Thoughts in the atmosphere

Things of the world, and out of it.

Secularism

Posted by desicontrarian on August 13, 2008

Basically this is a hybrid idea. Its popular form is of course shown in the fillum Amar, Akbar and Anthony – 3 brothers belonging to 3 different religions. The unintended absurdity of the fillum seems like a good metaphor for the absurdity of the idea. Hybrids are never authentic. They are grafts on a social body which puts up with the foreign bodies uncomfortably. They are also violent and unhealthy grafts.

Secularism is a mask for what one can call Brown Sahibism. It starts with Macaulay’s appreciation of Indian civilization. And its adherents, from the illiterate to the sophisticated were all schooled according to the famous Macaulay’s Minute. The relevant passage for me is this.

“We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. ..I have no knowledge of either Sanskrit or Arabic. ..(But) I have conversed with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I have never met one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth more than the whole native literature of India and Arabia. ..The dialects commonly spoken among the natives of this part of India contain neither literary not scientific information, and are so poor and rude that, until they are enriched by some other quarter, it will not be easy to translate any valuable work into them. The intellectual improvement of the people can at present be effected only by means of some language not vernacular amongst them. ..I would at once stop the printing of Arabic and Sanskrit books, I would abolish the Madrassa and the Sanskrit college at Calcutta. ..Are we obliged to teach false history, false astronomy, false medicine, because we find them in company with a false religion. ..Assuredly, to encourage the study of a literature admitted to be of small intrinsic value, only because that literature inculcates the most serious errors on the most important subjects, is a course hardly reconcilable with reason, with morality, or even with the very neutrality which ought, as we all agree, to be sacredly preserved. ..The superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable.”

Thus, the conditioning of the young child’s brain (a process called imprinting) was started by abolishing the traditional systems of education (Gurukulas and Madrassahs (pdf)) into class-room based, English-medium, mass-oriented, factory-like production of good clerks and bad clerks. The uprooted children naturally were conditioned into admirers of English civilization. The first prominent one was Ram Mohan Roy (I know, I know, he was the fellow used by Macaulay in the Minute!) . These people were called Reformers, by the newly emerging anglicized class. They were actually the desi version of the British orientalists. The first thing they thought of when observing any Indian social phenomenon was, how would it look through European eyes? The normal emotion they felt was shame. The normal reference point was something akin to the Greenwich Mean Time. kaaLidaasa (6th century CE) had to be the Indian Shakespeare(16th century CE) i.e. he was defined in terms of a later-period British playwright. The subliminal message was to define the English measure by which the ancient Indian had to be thought of! Telugu (1500-1000 BCE) was the Italian (10th century CE) of the East. Well, the vernacular sounded like that to the English gentleman! Arabia was situated in the Middle East!

From such a conditioned collective brain comes the notion of modern Indian secularism. The formal idea is of course that religion and the state have to be strictly segregated. This is a pure European idea, which grew organically in that soil, out of that continent’s own history (1, 2). Hindusthan’s history was qualitatively different. There were periods of religious and sectarian harmony, and periods of animosity (1, 2). A religion was a belief system followed by a certain community. Different laws applied to different communities. There was room for atheism within a particular religion or sect. There was room for parallel ideas of devotion, conjugal love and surrender to grow in vaishanvism, sikhism and sufism. But all this background did not matter. The brown sahib intellectual elite were probably unaware or uninterested in it. They certainly had no emotional connection to that kind of history. The idea of separation of church and state was grafted on to the Indian constitution. It is even translated into Hindi today as Dharma Nirapekshatha i.e. religious indifference!

So today we have the secularists in a frenzy over the continuing rise of Hindutva among the larger populace and a new generation of counter-intellectuals. The former, with their alienated mind-set, were responsible for this backlash. And now they mount the same old intellectual assaults on their (younger) rival ideology. As I read these arguments, I am bored by the stale thoughts that have been repeated since Nehru and Nurul Hasan’s time. As George Santayana has said, those that do not remember history are condemned to repeat them. And the secularists do not remember their own part in the rise of Hindutva.

Update : Remarkable coincidence! Minds greater than mine think like me! Jayakrishnan Nair has a more knowledgeable, in-depth look at the preamble to this tragedy.

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