The other day, I poured out my displeasure at the way artistic freedom was being trampled in India. After writing that post, I was tag surfing and came across Satyameva Jayate. The blogger, B. Shantanu, blogs about many things, one of them being how Hinduism has been maligned over the years (I read a few posts – most of them related to artistic freedom. Anything religious, I always swallow with a pinch of salt). And it struck a chord with me because I am an atheist who previously followed Hinduism (I still have a soft corner for the religion, particularly its mythology), and I too have been noticing the manner in which mainstream political parties, media and a whole bunch of people have defined secularism. That is the reason behind this post.
India is a secular country. Its constitution says so. And secularism is normally defined as something that is non-religious (secularism). But the Indian definition – that of mainstream political parties, significant portions of the media as well as a small but influential section of educated people (I have my doubts as to whether they are really educated) – has changed over the years to anything that is anti-hinduism. The BJP and other saffron parties have coined a term for it – pseudo-secularism. And as much as I hate saffron politics, I have to say that I am in complete agreement with them on this issue.
In every election, the Congress, Left parties, the remnants of the erstwhile Janata Dal (which itself was a remnant of the Janata Party) and various regional satraps will band together to fight against a ‘communal’ BJP whose only consistent allies have been Bal Thakrey’s Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal. Congress & Co. don’t see eye to eye and are mortal enemies of each other at the state level. But when keeping out the BJP is the preferred result, the age old proverb – your enemy’s enemy is your friend is applied.
Hindus, in spite of accounting for over 80% of the billion plus population, are not a homogeneous populace. The age old caste system (supposedly) based on The Laws Of Manu (which are irrational to the core I must add. If these laws were applied today, every single Hindu would have violated at least ten of them. The lack of an authoritative text, like the Bible for Christians and the Koran for Muslims, has always been a curse – or a possible blessing – for Hinduism, because everything is in the air. While there are the vedas and upanishads, and laws and treatises written by various people – Chanakya’s Arthashastra being a very interesting one, there is no single book that dictates this is what a Hindu should do. The Bhagwadgita is the closest one can come to it. So people did what they thought was right at that time) and the resultant Brahmin vs. Kshatritya vs. Vaishya vs. Shudra duels have resulted in a fracture that runs deep. It is a fact that the lowest castes and out-castes have been denied their rights for too long. And it continues in unenlightened parts of rural India. But it has resulted in the politics of caste which effectively prevents a combined Hindu vote.
The BJP has been able to work around this issue at the state level in some of the northern states. The one time it did come to power in the centre, it did so under Atal Behari Vajpayee who is a well-respected statesman, and by shelving its Ram Temple agenda which was what led to the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 (and the subsequent riots and terror attacks in Mumbai). The Babri Masjid fiasco has irreparably damaged the saffron colour as every party that even hints at working for the welfare of Hindus in general automatically becomes communal. Other parties, meanwhile can solicit Muslim votes, Dalit votes and votes based on many other criteria without being tainted. Sometimes, this discrimination is used to good effect by the BJP which can approach people claiming double standards (best example being Gujarat 2002). This is the truth of ‘secular’ India.
The thing that amuses me is this – none of them are satisfied. The Brahmins feel discriminated against because of the reservation policy applied by successive governments. And they do not enjoy speeches given by leaders of various Dalit and other caste based parties which target them. The Dalits and other backward castes are not satisfied as they feel they have not been given their due in spite of continued efforts. Hindus resent the government’s pussyfooting on the issue of Islamist terrorism. Muslims feel threatened in spite of forming such a huge part of the population because of terrorism being connected with Islam as well as because of the feeling that they are still made to swear allegiance to the country even 60 years after partition. The only people who seem to benefit are the politicians. But even they have been targeted on numerous occasions (the attack on parliament in 2001 being one of them). Considering all this, any rational person would mend his ways. But since politics and religion thrive on irrationality, expecting them to change is a waste of the time.
A secular country will not make decisions based on a person’s religion and the citizens of such a country will be free to practise any religion of their choice. While the second part is more or less true in India, it still has a long way to go as far as the first part goes. It would be nice to see the change happen within my lifetime. But I am not holding my breath.