A Hard Look at Practical Secularism

To be a secular individual, one has to come to the support of all citizens, whether those who suffered in 2002 and equally those who suffered in 1984 or 1990. Because real secularism is an idea divorced from the concept of competing communalisms. When politics starts romancing with any religion, it spells doom. Majority communalism and Minority communalism cannot be differentiated based on their demographic numbers opines Amitanshu. The author addresses the narrative of practical secularism, calling for its redefinition, in Different Truths.

When the Hindu Right in India begs the question why no answers are sought for the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, the persecution of and large-scale exodus from Kashmir of the Kashmiri pundits in 1990 and even the horror of Partition in 1947 for that matter, they are not entirely wrong. Nor are any answers given for such questions raised, if one notices. Secular opinion in India tends to highlight the atrocities of 2002 in preference to those of the earlier dates, unfairly in my view. But then there’s a catch when it comes to the idea of ethnic, cultural, religious or racial nationalisms.

Secularism is stuck between competing communalisms like an ant in the middle of a battle between elephants, and right-wing as well as socially conservative forces do not support ideas, which they consider unrealistically inclusive and cosmopolitan. They fight for ethnic, religious or culturally demographic constituencies which they seek to represent, in taking advantage of numbers and seeking only to increase of those numbers.

Thus, 1947 or 1990, according to them, is to be responded to with a 2002 because that is what is central to the idea of any right-wing or socially conservative platform. The right- wing worldview involves retrogression as far back as Babur to claim that historic wrongs be avenged. Thus, such an idea is based on rooted ethnic loyalty, which they address by trying to bridge their common history with a common future as a continuation of that common history and for the perpetuation of that cultural, racial, religious demography. Subaltern histories and cultures need to be subjugated or their roles diminished so that the dominant culture of the region takes centre stage. All other cultures including those which compete on an equal footing or are considered a threat as well as those which do not possess the kind of demographic logistical predominance are to be dismantled. The term dismantled is not easy to comprehend. It is not just cultural domination but also trying to instil fear in the hearts of those belonging to other ethnic camps to give up their cultural affiliations and move forward into the dominant camp, and in case of resistance, to be subjugated or wiped out. But it is on several planes and using several strategies that such an idea is imagined and worked out. All religious fundamentalisms work on the same strategies, and, in turn, perpetuate the cycle of hate, feeding on the hatred of the other to increase their own ranks. The action-reaction binary finds repeated references in right-wing parlance. They seek security in demographic numbers and thus, they need to differentiate themselves from others, not on the basis of ideas but more on the basis of tribalistic instincts. They successfully achieve that. Hence, they do not represent ideas but the tribes of which they consider themselves the custodians and this very idea of tribal lineage is the core idea which fashions their entire worldview.

We need to analyse this current recession of secularism in our country. How many secular individuals from the dominant political outfits went beyond condemnation to come to the support of the cause of Kashmiri Pundits or of those displaced during Partition from either side, or come to the rescue of the Rationalists, Buddhists or Hindu minorities in Bangladesh or Pakistan, let alone the Shias, Sufis, Ahmediyas living there?

The so called secular forces in this country, which are anything but, did not provide for the security of their own citizens nor provided them with justice where justice was due, or come out in complete support or solidarity for the pain they went through, which in turn led to an increase in this cycle of hate.

Thus sympathy for secularism declined, because, in turn, it was never true secularism to start with and was seen often as picking sides in competing communalisms, or choosing between two evils of different colours. If a leader went and hugged Shankaracharya and claimed in turn that he was speaking for all Hindus, I would be offended. If someone claimed that shaking hands with any rationalist of the Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins ilk was in turn intending to represent my interests here in India and the ideas I hold dear, or speaking on my behalf without my voice being heard, I would be offended furthermore. Then why do leaders throng to senior Imams and in turn claim, they have the support of the entire Muslim community? Will the larger Muslim community ever rally round those secular forces or those who claim to be secular? The Muslim right wing has used the weaknesses of multi-culturalism to serve their particular interests, so as to protect Islamist interests rather than secular objectives, as the checking of surnames and the targeting of rationalists or people of other faiths and dispensations in Bangladesh, Pakistan and several Islamic countries illustrates. Not to forget how secular and liberal forces are hounded in several of the Islamic countries with impunity till they water down their secularism.

If the Kashmiri Pundits, or Sindhis, Bengalis and Punjabis displaced due to Partition or having faced direct onslaught of the religious right-wing needed not just words of sympathy but active secular support, that wasn’t given to them to the extent it should have been. In turn the right-wing came to their rescue.

To be a secular individual, one has to come to the support of all citizens, whether those who suffered in 2002 and equally those who suffered in 1984 or 1990. Because real secularism is an idea divorced from the concept of competing communalisms. It’s not part of that game. It does not support progressive values selectively, while shaking hands with the regressive forces of certain dispensations and in turn becoming as regressive as if in competition. If it intends to be, it is not secularism and I shall have no part of it. Quite simply put, I don’t want a day to arrive when those competing right-wing communalisms are clashing and I would know which camp might come to my rescue and which would evidently want me dead for the name I carry, not the ideas I hold dear. All those who are citizens of this country have to be protected. When politics starts romancing with religion, any religion, it spells doom. It leads to the idea of competing communalisms and aggravates the cycle of hate. It is not secularism and since it is not, it loses all its meaning in the process and socially conservative values take predominance. Majority communalism and Minority communalism cannot be differentiated based on their demographic numbers but the entire idea of communalism and religious conservatism as a whole needs to be targetted and put back in the personal arena and its role severely diminished. The more one conservative camp raises its flag, the more each of the other conservative camps find their flags raised and swelling with new recruits. And, if such questions for the protection of all are not raised, while also pushing conservative factions in a corner, and if issues pertaining to all incidences of communal violence, ( not just meeting equal and vociferous condemnation by the secular forces, but also active support and solidarity for the victims and punitive action against perpetrators of all communities and in equal measure), I am sorry to say, the right-wing in India will thrive in the form of Islamism where Muslims are in the majority, specifically Kashmir, and Hindutva where Hindus are in the majority.

And you can do nothing about it.

Observe the rise of the right-wing around the world and try to understand the context from which this sympathy for social conservatism is emerging. It is emerging from the fact that the secular and progressive forces around the world have not been quite honest with the very idea they seek to represent. An idea to save civilisation but an idea which needs a hard, practical look and a re-definition.

©Amitanshu Gour

Pix from Net.

Amitanshu Gour

Amitanshu Gour

Amitansu is a Post Graduate from the Birla Institute of Management Technology and has worked in the corporate sector. Subsequently, he worked in an NGO and has acted as a consultant for newly established NGOs. He has been actively involved in several social causes and has been participating in forums for the promotion of rationalism since 2010. His interests include International Relations, Human Rights, Open Source and new progressive socio-political movements.
Amitanshu Gour

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