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The facade of secularism

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There seems to be no end to the centuries-old trend of denigrating and mocking anything that’s connected even remotely with Sanatan Dharma (aka Hinduism). And the recent hullabaloo over the inauguration of India’s new parliament building by Prime Minister Narendra Modi once again exposed the prevalence of this deep-rooted and disturbing mindset among many.

While the moot point of contention between the ruling coalition and the opposition was over who should have inaugurated the new complex, it soon degenerated into something more sinister as many opposition leaders, prominent citizens and even media were seen clearly regaling at taking potshots at the country’s rich Dharmic traditions.

They mocked Modi for laying prostrate on the ground with his forehead smeared with saffron paste, performing puja, meeting saffron-clad seers from various adheenams of Tamil Nadu and installing the Sengol. They were left fuming that the Prime Minister of a “secular” country had openly displayed the nation’s rich Dharmic tradition, clearly oblivious to the intrinsically non-sectarian nature of these practices.

Though a concept borne out of necessity in the west to separate powers between the church and the monarch, and subsequently imported into this country, “secularism” in India has over the past several decades taken an altogether different contour. As Dharma was inherently non-religious in character since it was about morality, ethics, one’s duties and responsibilities, etc, there really occurred no need for such a concept in this ancient land.

As Vedacharya Dr David Frawley vividly puts it: “Hinduism as Sanatana Dharma always takes a universal view. Does not have any compulsions to conquer or convert the world because universal unity is its foundation. But asks us to remove adharma and ahamkara.”

However, many Indians educated in western values and systems began to be influenced by the concept of secularism and started interpreting it as per their own convenience, before foisting it on the citizens of this great country. A plain reading of the original Preamble to the Constitution of India clearly reveals the non-sectarian/non-religious nature of the polity, yet the words “Socialist Secular” were deliberately inserted subsequently out of a political compulsion to pander to other groups at the cost of the majority community. And, as they say, the rest is history.

The term “secularism” began to be loosely used as a ruse to purge all traces of Dharmic thoughts and traditions from the popular mainstream narratives. Ancient Hindu temples and institutions were taken over by the government, while places of worships and other institutions belonging to other religious groups were allowed to run independently sans any interference. And not just that. India is perhaps the only country where minority religious groups are allowed to run a flourishing multi-billion-dollar conversion industry to covert the majority community.

Also, she is perhaps the sole nation that shies away from openly embracing her ancient lineage, while even Islamic countries like Egypt and Indonesia never desist from flaunting their pre-Islamic heritage. Things have come to such a pass that any conscious display of Hindu tradition is frowned upon, while flaunting minority identity is considered cool.

So, while holding of iftar parties by the country’s political elites, including the powerful government institutions, had become the norm until recently, meting out a similar treatment to the majority community on their festive occasions was a taboo. No wonder, the self-proclaimed secularists in the country are aghast at Modi for breaking this decades-old government convention and flaunting the country’s rich Dharmic traditions before the whole world.

But, they ought to remember that elaborate Christian rituals are conducted during the coronation of a new monarch in the UK or even the new US President takes oath of office by the Bible (not to speak of the incumbent attending a mass prior to the oath-taking ceremony) and that heads of Islamic nations openly invoke Allah every moment.

Leaders of all these countries never shy away from displaying their religious identity. Only India has to remain tethered to a seemingly out-of-the-world concept where majority faith has to be compulsorily under wraps.

Actually, those peddling “secularism” evidently pursued a more hideous agenda of conditioning the mind of the majority community through a combination of creating false narratives, academic misrepresentation of facts, etc. So, while they promoted “Ganga-Jamuna Tahzeeb”, they downplayed the ancient universal Sanatani concept of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is one family). Their sense of country’s rich historical legacy begins only with Islamic invaders through the British rule, while ancient Bharat to them is just a myth.

Hence, the likes of Qutub Minar and Taj Mahal or even the old Parliament building built by the British are supposed to be the national treasures, but the intricately done Konark Temple or Meenakshi Amman Temple or Kailasa Temple are just some stone relics of a bygone era. Also, any social evil in this country is always conveniently tagged with Hinduism. So, the term “Hindu growth rate” was used liberally by academicians vis-à-vis India’s economy for decades until the 1990s, but a similar expression has never been used to describe the poor state of economy in the Islamic world or the Latin America or Africa.

Superstitions and blind beliefs or even misogyny have been always linked with Sanatan Dharma, while the explicitly patriarchal nature or the unquestionable dogma of the organised belief systems are always above reproach, beyond scientific scrutiny. This partly explains the stiff resistance to Modi Inc’s bid to decolonise the polity and the popular thought process, of which the new parliament building forms an intrinsic part.

Yours truly holds no ill-will against followers of other faiths or questions their beliefs and practices, nor advocates any curbs on them. But, there should be an even-handed approach from the government when it comes to dealing with matters of faith of different communities. The state cannot be seen pandering to one particular group or groups of people at the peril of others purely out of political considerations.

Bottomline is, Sanatan Dharma is fundamentally different from dominant Abrahamic faiths in terms of principles. It is a vast ocean where everything immerses into itself. It is about time to understand its core philosophy and acknowledge its universality, instead of trying to assign it a particular character on the lines of organised faiths.

By Anirban Choudhury

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