“Bhedaat ganah vinashyanti bhinnah supajapah parai
Tasmaat sanghaat yogeshu prayateran ganah sada”
Therefore a republic should always strive to maintain good relations among the people”
-Shantiparva, Mahabharat, Chapter 108
The issue of secularism is nowadays being widely discussed, and so it is necessary to understand its real significance in India. For this, it is first necessary to understand our country.
As I have mentioned in detail in my article ‘What is India’ (see my blog justicekatju.blogspot.in and the video on the website kgfindia.com), India is broadly a country of immigrants, like North America. Probably 92-93 % people living in India today are descendants of immigrants, who came mainly from the North West, looking for a comfortable region to settle down. The original inhabitants of India are the pre-Dravidian tribals or adivasis (STs) e.g. Bhils, Gonds, Santhals, Todas, etc. who are hardly 7-8% of our population today.
People came to India because people migrate from uncomfortable areas to comfortable areas. India was a paradise for agricultural societies, because it has level land, fertile soil, plenty of water for irrigation, etc. Why should anyone migrate from India to, say, Afghanistan, which is cold, covered with snow several months in a year, mountainous, and uncomfortable? Hence people poured into India for thousands of years seeking a comfortable life.
These immigrants who came into India brought their own language, religion, customs, etc, and this is the reason for the tremendous diversity in India, so many religions, castes, languages, ethnic groups, etc.
We may compare India with China. Our population is about 120 crores, while China’s is about 130 crore, and China’s land area is over twice ours. However, there is broad (though not absolute) homogeneity in China, all Chinese have Mongoloid faces, they have one common written script called Mandarin (though spoken dialects are different), 95% Chinese are of one ethnic group called Han, etc. In India on the other hand, there is tremendous diversity.
It follows that to keep the country together and take it on the path of progress the only policy which will work is secularism and giving equal respect to all communities. This was the path shown by the great Emperor Akbar who through his policy of Suleh-e-kul (i.e. Universal toleration of all religions) gave equal respect to all religions, at a time when Catholics and Protestants were massacring each other in Europe. Akbar was the real creator of modern India, and his policy was followed by Jawaharlal Nehru and his colleagues who gave us a modern secular Constitution, and this is what is holding our country together, despite all our problems.
Secularism does not mean that one cannot practice one’s religion. Secularism means that religion is one’s private affair unconnected with the State, which will have no religion.
India is presently passing through a transitional period in our history, from feudal agricultural society to a modern industrial society. This is a very painful and turbulent period, as a study of European history from the 16th to 19th Centuries (when Europe was passing through its transition) discloses, full of turmoil, wars, revolutions, social churning and chaos, intellectual ferment, etc. It was only after going through this fire that modern society emerged in Europe. India is presently going through this fire, we are passing through a very agonizing period, which I guess will last for another 15-20 years.
In this period it is the patriotic duty of all Indians, particularly the intellectuals and the media, to help our country get over this transition faster and with less pain. This they can do by promoting modern rational and scientific ideas and combating backward feudal ideas and superstitions.
In this transitional age the role of ideas becomes extremely important, and hence the role of intellectuals and the media becomes extremely important. We may recall the role played by Voltaire, who attacked religions bigotry in France and Europe, Rousseau who attacked the entire feudal system, Thomas Paine, who proclaimed the Right of Man, etc. Our intellectuals and the media should do the same.
Today the bitter truth is that most of our people are still very backward, steeped in casteism and communalism. This is evident from what happens in our elections. Most people vote on the basis of caste and religion, instead of on the merits of the candidate. What after all are vote banks? Our people are still largely feudal and superstitious, believing in astrology and similar nonsense.
In this situation our intellectual and media have an important responsible, patriotic duty of giving correct guidance to the people by propagating modern, scientific ideas. But are they doing this? Much of what is shown in the media are superficialities like lives of film stars and cricketers. Instead of attacking communalism, a section of the media had become kar sewaks during the Ram Janambhumi agitation. Whenever a bomb blast occurs with a short time many T.V. channels start saying that an email or SMS has come that some Muslim organization has claimed responsibility, thus demonizing the entire Muslim community. Is this responsible behaviour? An email or SMS can be sent by any mischievous person. The truth is that 99% people of all communities, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian etc are good, but often an attempt is made to depict all Muslims as terrorists.
Intellectuals and media people must fight against divisive tendencies in our country. We must remain united because modern industry requires a large market, and if we are divided and fight with each other modern industry cannot grow, and without modern industry we cannot generate the wealth required to abolish poverty, unemployment, etc and provide for healthcare, education, etc for our people. Therefore whatever divides us, whether on the basis of religion, caste, region, language, race, etc is anti-national, and whatever unites us (e.g. secularism) is the path we must adopt for progress.
We must not be Hindu nationalists or Muslim nationalists or Sikh or Christian nationalists, we must all be Indian nationalists, and that is what everyone including the media should propagate.