“Men will wangle for religion, fight for it, write for it, die for it, and anything but live it”. India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has written in his autobiography, “The spectacle of what is called religion, in India, has filled one with horror and I have frequently condemned it and wish to make a clean sweep of it. Almost always it seems to stand for blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition and exploitation, and the preservation of vested interest.”
India belongs to all and all must belong to India. Can India survive as a secular democratic country? It can and it must! With the country beset with political turmoil, violence, polarisation, religious bigotry, the solutions although sometimes not apparent can be found if will and vision permeate and over power vested interests. India is reluctantly waking up from its clichéd hypocrisies and blatant bigotry. All loquacious bug-a-boos disseminating ethnocentric myopia and indulging in pestiferous hullabaloo are being confronted by the media and journalists alike.
There have been different religions in different ages; there have been heated controversies, long warfare and much bloodshed over them. One religion has stood against another, one sect has fought with another, but the question arises: if there is one God, why should there be so many religions?
While secularism has been integral to India’s democratic ethos for more than 60 years, its uses and limits, under the present political regime, are now being debated. Signs of a crisis in the relations between states, society and religion include the violence against minorities.
Post May 2014, ever since Mr Narendra Modi took over as prime minister, India’s secularism has followed a torturous course and religious fundamentalism has grown precariously. Our democratic and secular ethos, which has been the inherent strength of our socio-political system, has suffered a sombre setback. Since then, life has gone cheap in India. Forced conversion campaigns, unnatural devastation, killings, on the hour, we all are getting used to it, we hardly notice it. Every other day we read a place of worship belonging to the minorities is being attacked. To quote celebrated Indian writer and columnist Shobhaa De from her book Superstar India,“ It is like an eczema patch — sure it itches, but soon the itch itself becomes a habit, and if the itch goes away, one starts missing the urge to scratch, scratch and scratch… till the patch bleeds!”
The communal hatred and barbaric killings of hundreds of innocent citizens over the past years under other political regimes has shown how fragile and vulnerable our secularism is and how hollow our claims and slogans of communal harmony have proved to be. Sad, but true.
All ideals of secularism — non-violence, equality and communal harmony — today, stand exploded as a myth! The inhuman brutality of burning people alive in the name of religion and caste is a grim reminder of the cynical and blatant misuse of our bureaucratic power and the communal prejudice of government machinery. Religious differences maybe blurring but even those who adhere to age old chauvinism, narrow-mindedness and bias are aware of how shrewdly our political class manipulate both the conformists and those who ignore such differences.
Under these political circumstances, the future of secularism in India seems bleak until and unless, we as Indians, are made to understand the meaning of secularism. The rigid lines between ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ perpetuated by the political class ought to erase. Religion in a civilised society is the path to salvation, in the wrong hands it is a time bomb of destruction. Secularism should be the language of peace, sacrifice, kindness and compassion. In India, however, it is the justification for violence, greed and animosity. We are fond of describing India as secular as going so far as to compare it with a nation like the United States of America where the killer of a Hindu is treated as aggressively as the killer of a Christian, where the police are required to give equal protection to all citizens irrespective of which faith the belong to. But, all know what the reality is!
Today, India should be totally disassociated from the shallows of religious orthodoxy, intolerance, hatred and bigotry — all must be done away with. We must wage a war against weaker thoughts for as knowledge advances, the domain of religion, in the narrow sense of the word, shrinks. “Let in goodness thy God dwell, confine him not to a cathedral or temple. In equity and justice who makes his abode, let us look to that, Universal god.”