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Appendix 2. Ram Swarup on Indian secularism

I gladly leave the last world to Ram Swarup. By way of introduction, let me quote the first part of Arun Shourie’s article Fomenting reaction, concerning the ban on the Hindi translation of Ram Swarup’s book understanding Islam through Hadis:

Ram Swarup, now in his seventies, is a scholar of the first rank. In the 1950’s when our intellectuals were singing paeans to Marxism and to Mao in particular, he wrote critiques of communism and of the actual-that is, dismal - performance of communist governments. He showed that the sacrifices which the people were being compelled to make, had nothing to do with building a new society in which at some future date they would be the heirs of milk and honey. On the contrary, the sacrifices were nothing but the results of terrorism, pure and simple-of state terrorism, to use the expression our progressive use for all governments save the governments which have used it most brutally and most extensively. And that this terror was being deployed for one reason alone: to ensure total dominance, and that in perpetuity, for the narrowest of oligarchies. He showed that the claims to efficiency and productivity, to equitable distribution and to high morale which were being made by these governments, and even more so by their apologists and propagandists in countries such as India, were wholly unsustainable, that in fact they were fabrications.

Today, anyone reading those critiques would characterize them as prophetic. But thirty years ago so noxious was the intellectual climate in India that all he got was abuse, and ostracism. “His work of Hinduism and on Islam and Christianity has been equally scholarly. And what is more pertinent to the point I want to urge, it has been equally prophetic. No one has ever refuted him on facts, but many have sought to smear him and his writing. They have thereby transmuted his work from mere scholarship into warning”.

Seeing through Indian secularism

The country’s political atmosphere is rent with anti communal slogans. There are deafening warnings against the threat to India’s secularism. Everywhere there is a gushing love for the minorities and a hearty condemnation of the forces of communalism as incarnated in the VHP, the RSS and the BJP. The parties and personalities who not long ago opposed India’s struggle for freedom and unity are fully in the campaign. The Left intellectuals who dominate the media lead the Chorus; Muslim fundamentalism provides the political sinews and the street strength; that section of the press which had British connections (like the Statesman and the Times of India) is still carrying on the old tradition either out of habit or old loyalty or for sheer consistency.

The warnings against communalism are not new. They have a familiar feature of the post-independence period. They have been sounded partly to keep the warners in form, and partly because they have been the stock-in-trade of slick intellectuals in search of a progressive image and of skillful politicians in search of easy votes. But this time one also notices a new urgency and shrillness in the alarm bells. It seems it is no longer a put-up affair and the warners feel really endangered. It also appears that this time the danger is not felt to be against the Muslims- their adopted ward- but against themselves. For what has begun to be attacked is not Muslim fundamentalism but pseudo-secularism itself. A great threat indeed to those secularist-communists in India whose model show-piece in Europe is in ruins and whose ideology and the very way of thinking are under great questioning.

Though borrowed from the West, secularism in India served a different end. In the West, it was directed against the clergy, tyrannical rulers, and had therefore a liberating role; in India, it was designed and actually used by Macaulayites to keep down the Hindus, the victims of two successive imperialisms expending over a thousand years. In the West, it opposed the Church which claimed to be the sole custodian of truth, which took upon itself the responsibility of dictating science and ordering thought, which decided when the world was created, whether the earth is flat or round, whether the sun or the earth moves round the other, which gave definitive conclusions on all matters and punished and dissent. But in India, secularism was directed against Hinduism which made no such claims, which laid down no dogmas and punished no dissent, which fully accepted the role of reason and unhampered inquiry in all matters, spiritual and secular; which encouraged viewing things from multiple angles - Syadvada (for which there is no true English word)1 was only a part of this larger speculative and venturesome approach.

There is yet another difference. In the West, the struggle for secularism called for sacrifice and suffering-remember the imprisonments, the stakes, the Index; remember the condemnation of Galileo; remember how Bruno, Lucilio Vanini, Francis Kett, Bartholomew Legate, Wightman and others were burnt at the stake. But in India secularism has been a part of the Establishment, first of the British and then of our own self-alienated rulers. It has been used against Hinduism which has nourished a great spirit and culture of tolerance, free inquiry and intellectual 1. Syadvada literally means perhaps-ism. Approximate translations could be cognitive [as opposed to moral] relativism, viewpointly pluralism. The dictionary translations

and spiritual integrity. Such a culture deserves to be honoured and owned and cherished by its inheritors, but unfortunately under a great misconception it is held in odium and it is being denied and disowned by a self-forgetful nation. Secularism has become a name for showing one’s distance from this great religion and culture. Macaulayites and Marxists also use it for Hindu-baiting.

Now turning away from this larger aspect and looking at it in its present context, we find that secularism is quite a profitable business. Even more than patriotism, it has become a refuge of many shady characters of various descriptions Ambitious politicians resort to it for vote-catching; intellectuals, many of them not too intellectual, use it for self-aggrandizement . But the slogan has been so often used that it has become hackneyed; and considering the contexts in which it is used, it also sounds hypocritical; by a too reckless use, it has even lost its abusive power.

Religious harmony is a desirable thing. But it takes two to play the game. Unfortunately such a sentiment holds a low position in Islamic theology. The situation is made more complicated by certain historical factors into which we need not go here. The immediately preceding British period added its own difficulty. More than the policy of divide and rule, the British followed another favourite policy, the policy of creating privileged enclaves and ruling the masses with the help of those policies were embraced in their fullness by our new rulers-the rules of the game did not change simple because the British left. They have a vested interest in consolidated minorities and minorityism. Consolidated minorities can be used against a notional majority which can be further fragmented and rendered powerless a la Mandalisation and other such devices.

In his book My Eleven Years With Fakhruddin Ahmad, Mr. Fazle Ahmed Rehmany quotes an incident which throws interesting light on the psychology of secularism and its need to keep Muslims in isolation and in a sort of protective custody. During the Emergency period, some followers of the jama’at-e-Islami found themselves in the same jail as the members of RSS; here they began to discover that the latter were no monsters as described by the nationalist and secularist propaganda. Therefore they began to think better of the Hindus. This alarmed the secularists and the interested Maulvis. Some Maulvis belonging to the Jama’at-ul-Ulema-i-Hind met President Fakhruddin Ahmad, and reported to him about the growing rapport between the members of the two communities. This stunned the President and he said that this boded an ominous future for Congress Muslim leaders, and he promised that “he would speak to Indiraji about this dangerous development and ensure that Muslims remain Muslims.” Different political parties have a vested interest in Muslims retaining their Hindu phobia. This phobia is a treasure trove of votes for them-or, at least, this is what they believe. It is unfortunate that the Muslims have not thrown up leaders who stop playing the anti-Hindu game of some Hindus. It can bring no religious amity. What Islam needs is an introspective leadership, a leadership which is prepared to have a fresh look at its traditional doctrines and approaches. It must give up its religious arrogance and its fundamentalism, its basic categories of believers and infidels, its imperialist theories of Zimmis and Jizya, its belief that it has appeared with a divine mission to replace all other religions and modes or worship.

[Published with some editing in Indian Express, 2/1/1991]


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