fine blend of religion and culture
By V. Sundaram
FREEDOM OF worship is one of the fundamental rights our democracy offers. It is
postulated in the preamble to our Constitution and several Articles define the
scope and extent of the right. We are a people with deep religious moorings. At
the same time, we have a living tradition of religious tolerance - result of the
broad outlook of Hinduism that all religions lead to the same God. It was this
tradition that brought about a happy co-existence of the different religious
groups in the country.
True, the forces of secularism, socialism and science
in post- independent India have released the people from the clutches of
meaningless tradition of superstitions, but at the same time they have created
in them a certain moral and spiritual vacuum that has not been filled by any
violent disturbances that take place at the slightest provocation bear ample
testimony to this trend. The remedy lies in the proper understanding of our
religion and culture. Religion brings about a certain discipline which touches
our conscience and helps us tackle evil and sordidness, saves us from greed,
lust and hatred, releases moral power and imparts to us courage in the
enterprise of fighting for a better social order. This discipline implies the
surrendering of our thinking and conduct to the truths of the spirit and the
generation of a binding force that strengthens the solidarity of human society.
Religion is not to be associated with meaningless
dogmas and creeds, rights and ceremonies but with the deepest wisdom of the
ancient seers of the Sanathana Dharma which can safely guide us through the
bewildering chaos of modern thought. Religion is to be associated with that
ancient wisdom of ours which is universal in feeling and intention and which, by
virtue of its vitality, has affected men of all races and has been able to
survive political and social changes through the ages, and which must remain
forever even while other achievements of man change or perish.
One should remember that religion is not in any way
opposed to secularism. On the other hand they are closely inter-related. Indian
secularism is not alien to Indian culture, despite the mischievous and vicious
attempts of several politicians and irresponsible journalists in recent years to
prove it to the contrary. Secularism is part and parcel of Indian culture.
modern India, ``secularism'' has been converted into a mischievous slogan by
unscrupulous politicians and their journalistic cohorts. Secularism as the
concept is commonly understood today is a force contrary to moral and spiritual
values. Secularism is capable of three distinct meanings, spiritual, rational
There is a common ground for all these interpretations.
It is that in the political and economic life of India, parties and policies and
loyalties should not be based on religion but should cut across religions and be
based on the objective of national welfare. While this may appear to be
satisfactory for practical purposes, the more fundamental attitude towards
secularism will have in the long run a decisive impact on national outlook and
The spiritual interpretation of secularism is that all
religions spring from the primary human craving to understand and feel God or
the Infinite in which the entire universe in general and man in particular has
his being. Therefore, it is far more important that one should recognise and
feel its presence than the manner in which it should be named, described and
worshipped. Hence the truly spiritual human being will respect all religions
while clinging to his own. He will not allow differences of religion to come in
the way of fullest cooperation in those fields where reason and science should
prevail. This in essence was Gandhiji's view on secularism. According to the
rationalistic view of secularism, religion is essentially irrational and
superstitious and it should be progressively eliminated through scientific
education. Till then it should be prevented by all possible means from intruding
into the social, political, economic and cultural life of the people. It should
be strictly relegated to the home for the present and ultimately expelled from
that refuge also. In trying to prevent the intrusion of religion in national and
public affairs, coercion and physical force should be avoided to the extent
possible, but wherever necessary the help of coercive legislation may be taken.
This was the policy of the Congress(I) under the leadership of Indira Gandhi and
to the materialistic interpretation of secularism (Karl Marx), religion is
essentially an evil and has been instrumental in enslaving the masses by the
classes. Therefore it is necessary to suppress it by organised propaganda if
possible and by force if necessary. In India, except for the small number of
communists the general public opinion is vaguely divided between the first two
Under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, the
rationalist meaning of secularism come to prevail generally among the
politicians and the Central and State Governments have during the past 50 years
tried to function as if religions did not exist in India or at least they should
not be given any quarter or recognition unless they came under the category and
label of `minority faiths', such as Christianity and Islam. Any religion or
faith coming under the category of ``Minority faith/religion'' becomes
automatically `secular' and `cosmopolitan'. Applying this thumb rule,
`Hinduism', by virtue of the fact that it is the faith of the majority,
automatically becomes a `communal and non-secular' faith.
Nehru's agnostic and rationalistic thinking had a
disastrous impact on the philosophy and working of several academic institutions
established by the Government of India, for instance the Indian Council of
Historical Research (ICHR), the Institute of Advanced Studies in Shimla and the
National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). All these
institutions were packed with intellectuals who were all inducted as part of ``Jawahar
Employment Programme''. As Arun Shourie brilliantly puts it: ``These
intellectuals and their patrons have worked a diabolic inversion: the inclusive
religion, the pluralist spiritual search of our people and land, they have
projected as intolerant, narrow-minded, obscurantist; and the exclusivist,
totalitarian, revelatory religions and ideologies - Islam, Christianity,
Marxism-Leninism - they have made out to be the epitomes of tolerance,
open-mindedness, democracy and secularism.''
India today, in the name of ``secularism'', anti-religious forces sponsored by
the so-called `secular' humanism or communism, condemn religious piety,
particularly in the majority community. Privileged minorities are immune from
such attention and have succeeded in getting their demands, however
unreasonable, accepted. In its name again, politicians in power adopt a strange
attitude. They condone the susceptibilities, religious and social, of the
minorities but are too eager to brand similar susceptibilities in the majority
community as communal and reactionary. These unfortunate postures have created a
sense of nihilistic frustration in the majority community. If, however, the
misuse of this word ``secularism'' continues; if Sanskrit, the bond of unity, is
not given its due place in our language formula, if every time there is
inter-communal conflict, the majority is blamed, regardless of the merits of the
question; if our places of pilgrimage such as Benaras, Mathura, Dwaraka,
Haridwar, Rishikesh, etc., continue to be converted into secular ghettos through
mindless enforcement of pernicious, unimaginative and soulless Government
policies, the springs of traditional tolerance of the ages will soon dry up.
I am convinced that this distorted view of secularism
has been at the root of deterioration in the standards of probity, decency,
decorum, dignity, integrity and honesty in all walks of national life in India.
I think it is also at the root of the general frustration and discontent among
all sections of our people and more particularly the youth. It is certainly
possible for a rational agnostic to be a highly moral and responsible person.
But for a people whose moral life derives its strength essentially from an
ancient religion, indifference to the latter inevitably means the decay of the
former. The unnatural bifurcation of the spheres of life into the secular and
the spiritual has had its bad effects on the minds of men in India. It has
tended to slacken moral standards in the name of efficiency and expediency. It
has worked for a colourless anaemic religion to which men pay lip homage.
have created a generation of men and women who are smart, superficial, trim and
alert, but have no moral earnestness or love of the truth. Our knowledge is
diffuse, directionless and we are all distraught in mind and tired in body and
listless in our manner. We have given up the strife against lusts of the flesh,
and rationalised it with the help of the behaviourist psychology of Freud and
others from the West. In our behaviour, there is an increased insensibility and
a frightening decrease of civility, decency and sense of justice. We just shift
and drift and erect defence machines to hide our real nature. All this is the
result of the dethronement of faith and the enthronement of ``sham secularism''
of post-independent India.
The only way out is a call back to religion and the
influence of religion not only on the individual but also on the public. Mahatma
Gandhi in his speeches and writings preached that politics, to be useful or
popular or true, must be founded on religion. He stood for the spiritualisation
of politics. He had found politics in the rut of Western materialism and
opportunism and he wanted to save it from the low state into which it had
fallen. ``Back to religion'' was his exhortation. And India today must listen to
his call, if it is to save not only its soul but its body, that is, its physical
to Sudhanshu Ranade (author of the articles in The Hindu `The great betrayal'
(February 7, `99) ``Religion and Politics'' (August 1, '99) and ``Religion and
Politics'' (August 15, '99) the linkage between religion and politics during the
Vedic Phase of the Hindu religion ended in a total disaster 2500-3000 years ago.
Eminent men including Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Keshab Chandra Sen, Ramakrishna
Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Sister Nivedita, Anne Besant, Aurobindo and
Mahatma Gandhi (whose academic and other credentials can be considered equal to
that of Mr. Sudhanshu Ranade) have all passionately underlined the man-making
soul-elevating and nation-building impact of Hinduism through the ages on the
people of India. Mahatma Gandhi had professional intellectuals like Sudhanshu
Ranade in mind when he observed: ``Rationalists are admirable beings;
rationalism is a hideous monster when it claims for itself omnipotence.
Attribution of Omnipotence to reason is as bad a piece of idolatry as is the
worship of stones believing them to be God. I do not plead for the suppression
of reason but for the recognition of `that' in us which sanctifies reason.''
Instrument of integration
Especially as a means and instrument of national
integration, religion will prove more dependable than `secularism'. Religion
holds people together while secularism is divisive; religion is constructive
while secularism erodes; religion inspires while secularism criticises; religion
builds while secularism dissolves; religion unites the people while secularism
makes people look at one another with doubt if not suspicion.
and positive secularism derived from the timeless culture of India should keep
all religions in India at peace. It should care for religion so intensely as to
validate every pathway to God without any hindrance. In short it should regard
all religions as sacred. Radhakrishnan dealt a blow to all the self-styled
pseudo practitioners of ``secularism'' (including politicians and our
ill-informed journalists) when he observed: ``The ideal of secularism means that
we abandon the inhumanity of fanaticism and give up the futile hatred of others
and other faiths. In a secular state, there will be the true spirit of religion,
and the environment necessary for the development of a gentle and considerate
way of life.''
Are we going to be brave enough, wise enough and mature
enough to accept this great challenge of the future?