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A fine blend of religion and culture 
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 substitute.

The 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.

In 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 and materialistic.

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 behaviour.

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 Rajiv Gandhi.

According 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 interpretations.

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.''

In 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.

Distorted view

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.

We 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 well-being.

According 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.

True 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?





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