Let Indian Secularism prevail over Western

Whenever some forces with political aims try to foment hatred on the basis of religious identities of the people, analysts try to put the blame on religion. They forget that religion and communalism are opposite to each other in terms of aims and communalism is the product of political (not religious) fundamentalism, which in turn is the product of economic fundamentalism.

The forces opposed to religion do not miss any opportunity in presenting religion as the cause of strife and violence. This is true for the forces working at the global level as well as at the national one. The truth, however, is that it is not religion but the economic fundamentalism, its tirade against religion and its attempt to marginalize religion, which is primarily responsible for much of the chaos in the present world. It is in this context that forging an alliance of all religions becomes an important goal. But the question arises: Should this unity of religions be only aimed at having more cordial relations among the people of different faiths, or should it be directed at a larger objective?

The faiths that have been dominant in the world during the last few millennia — Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism. Christianity, Islam and Sikhism — all have, without exception, stressed moral values. No religion preaches falsehood, dishonesty, cheating, bribery, hatred, violence, adultery and fornication. Each of them eschews, albeit in varying degrees, this-worldliness; Jainism and Buddhism, altogether, condemn this life; Christianity promotes celibacy; and Islam, while permitting necessities and enjoyment of life within prescribed limits, promotes love for other-worldliness. Religion aims at achieving peace, and gives less importance to material gains. This principle applies to all religions, and this is what annoys most the economic fundamentalists; for promotion of materialism reigns supreme in their scheme of things. Their plan cannot succeed, unless people become less entangled in moral dilemma, and the love of this worldliness ravishes that of the other-worldliness; if honesty rules the roost in their life, sex outside the ambit of marriage is considered immoral and illegal, self-sacrifice lords over their hearts and minds, and deceit and falsehood haunt their conscience, how would they be persuaded to “enjoy” the “comforts of life” without unduly caring for right and wrong that the merchants seek to market with great fanfare.

It first happened in West where the business moguls, involved in rapid industrialization, realised the compelling need to marginalise religion. Christianity was their obvious target. They sought to minimise its influence in affairs of State. It had played a vital role in the Crusades. The bishops enjoyed unchallenged authority and respect in society. Kings, too, needed a moral boost for themselves, and some of them feared God. They were therefore usually reluctant to make enemies of the religious patriarchs. But, with the growing fortunes of the industrialists, the monarchs were now better placed to back a campaign for the separation of Church and Establishment, a demand that had been voiced even in the past, but without much of a success. The time was ripe to push ahead as the rulers and the industrialists could now act in tandem. This rift led to the coinage of the concept of secularism. Secularism, as a movement, began at the time of Renaissance, and aimed at redirecting society from otherworldliness to this-worldliness. It was presented as an ideology that exhibited the development of humanism and the growth of man’s interest in human cultural achievements. It has been in progress during the entire course of modern history, and the critics have rightly viewed it as primarily anti-religion. The clerics resisted the move, but their efforts to stall the march of economic fundamentalism in the garb of secularism proved futile. A number of theologians in the second half of the twentieth century made a vain attempt to reconcile Christianity with the demands of the modern life by proposing Secular Christianity meaning that man should find in the secular world the opportunity to promote Christian values. Little did they realise that the secular movement was in fact directed against these very values, and not against the rituals of religion.

The estrangement of Church and Establishment was only one step, though extremely crucial, towards the goal the economic fundamentalist had set for them. They envisaged complete marginalization of religion, and the values it stood for, in the social lives of men and women; for though the State could be persuaded to adopt an irreligious approach in socioeconomic matters, the ultimate success lay in the creation of demands for the industrial products. To multiply demands, materialism required glorification, and for the rise of materialism, religion was the greatest obstacle. This realization was responsible for the sustained tirade against the clergy, and against whatever religion championed for. The problem, however, was that the faith lorded over the hearts and minds of people. An outright condemnation of the oracles of religion was attended with dangerous possibilities. It could prove counterproductive, as the masses might react outrageously.

It was considered strategically more expedient and less risky to campaign for privatisation of religion  than exhibiting contempt for it. It was pleaded that faith was an absolutely personal matter, and men and women might engage in as many rituals as they liked; but, in public life the involvement of religion must be shunned, and those mixing the two must be condemned, and if needed, adequately punished.

The growth of Secularism in India was on a different pedestal altogether. Unlike West and some Muslim countries like Turkey and Egypt, it was not primarily aimed at the negation of religion; it was more a product of the plural nature of Indian society that was composed of several religious groups and sects, many of which have considerably large populations in the country. In contrast, it developed as an ideology of the state that gives due respect to all religions, but will not have any religion of its own. A secular person in India need not be anti-religion or non-religious. He may in fact be a devout practitioner of the rituals and values preached by religion. His secular credentials become disputable only when he, by speech or action, shows disregard for other religious communities, or spreads hatred against them. The opposite of “secular” in India has not been, as in the west, sacred but communal.

Christianity, Buddhism, Hiduism and Sikhism have displayed signs of palingenesis in specific areas. But still, most of the religionists, including Muslims, tend not to be aggressive in their approach, and often exhibit sectarian and ethnic bias. Instead of focusing on the faults and discrepancies of the new dispensations that are numerous, they continue to dissipate their energies in erecting defences around their faiths. By the time, they defeat the mischievous propaganda unleashed against one principle or practice, the opponents, supported by the economic fundamentalists, open another front. The ideological war goes on unabated; but, this is still being fought in the domains of religion; religionists have forgotten that, for ultimate triumph, the battle-line is to be pushed into the domain of enemy.

Though virtues like probity, self esteem, patience, endurance and truthfulness are also unwelcome, what particularly annoys the economic fundamentalists is insistence in religion on taboos. The practices forbidden by different religions are obviously such as tend to lure, mesmerise and addict the humans; these cause temporary pleasures, that may sooner or later be followed by undesirable effects, often severe on person, family and society. The very fact that they had to be prohibited indicated the culpability of the people for them; they rapidly transform their practitioners into physical or psychological dependants. Every religion has its prohibitions. Many of them are common with other religions. Christianity shuns sexual waywardness; Jainism and Buddhism forbid meat, alcohol and adultery; Hinduism and Christianity are not too sure about alcohol. In Islam, prohibitions have taken a more elaborate form, and cover all aspects of life; taking of alcohol, pork and blood are not allowed and gambling, hoarding, usury, adultery, fornication, murder, theft and bribery are expressly unlawful. It can easily be seen that the habits and practices, proscribed by different religions, can produce serious ailments and social tensions. But, the economic fundamentalists had little concern for the welfare of the individual or society. They could foresee extraordinary scope, once the outlets are open in these taboos, for their commercial profiteering. It would, however, not be easy till religion retained a central position in society. The privatization of religion was therefore a compelling necessity for them.

Time has now come when believers in all religions need to be emphatic about the true aims of religion. They must recognize the fact that the anti-religion economic forces have successfully turned one religion against another. Religions seem to be fighting one another instead of fighting their common enemy: Irreligion and the dominance of the ideology of economic fundamentalism in the affairs of life. People today are merely interested in the rituals of religion without inculcating the morality, honesty, integrity, perseverance, patience, purity and God’s fear and love in their minds and without waging a fight against social vices. Market forces are commercializing human susceptibilities in a big way. Beaches, Casinos, Bars, Nightclubs, Nude men and women, prostitution, etc have become symbols of freedom. Foetuses are being killed in the name of women’s rights, criminals are being protected in the name of human rights. Everybody talks of Rights. Nobody talks of Duties and Fundamental Prohibitions, without which a peaceful society cannot develop.

While all religions are to unite, the primary duty lies with four big religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. Christianity, Judaism and Islam need to work together in West, and Hinduism and Islam need to initiate the movement in India taking Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jainis along with them.

The way things are shaping in India, it is high time Hindus and Muslims realised that their religious, family and social values have much bigger similarities than differences. Their positions on worship may be different but not their positions on vices. Hindutva lobbies have been quite vocal on issues like alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex outside marriage, homosexuality, prostitution etc. On all these, Muslims have the same position, as all these are expressly forbidden in Islam.

Dr Javed Jamil is Delhi-based thinker and writer with over a dozen books. He may be contacted at