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We would be secular only if we Indians first; and a response - Asian Age

Seema Mustafa ()
5 July 1996


Title : We would be secular only if we were Indians first
Author : Seema Mustafa
Publication : Asian Age
Date : July 5, 1996

Traveling through Europe one is struck by the complete
absence of border check posts. It is almost an open
continent with visitors - once, of course, the visas are
firmly endorsed in the passport - traveling freely
through the countries without even being subjected to a
random check. One is also struck by the quiet, strong
pride of the people in their nations - be it Germany,
France, wherever., The pride is -unobtrusive but it
is.thert - in the food, the culture, the language. It is
not subtle but it is not obtrusive either. The nations,
once so bitterly at war with each other, have learnt to
live with their pride and' convert hostility and mutual
respect. It has been a conscious, deliberate effort Over
the years which has. succeeded in a sort of unification
which would have been deemed impossible just a few
decades ago. It is fragile but it is there. The thought
that comes immediately to mind is: will this ever be
possible in the Indian subcontinent. One day, perhaps,
all of us will be able to travel to Pakistan, Bangladesh,
Burma, Sri Lanka without constant scrutiny pervasion and
obvious hostility. Looking at Europe today, one cannot
reject this premises as ,absurd" but all concerned
governments Will have to worn@ towards it. There is
growing awareness among the people of these countries -
witness the People to People efforts here - but the
governments will have to stop Looking upon each other as
major threats and work sincerely to sort out the
differences and strengthen the similarities.

But first, and there are many firsts, India must
strengthen secularism, make it part of our body politic,
of our lifestyle, of our education, of our basic
upbringing. For national pride, in the Indian context, is
inextricably linked with secularism. India can be at
peace with itself only when secularism is practiced as
an"aggressive ideology, to not just demolish the
fanatical streams. of dangerous thought, but to imbibe a
secular culture which@ alone can give teeth to the tenets
of:the Indian Constitution.

There has been considerable debate on the meaning of
"secularism." There is confusion among some secularists,
but the real chaos is sought to be created by the
Bharatiya Janata Party and its ilk which has coined the
new phrase "pseudo secular." One is not sure what it
means but it is used freely by the BJP dons in their
speeches, at debates and seminars. Those who challenge
the fascist doctrine of Hindutva are pseudo secular;
those who refuse to accept the distortions and falsehoods
indulged in by the BJP and its many front organisations
are pseudo secular. The BJP's comrade-in-arms, the
Jammat-e-Islami and similar thought among the Muslims is
also equally enamoured of the term. Of course, in their
case those Muslims who do not see eye to eye with the
regressive practice of Islam in India, those who
challenge the crippling fatwas issued from time to time
(such as women cannot contest the elections) are pseudo-
secularists. The maulanas are heard at public platforms
using the term with the same passion as their saffron
clad colleagues at other venues. Both the BJP and the
Muslim fanatics insist that they are not communal, that
they represent true culture, true religion and in fact,

the real truth per se.

Both feed on illiteracy, on superstition, on the weak.
Both present a narrow, distorted view of religion -
aggressive, ugly and claustrophobic. The rituals of
religion are emphasised by both for here the maulanas and
pundits are in their elements. Besides, rituals are like
shackles which tie down the people to a certain
regithented behaviour (street processions, Ion speakers
on temples and mosques) which might pass off as religion
but is certainly not civilised. Impassioned, charged, the
people begin to defend these rituals as an integral part
of religion, and kill to ensure their "freedom" to pray.
An inherent part of this religion is not just the
reinforcement of the particular belief, but the nurturing
of a careful and systematic prejudice against the other
belief. It starts innocently in school, "What do Muslims
look like?," "But you do not look like a Muslim," "Be
careful he is a Hindu, do not get too friendly," "They
eat pig," "They eat cow." And goes on to, "The Muslims
are taking our jobs," "They should live like second class
citizens, this is a Hindu country," "He will not
understand you, he is a Hindu," "You know they pray to
those absurd gods everyday." It goes on to "our land,"
"Our religion." It ends in civil war, communal violence,
strife, hostility and deep-rooted resentment. While the
Indian state looks on.

Secularism in India is not how the English and American
dictionaries define it. Just as communalism has a very
different meaning in the subcontinent. In the dictionary
communal is derived from commune and is synonymous
harmony. In the subcontinent, it stands for virulent
religious discord. Similarly secularism does not mean
spirituality, just as it is not antireligion at all. It
simply means, and should mean, tolerance for all
religions and full rights to all to practice their
religious beliefs without treading on other toes.

Secularism should be made to mean the distinct separation
of the state from religion as the growth of fascism in
India can be directly linked to the states' continuous
interference and direct association with religion. It is
not for the Indian state to construct a temple or a
mosque, but it is definitely the duty the Indian state to
ensure that no religious place of worship is attacked or
destroyed. In other words, it is not for the Indian state
to ensure that no religious place of worship is attacked
or destroyed.

In other words, it is not for the Indian state to promote
or encourage a religious belief, but it is definitely its
duty to ensign that all have equal protection without
infringing on the other rights. Is this so difficult to.
comprehend? Is it civilised t6 be anything else?
Unfortunately, our education system is so bankrupt that
the educated man. in India today believes in the "us" and
"them" syndrome, so. carefully nurtured and spread by the
fanatical schools of thought. "Oh, all right, I believe
you but try to explain that to those Mohammedans (yes,
the term is still used), "Perhaps, but the Hindus will
never agree" and all that has been written above goes
down the communal drain.

Secularism cannot be strengthened by playing on fears-and
prejudices. It needs strong, direct, affirmative action -
from the political level to education down to the family.
Indians are not secular. And that is one of the main
reasons why we are not Indians, first.

We are apologetic, suffer from a strong inferiority
complex arks, the threatening irony is that today some of
us are trying to establish an Indian identity through
aggressive religiosity, While the Indian state looks ow
and the Prime Minister of India sits and prays.


(Letter in response to "We would be secular only if we
were Indinas first", by Ku Seema Mustafa, Asian Age,
June 29, 1996.)

Kanchan Junga
72, Dr G Deshmukh Rd
Mumbai 400 026.

July 1, 1996


This has reference to "We would be secular only if
we were Indians first" (June 29) by Ku Seema Mustafa.
Five weeks prior she had written an article entitled
"Modern Secularism: Communalism with a new spelling". A
carefully study of the same would have found her in
agreement with what the BJP calls pseudo-secularism. One
does wonder if the 'intellectual' mafia has got on to Ku
Mustafa, and, having buckled under the pressure, she now
comes out with an inane piece now.

In the 1950s, Jawaharlal Nehru had said that he con-
siders that majority communalism is a greater danger than
minority communalism. The majority community (i.e. the
Hindus) decided to give him a chance to prove this the-
sis, and so did not vote for that arch-communal party the
Jana Sangh, the predecessor of the present day BJP. How-
ever, even now the same canard is repeated when in the
May 25 article, Ku Mustafa said, "One agrees with the
argument of intellectual friends in Delhi, that nothing
can be, and nothing is really worse than the RSS/BJP
brand of communalism."

If only she opens her eyes and see with an unbiased
mind what has been happening for the last fifty years,
she would have seen that everything has been done to nur-
ture minority communalism, instead of trying to fight it.
Inadvertently, in the May article she has admitted as
such, when she says, "The danger is that not much can be
done so long as one of the two parties (the Samajwadi
Party) responsible for the increasing tension is labelled
as "secular". And so long as its only agenda for the
Muslim minority is "fear." Fear breeds ghettoisa-
tion, at a much faster pace than lack of develop-
ment. Education, employment, health still remain the
main areas of concern where Muslims are concerned and
the track of the states governed by the so-called
secular parties is extremely poor in these crucial

In 1970, the late Shri Hamid Dalwai wrote a book,
"Muslim Politics in Secular India", which analysed what
was being done in the previous 20 years, when 'Hindu com-
munalism' was kept in check by the Hindus themselves.
What has happened in the next 25 years is an increasing
continuation of the divisive policies of these 20 years.
But, these are very awkward issues for the pseudo-secu-
larists (or Modern Secularists as Ku Mustafa would like
to call herself) to handle, and the best course open to
them is to completely ignore Shri Dalwai. In the process
they have handed over the leadership of the Muslims to
people like Owaisi and the mullahs and moulovis. To
blame the BJP for all this is the height of intellectual

Yours sincerely,

(Ashok Chowgule)

The Editor,
The Asian Age,
210, Surya Kiran,
19, Kasturba Gandhi Marg,
New Delhi 110 001.

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