Tolerance on the Foundations of Intolerance
Recently, writers, artists and scientists have returned their awards. Other similar eminent persons also have joined hands with these protesters. At this juncture, it will not be irrelevant to discuss the political views of these eminent persons.
The politics of politicians faces a test at least during elections. But it is left to the students of Literature and Social Sciences to discuss the politics of the writers, artists, scientists, social scientists or historians from time to time.
I have to give two clarifications.
First, I am conscious of my vernacular English which may not be of the standard of the mainstream intellectual discourse in India. But I do think that intellectual discourse need not be left only to sophisticated English speaking writers. Therefore I hope readers will tolerate my English.
The second clarification is more important. It is about the words used in this essay. The word Hindu used here is to mean as it means in the government records. It does not mean a homogeneous unit or does not refer to a single group of people with certain belief systems. This word includes all those communities, castes and traditions which are included under the category Hindu in the census data of the government.
Here, the word Hinduism does not mean a religion that is similar to Islam or Christianity. In this essay the word religion does not include Hinduism as it includes Islam and Christianity.
The words secular, secularism and secularist are used in the sense they are used by the award-returning writers. I should also clarify that I believe their model of secularism is not the real secularism, if at all secularism is the right word to be used and that their idea of secularism does not serve the purpose that it should serve.
Growing Intolerance: Placing the Responsiblity
Those writers who have returned their awards have claimed that this is an act of protest against the Sahitya Akademi, against the Central Government or against the rightist groups. The core of all these statements is that they are protesting against the growing trend of intolerance in the country.
‘Growing trend of intolerance’ does not refer to any single or specific incident. It is something that takes place over a period of time. Therefore we can agree that the questions such as why they did not protest when Sikhs were murdered or when emergency was imposed etc, do not arise.
We can also agree with their argument that, though late, at least now they have woken up and that it’s better late than never. But the fact that this growing trend of intolerance has become visible to them only during the last one or so years shows that they have just got their spectacles changed and we can easily imagine the colour of the new spectacles.
We should note one small, but very important difference as far as the conflicts or relations between communities are concerned. Though equality between the castes is not achieved completely, discrimination based on caste has definitely decreased during the last six or seven decades and the standard of living of Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Castes is better when compared to the earlier years.
This is because of the efforts of reformers of the distant past, recent past or present. We should also take note of the contributions made in this regard by constitutional measures, various governments and the writers who created awareness.
The social unrest caused by the policy on SC, ST and OBC is negligible when compared to the amount of change or empowerment it caused. But the policy on Muslims has not brought about any significant improvement in the standard of living of Muslims. If it has helped Muslims, Sachar Report should have shown different findings.
The Indian secular discourse has resulted in alienating Muslims and in turn, has harmed them. If we see the relations between the Hindus and Muslims the gap is widening day by day. This has made the award returning writers believe that intolerance is growing.
But who should be held responsible for this intolerance?
Actually the secular discourse during the last sixty years has not succeeded in reducing the tensions between Hindus and Muslims. Instead, it has increased intolerance.
The award returning writers call themselves as secularists and advocates of multiculturalism and pluralism. Their writings are the most dominant part of India’s secular discourse and if there is any fallacy or contradiction in the secular discourse they must hold themselves responsible.
What are the ways in which the harmony between various communities need to be retained and improved? Is it through police action or is it through the mutual trust, attitudes and mind-set of the people? If it is through mutual trust and the mind-set of the people, then the state should create a conducive atmosphere for that. Writers should provide thoughts, social theories and literature in that direction.
Secular Discourse has Proven Deadly
What did the post independent secular discourse do? The basic premise of this discourse is this: Hindus are majority; Muslims and others are minority.
According to the secularists, the multiple identities of Hinduism are considered as a single unit called majority. Majority-minority division based on religion is not considered as communal politics by these secularists!
At the same time, the secularists argue that only some fringe elements are intolerant and only these elements are spreading hatred and that the vast majority of Hindus are for pluralism.
If this is so, how can they argue for some special status to the minority, thereby indicating that all the Hindus are categorized under one unit namely the persecuting and dominating majority?
If they agree that most of the Hindus are tolerant and pluralists then why should they be treated as a majority which can do some harm to the minorities? Moreover, almost all the secularists have argued that Hindu is not a homogeneous entity. For example, see Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative Indian or any other book by a known secularist.
In which case, how can such heterogeneous groups be considered a single majority? How can there be a minority when there is no majority? The secularists use the concept of minority in their discourse even though they cannot identify the majority!
The constituent assembly had a very lengthy debate about this aspect of minority, but unfortunately it could not give up this notion. The majority-minority divide holds well only in countries where the majority of the population follows the religion which considers conversion of others an important part of religious duties. For instance you can have the majority-minority concept in Pakistan, UK, UAE etc., but not in India.
So, isn’t there anything common among the Hindus? The answer is yes.
Some common features follow: these traditions or communities considered under the umbrella of Hinduism do not have a ‘religion’ in the sense of Islam or Christianity.
Two: Hindus believe that they should offer Pooja to the created as well as the Creator. (Amir Khan’s film PK miserably fails to understand the Indian context when the hero says that all other numbers except that of the Creator -God- are wrong numbers).
Three: ‘Deva/devathe’ (God/Goddess) can become human beings and vice versa.
Four: Existence of both female and male deities.
Five: Creation, recreation and criticism of written or oral Puranas.
The above features are related to one another. These features are applicable in case of Scheduled Castes, Brahmins and other castes, even in case of Adivaasis or Tribes.
Actually the concept of Hinduism refers to the above aspects. This is what is usually called a way of life. Though some communities claim that they have sacred texts, such texts are open for interpretation and criticism.
No sacred text prevented Swami Vivekananda from criticizing oppression based on birth. In fact, reformers like Vivekananda interpreted the texts according to the needs of the hour and used them to advocate modern ideals like equality.
The above-mentioned common features did not give Hindus the ideology or strategy of conversion. You need not consider it as the generosity of Hindus. It may be a weakness or vulnerability when compared to Islam or Christianity. In fact the very nature of Hindus or the above features do not enable them to have a strategy of preserving their set of beliefs intact or imposing them on others.
Secularists may mention about the caste hierarchy here and may say Brahmins imposed their will and rule over others. Even if it was true, it must have benefitted Islam and Christianity instead of posing any threat to them.
We know from history that not only the downtrodden were converted but the families from the so called upper castes were also converted into Islam and Christianity during the Islamic and British period.
In which case, why do these secularists consider such weak or vulnerable and separate entities of Hinduism as a majority group capable of domination over the other faiths?
Have any of the Parsee families experienced the feeling of insecurity in India because of Hindus?
Actually, being quite prosperous, Parsees could have easily become the targets, if we go by some of the Marxists’ theory that economic condition is one of the main reasons for communal hatred.
A United Hindu Vote Bank?
The innumerable identities or the communities coming under Hinduism do not have the political power as a single Hindu unit. There are talks about caste vote banks, but there still is no Hindu vote bank.
Now there may be efforts to create Hindu vote bank, but such efforts can yield result only because of today’s secularism! There are more Hindus who vote against the so called Hindu Party BJP than those who vote for it.
Elections in India have proved time and again that Hindus are the most secular in their voting pattern. But most election analysts, like secular thinkers, believe that secular votes are divided if Muslim votes are divided.
The recent Bihar election of 2015 is interpreted as a victory of secularism. But the irony is, the secularists do not recognize that the same result demolishes the basic premise or the foundation of Indian secularism which is the majority- minority divide.
The so called secular thinkers must understand that if the country is still secular by and large, it is not because of secularism but in spite of secularism. It is a blunder to think that tolerance or intolerance is a mere law and order issue, that only a non-BJP government can ensure tolerance. The actual problem lies in the secular discourse and the secular policy which various governments including the BJP follow.
The politicians and secularists of post independent India could have tried to do away with the division between Hindus and Muslims created by British rulers. Instead, they wanted to have an imaginary enemy to Muslims, Christians and so on.
This imaginary enemy called Majority Hindus helped the politicians and the secularists to project themselves as the protectors of the so called Minority Groups.
Teaching Secularism to Minorities
Till today secularists have succeeded in sustaining their relevance as the protectors of the interests of the Minority. But these secularists have never tried to teach secularism to Muslims.
They give silly justifications for this sort of attitude. They argue that it is the responsibility of the majority to make peace. This justification falls apart mainly for two reasons. One: as we have seen there is no such single majority in our country. Two: intolerance of a very small group can cause conflict in a large society.
It is quite clear that the secular policy of post independent India wrongly considered Hinduism as another religion just like Islam and Christianity. As a result of this, today some of the Hindus are trying to convert Hinduism into Islam by becoming more and more intolerant.
The secular discourse in India tried to preach secularism and toleration to Hindus who were naturally secular. What happens when you try to change somebody who is doing right things? He or she will start doing wrong things. This is precisely what happens in India today.
The fact that the Hindus not only tolerate others but are also patrons of other religions, can be easily proved by counting the heads of Hindus among those who have returned awards.
Our secularists have the objective of correcting Hindus only and keeping only the Hindus tolerant. So, chopping off the hand of a teacher in Kerala is not intolerance. Kashmir violence does not become an example of intolerance. Are Kerala and Kashmir not inside India according to them? Actually that is not a relevant question because the fact is that the secularists believe that some groups have the right to be intolerant by virtue of their religion.
I do not know how many of the Pakistani writers and artists have returned their awards for the fate of Hindus or Christians and even Muslims in that country. What explanation do these secularists give for the fact that Muslims are safer in India than in Pakistan?
Does the RSS have any hand in the insecurity feeling experienced by sections of Muslims in Pakistan? The Indian writers and secularists could have requested at least those Pakistani artists who were restricted from performing in India to join hands with them in their protest against growing trend of intolerance in India (in India because there is no intolerance in Pakistan according to the Indian secular thinkers) as writers and artists do not have geographical boundaries.
Tolerance and Common Civil Code
Demand for common civil code becomes cultural politics or an attack on pluralism, especially when the demand is put forward by the Sangh Parivar. But now Romila Thapar says that common civil code is a necessity in a secular country. (See ‘Lokajnaana’- Kannada Journal, Jan-April 2015, published by Tumkur University. I am curious to know the response of other secularists to this opinion of Romila Thapar).
Amartya Sen says that if Muslim women suffer because of Muslim personal law, it should not bother Hindus. But the Sachar Committee blames the society-read Hindus– for not giving access to Muslims. If almost 50 per cent of the population -that is to say women- of one community are not encouraged to work outside in the name of religion, how can the economic condition of such a community improve?
In such a situation, if you tax Hindus by way of special provisions, reservations etc. to Muslims, it will automatically create some sort of discomfort among Hindus. Sen and other secularists, who wrote lengthy articles about violence, do not understand that there is every possibility of conflict if, of the two coexisting communities, one goes forward and the other backward.
Actually this concept of tolerating others with great difficulty is applicable to Europe or Islamic countries and not India, at least till the present form of secularism took its birth.
Thinkers like Swami Vivekananda and Ananda Coomaraswamy have given their opinion about the problem in the concept of tolerance. Their views are very valid in our case. Says Ananda Coomaraswamy:
“..the word (tolerance) is not a pretty one; to tolerate is to put up with, endure or suffer the existence of what are or appear to be other ways of thinking than our own; and it is neither very pleasant merely ‘to put up with’ our neighbours and fellow guests, nor very pleasant to feel that one’s own deepest institutions and belief are being patiently endured”.
We know that the word intolerance is generated from the word tolerance. But we should note the most important factor that in relations between religions or communities, the concept of tolerance has its root in intolerance.
People started to think of tolerance as a virtue only after they saw the amount of intolerance in some religions. How does accepting others with pain (tolerating) become a great virtue if you believe that other faiths also have equal right to exist?
Europeans brought this word tolerance to India by keeping in mind their own concept of religion. Their religions cannot happily accommodate other faiths in its neighbourhood, but accept it only with pain or because of inevitability.
Even after nearly seven decades of independence Indian secularists are not independent.
They still depend on the words and concepts thrown at them by the British, namely, “tolerance,” “religion,” “majority,” “minority” etc. We should note that tolerance has its roots in intolerance and our secularism has its roots in religion!
Contradictions in Secular Discourse
The problem with secularism is that it has wasted its energy by responding, reacting and criticising the RSS or Sangh Parivar, that too of Golwalkar and Savarkar. It is amusing to see secularists still depending on Savarkar or Golwalkar’s writings to attack the RSS or Hindutva. Will it be fair if we criticise today’s Marxists on the basis of Marx’s remarks on colonialism? It is not actually the question of fairness; it is the question of usefulness.
Secularists easily blame Sangh Parivar for creating suspicion between communities or propagating hatred during the past few decades. But we should remember that almost all the governments, media, various academic bodies, Sahitya Akademi etc. were headed by secularists till very recently. There was no opportunity to “saffronize” the school textbooks till recently.
However, the Sangh could penetrate more and more into the minds of the people across the castes and communities as the years passed by and as more and more people received formal education. How was this possible when everything was in the hands of the secularists?
The answer to this question points towards the fallacies and contradictions in the secular discourse. Many secularists typically lament that secular forces are divided and various units of Sangh Parivar-read communal forces- are united.
This time these secularists must be thankful to the voters of 2014 for uniting secularists by creating a common enemy: prime among them, Narendra Modi. But this unity has not helped them come out of their fallacies and contradictions. Actually this unity has made their contradictions more visible.
To see one of the contradictions in secular discourse, just consider the following four dicta which almost every secularist subscribes to.
One: We should preserve pluralism and multicultural nature of our country.
Two: We should support inter caste marriages, and annihilation of caste is desirable.
Three: We should not oppose conversion.
Four: The Sangh Parivar is a threat to pluralism and multicultural society.
I just wonder how can those who agree with the second and third statements make the allegation we see in the fourth statement?
Doesn’t the first statement contradict the second and the third statement? In an inter caste marriage, either both or at least one partner has to give up his or her culture, at least a part of the culture.
In the same way, loss of one’s own culture happens in the case of conversion. Moreover, according to the secularists, culture does not imply only values or virtues and such other things; it includes food habits, rituals, language etc.
In which case, how should the Constitution, or the real secularists have treated Muslims? Thousands of villages where Hindus and Muslims lived in perfect harmony could have shown the answers.
There were no cases of intolerance. The concept of tolerance was not required there because the existence of others was not something to be disliked. In such villages Muslims were of just another caste or jaathi. The same thing is true in case of Christians, Jains or others. All the castes were maintaining their respective beliefs and practicing their cultures without any problem.
Of course the government or constitution had to rightly intervene in some of the practices of some castes, such as untouchability etc. The OBC reservation as and when implemented could have anyway been applied to Muslims and others just like Hindus. It is not too late now to have a relook at our form of secularism.
The above analysis shows that all the problems we face today are because of our secular policy which viewed Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains or Parsees from the point of view of Europe or more precisely, from the point of view of ‘religion’ instead of traditional Indian point of view. This traditional Indian view was of Muslims and others in India as much as that of the Hindus.
Imagine somebody saying that he or she does not want to live in the country if Mr. ‘X’ becomes the Prime Minister (which can happen only after being elected by the people democratically). Isn’t this intolerance?
But these award returning secularists do not think so. If you do not like the existence of something and still tolerate it, then it is called ‘tolerance’. Running away or not intending to stay near the people you dislike cannot be tolerance.
Today we just start thinking whether these secularists have suddenly lost faith in democracy. Do they at least believe that the people of this country are competent enough to elect their representatives? They had no problem with the decision making capacity of the people when there was a very high percentage of illiteracy.
But now, when the people are more and more informed because of education and various media, these secularists have started to suspect the voters’ decision making capacity! Majority rule, single party rule etc. have suddenly become dangerous.
This kind of intolerance in the name of secularism frustrates the common man and makes the members of some particular groups more and more intolerant.