Putting secularism into perspective – Maria Wirth

Religion / State

Maria WirthThere must never be a separation between State and Dharma. On the contrary, only when all politicians follow dharma, when they follow their innate knowledge of what is the right thing to do, will India have the best chance to truly shine again. – Maria Wirth

Like before the last election in 2014, this time too, there are voices by so-called intellectuals that “secularism is in danger” if BJP comes to power again. Though Indians are generally highly intelligent, when it comes to secularism, most intellectuals, media and politicians get the concept wrong.

Since secularism is a western “invention”, I would like to put it into perspective:

Contrary to the general perception in India, secular is not the opposite of communal. Communal as such is not objectionable either. It means “pertaining to a community”. In Germany, elections to local bodies are called “communal elections” (kommunalwahlen).

Secular means worldly and is opposite to “religious”. Now “religious” in this context refers to Christianity, i.e. to a well-organized, dogmatic religion that claims that it is the sole keeper of the Truth, which God himself has revealed to his Church.

And what is this revealed truth? In short: the human being is born in sin, which dates back to Adam and Eve. But fortunately, some 2000 years ago, God had mercy on humanity and sent his only son Jesus Christ to earth to redeem us by dying for our sins on the cross, then rising from the dead and going back to his father up in heaven. However to be able to get the benefit of Jesus’s sacrifice, one must be baptized and become a member of the Church, otherwise one will be singled out for eternal hell on Judgment Day.

Understandably, such claims did not appeal to those who used their brains, but for many centuries they had to keep quiet or risk their lives. The reason was that for long the Church was intertwined with the State, and  harsh laws made sure that people did not question the “revealed truth”. Heresy was punished with torture and death. Even in faraway Goa, after Francis Xavier called the Inquisition to this colony, unspeakable brutality was committed against Indians. In many Muslim countries till today, leaving Islam is punishable by death.

Significantly, those centuries, when Church and State were intertwined, when the clergy prospered and the faithful sheep suffered, are called the Dark Ages. And the time when the Church was forced to loosen its grip, is called the Age of Enlightenment, which started only some 350 years ago. Scientific progress, which was greatly fostered by Indian knowledge reaching Europe, played a crucial role in curbing the influence of the Church.

Slowly, the idea that reason, and not blind belief in a “revealed truth”, should guide society, took root in Europe and this lead to the demand for a separation between State and Church. Such separation is called secularism. It is a recent phenomenon in the West.

Today, most western democracies are “secular”, i.e. the Church cannot push her agenda through State power, though most western democracies still grant Christianity preferential treatment. For example in Germany, the constitution guarantees that the Christian doctrine is taught in government schools, or that the Church tax is collected by the State. Nevertheless, the present situation is a huge improvement over the dark ages.

In India, however, the situation was different. Here, the dominant faith of the Indian people never had a power centre that dictated unreasonable dogmas and needed to be propped up by the State. Their faith was based on insights of the Rishis and on reason, intuition and direct experience. It expressed itself in a multitude of ways. Their faith was about trust and reverence for the One Source of all life. It was about doing the right thing at the right time according to one’s conscience. It was about The Golden Rule: not to do to others what one does not want done to oneself. It was about having noble thoughts. It was about how to live life in an ideal way. It was about Satya and Dharma.

However, this open atmosphere changed when Islam and Christianity entered India. Indians, who good naturedly considered the whole world as family, were despised, ridiculed and even killed in big numbers only because they were “Hindus” (which is basically a geographical term). Indians did not realise that dogmatic religions were very different from their own, ancient Dharma. For the first time they were confronted with merciless killing in the name of God. Voltaire, who fought the stranglehold of the Church in Europe, had accurately observed, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities”.

During Muslim rule Hindus had to lie low for fear of their lives, and during British rule they were ridiculed by missionaries, and cut off from their tradition with the help of “education” policies. Naturally, this took a toll on their self-esteem. In fact, till today, this low self-esteem especially in many members of the English-educated class is evident to outsiders, though it may not be so to the persons concerned. Swami Vivekananda’s efforts to give Hindus back their spine did not impact this class of people. Nevertheless, it is a great achievement that Hindu Dharma survived for so many centuries, whereas the West succumbed completely to Christianity and over fifty countries to Islam in a short span of time.

Coming back to secularism. Though Hindu Dharma survived and never dictated terms to the State, “secular” was added to the Constitution of India in 1976. There might have been a reason, as since Independence, several non-secular decisions had been taken. For example, Muslim and Christian representatives had pushed for special civil laws and other benefits and got them.

However, after adding “secular”, the situation did not improve. In fact the government seemed almost eager to benefit specifically the dogmatic religions—which secularism is meant to counter—and occasionally had to be restrained in its eagerness by the courts.

This is inexplicable. Why would “secular” be added and then not acted upon? And the strangest thing is that “secular” got a new, specific Indian meaning. It means today to fostering the two big religions which have no respect for Hindus and whose dogmas condemn all of them to eternal hell—a fact that most Hindus simply laugh off or don’t even know.

It is a sad irony. Can you imagine the Jews honouring the Germans with preferential treatment instead of seeking compensation for the millions of Jews killed? Yet Islam and Christianity that have gravely harmed Indians over centuries get preferential treatment by the Indian state, and its own beneficial dharma that has no other home except the Indian subcontinent, is egged out. And to top it all, this is called “secular”!

Obviously Indians have not learnt from the European experience. Hindus have not yet realized the intention of the dogmatic religions, though they say it openly: “We alone have the full truth. All must accept this.”

Media and politicians did their best to muddy the water. They called parties that represent a religious group “secular” instead of “religious”. When the state gave in to demands made by Christianity and Islam, it was—falsely of course—called “secular”. Why did the government do this? Did it want to give its citizens a firsthand experience of what the Dark Ages were like? In the interest of all Indians it surely is wise for the State to ignore the powerful, dogmatic religions and focus on all citizens equally. This means being “secular” in the western sense.

Yet this advice is valid only regarding dogmatic religions which demand blind belief in unverifiable, even divisive dogmas. It does not apply to Dharma.

It would be a disaster if the State would also ignore Dharma and become adharmic. Every citizen needs to do what is right under the given circumstances, including politicians. This shows that Hindu Dharma or Hinduism, as India’s tradition is called, is in a completely different category from religion. There must never be a separation between State and Dharma. On the contrary, only when all politicians follow dharma, when they follow their innate knowledge about what is the right thing to do, India has the best chance to truly shine again and become the famed Golden Bird. – Maria Wirth Blog, 5 April 2019

» Maria Wirth is a German author who lives in Uttarakhand. She has recently published a biographical memoir called Thank you India: A German Woman’s Journey To The Wisdom Of Yoga.

Nehruvian Secularism



Is secularism the other side of genocide? – Murali K.V.

Constitution of India

Indian secularismSecularism was undemocratically added to the Constitution by Indira Gandhi during the Emergency. The legacy of this dictatorial act has come to full fruition now with many judgements effectively declaring that secularism is to treat Hindus as non-citizens in their own land. – Murali K.V.

The term secularism was not present in the original Indian Constitution framed by the Constituent Assembly and Bharat Ratna Dr. Ambedkar. It was undemocratically added by Indira Nehru while her party, the Indira Congress (not the Indian National Congress) was in power and had declared an emergency. The legacy of this dictatorial act of an illegitimate government has come to full fruition now with many judgements effectively declaring that secularism is to treat Hindus as non-citizens in their own land.

Everybody might be aware that drunken driving is an offence. Whether such a driver causes an accident or not they are arrested and prevented from driving as a “preventive” measure against accidents and fatalities. It is a matter of fact and logic that a significant proportion of those caught are highly unlikely to cause accidents even while drunk as different people have varying levels of resistance to the influence of substances and are known to drive relatively safely even while drunk! Yet, as a society, we take preventive and often punitive action (including arrest and punishments such as revoking the licence, etc.) against such drivers because it is almost impossible to predict when and who when drunk will cause an accident, fatal or not. So the idea of such a “preventive” policy is to reduce accidents and fatalities by prosecuting all drunk driving, which is generally considered a fair and just policy. There are many such “preventive” policies in force in most functional societies, such as “preventive” arrests or detainment for the prevention of unrest in the society, etc. Even such vague policies as the latter are accepted as fair and just by many.

If the above is the case (“preventive” measures) for isolated incidents of accidents and fatalities, should it not be the case that anything that significantly increases the risk of genocide should not be allowed but banned and ruthlessly prosecuted as it is a crime against the entire humanity to allow forces of genocide to operate freely?

It is an undeniable fact of over two millennia of evidence that certain theologies and philosophies holding sway over vast sections of the population across the globe have been a repeat and continuous offenders of the outrageous crime of genocide against the entirety of humanity. The most important fact of this is that none of these theologies or philosophies has shown any reformative tendencies and stopped their behavior even in the slightest.

In spite of Christianity being the cause and the justification for the white race to eliminate over 21 billion people (in today’s population count and density) across the globe, the entire races of Native Americans, Native Australians and many peoples of Asia and of course Africa, centuries of slavery and indentured labour, it is still seen fit and “secular” to allow the religion to exist without any change or amendments to its ideology whatsoever. Moreover, people argue as if Christianity is genuinely a religion of love (RoL) and has reformed itself. Has it? As recently as in the mid-1990s in Rwanda the Christian Church committed genocide of millions of poor Africans inside the Church premises themselves, and that too using the divide-and-rule policy where Christian Africans were made to kill fellow Christian Africans in the so-called places of god, the churches! [1]

Historically this has been justified by the Christians with various ludicrous “philosophical” arguments, such as non-Christians do not have a soul, it is the white man’s burden to civilise the “savage” non-whites, etc. However ridiculous it might appear these arguments still have sway as demonstrated by the current affairs and the past empirical facts of human history.

Similarly, Islamists in India have committed one of the largest recorded genocide, often unparalleled in cruelty and evil. Again, this is not a historical event or a historical series that has come to an end. As recently as in the early 1990s, all Hindu Kashmiris have been driven out of Kashmir. The almost non-existent Hindu population of Pakistan and fast-dwindling Hindu population of Bangladesh (now at less than 10 percent), from 25–30 percent mark in 1947 paints an undeniable picture of the continuing atrocities across the globe, especially the Indian subcontinent. [2]

Now, how does one constitutionally, morally and ethically justify supporting secularism that “equally” respects such empirically demonstrable forces of genocide and perpetrators of all sorts of crimes against humanity, such as these Abrahamic religions? How does one justify prosecution of drunk drivers but not proven genocidal forces by a constitution that guarantees the right to life of all law-abiding citizens? Can a constitution treat a murderer and a law-abiding citizen as equals?

Not all followers of these theologies are criminal in intent and many will never involve themselves in a crime perhaps, but can anyone guarantee that none of them ever will? If this society cannot tolerate drunk-driving, which appropriately it should not indeed, how can it tolerate forces of genocide (and other such unspeakable atrocities) to operate freely?

Of course, nobody can effectively do mind control and prevent people from believing in certain theologies or philosophies however demonstrably evil they are, but can a constitution guaranteeing the right to life of law-abiding citizens allow such theologies and philosophies to operate, organise and propagate freely under the guise of secularism, free speech and freedom of “conscience”? Is the promotion of genocide conscientious?

Will such a constitution or application of secularism morally and ethically be valid by any stretch of logic and evidence? The honest answer is NO. – PGurus, 10 November 2018


  1. Lisapo ya Kama Site, How the Hutu and the Tutsi have been created, Accessed September 1, 2018.
  2. Ambedkar, B.R., Thoughts on Pakistan, Thacker and Company Ltd., 1941.

» Murali K.V. is a medic and a graduate of the University of Cambridge, England. He is involved in inter-disciplinary research for the inculcation of a scientific rigour in the outdated fields of humanities: putting “science” into social sciences.

The Pope reviews Christian history!


India’s freedom fighters and secularism – Michel Danino

Bharat Mata

Prof Michel DaninoIn India the greatest opponent of nationalism has been our fuzzy, confused and infinitely elastic notion of secularism. – Prof Michel Danino

To a certain class of enlightened Indian intellectuals, nationalism is, at best, an obsolete and irrelevant concept; at worst, a dangerous one. Having generously labelled themselves “liberal”, they find that liberalism, resting on an uncompromising assertion of the individual’s rights and liberties, sooner or later clashes with the notion of a collective entity such as a nation. That notion fares even worse when confronted with postmodernism, which “deconstructs” its very legitimacy. Communism and Islam, both of which share in their original form a world-conquering ideology, promoted transnational allegiances, respectively to the Soviet Union and/or China and to the Ummah (it is something of an irony that our desi Communists call themselves “liberal” too, when historically Communism has been radically opposed to any form of liberalism—that is one of the many paradoxes of Indian politics).

In India, however, the greatest opponent of nationalism has been our fuzzy, confused and infinitely elastic notion of secularism (“The Great Secular Confusion”, 19 March; “Bogeyman of Majority in India”, 2 April; “In India, is it Secularism or Minorityism?”, 17 April). One way to study this conflict is to go back a little in time and revisit some of the ideas that animated the leading figures of India’s long struggle for freedom.

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee is a convenient starting point, with his Vande Mataram song and mantra that inspired generations of freedom fighters from all sections of Indian society—even some Muslims, as is little known but well documented at the time of the 1905 Partition of Bengal. There is nothing “secular” about India’s national song, even after the verses invoking Mother India as Durga and Lakshmi were chopped off. Nor about Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s revival of Ganesh Chaturthi, which proved to be effective in awakening nationalistic feelings cutting across caste barriers. In a 1906 speech at Varanasi, he said, “By the grace of Providence we shall ere long be able to consolidate all the different sects into a mighty Hindu nation. This ought to be the ambition of every Hindu.” At the same time, few leaders worked for Hindu-Muslim unity as much as Tilak. The same caveat applies to Sri Aurobindo (then known as Aurobindo Ghosh), who famously stated in his 1909 Uttarpara speech upon release from a year-long imprisonment in the Alipore Jail, “I say no longer that nationalism is a creed, a religion, a faith; I say that it is the Sanatana Dharma which for us is nationalism.” Or to Bipin Chandra Pal: “This ‘Mother’ in ‘Bande-Mataram’ … applied the old, the sacred, the dearly-beloved term, to a new concept, that of the Motherland. Through this salutation has come into being a new cult in the land, the cult of patriotism.”

This concept of Indian nationalism, for we must now distinguish the term from Western brands of nationalism, was shared by more stalwarts of the time, such as Lala Lajpat Rai or Subramania Bharati, the latter composing high poetry turning the cult of the motherland into bhakti. Our modern intellectuals and historians have often accused all these leaders of having “communalised” the Indian freedom movement (of course turning a blind eye to the communalisation of Muslim politics). However, building an exclusively “Hindu nation” was never their intention. As Sri Aurobindo put it in 1908, “The new [nationalism] overleaps every barrier; it calls to the clerk at his counter, the trader in his shop, the peasant at his plough; … it seeks out the student in his college, the schoolboy at his book, it touches the very child in its mother’s arms. … It cares nothing for age or sex or caste or wealth or education or respectability; … it spurns aside the demand for a property qualification or a certificate of literacy. It speaks to the illiterate or the man in the street in such rude vigorous language as he best understands, to youth and the enthusiast in accents of poetry, in language of fire, to the thinker in the terms of philosophy and logic, to the Hindu it repeats the name of Kali, the Mahomedan it spurs to action for the glory of Islam. It cries to all to come forth, to help in God’s work and remake a nation, each with what his creed or his culture, his strength, his manhood or his genius can give to the new nationality. The only qualification it asks for is a body made in the womb of an Indian mother, a heart that can feel for India, a brain that can think and plan for her greatness, a tongue that can adore her name or hands that can fight in her quarrel.” Gandhi later echoed this attitude: “Indian nationalism is not exclusive, nor aggressive, nor destructive” (although the earlier leaders did not reject violence as a legitimate means to achieve freedom).

Indian nationalism is thus not about “Hinduism” but about acknowledging the cultural foundations of Indian civilization. As Subhash Chandra Bose put it, “Indian nationalism is neither narrow, nor selfish, nor aggressive. It is inspired by the highest ideals of the human race, viz., Satyam (the true), Shivam (the good), Sundaram (the beautiful). Nationalism in India has instilled into us truthfulness, honesty, manliness and the spirit of service and sacrifice. … Even at the risk of being called a chauvinist, I would say to my countrymen that India has a mission to fulfil and it is because of this that India still lives.”

Most of India’s freedom fighters would have rejected the current slogan of secularism, as it runs against their very concept of the Indian nation. – The New Indian Express, 2 May 2018

» Prof Michel Danino is an author, guest professor at IIT Gandhinagar, and a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research.

Indian Leaders

In India, is it secularism or minorityism? – Michel Danino


Prof Michel DaninoIn India, “Hinduphobia” is conspicuous in the treatment of interreligious conflicts: by definition, minorities are victims while an imaginary “majority” is invariably the aggressor. – Prof Michel Danino

In a recent keynote address to a history conference held by the Indian Council of Historical Research, Dr. R Nagaswamy affirmed, “Secularism in India means anti-Hinduism.” Is such a statement, coming from an acclaimed archaeologist, epigraphist and art historian, justified?

Earlier (The Great Secular Confusion, March 19; Bogeyman of Majority in India, April 2), I argued that the Indian Constitution and state are unsecular, despite their claims to the contrary, as they neither enshrine nor practise equal rights and, instead, deprive a perceived but largely constructed “majority” of privileges accorded to minorities. This, of course, has led to charges that India’s brand of secularism rests on minority appeasement. Although I hesitate to use terms with such a historical baggage, “appeasement” is justified when one recalls a “secular” Rajiv Gandhi’s 1986 overturning of the Supreme Court’s judgement in the Shah Bano case, his ban two years later on Satanic Verses (which neither he nor his complainants had read), or the ban by seven Indian states on the film The Da Vinci Code, even as the Supreme Court rejected petitions to have its screening stopped.

Should these examples sound a little old, let us turn to Taslima Nasrin. The Bangladeshi writer was debarred in 2012 from the 36th Kolkata International Book Fair “following protests from fundamentalists”. Her crime? Highlighting atrocities against Hindus in Bangladesh. Last year, invited to the Jaipur Literature Festival, she called for the “urgent” implementation of a common civil code in India: “Why are Islamic fundamentalists against a uniform civil law? Is not having a uniform civil law democratic?” she asked. “What do you mean by secularism, does it require you to encourage Muslim fundamentalists?” The Rajasthan Muslim Forum promptly protested that Nasrin had “too much freedom” and declared they had secured an assurance from the Fair’s organisers that she would not be invited to the event again—which the organisers abjectly confirmed. When, six months later, Taslima Nasrin landed at Aurangabad on a visit to Ajanta and Ellora, crowds awaited her at the airport: a leader of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen declared, “We will not allow her to step on the soil of our city.” The police had to send her back.

The recent case of the young Kerala actress Priya Prakash Varrier, of winking fame, appears tame in comparison, yet is symptomatic enough: Muslim groups from Hyderabad filed complaints against her and the film makers, objecting to a supposedly blasphemous (but actually Muslim) song that “outraged their religious feelings” and adding that winking is “forbidden in Islam”.

Did we hear indignant statements from our intellectuals and academics against such “intolerance” (of which hundreds more examples could be cited) and violations of the sacrosanct “freedom of speech”? Did we witness national or international campaigns? I recall no such thing—yet such protests and campaigns occur with clockwork regularity every time a Hindutva group resorts to similar goondaism. As columnist Minhaz Merchant put it recently, “Islamophobia is rightly condemned. Hinduphobia though is acceptable in living rooms across upper middle-class urban India where secular poseurs are many in number.”

This “Hinduphobia” is conspicuous in the treatment of interreligious conflicts: by definition, minorities are victims while an imaginary “majority” is invariably the aggressor. If one protests—as one should—acts of aggression against minorities, one is secular; if one points out—as one equally should—that Hindus have often been victims too, one is “communal” or a “Hindutva” proponent. It is secular to condemn the 2002 riots in Gujarat; it is unacceptable to argue that they flared up in response to the unprovoked massacre of 59 harmless Hindu pilgrims at Godhra. No mainstream academic journal will entertain research papers on Hindu victims in Kashmir, West Bengal or Kerala (recall the massacre of eight Hindu fishermen at Marad, for which 62 members of the Indian Union Muslim League were convicted). No Indian academic will be invited abroad to speak on Islamist attacks on Hindu places of worship, from Gandhinagar’s Akshardham temple complex (where 30 devotees were killed in 2002) to the Sankat Mochan Hanuman temple at Varanasi four years later (ten dead, with some eighteen more elsewhere in the city). If at all, those acts of aggression are treated apologetically: the attackers had been “provoked”. If some condemnation of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots has been heard, albeit quite tame, it is perhaps because Sikhs are seen as a minority. And expectedly, if Hindus happen to become demographic minorities, as in Kashmir or a few Northeastern states (and soon in some districts of West Bengal), no one clamours for their minority privileges to be enforced.

Such language is deemed offensive in our “liberal” intellectual and academic spheres. Yet all it does is to call for equity: an equal state treatment of all communities regardless of their religions, an equal condemnation of attacks on any community whatsoever, and an equally firm strike at the roots of all religious fundamentalism—which includes foreign funding to religious organisations.

Meantime, our “secular” political parties go on further creating minorities for their short-term gains. In 2001, the Rajasthan High Court rejected a plea by a Jain educational trust; Justice M. R. Calla warned, “If we go on making classifications like this, … perhaps the pious concept of WE THE PEOPLE OF INDIA would be defeated and frustrated and the people as a whole shall stand divided in innumerable parts.” Yet a “secular” UPA government accorded Jains minority status in January 2014, just as Karnataka’s Congress government recently did with the Lingayats. Justice Calla was right: division is indeed the rule of the game. – The New Indian Express, 17 April 2018

» Michel Danino is an author, guest professor at IIT Gandhinagar, and a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research. 

Hindu Human Rights

India’s great secular confusion – Michel Danino

Indian secularism

Prof Michel DaninoIndia’s brand of secularism denies equal rights to a perceived “majority”. It has no roots in the history of the land: the word “secularism” does not exist in any Indian language (except for recent coinages)…. – Prof Michel Danino

India seemingly has armies of self-appointed guardians of secularism, such as those who recently petitioned the Supreme Court to turn Ayodhya’s disputed site to a public purpose (The ‘secular’ solution for Ayodhya) But secularism in India is as enigmatic an animal as the proverbial elephant variously described by blind men: it has been all things to all people.

Indeed, although it frequently figured in the debates of the Constituent Assembly, the word “secularism” did not appear in the 1950 Constitution of India; Nehru was initially cold to it: “Another word is thrown up a good deal, this secular state business. May I beg with all humility those gentlemen who use this word often, to consult some dictionary before they use it? It is brought in at every conceivable step and at every conceivable stage. I just do not understand it.”

His influential minister for Agriculture, P.S. Deshmukh, is on record for questioning “the specious, oft-repeated and nauseating principle of secularity of the state. I think that we are going too far in this business of secularity.” Nauseating or not, the principle was parachuted into the Constitution by the 42nd amendment of 1976 (promulgated during the Emergency), which turned India from a “sovereign democratic republic” to a “sovereign, socialist secular democratic republic.” But there was a catch: “secularism” was left undefined, which is uncharacteristic of Constitutional amendments.

If so, we should expect it to have the conventional meaning. Let us therefore heed Nehru’s advice and turn to our dictionaries: “The principle of separation of the state from religious institutions,” says the Oxford Dictionary; “indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations,” adds the Webster.

The former definition reflects the expulsion of Christianity from state matters which European nations opted for (to varying degrees) from the eighteenth century onward; also of Islam by Turkey in 1923. Was such a concept ever relevant to the Indian context, where compulsion in matters of religion and belief is repulsive to the ethos of the land? No Jain, Buddhist or Hindu king or emperor, to my knowledge, ever imposed a “state religion”; nor was India the scene of “religious wars,” whatever doctrinal frictions there may have been. Even those Islamic rulers who declared their intention to draw India into Dar al-Islam failed in the end.

Besides, the same Constitution which declares all Indians equal irrespective of their religion, caste or gender, proceeds, in Articles 28 and 29, to give religious and linguistic minorities the right to manage their places of worship and educational institutions. The civil code, too, is religion-specific as regards marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc.

This is anti-secular on the face of it. How do we get out of this embarrassing situation? By what I call a “sleight of word”—by declaring that “secularism” actually means something else: for instance, equidistance from, or neutrality towards, all religions (which is not the case), tolerance (why not use this word, then?), or perhaps some combination of atheism, rationalism and agnosticism (why not those words?).

Strictly speaking, then, India’s brand of secularism denies equal rights to a perceived “majority”. It has no roots in the history of the land: the word “secularism” does not exist in any Indian language (except for recent coinages); more importantly, “India has all along been trying experiments in evolving a social unity within which all the different peoples could be held together, while fully enjoying the freedom of maintaining their own differences. … This has produced something like a United States of a social federation, whose common name is Hinduism,” wrote the impeccably secular Rabindranath Tagore in his 1917 essays on nationalism.

Already expressed in Ashoka’s Edicts and many classical texts, this mix of integration, mutual respect and “full freedom” could, or perhaps should, have produced an Indian alternative to the European concept by building on the land’s long experiments in religious coexistence.

Instead, secularism has been a source of endless controversy and bitter feelings. As Taslima Nasrin once declared, “Most secular people are pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu. They protest against the acts of Hindu fundamentalists and defend the heinous acts of Muslim fundamentalists.” Or to quote the respected advocate, statesman, educationist and litterateur K.M. Munshi: “The word ‘secularism’ in India has no bearing on the attitude and conduct of individuals nor of religious groups. However, it has been used as a slogan of varying significance. In its name, anti-religious forces, sponsored by secular humanism or Communism, condemn religious piety, particularly in the majority community. In its name, minorities are immune from such attention and have succeeded in getting their demands, however unreasonable, accepted. In its name, again, politicians in power adopt a strange attitude which, while it condones the susceptibilities, religious and social, of the minority communities, is too ready to brand similar susceptibilities in the majority community as communalistic and reactionary. How secularism sometimes become allergic to Hinduism will be apparent from certain episodes relating to the reconstruction of Somanath temple. These unfortunate postures have been creating a sense of frustration in the majority community.”

By another sleight of word, such a statement would be viewed as “communal” today. But whether this “majority” really exists or is a construct deserves our attention. So does the important application of secularism to the world of education. – The New Indian Express, 19 March 2018

» Michel Danino is a guest professor at IIT Gandhinagar and a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research.



The ‘secular’ solution for Ayodhya – Michel Danino

Ayodhya Graphic

Prof Michel DaninoTeesta Setalvad’s petition in the Supreme Court, which tries to dispute the massive archaeological, epigraphic and literary evidence supporting the existence of a Hindu temple beneath the Babri Masjid, makes no mention of repeated pleas by smaller Muslim groups to hand over the site to Hindus, since it has no particular religious value for Islam. – Prof Michel Danino

The long dispute between claimants to the site of Ram Janmabhumi and the erstwhile Babri Masjid in Ayodhya seems to be inching towards a conclusion in India’s Supreme Court. How far the litigants will be satisfied by a final judgment on the ownership of the crucial plot of land remains unclear. Meantime, did the Chief Justice of India on February 8 miss a golden opportunity to resolve the conflict innovatively, when he refused to hear a petition filed on behalf of the NGO “Citizens of Peace and Justice” by 32 “public-spirited citizens” such as Teesta Setalvad, Shyam Benegal, Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy and John Dayal?

What was the gist of the petition? Actually an old argument: the Ayodhya developments have posed such “a serious threat to the secular fabric of the country” that the dispute cannot be regarded as an ordinary land issue. To save the country from a communal conflagration, the Court is asked to “direct that the disputed site be used for a non-religious public use.” However, while brushing the petition aside for the moment, the Chief Justice said he wanted the dispute to be treated “as a land issue,” hinting that it would be solely decided on the merits of the title to the disputed plot.But what if the petition were to be taken seriously? Let us consider the implications.

There is enormous historical evidence—from Islamic chronicles, inscriptions and archaeological remains—that thousands of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples were destroyed by Islamic invaders from the 11th century onward. Delhi’s Qutub Complex, for instance, was built by Qutb-ud-din Aibak out of the remains of 27 destroyed Hindu and Jain temples. Varanasi’s Gyanvapi Mosque erected by Aurangzeb sits on the erstwhile Kashi Vishvanath Temple, remains of which are still visible (the 19th-century Orientalist James Prinsep left a fine lithograph of them).

Aurangzeb also had Mathura’s Krishna Janmabhumi Complex destroyed, with the Shahi-Eidgah Mosque built over parts of its remains. And so on. Let us assume that in the name of secular wisdom Ayodhya’s disputed site is indeed turned into a public space. Very likely, Hindutva organisations would go back to their list of potential hotspots (starting with Varanasi and Mathura) and launch fresh agitations. All would depend on whether those were sufficiently sustained and intense. If they pass the test, Ayodhya’s “secular solution” would serve as a very useful precedent: should not the newly disputed mosques be converted to hospitals, schools or such like? One after another, thousands of mosques across India could thus experience the delights of secularisation. Hindutva organisations would not recover the underlying temples, but the public would considerably benefit in terms of public health and education, a prospect every progressive Muslim should rejoice in.

But why stop at mosques? Ananda Ranga Pillai in his Diary recorded the destruction in 1748 of Pondicherry’s large Vedapuriswar Temple; at Goa, the historian A. K. Priolkar listed the destruction of 34 temples, some later overbuilt with churches; there have been persistent arguments that Chennai’s Santhome Cathedral stands over Mylapore’s original Kapaliswar Temple. Should some of the churches become candidates to secularisation too?

And why stop at India? Christendom is replete with churches built over destroyed Pagan sites. In the late first millennium, Muslims conquering Spain erected mosques over churches; Christians promptly reconverted them after their reconquest. (Although Spanish Muslims have asked the Roman Catholic Church to let them pray at Córdoba’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, earlier known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba, the Vatican seems in no mood to grant their request!) And what if orthodox Jews started agitating for the removal or reconversion of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock Mosque? Its location was that of the Jewish Second Temple, which the Romans destroyed to erect a temple of their own; later, one or several churches were built over it, before Islam swept by. Perhaps orthodox Jews should demand thorough excavations, and, were their claim to be established, could ask the building to be put to some “secular” use.

The potential unleashed by our 32 self-appointed guardians of secularism appears limitless. Should we rejoice at this formula? And if not, why reserve it for Ayodhya? All the above examples—not even the tip of a global iceberg—are inherent to the history of aggressive, conquering religions. Unsurprisingly, that history has more often than not been sanitized or swept under the carpet—a mistake in my view, as we stand to benefit hugely from an honest look at the unvarnished past and its darker chapters.

Strangely, the petition in the Supreme Court, which clumsily tries to dispute the massive archaeological, epigraphic and literary evidence supporting the existence of a large Hindu temple beneath the Babri Masjid, makes no mention of repeated pleas by smaller Muslim groups to hand over the site to Hindus, since it has no particular religious value for Islam. Or of last November’s proposal by Uttar Pradesh’s Shia Central Waqf Board chairman Waseem Rizvi to let a “grand Ram temple” be built at the disputed site, in exchange for a mosque at Lucknow. Such formulas, coupled with a goodwill agreement that there would be no future claims to other sites, would be a far more promising road to a final solution for this centuries-old conflict and to true reconciliation.

Since, meanwhile, the petition is loud on India’s “secular and tolerant ethos,” which it sees under threat from Hindu activism (and no other), we need to cast a critical look at the concept and practice of secularism in India, both in the polity and in education. – The New Indian Express, 26 March 2018

» Michel Danino is a guest professor at IIT Gandhinagar and a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research.

Kashi Vishwanath Temple

Why Ambedkar didn’t want the ‘S’ words in the Constitution – Aravindan Neelakandan

B. R. Ambedkar

Aravindan NeelakandanIn 1976 during that darkest hour of Indian democracy—the Emergency—when India was spiralling down into an abyss of fascism under a socialist Congress’s rule, the 42nd Amendment was made, which slipped “secular” and “socialist” into the Preamble. – Aravindan Neelakandan

On 15 November 1948 at the Constituent Assembly debate in Parliament, a member, Prof K. T. Shah from Bihar moved an Amendment to the original Preamble statement. He insisted that the words, “Secular, Federal, Socialist” be inserted into the statement. In a detailed reply, B. R. Ambedkar justified why he did not include the words “secular” and “socialist” in the Preamble:

Sir, I regret that I cannot accept the amendment of Prof. K. T. Shah. My objections, stated briefly are two. In the first place the Constitution, as I stated in my opening speech in support of the motion I made before the House, is merely a mechanism for the purpose of regulating the work of the various organs of the State. It is not a mechanism where by particular members or particular parties are installed in office. What should be the policy of the State, how the Society should be organised in its social and economic side are matters which must be decided by the people themselves according to time and circumstances. It cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself, because that is destroying democracy altogether. If you state in the Constitution that the social organisation of the State shall take a particular form, you are, in my judgment, taking away the liberty of the people to decide what should be the social organisation in which they wish to live. It is perfectly possible today, for the majority people to hold that the socialist organisation of society is better than the capitalist organisation of society. But it would be perfectly possible for thinking people to devise some other form of social organisation which might be better than the socialist organisation of today or of tomorrow. I do not see therefore why the Constitution should tie down the people to live in a particular form and not leave it to the people themselves to decide it for themselves. This is one reason why the amendment should be opposed.

Then Ambedkar remarked:

The second reason is that the amendment is purely superfluous.

However, in 1976 during that darkest hour of Indian democracy—the Emergency—when India was spiralling down into an abyss of fascism under a socialist Congress’s rule, the 42nd Amendment was made, which slipped “secular” and “socialist” into the Preamble. In other words, it was the addition of the words, the very words explicitly rejected by the main architect of the Constitution, which was sacrilegious; it was certainly against the spirit and sanctity of the Constitution. If anything, we need to undo this attack on the original draft of the Constitution and restore the original draft of Ambedkar. That would take into account the freedom of generations to come as well as the future of evolution of our social institutions, not caring for the frivolous fashion statements of political rhetoric shorn of substance. – Swarajya, Jan 28, 2015

» Aravindan Neelakandan is a contributing editor at Swarajya. This article is an abridgement of the original article in Swarajya.

Indira Gandhi, whose Indian National Congress government enacted the 42nd Amendment in 1976, during the Emergency.
Warning sign in New Delhi during Indira Gandhi's dictatorship (1975 to 1977)