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HVK Archives: Ayodhya: A ecular, Hindu, non-saffron view

Ayodhya: A ecular, Hindu, non-saffron view - The Times of India

Neera Kuckreja Sohoni ()
June 18, 1998

Title: Ayodhya: A ecular, Hindu, non-saffron view
Author: Neera Kuckreja Sohoni
Publication: The Times of India
Date: June 18, 1998

To be a Hindu is secular but to openly profess to be Hindu is to
be fundamentalist. Only in India is the definition of secularism
so maliciously perverse as to claim an in-the-closet believer of
Hinduism as legitimate and secular but the out-of-closet Hindu as

The politics of the left and of the self-claimed intelligentsia
is so pervasive and one-sided that it allows no room for
difference of opinion, let alone contradiction. Indian
"mainstream" historians, most of them educated at Oxbridge and
steeped in their worldview of history, are hardly the ones to
look to for a fair or secular rendition of history. It took ten
years after Independence for the famous 1857 "native outbreak" to
be referred to as "the first war of independence" rather than
"mutiny" -a change that would never have occurred without the
bold assertive stance of the Savarkar genre of "indigenous" and
"India-centred" historians.

It was the same group that carried forth the British legacy of
perceiving Indians and India not as one but two, namely Islamic
and Hindu, and persists in highlighting that divide. The Hindu-
Islamic dichotomy was accentuated if not invented by the British
who first created the genuine or erroneous fear among Hindu
subjects of their religious canon being superseded by their
Islamic rulers. Thus Hindutva was constructed or resurrected
deliberately by a colonising company and nation to undermine the
authority and legitimacy of the then ruling Islamic state, in the
process preparing ground for the "enlightened, secular"
legitimacy of their own rule.

Contemporary historians and thinkers have continued that charade
except they have reversed the tables this time, electing to side
with the Islamic minority as being endangered as a species and

The England-trained and beholden Indian intellectual continues to
place the halo of Enlightenment and Renaissance exclusively on
the Western non-indigenous forces, unjustly allowing the Western
(really the British) tradition to appropriate secularism as its
sole monopoly. Cultures of the sword and crusades are venerated
as secular and the mere profession of Hinduism equated to the
archaic and the bigoted.

In the logic of affirmative action, majorities in the best of
democracies such as the United States often claim to be victims
of reverse discrimination. This is now the experience of "Hindu"
Indians. If the minorities practise their religion and
institutionalise their tradition through schools, colleges,
textbooks, curriculums, denominated laws, places and sites of
worship, it is justified and celebrated as the fundamental right
to freedom of worship under a secular Constitution. But every
time a section of the majority community asserts the same right
to be Hindu and pursue Hinduism openly, it is derided and
demonised as saffronite. Also, while the period of Islamic rule
in India is presented in non-denominational terms as part of the
Indian heritage, any icons celebrating Hinduism are presented in
denominational terms as strictly non-secular. There is irony and
utter injustice in presenting and debating Ayodhya in narrowly
Hindu rather than overwhelmingly Indian terms.

The secular and leftist lobby literally sees the saffron
brotherhood as the custodian of the nation's nationhood. If you
are communist it is easier for you to swear loyalty across
national borders to some overpowering dictating ideology which
cripples your right to individuality as a person and citizen.
(Notice how even the bomb was considered as superfluous by the
leftists as it challenged the imaging of China as a champion of
the dove). Astonishingly when the same allegiance is shown to an
overarching tradition, in this case Hinduism, you get accused of
narrow-minded bigotry

Indian Muslims, who spend hours and years in the national media
and elsewhere trying to advocate reconciliation between Indians
and Pakistanis, easily forget to apply the same commonsensical
rule to the Muslim community building bridges with Hindus within
India. What stops the learned and unlearned, the priest and the
laity in the Islamic community from sitting across the table with
their Hindu counterparts to formalise their generosity? Of the
thousands of over-constructed sites appropriated by the then
Muslim rulers, just three are being negotiated by those currently
seeking to present the "majority voice".

Just three sites which are currently on the much-feared "hidden"
agenda for which the opposition led by Sonia Gandhi seeks daily
annotations and clarifications. At least two of the "return to
sender" sites are quintessentially linked to the major mythical
or historical Hindu heroes and dynasties. If we are secular, then
to persist in seeing the demand for freeing up of those sites as
Hindu is being less than nationalistic. It is as absurd as
presenting the nuclear underground explosion as Hindu rather than
the Indian bomb.

In any case what is so sacrosanct about 500 years in a nation's
lengthy collective past when the original claim to the site (s)
dates back many more centuries?

Instead of pushing or asking to push the caricatured
representations of Hindu goddesses in the name of secularism, why
don't eminent opinion shapers and spokespersons of the Muslim
community such as M F Husain, Shabana Azmi, Dilip Kumar, and
their secular leftist echo groups, come forward in a genuinely
secular gesture to say Ayodhya and Mathura are our heritage too?
We regret they were desecrated by some who knew no better. But we
do, and we are ready to join you in kar seva to rectify the
wrongful earlier demolition. Let them who use secularism to
denigrate and demonize all Hindus as saffronites and bajrangbalis
set themselves to the touchstone of real secularism.

Is secularism to be proclaimed only on the floor of the
legislative assemblies and Parliament? Or to be used as a pawn
in weekly manifestoes and daily press releases of defunct or
hoping-to-make-a-comeback political parties? It is a personal as
much as collective intellectual and behavioural choice, mandating
an open attitude and desire to revisit history, culture and
politics in the light of changed circumstances on the one hand,
and the length and legacy of tradition on the other.

Atal Behari Vajpayee is right and openly, totally secular in
claiming and assuring Parliament and the nation that no temple
will arise without a favourable court judgement. But Mr Singhal
is just as right in claiming that the devotion to rectify
historical wrongs is not the exclusive responsibility of the
victims of history.

It is incontrovertible that neither courts nor legal forums can
legislate morality or secularism. These happen best and least
violently when the people volunteer to become ethical and
secular. Rather than playing up Ayodhya as a saffron desire or
conspiracy, it behoves the non-saffrons - individuals, groups and
their political representatives -to pay homage as a nation to a
national heritage worthy of celebration.

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