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Liberal Fundamentalism and Sabarimala fiasco: India needs a Renaissance

While the liberal fundamentalists are belittling other people's experience, they are considering themselves as morally superior. Why? Because it is in their Faith (the hallmark of religion) that women must do exactly the same as men.

What happened during October 2018 at Sabarimala is a human tragedy. Ayyappan devotees were confronting the police who are trying to force a handful of activists to the temple. It was just short of a civil war.

This human-made tragedy was entirely been driven by Indian Institutions. From Supreme Court judges to activists to journalists to academicians—in sum, the elite—believed that people must behave as per the constitutional morality. Human beings must be made to change to brace the liberal ideas. People, however, did not accept their own understanding of human morality as inferior to the constitutional diktats.

Do we spot a similar situation sometime somewhere? Renaissance it is. Medieval Europe denounced the Christian Fundamentalism of calling an average man as “sinful”, calling human desires as morally wrong, calling human understanding as inferior to the Book’s diktats. Through Renaissance, they moved on to humanism that respects human experience and human understanding rather than being latched on to a Book-based understanding. Invariably, after Renaissance ushered humanism in Europe, the Western civilisation as we call it today, was born.

The situation is quite similar for India. What was Fundamental Christianity that time for Europe, it is Liberalism for India now?

Hold on a second! Isn’t Secular Liberalism the antidote to all religious fundamentalism?

Modern historical research does not concur to this claim: The role of liberalism in society today is no different than the role of religion in the medieval age. Yuval Noah Harari writes in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Chapter 12):

The modern age has witnessed the rise of a number of new natural-law religions, such as liberalism, Communism, capitalism, nationalism and Nazism. These creeds do not like to be called religions and refer to themselves as ideologies. But this is just a semantic exercise. If a religion is a system of human norms and values that is founded on a belief in a superhuman order, then Soviet Communism was no less a religion than Islam.

Yuval Hoah Harari goes on to explain why liberalism today is a religion that worships some supernatural beliefs, surprisingly very much like Nazism of the twentieth century.

Religions beget fundamentalism; Liberalism in India has begotten Liberal Fundamentalism. Instead of accepting that the constitution is an institution to protect innate human values, the elite preaches that people must change themselves to cater to the constitution. Instead of accepting and respecting people’s diverse experiences, they would call any position different than their own as morally wrong.

When thousands of Ayyappan women devotees of Kerala proclaimed that they would like the Sabarimala temple to continue with the restrictions as they respect the notion of celibacy of Ayyappan and associated rituals, the liberal fundamentalists did not respect the experience of those women. What’s more, the liberal fundamentalist belittled these women by calling them victims of patriarchy. How different is it when compared to calling someone’s experience as devil-inspired or superstitious which does not conform to the morality of the Book?

While the liberal fundamentalists are belittling other people’s experience, they are considering themselves as morally superior. Why? Because it is in their Faith (the hallmark of religion) that women must do exactly the same as men. Anything that differs from this “supernatural belief” has to be morally wrong, as any fundamentalist would always say.

Consider the fact that out of the five individual petitioners for the public interest litigation on Sabarimala, three found the arguments of their opponent side as convincing and decided to withdraw their petition.

The supporters of the Sabarimala temple tradition could convince the majority of the opponents but not the majority of the Supreme Court judges who go by their own constitutional morality. This shows that our constitutional morality is very different compared to general human understanding, particularly in terms of acknowledging diverse human experience. Period.

Unless we want to create more and more misery for our civilisation, we need a massive change. A Renaissance. No less.

How? I propose four avenues below. Interestingly, all four have parallels with the renaissance of Europe.

  1. A Deeper Social Science without Any Unscientific Notion

When the Renaissance was ushered in Europe, the idea of humanist education was born instead of religious education. Man’s worldview used to be developed by religion in the pre-Renaissance times. The dawn of Renaissance saw the acceptance of Hindu-Arabic Number System (thereby kick-started science) in Europe which previously used to be rejected by religious fundamentalists. In due course, the humanist tradition rejected the role of religion to develop one’s social narrative leading to the birth of the social sciences. So far so good.

Why could not our elite understand that equality is not sameness? The malaise lies in our present-day social sciences which are exclusively dominated by the notions of cultural Marxism.

Cultural Marxism begins with an idea that is neither scientific, not accommodative to diverse human nature: All men are born equal. This idea—a legacy of the Abrahamic idea of all men are created by God— is in direct contradiction to biological science and to the fact of evolution of human beings through different channels. To quote, Yuval Noah Harari, “A huge gulf is opening between the tenets of liberal humanism and the latest findings of the life sciences, a gulf we cannot ignore much longer.”

The deeper social science will start when we shall assimilate the behavioural science-based understanding of human behaviour into social sciences. This will make the social sciences free from the shackle of liberal fundamentalism so that they can actually understand the diversity better instead of homogenising all cultures and all human beings by viewing them through the lens of “One True Theory” (cultural Marxism).

  1. Ensuring Pluralism by Adopting a Post-Secular Notion

Renaissance started with separation of Church and State and eventually gave birth to secularism. Secularism in Europe has largely succeeded in keeping religion away from state policy. Secularism, however, is a model of pluralism based on the ideas of Protestant Christianity, explains Professor Jakob de Roover of Ghent University. In this model, a religion has no link to one’s culture or administrative affairs as religion is concerned about one’s faith alone. This understanding of the role of religion is quite limited and inappropriate in the cultural matrix of India.

Take Sabarimala as an instance. One cannot simply separate the issue of non-entry of fertile-aged women (a religious issue) and the idea of public space (an administrative matter) as temples are homes of deities in Hindu religion. This is something unknown to the Abrahamic religions, which made the Indian judiciary clueless.

Culture and religion are inseparable when one considers issues like School prayer in public school using Sanskrit verses, the performance of rituals and showcasing images of Hindu deities in the public domain. If the judiciary goes by the idea of secularism and bans each of them progressively, our culture and our heritage all will be lost in no time. Indian culture is inherently pluralistic and we accepted secularism only in the interest of securing our pluralistic culture. However, secularism when force-fitted to Indian society will destroy pluralism by its very nature.

This paradox of “pro-pluralism secularism killing pluralism” can be resolved only by developing a different notion of pluralism apart from secularism. We are compelled to work on developing this notion like humanism of Europeans compelled them to develop secularism.

  1. Faith-based Division of Humanity as unacceptable as Racism

The Abrahamic religions treat the non-believers in their religion as inferior only on account of their lack of faith. This Faith-based division is rather alien to the Indic religions. All countries in Western Europe were exclusively Christian when they developed Secularism. Therefore, Europe did not require to consider the implication of this faith-based discrimination and its effect on the notion of human rights and equality. They have other issues to resolve such as equalising birth-based rights (aristocrats versus plebeians) and equalising race-based rights over time.

This Faith-based division lingers on in multi-religious India as this creates an undercurrent of mistrust and suspicion. Consider the case of Fathima Rehana who as an activist came to the Sabarimala temple without any devotion (carrying used sanitary pads etc.). It seems to be the case that liberal fundamentalism not the religion of her birth motivated her to this activism. However, her religion was insinuated as the cause of her activism in the social media. The justification for this insinuation comes from the faith-based division practised by the Abrahamic religions. The story from the other side is no different if we consider how preachers like Zakir Naik exploit the Abrahamic notion of the faith-based division to justify their divisive agenda.

The solution to this problem lies in making a Faith-based division of Humanity as an unacceptable proposition in public space. It should be viewed no different from racism.

  1. A Linguistic Equality

Before Renaissance, Latin was the tongue of the elite in Europe where the other languages used to be considered inferior. The ideas expressed in those languages were not taken very seriously by their then elite. When humanism grew in Europe, the local languages were promoted heavily instead of Latin, making Latin slowly obsolete over time. This made public education easy and effective; moreover, development of talent became easy for the populace.

We are in the same situation today with English as the tongue of the elite and the populace struggling to connect to ideas expressed in English. Their expressions in their tongues are often not taken seriously by the English educated elite. This is how we are wasting our society’s potential. While English can’t meet the fate of Latin, we must end this linguistic Apartheid. The starting point is to make quality education available in the regional languages.

Before Renaissance, Europe was the most scientifically backward place of the world. The spirit of the Renaissance helped it to be the leader of the human civilisation.

The only question is: Do we have it in us?

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Kausik Gangopadhyay
Economist by training; humanist in yearning. Interested in Dharma, Culture & Civilisation.

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