Indians are generally highly intelligent. Yet when it comes to secularism, most intellectuals, media and politicians get the concept wrong, so wrong that it looks as if Indians were purposely fed wrong information.
Contrary to the general perception in India, ‘secular’ is not the opposite of communal. Communal as such is not objectionable. It means ‘pertaining to a community’. In Germany, elections to local bodies are called “communal elections” (Kommunalwahlen).
‘Secular’ means worldly and is opposed to religious. ‘Religious’ in this context referred to Christianity, to an organized, dogmatic religion that claims that it is the sole keeper of the Truth, which all must believe blindly.
What is this revealed truth? In short: the human being is born in sin, which dates back to Adam and Eve. But fortunately, some 2000 years ago, God had mercy on humanity and sent his only son Jesus Christ to earth to redeem us by dying for our sins on the cross, then rising from the dead and going back to his father up in heaven. However to be able to get the benefit of Jesus’ sacrifice, one must be baptized and become a member of the Church, otherwise, one will be singled out for eternal hell on Judgment Day.
Understandably, such claims did not appeal to those who used their intelligence, but for many centuries they had to keep quiet or risk their lives. The reason was that for long the Church was intertwined with the state, and harsh laws made sure that people did not question the ‘revealed truth’. Heresy was punished with torture and death. Even in faraway Goa, after Francis Xavier called the Inquisition to this colony, unspeakable brutality was committed against Indians. In many Muslim countries till today, leaving Islam is punishable by death, as both these religions insist on one belief, the one which is in their holy book.
Significantly, those centuries, when Church and State were intertwined, when the clergy prospered and the faithful sheep suffered are called the dark ages. And the time when the Church was forced to loosen its grip, is called the era of enlightenment, which started only some 350 years ago. Incidentally, India had a hand in it. When Indian knowledge reached Europe, it fostered greatly scientific progress, and this played a crucial role in curbing the influence of the Church.
Now the idea that reason, and not blind belief in one ‘revealed truth’, should guide society, took root in Europe and this lead to the demand for separation between State and Church. Such separation is called secularism.
Today, most western democracies are secular, though many still grant Christianity preferential treatment. For example in Germany, the Constitution guarantees that the Christian doctrine is taught in government schools. Nevertheless, the present situation is a huge improvement over the dark ages.
In India, however, the situation was different. Here, the dominant faith of the Indian people never demanded blind belief in an unreasonable doctrine. Their faith was based on insights of the Rishis and on reason, intuition and direct experience and involved a long tradition over many thousands of years. It expressed itself in a multitude of ways. Plurality is the hallmark. It allows the one Brahman, the cause for the universe, be worshipped in the forms of many deities who are ultimately all one with Brahman. Their faith was about trust, devotion and reverence for the One Source of all life. It was about doing the right thing at the right time according to one’s conscience. It was about the Golden Rule: not to do to others what one does not want to be done to oneself. It was about having noble thoughts, about how to live life in an ideal way. It was about Satya and Dharma.
However, this open atmosphere changed when Islam and Christianity entered India. Indians, who good-naturedly considered the whole world as a family, were despised, ridiculed and even killed in big numbers only because they were ‘Hindus’ (which is basically a geographical term). Indians did not realise that dogmatic religions were very different from their own, ancient Dharma and that pluralism was not allowed. For the first time, they were confronted with merciless killing in the name of God/ Allah.
During Muslim rule, Hindus had to lie low for fear of their lives, and during British rule, they were ridiculed and cut off from their precious Sanskrit tradition with the help of ‘education’ policies. Naturally, this took a toll on their self-esteem. Till today, this low self-esteem is evident, especially in the English educated class. Nevertheless, it is a great achievement and testimony of the fighting spirit of Indians that Hindu Dharma survived for so many centuries under foreign occupation, whereas the west succumbed completely to Christianity and over 50 countries to Islam in a short span of time.
Coming back to secularism. Though Hindu Dharma survived and never dictated terms to its followers nor to the state, ‘secular’ was added to the Constitution of India in 1976. Maybe, because after Independence Muslim and Christian representatives had pushed for special civil laws and other benefits and got them, which is against secularism.
However, even after adding ‘secular’, the government seemed eager to benefit specifically the dogmatic religions, which secularism is meant to counter.
Why would ‘secular’ be added to the Constitution and then not acted upon? It’s a mystery. But over time, most Indians came to understand by ‘secular’ the complete opposite of what it means. They believe that secularism means fostering Christianity and Islam, both of which have no respect for Hindus and whose divisive dogmas condemn all Hindus to eternal hell.
Media and politicians helped to muddy the water. They called parties that represent a religious group, ‘secular’, instead of ‘religious’. When the state gave in to demands by Christianity and Islam, it was called ‘secular’. WHY did the government do this?
It is an absurdity. Can you imagine the Jews honouring the Germans with preferential treatment instead of seeking compensation for the millions of Jews killed? Yet Islam and Christianity that have gravely harmed Indians over centuries got preferential treatment by the Indian state, and India’s own beneficial, plural dharma that has no other home except India, is pushed into a corner. And to top it all, this is called ‘secular’!
Obviously Indians have not learnt from the European experience during the dark ages. Hindus have not yet realized that the dogmatic religions really want to put the mind of all humans into a strait jacket. They say it openly: “We alone have the full truth. All must accept it.”
It is surely wise for the state to ignore demands by the dogmatic religions which insist on blind belief in unverifiable, unreasonable and divisive dogmas, and which foster only their own members.
Yet this advice does not apply to Dharma.
It would be a disaster if the state would also ignore Dharma and become a-dharmic. Dharma is the backbone of a harmonious society. It needs to flourish, needs to be taught to children. And of course politicians, too, need to follow dharma, need to follow their innate knowledge about what is the right thing to do. When this happens, India has a great chance to become again the famed golden bird and the Guru of the world.