Sunday, August 24, 2008

Comment: Amarnath- Part I

At the face of it, the decision to handover land to the Amarnath Shrine Board, a religious trust entrusted with the organization of a hugely popular annual Hindu pilgrimage involving millions of participants from all over India, only to take it back a few days later, isn’t exactly good politics; to be absolutely honest, it reminds me of another decision, taken in the mid-1980s, to reopen the gates of the Babri Masjid complex at Ayodhya. And we all know, where that landed us. The point, which many politicians tend to forget, is to let sleeping dogs lie.

Going Down Secularism’s Rabbit Hole
It’s all very well to say that India is “secular” but strictly speaking, that isn’t- can’t be- true. We’re secular, but in our own peculiar sort of way: to us, being secular doesn’t mean being irreligious (as it does in Turkey and in much of the West); here, it simply means ‘sarvadharma sambhav’ or equal goodwill to all religions- not only by the state in the formulation & execution of its policies but also by citizens in their attitude towards fellow-citizens. Implicit in this interpretation is the acceptance that religions are indeed inseparable from- and intrinsic to- public life. Put differently, they- i.e., the state and religion- cannot be put into two neat, totally unrelated, compartments. The recognition of this fact should then be the starting point of all debate on religious issues; otherwise we mistakenly risk being labeled ‘communal’ or worse, ‘pseudo-secular’.

But that’s not quite it. The movement from being secular to secularism entails two further Duties both on the state and on citizens that go beyond simple, passive-goodwill; in effect, these Duties actualize- and make manifest- the dictum of sarvadharma sambhav, and in so doing, explicitly obligate the state to participate in matters otherwise purely pertaining to religious faith.

To understand the basis of the first such Duty, it is important to appreciate that not all religions are equally represented; indeed, Hindus constitute an overwhelming majority in India. In order to ensure that the majority-will doesn’t encroach upon the distinctive identities of religious-minorities, the Constitution provides for certain safeguards: if the religious-identity of a minority-community comes under threat, then it becomes the duty of the state to necessarily & actively participate in what is technically speaking, a purely religious matter. A Delhi High Court judgment last week permitting St. Stephen’s College, a ‘minority educational establishment’ I went to, to appoint its own Principal & set its own rules with respect to its admission policy without interference from the Delhi University, is a case in point.

The second Duty that Indian-secularism enjoins upon the state is to create conditions wherein persons of all religious-faiths, including those belonging to religious minorities, can freely practice, preach and propagate their religion. In this respect, while the state isn’t expected to directly participate in a religious matter, it must do so to the extent that citizens are allowed to practice, preach & propagate their respective faiths freely: if, for instance, a person is being physically prevented from going to his place of worship, it becomes the duty of the state to remove all such barriers; likewise, if a person is converted by force of threat, then the state has to ensure that such force is removed.

The adaptation- as opposed to adoption- of the secular principle to the recently partitioned & newly independent nation-state served, therefore, as a necessary guarantee that majority-communalism- i.e., the unilateral rule of the religious-majority over those in minority- would not be justified on the basis of a democratic number game, as Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, had (let us hope, mistakenly) prophesized: in this sense, it became the single most important foundation-stone in ‘the idea of India’, and the sole reason why those minorities- in particular, the Muslims- who willfully stayed behind rather than leave for Pakistan did what they chose to do.

Having said that, the nation-state’s obligation to discharge both these Duties- which admittedly implies its active participation in religious affairs- has led to two further controversies over India’s unique brand of secularism: the first Duty (of safeguarding minority-identity) creates the controversy commonly called Minority Appeasement; while the second Duty (of creating conditions for persons to freely practice etc. their respective faiths) has opened the Pandora’s Box of Religious Conversions. As we will see, both these controversies are related basically to degrees of state-participation in the religious realm; and not to the principle of it.

The controversy over Religious Conversions arises out of the accusation that the state is doing very little to prevent them. The controversy over Minority Appeasement, on the other hand, is the opposite of this: it arises out of the accusation that the state is doing too much in discharging its first Duty, i.e., safeguarding minority-interests; that the state is infact doing so at the expense of legitimate interests- and demands- of the majority community, which are being squarely overlooked.

This, as it turns out, is the précis of the ongoing Amarnath Shrine Board debate and also, curiously enough, the reason why the gates of the Babri Masjid were opened.

(To be continued)

3 comments (टिप्पणी):

Awasthi.S said...

बेबाक लेखन,
आपने परिस्थिति का बहुत अच्छा विश्लेषण किया है.
अगर इसे हिंदी मे भी लिखे तों ज्यादा लोग समझ पायेंगें.
आज सहष्णु (दयावान), सर्व धर्म समभाव और वासुदेव कुटुम्बकम की अवधारणा
मे विश्वास करने वाले लोगो को अमानवीय, अलगाववादी और शैतानियत
मे विश्वास करने वाली ताकतें भड़काने मे लगी हैं, ये न हिन्दू हैं और
न मुस्लमान हैं,ये अधार्मिक और पाखंडी लोग हैं.
पुरातन कल मे धर्म का प्रयोग अधर्म रोकने के लिए होता था.
आज धर्म का उपयोग अधर्म करने के लिए हो रहा है.
यह सच है की भारत मे जनता और धर्म को अलग नहीं किया जा सकता.
पर राजनीती से धर्म को अलग करना जरूरी है.
देश मे अति कट्टरवाद,~ सत्ता के लिए, धार्मिक जनसँख्या
के हिसाब से, ~त्वरित लाभ के लिए उपयोग मे लाया जा रहा है
जिसके आने वाले समय मे गंभीर परिणाम होंगे.
अवस्थी.एस

दीपक said...

bhaiyya

first of all glass is 1/2 full and to be full completely.

india is realy victim of this pseudo secularism .we indian became blind about religion, sometimes i faced very hard comments from my german friends about our secularism.for betterment of country only one religion should be exist in india thats "indian " need not to be write hindu or muslim etc.

bips said...

Interesting arguement.Lets see how it develops.

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