Quran is simply a collection of divine messages. It is simply not true that Jesus rose from the dead; just like all deceased people, he is not part of this world anymore. Much less is it true that he thereby freed mankind from sin (and thereby also of mortality, the punishment that befell Adam and Eve after their fall into sinfulness); levels of sinfulness or of human mortality have not appreciably changed in 33 AD. Yes, it is claimed by believers as a historical that Jesus resurrected or that Mohammed received revelations, but apart from the fact that the date given is realistic, the event is definitely not. And I don’t even go into the theories that Jesus or Mohammed never existed. Believing something that is flatly untrue, and moreover as the basis of your worldview, that is simply not the case with Hinduism.

As it happens, Hinduism is not one definite worldview. It is not based on one untrue statement, like Christianity or Islam. It is not necessarily based on a true statement either. Within the Hindu big tent, there are many traditions with their own doctrines. They have an awe for the sacred in common, but what counts as sacred is conceived in many ways. As the Rig Veda says: the wise ones call the one reality by many names. Among these traditions, the Upanishadic ones converge on an insight that is not historical but true, just as the Law of Gravity is not historical (its date and place of discovery happen to be known but are immaterial, as it is valid everywhere and forever). It is the Atmavad or doctrine of the Self, summed up in Great Sayings like Aham Brahmasmi, I am Brahma. That is the monist or Vedanta view, in parallel you have the dualist or Sankhya view, still within the Hindu big tent, the basis of Patañjali’s yoga. It is both rational and spiritual; Christianity and Islam cannot boast of anything parallel. But I agree that this is only the spiritual backbone of Hinduism, and that many of the beliefs and practices around it are not so rational. However, these don’t have the status that the core beliefs of Christianity [and] Islam have. You can safely discard them and still be a Hindu.

Q : You have questioned the conventional view that Siddhartha Gautama broke away from Hinduism and founded a new religion. Yet did he not deny the authority of the Vedas? And did he not reject the caste system, saying (variously quoted): “By birth one is not an outcaste, by birth one is not a Brahmin; by deeds alone one is an outcaste, by deeds alone one is a Brahmin”?

A : He did not go out of his way to deny the Vedas, and if he did, it only followed the latter part of the Veda itself. The Jnanakanda part (knowledge), the Upanishads, is explicit in declaring the Karmakanda part (ritualism), the Brahmanas, as outdated. Shankara lambasts the Sankhya-Yoga school for never quoting the Veda. It was part (not the whole, but part) of Hinduism to ignore the Veda.

He did not bother about the caste system, which Buddhists in Lanka and Tibet also practised. Buddhism never changed the social system in China, Japan or Thailand, because it had a spiritual agenda incompatible with a social reform agenda. If pursuing your own desires is already incompatible with pursuing Enlightenment, this counts even more for the immense job of structurally changing society. Either you do that, or you become a monk practising the spiritual path, but you cannot do both.

It simply accepted the social structures it found. Check the Buddha’s own life. Once his friend Prasenajit discovered that his queen was not a true Kshatriya, only on her father’s side, so he repudiated her and their common son. The Buddha persuaded him to take them back, pleading for the older conception of the caste system, which was purely in the paternal line (same caste as father, mother’s caste can be any). Now, if he had been a caste revolutionary, as all Indian schoolkids are taught nowadays, this incident would have been the occasion par excellence to lambast and ridicule the caste system. But he does no such thing, he upholds one version (the older one, for far from being a revolutionary, he was a conservative) of the caste system.

Or consider the distribution of his ashes after his cremation. They are divided in eight and given to eight cities for keeping them as a relic in a stupa. The ruling elites of those cities had staked their claim exclusively and purely in casteist terms, though this was a Buddhist context par excellence. After 45 yeas of Buddhism, they say: “He was a Kshatriya, we are Kshatriyas, so we are entitled to his ashes.” If Buddhism had been anti-casteist, then as bad pupils they still might have thought in casteist terms, but they would have used a non-casteist wording. Instead, they have no compunction at all in using casteist terms.

I have more examples, but to sum up: the Buddha was an elite figure par excellence, he mainly recruited his novices among the elite, and all the later Buddhist thinkers were Brahmins, as would be the Maitreya, the next Buddha. He was not an egalitarian at all, witness his initial refusal to ordain women, and when he relented on this, he ordered that even the seniormost nun would be subservient to the juniormost monk. So, the secularist-cum-Ambedkarite attempt to appropriate the Buddha for modern socialist causes is totally false. It is bad history par excellence.

Q : Regarding Islam, it seems that one of your foremost critiques of this religion is the Qur’an itself, which you view as (if I understand your position correctly) irredeemably fanatical and intolerant. Yet as you are surely aware, the Qur’an is a complex work which takes on different qualities depending on how the verses are interpreted, which verses are emphasized, whether a verse is considered as universal or contextual, and so on. Thus there are many Islamic scholars who claim, for instance, that armed jihad is only permitted in self-defense, seeing that militant verses are often accompanied by verses preaching restraint and forgiveness. So does the Qur’an really have to be problematic in itself? Is it not rather certain traditions (mostly Salafi) of interpreting the Qur’an which are a problem?

A : Let me clarify first that my fairly elaborate answers to your questions on Islam do not mean that I am especially interested in Islam. The Salman Rushie and the Ayodhya affairs forced me to study it more closely, but since the 1990s, I have only returned to it when current affairs dragged me back to it. As a subject, it has lost my interest because it is quite straightforward and all the important answers have already been given. The only meaningful debate that remains, is on which policy vis-à-vis Islam will deliver both Muslims and non-Muslims from it, as painlessly as possible.

Now, your very common position that “source text good, tradition bad”, or “founder good, followers bad”, or “prophet full of good intentions, followers misunderstood him”. (It is equally used in the case of Christianity: “freeing Christ from Churchianity”, and all that.) Only by not reading the Qur’an, and especially the life events of the Prophet, can you say that. The magic wand of “interpretation” does not impress me. What interpretation do you know of that turns qatala, “slaughter”, into “restraint and forgiveness”? Moreover, Muslims and their sympathizers have had decades to “reinterpret” their scriptures, and what is the result? The prophet’s biography (Sirat Rasul Allah), of which the authoritative translation by Alfred Guillaume is very literal and has been published in Karachi under Islamic supervision, is used by Muslims worldwide (their Quranic Arabic is usually not that fluent either), unaltered. Thomas Cleary’s Islamophile “translation” of the Qur’an does not meaningfully “reinterpret” the Qur’an, but simply leaves out the embarrassing parts; similarly a Dutch selective translation of the Sira that was recently published. The most-used English translations of the Qur’an are by Muslims, yet they faithfully translate that “war will reign between us until ye believe in Allah alone”. There, we are fortunate that their great respect for the prophet’s every word prevents them from imposing their own false interpretations instead of it.

Jihad only permitted in self-defence? Pray, why did Mohammed order a (failed) invasion of the Byzantine Empire? Why did he attack the Meccan caravans, who went about their business peacefully? When the Muslim army was defeated in central France by Charles the Hammer in 731, what was it doing there, thousands of miles from Arabia? Defending itself? These are just silly sop-stories. As an intellectual spectacle, it is amusing to see the acrobatics of “enlightened” Islamophiles in exculpation of Islam.

The solution is simply to grow up. It is not so hard to outgrow childhood beliefs, though it does take an intellectual and social transition, especially in the intermediate period when you have to co-exist with relatives who still shy away from taking this step. But then, I am asking no one to make changes in his life and outlook that I haven’t been through myself. I had the exceptional good fortune of being in the middle of a nation-wide (largely Europe-wide, in fact) religious conversion. I was born in Catholic Flanders, a frontline of the Roman Church against Anglican England, Calvinist Holland, Lutheran Germany and secular-Masonic France. In the 1950s, society was still deeply penetrated by the Church’s all-seeing eyes. Everyone in my primary school went to church on Sundays, was baptized, had a Catholic saint’s name, etc. In the 1960s, this edifice started crumbling, with Vatican II as both cause and consequence. By the 1980s, this became the dominant narrative, and the conformists who had earlier gone to church because everyone did, now stayed away because everyone did. Today, practising Catholics are a small minority. The ex-Catholics are now the dominant group, until the next generation takes over, because they are not even “ex”, they simply have no memory of Catholicism. And all this without bloodshed, without destruction of the admittedly wonderful artistic heritage of the Church. (I still sing Gregorian plainchant under the shower.)

So, that is what I wish for my Muslim friends too. Make Islam un-cool. Outgrow it. And take it from me: there is life after apostasy.

Q : I would also like to ask the same question regarding Muhammad ibn Abdullah, the prophet of Islam. There are many hadiths attributed to Muhammad which certainly seem to us to set a bad example, but there are also many hadiths to the contrary. Is it not again simply a matter of emphasis and interpretation? For instance, consider this opinion by the scholar Hamza Yusuf, who was traditionally educated in the Maliki madhhab. Do you consider his understanding of what Muhammad stood for as somehow Islamically illegitimate? (Pardon the flawed subtitles!)

A : I have toughed it out to listen through the Shaykh’s special pleading, but I really knew enough after the first sentence, where he names Karen Armstrong as his main inspiration. Hers is a rare extreme of special pleading, distorting everything of Islamic history to fit modern values. The rest of his narrative is the usual idealization of the person Mohammed, as in his very special courtship with the widow Khadija (but with the false allegation that women before Islam had no inheritance rights, just when Khadija’s case proves the opposite). It is the basic conjurer’s trick: directing the audience’s focus to a few nice episodes in Mohammed’s life and keeping the rest out of view. That is why Muslims are more properly called “Mohammedans”: they are far more punctual followers of Mohammed than Christians are of Christ.

To be sure, Mohammed may well have had some positive traits. He was known as very reliable, and I have no quarrel with that. Whether Khadija chose him because of those traits, as amply argued here, is another matter: he was a good young toyboy for this mature lady, and like his poverty (he worked as a shepherd in the service of the Meccan townspeople), his age made him her inferior and thus less likely to claim lordship over the wealth she had inherited or augmented by her entrepreneurial skills. But even if it was a marriage made in heaven, with all manner of perfections accruing to the bridegroom, that doesn’t make him God’s spokesman. Shaykh may pontificate as much as he wants about Mohammed’s claimed virtues, that still does not make him more than the next man. He was neither the Son of God (as Muslims rightly hold against the Christians) nor a prophet with a private telephone line with God (as Muslims believe; it is the heart of their religion).

Let’s cut short all the circumlocutions, let us cut out all the modern propaganda, and look at what the primary sources say. We can summarize Mohammed’s life story in a single sentence: he destroyed an existing pluralistic society—Polytheists, Sabians, Zoroastrians, Christians, Jews and Hanifs—and replaced it with a monolithic Islamic dictatorship. That is what the Islamic source texts themselves say. It is the height of ridiculousness that the multiculturalists in Europe, like their “secularist” counterparts in India, hobnob with Mohammed’s followers.

A lot also becomes clear when we know that most Arabs shook off Islam after Mohammed’s death and defeated the Muslim army. Unfortunately, they demobilized after that, the Muslim army came back and this time they securely imposed Islam. But the Arabs were the first victims of Islam. Mohammed practised robbery, extortion, abduction for ransom, rape, enslavement, slave-trade, and the murder of his critics and of a resistant Jewish tribe. All those data are in the primary sources of Islam. There is no way that an Islamic court can declare them un-Islamic—short of saying that “Mohammed was a bad Muslim”.

It follows that I am skeptical of Muslims who call themselves “moderate”. First of all, the distinction between moderate and extremist Muslims is an invention by non-Muslim soft-brains, unknown in Islam, and firmly rejected both by ex-Muslims and by leading Muslims such as Turkish president Erdoğan. He calls it insulting to Islam to make such a distinction. At any rate, I will accept Shaykh’s interpretation as moderate the day I hear him say: “Mohammed was wrong. Don’t follow Mohammed.” If, by contrast, he still recommends following Mohammed, as every Muslim is expected to do, he is in fact telling us: do practise abduction, robbery, rape, slave-taking, beheading, stoning, for those are all things he actually did, not just displaying his charms to win Khadija in marriage, as you might think after hearing Shaykh’s narrative. Until he takes this distance from Mohammed’s precedent behaviour, he is just a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Q : Finally, I haven been impressed by many of your writings, which always allow the reader to follow transparently your train of thought—more than can be said about much academic literature in my opinion—and which offer some thought-provoking conclusions on diverse subjects. I am not always in agreement with your viewpoints (and sometimes I simply don’t know), but all the same your method strikes me as a very refreshing example of how the history of religions can actually be studied. This is all the more interesting since you are, if I understand correctly, unaffiliated with any university and basically carrying out your research on your own. So my final question is: What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue the same path? What type of literature would you recommend; how does one work with the primary sources; how many languages does one need to master? How many languages do you know yourself?

A : To start at the end: I have studied mother tongue Dutch, other Belgian national languages French and German, and English; these I read and speak fluently. Afrikaans is really simplified Dutch, so I can also follow it effortlessly. Because of my studies, I can get around in Mandarin and Hindi, but claim no fluency. Persian I have largely forgotten. I also know a smattering of Spanish, and in my young days, I also browsed through the Teach Yourself books of the Celtic, Scandinavian, the main Uralic languages (Finnish, Hungarian), Serbo-Croatian and Turkish. I totally forgot about those, though I can still decipher written Scandinavian because of the closeness to my mother tongue, Dutch. But knowing something of the structure of the languages has proved useful in comparative linguistics and studies of the Indo-European language family. Among classical languages, my Latin was always good, my study of Wenyan (classical Chinese) and Sanskrit was thorough but I claim no fluency, alas no time to go deeply into them lately. I also studied Greek for two years, some Biblical Hebrew, and a smattering of Quranic Arabic, Sumerian and Sangam Tamil. The net result is that I know plenty of political and philosophical terminology and can place the concepts in their proper contexts, but I rarely use those languages as language. Thus, when I need to look something up in the Vedas or the Mahabharata, I scroll through the English text, and only when I come to the passage I was looking for, I switch to reading the original. Life is short, and languages only interest me as entry to a world of thought. I am a historian and more and more a philosopher; philology has been a good basis but only as an instrument.

For born Indians, it ought to be a feasible minimum to familiarize yourself with Sanskrit. For doing Indian history or philosophy, it is simply necessary. For medieval history, you need to know Persian, and Arabic is a plus. In the US, they did a test: of two equally gifted groups of pupils, one took 8 hours of English, and one 4 hours of English and 4 hours of Latin. After a few years, the second group not only knew Latin, unlike the other group, but also had a better knowledge of English. Similarly, your knowledge of your Indian mother tongue will increase if you take out time to study the supposedly useless Sanskrit. It also promotes national unity, the convergence between the vernaculars, and also the phasing out of English, which you and me may find practical, but which to Indians is an anti-democratic imposition by the Nehruvian elite.

Whenever possible, you should go back to the primary sources. Thus, I am presently working on the history of early Buddhism, and I was initially surprised by the world of difference between the usual narrative peddled nowadays in schoolbooks and popular introductions, and the narrative revealed by the primary sources. Apart from the many errors that have crept into the modern narrative (mostly showing a strong anti-Hindu bias; see for example what I told you above about caste), the over-all conceptual mistake is the cardinal sin in history: the projection of modern concerns onto ancient developments. History is all about difference, the fact that “the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”.

My being outside academe was not a matter of choice, but of being boycotted. Thus, my very first Indological conference was the International Ramayana Conference 1990 at my own university, Leuven, and I defended the existence of a Hindu temple forcibly replaced by Babar’s mosque. One-third of the professors there were privately in support but publicly silent; one-third were furious at my daring to violate their safe space of rationality with such a silly and politically tainted claim; and the last one-third just didn’t have an opinion but were embarrassed at the commotion. The following years, I was boycotted and bad-mouthed throughout academe. But the fact is: I was right all along, as recent excavations and a court verdict have confirmed, and all those big-time professors were wrong.

The good thing about being on my own is that I don’t feel pressured to conform to the received wisdom. Thus, on Buddhism, practically all academics concerned swear by the paradigm “Hinduism bad, Buddhism good”. If I had been part of their circuit, I would probably have conformed to some extent to their view, at least to accept the narrative of “Hinduism and Buddhism”, as if these were two distinct entities on the same footing. Today I can just ignore their fairy-tale and state: the Buddha was 100% a Hindu.

I don’t advise anyone to take the path I stumbled upon. But if somehow it happens, at least you should enjoy its good side. Meanwhile, I keep hoping against hope that the present supposedly Hindu government will come to its senses and invest in scholarship, rather than parroting the narratives that several generations of secularist control over culture and education have established. In that endeavour, they will not only have to deconstruct all the harm done by the Nehruvians, but also the hare-brained alternatives presented by traditionalist Hindu “history rewriters”, who think history means quoting from the Puranas. The last half-century, a gap in Hindu scholarship has grown that will require energetic initiatives to fill. – Koenraad Elst Blog, 15 August 2016

Samugarh 1658, not Plassey 1757, was the tipping point that fixed the subcontinent’s future course – Murad Ali Baig

Prince Dara Shikoh translating the Upanishads.

Murad Ali BaigTwo great Mughal armies, led by Shah Jahan’s eldest son Dara Shikoh and his third son Aurangzeb, clashed on a dusty plain 20 km southeast of Agra. It was not only a battle for the Mughal throne, but a battle for the very soul of India. – Murad Ali Baig

On May 29, 1658, India’s history changed forever. Aurangzeb’s victory over his brother Dara Shikoh marked the beginning of Islamic bigotry in India that not only alienated Hindus but the much more moderate Sufis and Shias as well. Aurangzeb’s narrow Sunni beliefs were to make India the hotbed of Muslim fundamentalists, long before the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia sponsored the fanatics of Taliban and Islamic State.

Two great Mughal armies, led by Shah Jahan’s eldest son Dara Shikoh and his third son Aurangzeb, clashed on a dusty plain 20 km southeast of Agra. It was not only a battle for the Mughal throne, but a battle for the very soul of India.

It pitted Dara, an eclectic scholar who respected all religions, against Aurangzeb who was an orthodox Sunni Muslim. Dara had translated the Bhagwad Gita and Upanishads from Sanskrit into Persian, to make them known to the public for the first time. The fact that he had been a Sanskrit scholar shows that there had been considerable Hindu-Muslim amity in the time of Shah Jahan.

Mogul Emperor AurangzebBut Dara had been a pampered prince who faced a smaller battle-hardened army that Aurangzeb had marched up from the Deccan, after defeating an Imperial army at Dharmat near Indore. Blocked at the Chambal River, Aurangzeb quietly slipped behind Dara’s lines to reach a secret ford across the Chambal by non-stop double marches over two days.

Dara now realised that Aurangzeb’s armies had outflanked his army and come very close to Agra, so he had to rush east without most of his cannons. The two armies met on a flat dusty plain east of a village called Samugarh, on an unbelievably hot day with the sun like a furnace in a cloudless sky. There was not enough water so many soldiers and horses collapsed of heat and sun stroke.

The battle was more than just a contest between Dara and his rebel brother. It was becoming a religious war with the Hindus supporting Dara and many Muslim nobles supporting Aurangzeb.

Dara was on the brink of victory when he was betrayed by one of his commanders, Khalil Ullah Khan. He then retreated to Lahore and then down the Indus. Eventually, he was brought to Delhi and put on trial.

He had written a book called the The Mingling of the Two Oceans [PDF] showing the many similarities between the Quran and the Brahma Shastras. At the trial the imperial Qazi asked Dara to hand him the jade thumb ring that was still on his left hand. He is reported to have turned it over and asked why the green stone was inscribed with the words ‘Allah’ on one side and ‘Prabhu’ on the other.

Dara ShikohDara evidently replied that the creator was known by many names and called God, Allah, Prabhu, Jehova, Ahura Mazda and many more names by devout people in many different lands. He added that it is written in the Quran that Allah had sent down 1,24,000 messengers to show all the people of the world the way of righteousness and he believed that these messengers had been sent not only to Muslims but to all the people of the world in every age. Aurangzeb casually signed the order of execution after the Qazis found Dara guilty of heresy.

Aurangzeb’s inflexible religious bigotry made him lose the support of his influential Shia subjects as well as his many Hindu and Rajput followers. By persecuting his own Rajput followers he cut off his arms and weakened his military power. The Maratha leader Shivaji initially had no anti-Muslim sentiment and had been quite willing to become a Mughal Amir. Aurangzeb’s obstinate pride however alienated him and gave him a weapon to turn a purely political war against the Mughals into a religious war.

If Dara had won at Samugarh his rule might have promoted harmony between India’s turbulent peoples. A united Mughal empire may have prevented India from becoming so easily colonised by European powers. Samugarh marked the beginning of Islamic bigotry that led over the centuries to the Partition of India, the creation of Pakistan and the backlash of radical Hinduism. Samugarh was a tipping point in India’s history. – The Times of India, 28 May 2016

» Murad Ali Baig subscribes to Sankhya philosophy and writes about Indian history and religion.

Prince Dara Shikoh paraded in public before being executed by his younger brother Aurangzeb.

Dara Shikoh's book "The Mingling of the Two Oceans"

The Architecture Of Hinduism – Sanjeev Sanyal

Sanatan Dharma or Hinduism has long suffered from a very basic problem—the difficulty of defining it. One can describe a particular sect, or philosophy, but it is not easy to explain the whole. Thus, it is not uncommon for people to ultimately fall back on saying that it is a “way of life”. Unfortunately, such a definition is neither a meaningful description nor of analytical value. If anything, it causes a great deal of confusion by suggesting that Hindu religion is identical to Indic culture—the two are obviously linked but not exactly the same. The purpose of this article is to investigate the systemic logic of Sanatan Dharma as a whole and the process by which it evolves. It is not concerned here with the philosophical content or daily practice of any of the constituent sects, traditions and philosophies.

Most world religions, particularly those of Abrahamic origin, are based on a clearly defined set of beliefs—a single god, a holy book, a prophet and so on. These are articles of faith or axioms from which each of these religions is derived. This why the terms religion, belief and faith can be used interchangeably in these cases. In contrast, it is perfectly acceptable in Hinduism to be a polytheist, monotheist, monist, pantheist, agnostic, atheist, animist or any combination thereof. Thus Hinduism is a religion but not a faith, although constituent sects or philosophies can be termed faiths or beliefs. Instead, it should be thought of as an organic, evolving ecosystem of interrelated and interdependent elements that are constantly interacting with each other (and with the outside world).

There are many systems that fit the above description—financial markets, economies, cities, the English language, ecological systems and so on. These are all examples of “complex adaptive systems”. Note the contrast between the organic and evolving dynamics of such systems and the static laws of Newtonian mechanics. In turn, this has important implications for how we understand Hinduism and manage it.

Not the sum of its parts

One of the most obvious differences between complex adaptive systems and Newtonian mechanical systems is that the former is not the sum of its parts. A mechanical system like a car is the sum total of all its parts as put together to an “intelligent design”. In contrast, a city is more than the sum of all the buildings and a biological ecosystem is not just the sum of all the plants and animals. This is why complex adaptive systems cannot be described neatly from any one perspective. Thus, English language cannot be defined through even the most detailed description of its grammar. Similarly, the most detailed description of the Taj Mahal would not define the city of Agra. Yet, speakers of English and the citizens of Agra have little difficultly identifying and using the language and city respectively. The same is true of Hindus—their seeming difficulty in defining Sanatan Dharma poses no problem in recognizing and practicing their religion.

Moreover, the evolving and mutating nature of complex, adaptive systems implies that even the most detailed description is not just insufficient but fundamentally wrong over time. For instance, given the constant absorption of words and usages into English, an exclusive reliance on Wren and Martin’s grammar to understand the language would miss the point. This is also true of Hinduism where even the most detailed reading of Dharma Shastras and Smritis would not give you the correct picture of the lived experience of the religion over time.

Lakshman, Rama & SitaHistory dependent but not reversible

One of the common characteristics of complex adaptive systems is that they are path dependent i.e. they carry the imprint of their historical evolution. Thus, most cities, biological ecosystems and living languages will show the layer-by-layer accumulation of their history. Readers will no doubt recognize how this applies to Hinduism. Notice how this is distinct from Newtonian mechanics. Two identical footballs, in identical conditions, will behave in exactly the same way if exactly the same force is applied to them. There is no historical memory in the system, and it does not matter what was done with the two balls before we subjected them to this experiment.

Complex adaptive systems, however, have an additional property—irreversibility. This means that the system will not reverse to its origin even if all historical events were reversed. Thus, reversing history will not take English back to Old Saxon but to some other language. Reversing the events of human evolutionary history will not take us back to our ape-like ancestors but to a new species. Similarly, reversing urban history will not take a city back to the original village settlement. More likely one will get a deserted city like Detroit or a museum city like Venice. Again notice the difference with Newtonian mechanics where a perfect reversal of factors will take the system back exactly to its origin.

An implication of these characteristics is that Hinduism carries its history within it but cannot return to a pure origin or “Golden Age”. It is necessarily about constantly evolving and moving forward even as it draws inspiration and ideas from its past. The holy books, traditions, customs and tenets of Hinduism should not be seen as a path to an ideal “Kingdom of God” or “Caliphate” to which everyone must revert. Rather they are the accumulation of knowledge and experience. Critics may argue that idea of “Ram Rajya” contradicts this point but this is a misunderstanding. Hindus draw inspiration from the idea of Ram Rajya as a time of prosperity and rule-of-law, but it is not vision for a return to the Iron Age.

No equilibrium state

Yet another characteristic of complex adaptive systems is that they do not have an equilibrium or steady state in the long run. Again, note the contrast with Newton’s laws. Thus, the English language will keep adding words and usages with no tendency to stop. Similarly, successful cities will keep changing and/or expanding. However, a corollary is that if the system begins to contract, it can keep contracting with no tendency to self-equilibrate. Thus, a city like Detroit kept declining even though theory would suggest that falling real estate prices would attract back people. Financial markets too behave in this way—they will keep rising past what people think is a “fair value” and then fall back well below—hardly spending any time at the so-called equilibrium.

This behavior has important implications for how to manage complex adaptive systems. First, it means that managers should not attempt to hold the system at some preconceived steady state. Rather they need to accommodate the fact that the system is characterized by “increasing returns to scale” which can push the system into spiraling expansions or contractions. This does not mean that one should not attempt to manage such ecosystems—far from it, financial markets, cities and even ecological systems can benefit from active management. However, the management should allow for constant movement. A city mayor or a financial market regulator who insists on holding the system to a static equilibrium will either fail or effectively suffocate the system.

Although Hinduism does not have a centralized leadership, the above characteristics have many implications for how Hindus think about their religion and manage its future. For instance, they suggest that Hindu leaders refrain from being too prescriptive of where Hinduism should go in the long run. Much better that they focus on continuously updating and reforming the system on an ongoing basis while taking care to maintain internal diversity. The lack of uniformity may seem like a disadvantage in the short-run but is a big advantage when dealing with an unpredictable long-term future. This is analogous to a species maintaining genetic diversity as a bulwark against epidemics and other shocks.

Another possible implication of this intellectual framework may be that one needs to be less enthusiastic about “anti-conversion laws”. These have been proposed by some activists as a way to “protect” Hinduism in some Indian states but these laws are based on an idea of static equilibrium. Our analysis, however, suggests that such laws will have little benefit if the Hindu community is shrinking for whatever reason. In other words, a defensive tactic cannot work if the community is in a downward spiral in a particular area. It would be far better to focus on expansionary strategies to re-inflate the system. These could include intellectual and cultural innovation, social and missionary work, building alliances with other like-minded religious traditions and so on. Some of these efforts can be derived from the past, but it is perfectly alright to use completely new strategies.

Adi ShankaraThe importance of flexibility

One of the learnings from the study of complex, adaptive systems is that flexibility will always triumph over brute strength in the long run. Indeed, inflexible systems can sometime disintegrate very suddenly even if they look outwardly strong. Take, for instance, the evolutionary history of life on earth. The dinosaurs were big and strong, and dominated the planet for millions of years. Yet, they suddenly disappeared as they could not adapt to changed circumstances—except for a few species who adapted to become birds! Similarly, the Soviet empire, for all its nuclear warheads, simply collapsed overnight because it could not adapt. China adapted and thrived. A similar story can be told of cities. Once great cities like Birmingham, Detroit and Kolkata were unable to adapt to deindustrialization. In contrast, by repeatedly reinventing itself, London has not only survived deindustrialization and the loss of Empire, but had been able to retain its place as the world’s financial capital.

This has very important lessons for Hinduism. Indeed, the religion has survived for so long because it was able to continuously evolve though internal reform, innovation and absorption. Sometimes it was the slow accumulation of small changes, sometimes it was a rapid shift led by a reformer like Adi Shankaracharya or Vivekananda. There were also many instances where Sanatan Dharma absorbed a foreign idea and made it its own—Hindu temples and idol worship is possibly inspired by Greek influence (Vedic Hindus only used fire alters).

Interestingly, Hinduism’s flexible, adaptive architecture may not have appeared entirely by chance but may have been deliberately set up by the ancient Rishis. Thus, Hindu scriptures are divided into Shruti and Smriti. The former are said to have been “heard” from the gods and consequently are canonical. Strictly speaking, only the first three Vedas—Rig, Sama, Yajur—are considered Shruti (although many would also include the Atharva Veda). All other sacred texts, including the much revered Bhagwata Gita, are considered Smriti. The Smriti are “remembered’ and therefore considered of human origin—the works of great thinkers, compilations of traditions, and so on. Some of them may be highly regarded but they are not canonical.

This architecture has had important implications for Hinduism. The Shruti texts may be canonical and provide general principles but they are wonderfully open-ended (just consider the Nasadiya Sukta or Creation Hymn in the Rig Veda to understand what I mean), whereas the Smriti texts are more specific but not canonical. This means that one can keep adding new texts and ideas forever, including texts that contradict previous Smriti texts. The much criticized Manu Smriti, by definition, can simply be replaced or revised if Hindus so wish.

To conclude, analyzing Hinduism as a complex adaptive system provides many important insights into the functional architecture of Sanatan Dharma. It shows that the key strength of Hinduism has been its ability to evolve, adapt and innovate. This ability needs to be actively enhanced and strategically deployed in order to keep Hinduism healthy. For instance, it may be time to revive the tradition of writing new Smriti texts, a practice that went into decline in medieval times. Some orthodox Hindus may consider this presumptuous but, as already discussed, it would be in keeping with the inherent logic of Sanatan Dharma.

This paper merely illustrates some of the possibilities presented by the systemic approach to understanding Hinduism. It is not meant as a comprehensive treatise but an attempt to initiate a new way of thinking about Sanatan Dharma. The author hopes that others will build on it. – Swarajya, 26 April 2016

» A version of this article will be published in “Probodhani”, a collection of essays on Hinduism edited by Saradindu Mukherji, published as part of the World Hindu Congress, New Delhi, 21-23 November 2014.

» Sanjeev Sanyal is an economist, urban theorist and best-selling author. A Rhodes Scholar and Eisenhower Fellow, he was named Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2010.


Shani Shingnapur Temple: What is this ‘right to pray’ nonsense? – Radha Rajan

Trupti Desai

Radha Rajan is the editor of Vigil Online“Our courts, not even the Supreme Court has the right to deny Agama which governs a temple’s religious rituals and practices. If the High Courts and Supreme Court want to do fairly by women than let them bring about parity in the number of women judges in the Supreme Court first.” – Radha Rajan

In Modi’s India some force is throwing up non-entities like Kanhaiya Kumar and Trupti Desai who become the talk of the media overnight on non-issues.

Kanhaiya KumarKanhaiya Kumar, like Sonia Gandhi is destined to self-destruct through his mouth. Every time he opens his mouth Kanhaiya Kumar is exposed and yes pun intended. For a man who even at 30 is still struggling to complete his Ph.D., Kanhaiya Kumar is dreaming big dreams. And a motivated group is egging him on to dream with his mouth.

Kanhaiya Kumar has barely shut his mouth and Trupti Desai has opened hers demanding right to enter the Shani Shingnapur Temple. And this is where the media, the English media is playing a dirty game. For people who know little about this temple, like me, I do not know if this temple denies women entry into the temple.

Arnab Goswami‘s campaign raising Trupti Desai as some kind of reformist has titled this campaign “Right to Pray”. I find this queer. Has this country denied this woman or any woman the right to pray? Trupti can pray to Shani Bhagwan even from outside the temple if prayer is what she wants.

My grandmother living 20 yards from the Srirangam Ranganatha Perumal Temple went to the temple maybe thrice or four times a year. No time. Mother of 13 children and keeping an open house—open to relatives from distant villages, she had no time to go the temple.

But she performed her pujas at home. My grandfather on the other hand went to the temple morning and evening. And me, I have never prayed in my life although my kuladevata and I have very lively conversations through the day. I talk, he listens.

So I don’t understand this right to pray nonsense. But is that what this lady Trupti wants or is it something ignoble and totally disruptive? Please enlighten me somebody. I hear she is not demanding right of entry, and that women are not barred entry into this temple, but she actually wants to enter the garba griha or the sanctum sanctorum

This woman like Kanhaiya Kumar is the chief dramatis personae in the “controlled chaos” geopolitical wargames the Generic Church is playing against us. Those who want to know what “controlled chaos” is read: ‘Controlled Chaos’ as an Instrument of Geopolitical Warfare and ‘Color Revolutions’ by Dr. Vladimir Prav

You need useful idiots like Trupti Desai and Kanhaiya Kumar to let loose “controlled chaos” simply to test the waters to see what brings people to the streets, on what issues and how many other useful idiots are ready to stir the spittle.

In Tamil Nadu as I am sure in several states, no one except the priest is allowed to enter the garba griha. No man, no woman here. Only the priest. Does Trupti think Bhagwan Shani is short-sighted or short of hearing that she has to enter the garba griha to “pray”? Seriously? And Times Now thinks this is some huge revolution?

Arnab GoswamiArnab should do a random sample and ask religious temple going women if they will enter the sanctum santorum of any temple simply to make a point? Arnab Goswami will be surprised.

One can ask all the questions one wants, break as many rules as you wish but to what end? If we are serving a larger good in the larger interest, by all means, but to seek some bogus equality when even men cannot enter the inner sanctum, then this is a non-issue which is blown up simply as “controlled chaos”.

Our courts, not even the Supreme Court has the right to deny Agama which governs a temple’s religious rituals and practices. If the High Courts and Supreme Court want to do fairly by women than let them bring about parity in the number of women judges in the Supreme Court first.

This country has placed only six women and one of them obnoxious in the Supreme Court as judges in 66 years after independence. Lets have equality there first before the courts presume to interfere in Hindu temple practices. When women can enter the temple and perform pujas, this is not “right to pray” but something else altogether and nothing good or noble about it either. An idle mind is a useful rent-a-cause idiot.

» Radha Rajan is an author, political analyst, and animal rights activist. She lives in Chennai.

Trupti Desai

USCIRF gets its comeuppance from Modi Sarkar – Radha Rajan

USCIRF Catholic Team

Radha Rajan is the editor of Vigil Online“National security is threatened not only when our borders are threatened by foreign invaders in conventional war, but when our homes, communities and societies are threatened by religious invaders and terrorists. Christian missionaries and Islamic terrorists threaten Hindus and Hindu society. The right to revenge is as much the prerogative of Hindus as it is of the US. So USCIRF cannot preach to India what America has never practiced.” – Radha Rajan

United States Commission on International Religious FreedomModi Sarkar gladdened the hearts of Hindu nationalists when it refused to give visas to a company of American sewage inspectors called USCIRF which wanted to come to India to inspect the state of religious freedom in Modi’s India. The USCIRF bared its fangs in 2002 when the BJP led by Atal Behari Vajpayee was in power. The opening paragraph of a news report featured on the front page of The Hindu dated 2nd October, 2002, titled “Designate India, Pakistan as countries of particular concern,” reads thus: “The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended that the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, designate India, along with others, as ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.”

According to this news report, the USCIRF was reacting to “periodic violence” against the religious minorities of the country, violence which has been on the increase because of the “rise in political influence of groups associated with the Sangh Parivar, a collection of Hindu extremist nationalist organizations that views non-Hindus as foreign to India and hence deserving of attack.”

This was a Freudian slip. “Hindu extremist nationalist organizations” is American verbose for RSS and significantly “nationalist” is pronounced in the same breath as “extremist”. It is a Freudian slip which exposed the open secret that America through the USCIRF and the Vatican were working in tandem to promote the cause of Jesus Christ. These were the exact words of Pope John Paul II when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly in 1995: “… extreme nationalism does not continue to give rise to new forms of the aberrations of totalitarianism.” The Vatican set the precedent of speaking of nationalism in the same breath as extremism.

Modi Sarkar’s crackdown on foreign funds to NGOs, the government’s crackdown on Greenpeace and Ford Foundation has obviously rattled the white Christian world and expectedly, America brandished the USCIRF on India’s face. RSS, BJP and Narendra Modi will always be Military Industrial Complex’s anti-Christ and the USCIRF is just one puny weapon against Hindu India. In a replay of its 2002 report, the USCIRF in 2016 laments:

Robert P. George“We are deeply disappointed by the Indian government’s denial, in effect, of these visas. As a pluralistic, non-sectarian, and democratic state, and a close partner of the United States, India should have the confidence to allow our visit, Robert P. George, Chairman of USCIRF, a bipartisan body, said.

“USCIRF will continue to pursue a visit to India, given the ongoing reports from religious communities, civil society groups, and NGOs that the conditions for religious freedom in India have been deteriorating since 2014,” Mr George said. The annual report of USCIRF documents and categorises countries based on their religious freedom record. In 2015, the report had criticised India and had named BJP and affiliated bodies.

“Incidents of religiously-motivated and communal violence reportedly have increased for three consecutive years. The states of Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan tend to have the greatest number of religiously-motivated attacks and communal violence incidents. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and religious leaders, including from the Muslim, Christian, and Sikh communities, attributed the initial increase to religiously-divisive campaigning in advance of the country’s 2014 general election. Since the election, religious minority communities have been subject to derogatory comments by politicians linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and numerous violent attacks and forced conversions by Hindu nationalist groups, such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP),” the report had said. (Reference)

The U.S was understandably incensed. Modi’s Hindu India was refusing to genuflect before all things American and rejection was bitter medicine. After all, the Italian Roman Catholic Sonia Gandhi led UPA had taken the unprecedented step of inviting the USCIRF to visit Gujarat and Orissa to write officious reports on religious freedom. The Vatican’s Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran was issued a visa to come to Mumbai for an inter-religious dialogue (whatever that means) in June 2009. The Gujarati padre Cedric Prakash was so emboldened by Sonia Gandhi’s ascendance in Indian politics that he dared to make the foolish claim that Narendra Modi must win the approval of western nations (read US) to become Prime Minister of India, and that the USCIRF visit has been welcomed by Gujaratis in America who want the US State Department to remove Modi from their anti-Christ list and give him a visa to the US!

To be told now by Modi Sarkar that they were not welcome brought the USCIRF sand castle down with a whine.

In 2002 when I read the USCIRF report my first impulse was to consign it to the trash can. And I would have, had this been the ranting of some American Southern Baptist group or some disgruntled Christian or Marxist NGO in one of their periodic diatribes against the RSS and the rising religious and political consciousness of the Hindus of this country; or the ranting of the Generic Church funded anti-Hindu human rights industry.

But this was the ranting of a statutory body of the US government, a Commission that was constituted by law, a Commission (which is however allegedly non-governmental), whose members work closely with the American State Department. The Commission is headed by the Ambassador-at Large and he is the Special Adviser to the US President and to the US Secretary of State on International Religious Freedom. And so, the very least that a native of a developing third world nation, whose country has been stood in the dock by this “damning indictment” can do, when faced by the impertinence of foreign busybodies, is to respond to this nonsense with a modicum of seriousness.

The smoking gun!The USCIRF hit list

In the first three years of its existence, from 1998 to 2001, the entire focus of the Commission is on China, Vietnam, Laos, Sudan and Burma. And these countries continue to remain on the hit list of this Commission not only because these countries are ruled either by Communist governments or by the military junta as in the case of Burma, but more interestingly, these countries have a marked antipathy towards Christianity and Christian missionaries. Contrary to the pious statements of this Commission that it is concerned about the lack of freedom of religion in these countries, and that its heart bleeds for the Buddhists and the Falun Gong, it is the refusal to allow Christian missionaries to operate in these countries that has incurred the wrath of this Commission.

The list then expands to include Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and now Pakistan and India. Please note there is a deafening silence on the Good Taliban/Bad Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 1998, despite strong protests from women’s groups in the USA about the Taliban’s treatment of women in Afghanistan. Of course, this silence has nothing to do with the fact that major American oil and gas companies were talking to the Taliban in the hope that the terrorists would agree to let them build pipelines across Afghanistan to transport oil and gas from the Central Asian republics. The alternative was Iran, but then Iran would have laughed the Americans out of town. So that was ruled out. The US needed Afghanistan and the Taliban came as a package deal.

The USCIRF and its rationale

The USCIRF was constituted in 1998 because the US had no international agenda at that time to project its superpower status. The WTO had become a reality, the Taliban were around, but the USA needed pipelines across Afghanistan more than it wanted freedom of religion from the Taliban. The Soviet Union had disappeared, the people of Iraq were being subjected to slow and unexciting genocide by US enforced and UN sanctioned total economic blockade and the US had no excitement that real cloak and dagger stuff can give to its national life.

Because 9/11 was still three years down the line and the invasion and occupation of Iraq as American pastime entertainment was still in the future, America was spoiling for a fight and so it discovered International Religious Freedom. The US passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 and soon after it also constituted the Commission for IRF by law. The rationale for the Act is best expressed by the Act itself: SEC. 2. FINDINGS; POLICY.

Seal of the United States(a) FINDINGS—Congress makes the following findings:

(1) The right to freedom of religion undergirds the very origin and existence of the United States. Many of our Nation’s founders fled religious persecution abroad, cherishing in their hearts and minds the ideal of religious freedom. They established in law, as a fundamental right and as a pillar of our Nation, the right to freedom of religion. From its birth to this day, the United States has prized this legacy of religious freedom and honoured this heritage by standing for religious freedom and offering refuge to those suffering religious persecution.

I will come to this hilarious self-description of “pillar of our nation” in just a while, but it will be interesting to see what triggered this pious decision to monitor international religious freedom in the rest of the world. There are two major causes for the US’ sudden love for religious freedom.

First: Religion was coming back in a big way in the former Soviet Union and in Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine, in Georgia and Armenia the Church was once again becoming a force and an influence to contend with. While all these republics were Christian, none of them acknowledge the supremacy of the Vatican. Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Serbia are Eastern Orthodox while in Armenia, the Armenian Apostolic Church is in communion with Eastern Orthodox Church and Georgia too while Catholic, was not Roman Catholic.

They all had their own national churches and the hierarchy too was national. These republics refused to allow the Vatican, American and European churches, Catholic and Protestant, to open shop in their territories. Indeed, the climate was distinctly hostile to the expansionist designs of the Vatican and the American and European churches in the vulnerable soil of these fledgling nation-states. This of course incensed the US and the Vatican.

Second: Rapidly declining numbers of their flock in the West had the Vatican and the American and European churches looking for new territories to conquer, new peoples to evangelise and convert. They all turned their attention on Asia. On Easter’s eve in 1996, Pope John Paul II led 20,000 Roman Catholics in an Easter vigil at St. Peter’s Basilica. “In his homily John Paul II spoke specifically of Asia after having previously denounced discrimination against Catholics in Vietnam and China. He spoke of ‘the great desire of Christ and the Church to meet the populations and cultures of that immense continent, rich in history and noble traditions. You constitute in a certain way the answer of nations to the new evangelization,’ he said.”

The Vatican and Asia

The Vatican had decided that in the third millennium the Church would plant the cross in Asia and harvest the souls of the non-Christian and non-Muslim peoples of Asia—the Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and peoples of other non-proselytizing faiths that originated in India. To this end, a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Asia was held in April/May of 1998 in the Vatican.

The Vietnamese government, as early as in January 1998 had refused permission to its bishops to attend the Synod. By April, China too had refused permission to the bishops in China and Taiwan to attend the Synod. On May 14th, a mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica brought to a close the work of the Special Assembly for Asia of the Synod of Bishops. According to Fides the Vatican news agency, “At the end of his homily, the Holy Father voiced his intention to visit Asia in the near future to present the post-synodal exhortation. This led to excited discussion among the Synod fathers about possible places for the visit. In the end they suggested a journey with three laps: Bombay, Manila, Hong Kong. Others suggested Jerusalem, Beijing, Calcutta, Ho Chi Minh City, Tokyo or Baghdad.”

The intention of the Vatican was clear. It intended for the Pope to make a high-profile visit to deliver the post-synodal exhortation in one of the Asian countries—China, Vietnam, India or Japan—countries where the majority of the population is non-Christian—Hindus or Buddhists. China of course and Vietnam too, promptly refused to allow the Pope to come visiting them. In India too there was growing awareness and unease about the intentions of the churches of the world to aggressively convert the Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs to the Christian religion and the Hindus were organizing themselves not only to expose the intentions of the Vatican and the American and European churches, but also to resist, militantly if need be, any and all attempts at religious conversion.

John Paul IIThe duplicity of the Vatican and the US 

One must see the US’ sudden love for international religious freedom against this background—of Asia’s growing hostility to Western trade war through globalization and Christian missionary activities, both of which historically have always acted in tandem. Pope John Paul II succeeded to the papacy precisely because he was Polish and Poland was the weakest link in the Soviet bloc—Roman Catholics like the people of Croatia and not Eastern Orthodox like Serbia or Russia. The Polish Pope John Paul II succeeded to the papacy because his mandate was clear—to exert pressure on the weakest link—on Poland and bring about the collapse of communism and consequently the Soviet Union.

The calculation being when communism fails, the West can step in with its IMF and the World Bank and capitalism and free market, and when the Soviet Union disappeared it would also signal the end of the already weakened and debilitated Eastern Orthodox Church and the Vatican can step in to open shop. A dream the West and the Vatican had nurtured and pursued unceasingly for more than five decades. They succeeded only partially. Communism failed, the Soviet Union disintegrated, but the Eastern Orthodox Church rose like the phoenix and reacted ferociously to the Vatican and other western churches attempting to open their industry in these territories.

One must also see the antipathy of the USA, the West and the Vatican to China, Vietnam, and Serbia in this context. While the USA passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998, the seeds of the Act were sown cleverly in 1995 itself, to coincide with the creation of the WTO, when Pope John Paul II was invited to address the UN General Assembly on 5 October 1995, to mark the 50th year of the UN. And he devoted his entire talk to the rights of people to freedom, to human rights, to the rights of nations to come into being and to exist (a call for enabling the fructifying of movements for self-determination, a forewarning of the creation of Croatia, East Timor).

It is one of the cleverest, most cunning speeches ever made. Every sentence should be read to mean that he is talking only of Christian interests, Christian political and religious rights. Wherever he appeals for diversity, he is appealing to those nations and peoples who are non-Christian to allow the Christian faith with its missionary agenda, to exist, to grow. And for the first time, the Church, and immediately thereafter American think tanks, begin to make a distinction between ‘patriotism’ which is in their view, positive, and ‘nationalism’ which in their view is negative, because it is synonymous with protectionism and shuts its doors on the face of religious and economic invaders.

One of the reasons cited by the US for constituting the USCIRF is: “Though not confined to a particular region or regime, religious persecution is often particularly widespread, systematic, and heinous under totalitarian governments and in countries with militant, politicized religious majorities.”

This is an accurate paraphrase of the Pope’s UNGA address in 1995 where he invents his own definition of nationalism and patriotism thus: “We need to clarify the essential difference between an unhealthy form of nationalism, which teaches contempt for other nations or cultures, and patriotism, which is a proper love of one’s country. True patriotism never seeks to advance the well-being of one’s own nation at the expense of others. For in the end, this would harm one’s own nation as well. Doing wrong damages both aggressor and victim. Nationalism, in its most radical form, is thus the antithesis of true patriotism, and today we must ensure that extreme nationalism does not continue to give rise to new forms of the aberrations of totalitarianism.”

USCIRF’s  hostile intent in 2002 when the BJP was in power in Delhi and its hostile intent now in 2016, when the BJP is in power again in Delhi must be seen as the Generic Church’s fear and antipathy for nationalism—in this case Hindu nationalism.

Patriotism, nationalism and all that crap

Now let us apply the Pope’s yardstick of “true patriotism” and “extreme nationalism” to religion, to Christianity and the Church specifically. If the Pope were indeed sincere about his call for allowing diversity to exist, about his devout respect for all cultures and traditions, he will acknowledge that all cultural values and traditions derive from the religion and faith of the people.

The US, USCIRF and the Generic Church must explain the basis for religious conversion and the determination of the Vatican to convert all peoples of the world to the Christian faith, to the Catholic faith to be exact. Will this allow for diversity, will this express respect for other cultures and traditions? Is this not an agenda for homogenization and does this not violate the principle of the right to existence of other religions and faiths? Has the Pope not learnt anything from the destruction and the total annihilation of the religions of the Native Americans and the Africans by the Church?

The West, of course, is rediscovering “nationalism” and is now beginning to understand the need for protectionism when globalization opened the borders of their countries to immigration. Now they realise how important it is to preserve their white Christian culture and way of life from the onslaught of third world natives and Muslim migrants. So while the USA and the West want Asians to open their borders to their capital and goods, and throw open the doors of our societies and homes to Christian missionaries, they frown upon religious and economic nationalism a.k.a. protectionism. They however want to clamp down on immigration, shut their borders to Asians, Africans and Syrian and other Middle East Muslim refugees to rediscover what it is to be American, British, German and French.

Our respect for the culture of others is therefore rooted in our respect for each community’s attempt to answer the question of human life. And here we can see how important it is to safeguard the fundamental right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, as the cornerstones of the structure of human rights and the foundation of every truly free society. No one is permitted to suppress those rights by using coercive power to impose an answer to the mystery of man.”

The irony of it all! The last line can be understood better if we know that the Vatican believes that the Catholic faith alone is the repository of all truth and it alone has the answer to the mystery of man. So when the Pope talks of coercive power and the use of coercive power to impose an answer, he is referring to regimes and governments which have refused the Vatican and Christianity even a toe-hold in their countries—China, Vietnam, Japan, Burma (Myanmar), and of course the Asian Islamic nations of Malaysia and Indonesia where to proselytize and distribute Christian propaganda material is a crime. What the Pope is in fact demanding is the Christian right to propagate, evangelise and carry out individual and mass conversions in Asian countries with very large non-Christian populations.

Obama has a Christian agenda for South AsiaThe deep pocket of human rights

The seeds for an intrusive and aggressive foreign policy eroding national sovereignty were sown as early as in the late 1980s and in the 1990s decade with the USA, the West, the Vatican and the European churches, which collectively I label the Generic Church, acting in tandem. Concrete shape for renewed aggression by the USA against the nations of Asia is given through the inequitable WTO and the designing of the deep pocket called “human rights.” It is a pocket deep enough to yield several agendas demanding unilateral or multilateral interference into domestic national affairs. Human rights can accommodate right to freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, women’s rights, children’s rights, rights of labour, right to self-determination, right to—the list can be made as endless as the US wants.

But the striking absence of right to freedom from racial discrimination and the right to participatory democracy has not been noticed it would seem. The US is yet to begin the process of participatory democracy. The highest offices of this land of the brave and the home of the free are reserved for the white/Christian (Protestant)/male—President Barack Obama who bucked the White House trend is half white and half African, half Christian and half Muslim. As long as women, African American Christians and Muslims, Native Americans and Jews and American Indian Hindus do not get elected to the White House, the USCIRF should deny itself the luxury of pointing fingers at India. By this single act of commission alone, the US is guilty of several counts of religious and racial intolerance, undemocratic, and violator of all freedoms.

The US owes us an explanation now. Is the USCIRF empowered to monitor religious freedom only in the rest of the world or is it empowered to monitor systemic denial of religious rights within the USA too? Because there are enough documents to prove denial of the right to practice the rituals of their faith by Native American students in some American universities.

The US and USCIRF also owe the world an explanation on their silence and polite looking the other way when the Taliban incarcerated the women and children of Afghanistan in their homes. Now is the time to deal with the “pillar of our nation” joke. All of you, who are not averse to waging this intellectual war against our adversaries, must read without fail two books: A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present by Ward Churchill and American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World by David E. Stannard. Once you have read these two books, it is difficult to listen to or read anything the Pope or the USA is saying about freedom and human rights and democracy and pluralism without rolling on the ground in laughter.

“Religious freedom—the pillar of our nation”

What was that again? “The right to freedom of religion undergirds the very origin and existence of the United States. Many of our Nation’s founders fled religious persecution abroad, cherishing in their hearts and minds the ideal of religious freedom. They established in law, as a fundamental right and as a pillar of our Nation, the right to freedom of religion.”

Now let us see what these noble nation’s founders, “who fled religious persecution abroad,” did to the Native Americans in the name of the Church and Christianity, in the name of religion. There is an encyclical by the Pope in the 15th century severely condemning the genocide of Native Americans. The Pope says that as long as these barbaric natives are fit to receive the message of Christ, their lives should be spared and should be elevated into the service of Christ.

From then on begins the savage christianising of the Native Americans. They are driven like so much cattle into Christian missions and there they are put to hard labour by the priests who think hard labour is good for the soul of Native Americans. They thought the same thing about the Africans whom they transported into North America later. Hard labour is always good for the non-white, non-Christian peoples of the world, particularly if the labour is for furthering the trade and economy of white Christian colonising nations.

In the words of Ward Churchill: “In actuality, the missions were death-mills in which Indians, often delivered en masse by the military, were allotted an average of seven feet by two feet of living space in what one observer described as ‘specially constructed cattle pens’. Although forced to perform arduous agricultural labour by the priests from morning to night, six days a week, the captives were provided no more than 1400 calories per day in low nutrient foods, with missions like San Antonio and San Miguel supplying as little as 715 calories per day.”

Probably most remarkable in this regard is Fray Junipero Serra in charge of the northern California mission complex during its peak period, and a man whose personal brutality was noteworthy even by those standards (he appears to have delighted in the direct torture of victims, had to be restrained from hanging Indians in lots, a la Columbus, and is quoted as asserting that the entire race of Indians should be put to the knife).

Having been canonized a saint by the Catholic Church, Serra’s visage, forty feet tall, today peers serenely down upon motorists driving south from San Francisco along Highway 101 from its vantage point on a prominent bluff. Another statue of Serra, a much smaller bronze which has stood for decades before San Francisco’s city hall, is being moved to a park.

Officials denied requests from local Native Americans that it be placed in storage, out of public view, however, offering the compromise of affixing a new plaque to address native concerns about the incipient saint’s legacy. (Hindus of India and Jews of the world please note, ‘Mother’ Teresa and ‘Hitler’s Pope’ are both all set to be canonized as the new saints of the twentieth century in the Catholic pantheon, a gesture of gratitude for services rendered in the cause of furthering the Catholic Church in difficult times and in difficult climes). Church lobbyists however have undermined even that paltry gesture, preventing the inclusion of wording which might have revealed something of the true nature of the mass murder and cultural demolition over which Serra presided. Both man and mission, the Vatican insisted, were devoted to ‘‘mercy and compassion.”

In passing this Act on International Religious Freedom, the US is basing its case on the noble founders of the nation, on “the pillars of our nation”—a nation that was built on the blood and sweat of genocide and slavery—both of which were practiced in the name of the Christian faith!

Tribals from various states of India hold placards during a protest against Christian missionaries in New Delhi in 2011. The demonstrators appealed to authorities to protect the culture of indigenous people, claiming that evangelical Christian missionaries are forcing them to convert to Christianity.What is right for you, is right for me

The US has set several precedents post September 11—precedents worthy of emulation: The right to revenge, the right to pre-emptive strikes when faced with threats to national security, the right to demonstrative nationalism/protectionism. The USCIRF must ask itself why other religious minorities in India, the Parsis, the Sikhs, the Buddhists and Jains never face the problems that Christians and Muslims in India face at the hands of “Hindu extremists”? Why did the US carpet bomb Iraq and Afghanistan?

National security is threatened not only when our borders are threatened by foreign invaders in conventional war, but when our homes, communities and societies are threatened by religious invaders and terrorists. Christian missionaries and Islamic terrorists threaten Hindus and Hindu society. The right to revenge is as much the prerogative of Hindus as it is of the US. So USCIRF cannot preach to India what America has never practiced.

As for their litany about rising Hindu extremism/nationalism threatening the secular, pluralistic, democratic fibre of the country, and all that, the Indian State is democratic and secular. The Indian nation is not. The Indian nation, like most nations of the world, is religious. And the rich diversity, not pluralism, which is inherent in Hindu worldview, has been a living tradition for over two thousand years, when the first Christian and Muslim missionaries/traders/invaders begin to appear in our country, not because of the USCIRF or the UN or the Indian Constitution or the Human rights industry, but because this nation is a timeless civilization.

It has existed for centuries because the nation was Hindu. The Hindu thought is assimilatory, not exclusivist like the Abrahamic faiths. And it is this nation which is being threatened by the missionary activities of Christian fundamentalists and the secessionist activities of Islamic fundamentalists. The Hindus have survived 600 years of Muslim barbarism, 200 years of savage colonialism. We survived violent partition in 1947, and we are living with the twin monsters of ascendant jihadi Islam and extremist evangelical church—both monsters which were fed and fattened by Sonia Gandhi and her foreign masters.

Hindus have the right to exist, the right to protect their faith, the right to territory, the right to defend their women and children, the right to their unique worldview powered by Dharma, right to revenge and the right to pre-emptive strikes against their aggressors.

NGOs, Activists and Foreign Funds: Anti-National IndustryClosing Word

Readers are invited to visit to read the path-breaking book NGOs, Activists and Foreign Funds: Anti-nation Industry which is a veritable who’s who (polite for Rogue’s Gallery) of all anti-Indian forces which come in different packages, with different names, in different contexts. The PDF version of the book is here.

The USCIRF held a special meeting on the Gujarat riots and all the usual suspects were wined and dined by America to provide grist for its anti-Hindu mill; Appendices 7 and 8 deal with the USCIRF. Incidentally, in the chapter “Singing for their Supper” readers will meet the original didi, Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande who too was wined and dined by the US State Department.     

Nirmala DeshpandeIndian activist takes Bush to task

David Scafenberg, Sentinel Staff Writer, Excerpt from India Abroad (September 5, 2003): Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande pulls no punches at meetings with administration officials—complains US reaction to Gujarat riots was not strong enough. Deshpande, 74, pointed to the lack of a strong reaction from US Govt. to the sectarian carnage in Gujarat, which she said was state sponsored. She lamented the victims had not seen justice either through the police or judicial systems. At the State Dept., Deshpande—known for her campaigns covering thousands of miles with the likes of freedom fighter Vinoba Bhave—met with Diana Barnes, Foreign Affairs Officer, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. At the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, she met with Patricia Carley, a senior policy analyst. She met with staffers of the hierarchy of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans, addressed a community meeting at University of Maryland and interacted with the media. She said part of her trip would be to convince non-resident Indians and the Indian-American community not to contribute to the extremist groups. “We would like to make our friends aware of the reality and those who subscribe to these views that if you really love India, you should not do anything that would harm India. What these people are doing in Gujarat and trying to do in other states will harm India in a very big way.” Her trip is being sponsored by NRIs for Secular and Harmonious India. In Washington, she was accompanied to the meetings by John Prabhudoss, Executive Director, Policy Institute for Religion and State, and Kaleem Kawaja, coordinator, NRIs for a Secular and Harmonious India.

Indians who depose before the US State Department or before the USCIRF are anti-national, period. They squeal against their own countrymen, they express to a foreign Government their distrust of their country’s democratic institutions, they abuse their country’s police and armed forces, and they wail, “Indian democracy is in peril, come and save us.” And if you are Arundhati Roy, you will add, “Me slave, you king”, for better effect. Some of these anti-national Indian informers actually think it is an honour to be summoned to appear before the US Government to squeal against their country. Professor Sumit Ganguly, University of Texas, who also passes himself off as ‘expat journalist’ has appeared more than once before the USCIRF and his opening sentence at one such appearance in September 2000 was, “I consider it an honour and a privilege to be asked to testify before this Commission today.” Now, this kind of slavish deference must have been music to American ears and they summoned the good and willing professor again in 2002. The USCIRF held a special hearing on “Communal violence in Gujarat, India and the US response” and those that were summoned to depose and those that appeared obediently before their masters on June 10, 2002 were Teesta Setalvad, Professor Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Professor Sumit Ganguly and Father Cedric Prakash. The URL of the proceedings of this hearing is presented to readers in Appendix 7 and is a must-read for the sheer anti-nation, anti-Hindu intent not only of the Indians who deposed before an alien government but for the anti-India, anti-Hindu intent of the USCIRF itself. The comments made by the commissioners about India are an unmitigated piece of impertinence. Didi Deshpande, let us not forget, deposed before the US Government in September 2003. Neither the USCIRF nor the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor ever felt compelled to hold a hearing on the genocide of the Hindus of Kashmir or the ongoing violence and acts of terror by Christian terrorists in the North-East and Muslim terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir. Readers will note that these anti-national Indian worthies while auditing their country and its democratic institutions before the Americans also shed a few obligatory and insincere tears for the Hindus of Bangladesh! Not a tear for the Hindus at home—those that were killed and terrorised to flee from the state of Jammu and Kashmir, for the Hindu women and children killed in the Sabarmati Express in Godhra or for the Hindu victims of the Mumbai blasts and riots. – Vigil Online, 7 March 2016

Protest outside US Embassy, New Delhi

Science, Secularism and Saturn – Ashish Dhar

Shaneshwar at Shingnapur

Ashish Dhar“Most Indians are deeply religious in temperament and therefore, many laws that are derived from a secular constitution find few instinctively eager takers. This dichotomy, though, is brushed aside by deracinated, elitist intellectuals appealing to the authority of reason, which is deemed sacrosanct.” – Ashish Dhar

Rationality is an extremely useful state of mind. Alas, it is not the only state of mind. Somewhere between rational enquiry and irrational mumbo-jumbo lies the non-rational world of art, poetry, music, mythology and much else. Of course, the non-rational does have rational as well as irrational building blocks, the concept of harmony in music and skilful exaggerations or logical contradictions in story-telling for instance, but as a cognitive phenomenon, non-rationality refuses to be tied down to either rationality or its opposing binary.

In other words, the pleasant experience of listening to music or reading poetry has little to do with our knowledge of sound waves or neuroscience. In contrast, rationality becomes indispensable in scientific enquiry and in societal matters, where forming explicit consensus over issues of importance is unavoidable. Hence it finds an extraordinary, if not supreme, place in our collective imagination.

However, as proposed above, rationality ought to have its reasonable limits and not just in the fields of aesthetics or art but also when we ascribe meaning to our everyday existence. The legendary propensity of human beings to interpret the infinite expressions of a limitless universe within the rigid constructs of reason makes us unrealistically optimistic about the success of this hopeless endeavour. On a more grounded, less speculative note, the reliance on reason alone as our sole moral compass is sure to lead to disastrous navigation in social life. It is worth considering that psychopaths mostly self-identify as impeccable rationalists. The “Rationalist Delusion“, with its fair share of caveats (pdf), is an accurate description of the belief system of a large and diverse section of humanity, one that worships reason as a panacea for all moral ills whereas evidence indicates that the reasoning faculty actually evolved to help us Rene Descarteswin arguments and rationalize our choices in hindsight rather than arriving at some higher objective truth.

The sacred privilege granted to rationality in contemporary society can be traced back to the European scientific revolution, when long-held beliefs of an entire civilization were brutally humiliated under the penetrating gaze of reason and science, subsequently liberating the whole populace from the stifling grip of religious superstition and prejudice. Descartes famously proclaimed, “I think, therefore I am” directly undermining the legitimacy of emotional and spiritual states of being.

Ironically, this apparently radical statement was an inadvertent rehash of the ideas of Plato and other Greek philosophers, who made a name out of deifying reason, long before Christianity had come about. In terms of the philosophy of science, the privileging of rationality became the basis for positivism and empiricism, which hold that any knowledge must ultimately derive its authority from reason.

Predictably, the triumph of rationality had a massive political impact culminating in the French Revolution, with its celebration of liberty, equality and fraternity. Earlier, the growing trust in rationality had gone hand in hand with the Protestant Reformation and had witnessed a rift between the Church and the State, giving currency to the concept of secularism, the formal separation of religion and state.

Cross Crossed-OutBy the 20th century, as the authority of Christianity was taking a nosedive in many parts of the West, blind faith in Jesus gave way to an unlikely alternative, blind faith in reason, marked by the rise of ideologies like Communism and Atheism, which are essentially Godless versions of Christianity in their obsessive urge to reduce all of history to a handful of simplistic ideas and the promise of “deliverance” from aeons of oppression. Another feature that these secular creeds inherited from Christianity is a compulsive need to define an enemy, a secular Satan.

Communists profess hatred for the bourgeois, capitalists abhor communists, atheists blame religion for all evils and so on. In the middle of the same century, India ceased to be a British colony and in the true spirit of a colonized people, the country adopted a secular constitution inspired by the cherished values of the colonizer, which would not necessarily be a bad thing if only enough number of citizens subscribed to those values.

To come to an understanding of the schism between what the Indian Constitution upholds and what various sections of the society believe in, let us first take a rudimentary look at the religious demographics in India. Hindus form the majority, Muslims are the largest minority and Christians are a distant third, followed by numerous other groups, some organically connected with Hinduism and others not.

Hindus themselves are an incredibly diverse polylith that allows for decentralization of customs, rites and rituals, often based on local geography and environmental constraints. Regardless of which religion they currently belong to, as a consequence of their dharmic past, most Indians are deeply religious in temperament and therefore, many laws that are derived from a secular constitution find few instinctively eager takers. This dichotomy, though, is brushed aside by deracinated, elitist intellectuals appealing to the authority of reason, which is deemed sacrosanct.

Constitution of IndiaNevertheless, in the real world of action, it creates irresolvable conflicts in legislation and law enforcement. Imagine the emotional turmoil faced by a devout Sikh cop being asked to supervise the demolition of a gurudwara to make space for a flyover. To be fair to the Constitution, it is not a static document and has been amended nearly a hundred times since independence already but in an adversarial political environment where an elected government cannot pass regular, non-controversial bills in the parliament, expecting serious constitutional amendments that can have political consequences is asking for the moon. Thus, in practice, Indians are condemned to live with whatever has been thrust upon them by their colonial past.

It could be argued that given the mind-boggling plurality of Indian society, to which modern secularism can make no claims of contribution, it would be impossible to work out a common minimum program that functions equally well for all sections and therefore, a code has to be enforced “from the outside” with or without the consent of the masses. In their defence, the secularists declare that in time, such laws would trickle down into the consciousness of people and within a few generations, their primitive religious intuition would be replaced by a humane and rational outlook. This hope, other than being a product of the rationalist delusion mentioned above, also turns out to be a non starter for Indian society, which has a by and large successful history of resisting such attempts of acculturation by the powers that be, the Islamic invader, the colonial empire or the modern state. For the people don’t identify with the events of another time and place—read reformation in Europe—in which their own ancestry had absolutely no role to play.

This resentment is further accentuated by the glaring historical facts that point to a remarkably more harmonious social order in their own civilization. So, a relevant question to ask in this context is, if Hindu society never faced conflicts between the ruling class and the clergy, obviously due to its non-Iain T. Bensonecclesiastical make up, why should it accept a false consciousness imposed via hazy platitudes of secularist discourse? The most common answer is that Indian society is not entirely Hindu and it has to fulfil the aspirations of the minorities as well and secularism ensures that. Never mind the self referential circularity of secularist logic, let us now examine how secularism indeed provides a breath of fresh air to the minorities by effectively suffocating the majority.

A secular state can choose to interact with religion(s) in the following ways as defined by Iain Benson, a Canadian-British legal philosopher:

  1. Neutral secular: No support to any religion in any way
  2. Positive secular: State creates general conditions favourable to all religions without favouring beliefs of anyone
  3. Negative secular: State not competent in religious matters but does not inhibit religious manifestations
  4. Inclusive secular: State not controlled by a single religion but works in the widest interest of different faith groups including non religious

It would be interesting to find out which of the above is the accepted definition of secularism in India. As the word was added to the preamble hastily at the time of 1975 emergency, it is unlikely that Mrs. Gandhi or her colleagues would’ve had the time to delve into such intricacies. But it is never too late to get to the bottom of a conundrum that is an inexhaustible source of sensationalism for the Indian media. From the above definitions, it is clear that in the Indian experience, putting a finger on one of the four variations turns out to be a near impossibility. It appears that our secularism is a “contextual” secularism that changes its function as per political convenience.

The state turns positive in relation to Hajj subsidies and negative regarding issues such as large-scale conversion by Christian missionaries. When it comes to Hindu issues, it becomes a neutral secular state, expressly suppressing facts through proxies and poking its nose into issues it has no business to be worried about. In states like West Bengal, the state adopts another form of secularism, that is, criminal secularism because it refuses to link appalling acts of crime to a “particular religion”.

The BJPs Secularism!Evidently, secularism in India is a false construct that only applies to the majority religion, whether it is in the form of the government control of temples or an unwarranted interference in educational institutions run by the majority community. This contextual secularism has serious repercussions for the Hindu society as it reopens the wounds that it has endured under a thousand years of largely exploitative rule by outsiders and alienates its various sections into becoming self loathing anglophiles, hardliner reactionaries or indifferent, apolitical and uninformed bystanders.

Hindus, under the influence of the dominant secularist discourse, are fast forgetting the art of speaking of their own dharma on their own terms and it is getting increasingly common to find well-meaning Hindus getting embroiled in inane debates about the “right” to worship according to rules created in 16th century Europe.

Shingnapur, a relatively unknown village of Maharashtra, was dragged into one such duel between reason and “superstition”, when a group of self-proclaimed feminists declared their intent to offer oil to the murti of Shanidev (Saturn) at the temple, a practice traditionally restricted to only males. Keeping with the arrogant trend of rationalist interventions, it was decreed that the practice was an expression of deep-seated patriarchy prevalent in Hindu society and how such discriminatory practices must end.

Darandale Shivajirao AnnasahebThe Shani Shingnapur Temple technically belongs to the Shri Shaneshwar Devasthan Trust and more broadly to the residents of this village, whose many generations have adored and worshipped the deity in a particular way. Further, there is no evidence of these unique customs originating from social compulsions or tyranny of any kind. They belong to the realm of the esoteric and must be spared the jibes of secular rationality. Most importantly, the arrangement works for the locals, whose faith in the power of the deity’s presence inspires them to do away with doors for their houses and locks for their valuables, an ideal worth emulating for outsiders.

In Hindu mythology, Saturn is easily the most difficult planet to propitiate. It symbolizes death, disease, poverty and all that we abhor in life. It brings about great hindrance in self-expression and self-manifestation but only through these finite obstacles does it offer a gateway to infinite potential. The state of Hindu society for the last one thousand years also seems to have been strongly afflicted by Saturn, characterized by widespread poverty, subjugation, self-pity and exploitation by external forces beyond its control.

Reasoning (yukti) has been a phenomenal asset for the Indian civilization, yet it has never been worshipped or put on a holy pedestal. Experience (anubhava) has always superseded reason as far as its proximity to the truth is concerned. Saturn is the planet that grants us anubhava. Let us not permit petty political reasons to overrule the spiritual experience of our diverse communities, who’re anyway suffering the tyranny of secularization for no fault of theirs. Let Saturn be our guide to self discovery, in Shingnapur and elsewhere.- IndiaFacts, 4 February 2016

» Ashish Dhar is a mechanical engineer and an entrepreneur who lives in New Delhi. He is co-founder of, an e-learning portal dedicated to Indic knowledge systems.

Secularism of Congress

See also