Monday, November 30, 2015

Secularism is not a bad word

‘Secular’ and ‘communal’ are bad words in India unlike in any other part of the world.  Most countries in the world are secular in the sense they don’t have state religions; they keep politics and religion apart from each other.  ‘Communal’ means belonging or related to a community and has no negative connotations except in India. 


We Indians are queer indeed.  We elected a party to power in the Centre because it promised to deliver us development.  But from the time the party started governing us, we started entertaining ourselves by abusing some people as ‘secular’ or ‘pseudo-secular.’  The latter term seems to have gone out of fashion. The country is polarised today into the ‘secular’ and the ‘communal.’  If you believe in some religion or god, you are communal.  If you demand peace and prosperity, you are filthy secular. 

Rajnath Singh, our Home Minister, wants to cleanse the Indian vocabulary of secularism.  He tried to sound profoundly philosophical by adding two new words to the country’s neologism [which relies more on slogans like swachch Bharat and Achche din than on new coinages] by introducing Dharam Nirpeksh and Panth Nirpeksh.  The phrases may make little sense to more than half of the Indians. 

Making sense hardly matters.  When Manuel I, King of Portugal, issued a decree in 1496 that all the Jews in the country should either convert to Christianity or leave the country [which is plagiarised as one of the goals of Hindutva as envisaged by Golwalkar in We or Our Nation Defined], the real intention was to subjugate the perceived enemies.  Those Jews who got ready to leave the country were stopped at the port by soldiers and priests and were converted by force.  The new converts came to be called New Christians who were never given equal status.    

A decade after the conversions, there was a terrible drought and onset of plague in the country.  The entire blame for the evils was placed on the New Christians.  They were converted by force.  And now they were accused of being the cause of drought and plague.  Those wielding power always find some enemies.  Or else create them.  Enemies are essential for upholding political power.

In 1506, during a prayer service in a church in Portugal somebody claimed to have seen the illuminated face of Jesus on the altar.  One of the faithful in the church, who was perhaps more secular than religious, said that the illumination must have been a reflection of the candle on the crucifix.  That man was immediately dragged out of the church by the hair and beaten to death mercilessly.  That man was a New Christian. 

A few years later Inquisition became the most favourite entertainment in Portugal.  About 40,000 people were killed in the most savage forms by the Grand Inquisitor and his ministers who were ushering development in the country – spiritual development, of course.  The victims were mostly the New Christians.

Five centuries have passed.  The darkness has passed from one continent to another.  The robes of the inquisitors have changed colour.  The war cries are very similar sometimes.  But there is a veneer of sophistication being imposed from above in the form of neologisms. 

Portugal learnt secularism eventually.  It has no official religion today though 81% of the people are Christians [the percentage is the same for the majority community in India].  Article 13 of the Portuguese Constitution states that "No one may be privileged, favoured, prejudiced, deprived of any right or exempted from any duty for reasons of ancestry, sex, race, language, territory of origin, religion, political or ideological beliefs, education, economic situation, social circumstances or sexual orientation."

India has a Constitution which extends similar rights and privileges to its citizens.  Why do our leaders want to change that Constitution?  Why do they want us to go backward rather than forward?


  1. The answer to your question is in the post itself Sir.....create enemies, create tensions, create divisions - to uphold political power....

    1. There's something more heinous at work, I think, Sunaina. BJP is tampering with the Constitution. That's dangerous. If they succeed in this effort, India in the map given in this post will turn red. And look at the countries which have that colour. See what kind of countries are actually theocratic.

      We are becoming like what we hate the most!

  2. Nice article...
    In my opinion these two words in the Constitution actually create problems. Constitution is for every person in the country. Common man has only one religion feeding and caring about his family. If these two words are removed constitution is applicable fairly to every citizen.
    However "Secularism" has been used selectively by political parties to serve their means..

    1. The problem is not with the word but with perceptions and attitudes. Even if we amend the Constitution, nothing will change...

  3. Thought-provoking post! Well-written.
    And yeah, lots of drastic changes happening in the country.

    1. There is something admirable about what's happening: India shows that it is still secular in spite of all the bigotry that the govt itself is trying to foist upon the people.

  4. I don't see how BJP is changing the Constitution! At least from the post it is not coming out. Most of the examples given here, though very cruel and anti-humanity, are not from India. Please excuse my stance, but I don't understand why are you putting a filter of cruelty and religionism on Indian scenario, by using the examples which do not belong to India?

    1. FYI - I have used the word 'Religionism' knowingly. I am aware that it is not an actual word.

    2. Portugal was taken just as an example. Great Britain or Spain or almost any European country of the medieval period would have served the same purpose. The post was an exercise in subtlety. When we have leaders who are very explicit about their medieval mindset, we have to be subtle.

      If the BJP is given a free hand it will drown the present Constitution in the Arabian Ocean and draft a theocratic one.

      If a man can be dragged out of his home and beaten to death for eating something which was not what he ate (yeah!), I can't endorse that kind of a political system. Don't forget the antecedents. Right from the time the present regime was installed at the Centre, how many acts of brutality were perpetrated against certain people and their places of worship? How many hate speeches were delivered by people who claim to be sadhus and sadhvis?

    3. Sir, good to read a piece from you after a long time. Nice to know that your world view still functions under the construct The Hindu and Frontline(and to a great extent a like-minded govt in Kerala) bestowed upon you. It was heartening to learn that, after years of maneuvering your intellect under the all-to-familiar perimeter of communism, you show no inclination to cross the boundary and maybe indulging yourself in something like this:

      But then, why indulge oneself in facts when you can make do with N.Ram's whataboutery. Or maybe, that's why it is called comfort-zone.

      Sir, as much as I would like to, I have little appetite(or time) to offer a point by point rebuttal. But this piece of writing lost its logical thrust the minute you compared an organized proselytizing religion with a diffused decentralized one. Does Hinduism have a church? Did we ever go through a dark-age to warrant Western-style secularism? Indeed, is Hinduism a religion?

      I sense that your fear is that the repeated 'insinuations' of sadhvis and sadhus would inadvertently result in drifting Hinduism towards being a monotheistic religion. And maybe then we'll have a dark age. I respect your right to fear. But, this flow is irreversible. More so, when a great proportion of India's population associate this turn of event(read 2014 elections) with civilization conscience.

      You write fiction better sir. I plan to read your book in some time. Looking forward to reviewing it.

    4. Hi Sid,
      As usual you threatened to give me a point-by-point rebuttal and as usual, again, you gave yourself the excuse of paucity of time as well as that I'm not a writer good enough for you to bother about.

      Since you think only The Hindu and Frontline can inspire me, let me give you links to two latest articles from the latter.

      That's from Noorani, a Mulsim.

      That's from Sitaram Yechuri, a Communist.

      Since I'm not good enough for you, I shall not answer you.

  5. When those wielding power seek additional power, be alert to their stealing from us all.

    1. That stealing is already going on in India.


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