A common assumption that is probably finding mainstream recognition in Indian discourse these days is that secularism exists for the protection of minorities. It postulates that when the majority is secular it is something of a security that they are offering towards the minorities. However, we must check if this hypothesis is true. Thankfully, we have the contrasting case studies of Pakistan and India side by side, the former having a state religion and us, in India, without one and we can perform a thought experiment to see if secularism has any importance to the majority.
Pakistan was created on the basis that Muslims would not be safe in a Hindu majority country, thereby casting the Hindus as antagonists. So, Muslims should have remained protected in that country better than they would have in a Hindu majority India. But as the experiment has proven since, that has not been the case and in the straitjacket of purity of being an Islamic republic, the characteristics of which have only been determined by majoritarian dogma, many others have been stopped from contributing their fullest to the nation.
Let us take the case of Ahmadiyyas as a test case. Many of them were prominent leaders of Muslim League which advocated for a separate state of Pakistan. However, after an amendment was inserted in 1974 to the constitution of Pakistan due to majoritarian demands, Ahmadiyyas are not even officially considered Muslims in Pakistan anymore. A gentleman from that community was killed recently and his killer is now seen by many as a hero over there. Many of us also know about the absurdity that Abdus Salam, the first Nobel Laureate from the Muslim community in Physics, was not welcome in his own land.
Consider the case of the Shi’ites. Nowadays, there are groups who have been targeting them, killing them and maiming them with the express purpose of ethnically cleansing them and maintaining that they are non-Muslims. They have been the target of most of the attacks against minorities in Pakistan. Would they have imagined this when Pakistan was created under the guidance of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan, who was born a Shia?
Let us also look at how the Sufis have fared. Scores of holy sites have been destroyed and multiple people have been murdered all in the name of purity of religion. Festivities and celebration, which had been going on for many centuries, had to be stopped due to the threat of radical Islamists who did not consider them Muslim enough.
Above are just some examples of people who ought to not have been threatened when Pakistan was created as an Islamic republic because they too were supposedly part of the majority.
Now, imagine our country India. We rejected the two nation theory and accepted a secular nation. When more Muslims stayed back in India than who went to Pakistan, it should have been considered the ultimate rejection of that theory. However, recently, some people in our nation have begun bringing up the theory again when they talk of moving away from secularism and establishing a Hindu nation. The rationale provided is that the two nation theory based on religious majority has actually succeeded because the land got divided and therefore we must follow the same steps that Pakistan took, because while in their country Muslim rights were given primacy, we gave equal rights to all, which seems perceptibly unfair towards the Hindu majority here. But, in an attempt to level the playing field by taking an external nation into consideration, which in itself is a bizarre proposition because the locus of destiny of a country should not be influenced by external forces, are we absolutely sure that in this process we will not end up hurting the rights of many Hindus as well?
Let us first consider, for example, where the Sindhis would stand in this new alignment. The entirety of Sindh was lost to Pakistan during partition. LK Advani, the father figure of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement is a Sindhi. So, if there is any community an aspiring Hindu nation should care for most, it is the Sindhis. However, as Sindhis worship Jhulelal, a deity simultaneously worshipped by Muslims, they are not even considered Hindus by some members of organisations which might want a leading role in guiding the discourse in a future Hindu nation, and may well qualify for ethnic cleansing in hands of purity seekers.
Take another Indic religion in Buddhism. They have lost their heritage in Islamic nations, like the Taliban who blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas. Lord Buddha is considered one of the greatest spiritual masters of India and one of the ten avatars of Hinduism. Yet, when it comes to the Jataka tales of Buddhism, because they stray from the traditional telling of Ramayana, they have been attacked for their faith. If the perpetrators could act this way in a secular nation, is there any evidence that it might be better in a Hindu nation?
Let us also not forget about the many indigenous people and local cultures with decidedly Indic roots. Some interpretations of our holiest books differ from place to place. Some cultures, such as Durga Puja in Bengal, have decidedly heterodox traditions. Imposition of food culture is already difficult as even those in power have found, considering there are places like the North East where even Hindus consume beef. Might such problems not be further exacerbated in a nation if Hinduism were to become its official state religion?
Above are just some of the issues that might visit us if we try to establish a state religion or propose a set of laws based on the major religion of our country. To establish such a code, we would need to reconcile all cultures within Hinduism, many of which are contradictory in nature. When such an attempt would invariably prove futile because of the divergence of views, we would have to discard certain interpretations which we consider to be insignificant as compared to the popular view. Those views removed from consideration, though, might be important to another section of the religion which might then mobilise against any such proposal. Hence, just as it has been observed in Pakistan which chose to become an Islamic republic; by deeming India as a Hindu nation, we risk tearing the majority itself to multiple factions which goes towards making our republic and our union even more fragile than it actually is in the present moment.
Thus, turning into a Hindu nation may narrow the acceptance of what Hinduism is and stop different strands of our religion, which currently might be in favour of the motion, from being equal stakeholders in it. They would be swayed away from contributing in the future because their beliefs may not be in line with the creed of the dominant sect, however that may be sliced and diced. This will lead to inevitable stagnation, as we have seen with our neighbours, as energy and resources will be wasted in maintaining a false sense of purity instead of letting all different perspectives contribute to a richer understanding of the religion. Persecution of innocents in guise of ethnic purity may not be a distant peril under such disequilibrium.
This is doubly so because any thought of reformation within a religion is essentially a minority viewpoint before it gains recognition and rejecting such new lines of thought leads to religious regression. Indian heroes of renaissance and reformation like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, had to overcome obstacles put in the path by social conservatives who swore to the existing interpretation of religion and could count more supporters in favour of preserving the status quo than altering it. However, their viewpoints, respectively prohibition of Sati and the legalisation of widow remarriage, are no more controversial today and are accepted by all.
Becoming a Hindu nation will do nothing to tamp down on radical Islamism either. On the contrary, just as the foil of Pakistan has given a helping hand to those forces who want to radicalise Hindus, the communal forces within the Muslim community will use our trending towards a Hindu nation to become even more radical.
Hence, I contend that our country must remain secular in perpetuity not only for the benefit of minorities, but evenly so for the majority too because each thought that contributes to the majority religion is, in isolation, a minority position. Declaration of the majority religion as the state religion inevitably leads to a clash of such myriad ideologies as they seek to establish supremacy to guide the discourse within that religion. Thus, it is not the minorities who should be grateful to the majority in a secular nation, rather all of us should be grateful to the tenet of secularism itself.
As a newspaper of Pakistan observed, nearly four decades after protests stopped Dr. Abdus Salam, a Muslim Nobel Laureate, from entering a university in his homeland which designates itself an Islamic republic, just because of the heterodoxy of his faith: “That it has taken nearly four decades for this country to honour a globally renowned scientist who was one of its own, is a sad reflection of the priorities that hold sway here… For Dr Salam was an Ahmadi, a persecuted minority in Pakistan, and his faith rather than his towering achievements was the yardstick by which he was judged,” Let us not make the same mistake here in India. Let us judge people by their contributions to the nation and the global family instead ofa personal matter like faith.
*The author is CEO Indic RMC Pvt. Ltd. – Supply Chain and Human Resource Consultant