‘New secularism’ of Indian liberals is a scary kind of fundamentalism

A few years ago, Al-Shabab, the radical Islamist group in Somalia, made a decision to put a ban on samosas. The reason? All of a sudden, it was suggested that the triangular shape of the samosa might symbolize the Christian Trinity, making the samosa “un-Islamic.”

This is just an example of the level of foolishness that can result when hatred is taken to extreme levels. You start seeing ghosts everywhere.

How different is Al-Shabab’s 2011 war on samosas from what I call the “new secularism” that is practised by Indian liberals of today?

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How is Scroll’s fear of casteist rasam any different from Al-Shabab’s worries over the Christian Trinity Samosa?

Or take the New York Times article from last year about sarees being a symbol of Hindu nationalism. Suddenly, commonplace acts, such as the Government holding Banarasi textile exhibitions or Cabinet Minister Smriti Irani wearing sarees, were under a cloud of liberal suspicion. With much paranoia and horror, the New York Times informs its readers that Banaras is also

“…. one of the holiest cities for Hindus, who consider it the eternal home of Lord Shiva, the Supreme God.

Presumably, therefore, the Banarasi saree becomes a symbol of Hindu nationalism. Again, how far from the Christian Trinity Samosa?

Indian secularism has always been built exclusively on the backs of Hindus. But in the last few years, it appears to have become a different beast altogether. This mutant form, which I call “new secularism” is much more aggressive than anything seen in the last few decades. With an Al-Shabab like mentality, this “new secularism” seeks not only to end Hinduism, it also seeks to wipe out every form of art, food, clothing or expression that might be remotely reminiscent of Hindu culture.

A journalist is making a routine trip through Noida when her eyes fall on a couple of guys with an “Angry Hanuman flag.” Her antennae go up instantly. Why is this Hanuman not smiling? Is this Hanuman threatening us? Oh my god! This is the kind of thought that can only occur to somebody with Hinduphobia so acute that she probably stays up at night worrying to herself … The Hindus are coming…. oh dear… The Hindus are coming.

The journalist dashes off an article to warn her fellow liberals about this brand new threat. Although the flags, posters and stickers she refers to have been viral on India’s roads for some years now, the wave of panic spreads quickly through the liberal community. One liberal in Bangalore declares she won’t ever step into an Ola or Uber with the Angry Hanuman sticker, for fear of sexual assault. Another liberal who works for one of the new liberal websites declares thus:

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It was always just that, a sticker. Then one day a liberal saw it and decided to associate it with Hindu militancy. Another decided to associate it with rape. This one wants to block everyone with that DP.

This is “new secularism,” a radical fundamentalist ideology that is scared of the mere existence of Hindus.

Like fearing the saree or fearing rasam, there is no end to what these fundamentalists fear.  An Indian American writer arrives from New York to talk about her book at a literary fest in India. She gets freaked out because the lamp and the flame in it are too “Hindu-looking.” The fire itself has become suspect.

Someone the other day brought to my attention this gem of an article in The Wire.

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Take a note of all the other things that the article decides to demonize besides Bharatanatyam.

Sindoor? Danger!

Ganesh Utsav? Danger!

Greetings of “Jai Shri Krishna”? Danger!

Bhajan Sandhya? Danger!

The thing that distinguishes fundamentalists from mere partisans is that irrational fear. A partisan would be happy as long as his favourite political formation rules the country. A fundamentalist is different. A fundamentalist goes around looking for things to fear: bowls of rasam, Banarasi sarees, Hanuman stickers, Bharatanatyam, lamps with flame in them, Sindoor or Bhajan Sandhyas.

And fundamentalists don’t stop…or rather they can’t stop until they have wiped out the object of their hatred. Hindus beware about his “new secularism”.


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