In India, Secularism or the liberal tag is a much-maligned concept today. Rather than the lofty ethos that those words should represent, ideas that come to our mind are the negative vibes of polarization, appeasement etc. Secularism and liberalism are no longer fashionable, not because of any defect in their lofty meanings, but because of the ludicrous, boorish behavior of those who claim to be “liberal -secular intellectuals”. Actually, respect for customs and beliefs of others, not just mere tolerance is ingrained in our culture since time immemorial, whereas in the West even the watered down concept of tolerance gained currency only in the last century. India gave the world the concepts of universal brotherhood and “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. Ours is one culture which has never systematically persecuted minorities, a land where persecuted minorities from across the globe found refuge since ancient times. But, a section of Indian intellectuals and media are hell bent on painting India and her ancient culture as regressive and intolerant. They seek to blame our past and those who take pride in our past for all the ills plaguing our society today.
Now, coming to the backdrop of this article, Dadri lynching was indeed an abominable act which shocked our collective conscience. Even trying to rationalize this inhuman act is a sin before man and God. But, the problem arises when this is extrapolated and trumpeted across the globe as the proof for rising Hindu extremism under the Modi government, damaging Indian interests and providing fodder for our enemies. Communal violence and deaths, regrettably, have been happening in India for the past 100 years. But, the so-called secular parties and their media lackeys have no qualms about blaming the PM and his party for every law and order issue in the country, even when incidents crop up in states ruled by the perceived “secular” parties. This type of hypocrisy will only serve to further vitiate and polarize the atmosphere in the country.
Coming to the beef ban [actually the ban is primarily on the slaughter of cows which is extended to bulls and bullocks in some states and not beef as such], enforcing a blanket ban forcibly cannot be condoned.What we need is a consensus to respect sentiments; even some Mughal emperors had banned the slaughter of cows. One of the first acts of Bahadur Shah Zafar after the great revolt of 1857 reinstated him at the throne of Delhi was to ban cow slaughter to respect the sentiments of the majority. Moreover, not only the Sikh and Maratha empires, even the Mysore Sultan, Haidar Ali made cow slaughter a serious offense in line with the public sentiment. Further, Sacredness of cow is not just out of religious belief, but also because of the importance cow had in our ancient agrarian society; the same reason for which cow slaughter is banned in Islāmic Iran and communist Cuba. Even, Mahatma Gandhi was dead set against cow slaughter. Let me quote some of his views on the issue. 1) “She is the mother to millions of Indian mankind”. 2) “I worship it and I shall defend its worship against the whole world” 3) “I would not kill a human being for protection a cow, as I will not kill a cow for saving a human life, be it ever so precious.” Of course, we are under no obligation to take Gandhi’s views as the gospel. But, before putting the entire blame on the current dispensation for raking up the issue of cow protection, we must know about our constitutional provision, views of the father of our nation, and the fact that most state laws against cow slaughter were passed by Congress governments.
It is a given that everyone has the right to oppose anything and everything in a liberal democracy. But, selectively attacking the beliefs and customs of a particular community cannot be condoned, as done by various organizations in the name of protest. Social media flooded with the posts [promoted by a phalanx of self-styled guardians secularism and liberty] of decrying the irrationality of the majority community in worshipping cow as “mother”. What happened to the basic tenant of secularism, respecting the religious beliefs of others? No religion or religious practices are fully rational. When the rationality of sacredness of cow is questioned, the rationale behind the virgin birth or behind the various tenets of Islam or any other religion will also come under scrutiny. I can say with some confidence that rationality is not the strong suit religions. The disturbing fact is that the same people who come out all guns blazing when someone from the Hindu far right make any objectionable comment on minority customs spearheads the tirade against the customs of the majority community. Same goes for the concept of freedom of speech. If you find a rise of intolerance among the sections of normally docile majority community, the major reason is the decades of politics of appeasement, and stoking of minority communalism in the name of “secularism”. Selective outrage, and blatant hypocrisy of the mainstream media, and the so-called “liberals” made the majority community feel victimized in a country where they make up 80% of the population. It was just a matter of time before some majority groups realized that they too can play the game of sentiments or stifle free speech in the name of hurt sentiments. Now, it’s a free for all game.
Now, coming to the beef fest protests conducted by the left in Kerala, is it appropriate to conduct beef festival near a temple inside a college run by a temple trust? What about the religious sentiments of sections of students who consider cow as sacred? Will they dare to conduct a pork festival in any college run by some Islāmic body? There were ample circumstances to do so when a teacher was lynched on allegations of serving pork. Further, will anyone dare to organize cartoon fests on prophet when someone is killed/attacked for defamatory cartoons on the prophet? The selective outrage, hypocrisy and appeasement of religious extremists from minority sects have been going on since independence. Why Muslim personal law [like other personal laws] is not amended in tune with the times we live in, despite the overwhelming majority of the Muslim women wanting so? Every stray incident is blown out of proportion when someone from the majority community or organizations which are sympathetic to them [ read Sangh parivar] are alleged to have committed some offense along religious lines, but complete radio silence when the provocation comes from the other side. BJP and Modi are repeatedly fleeced without any credible evidence whatsoever whereas Congress and their pseudo-secular allies are treated with kid gloves even when accused of far dastardly crimes. Remember Shah Bano case? Under pressure from Islāmic orthodoxy, a Supreme Court verdict giving alimony to a poor Muslim divorcee was overturned via a constitutional amendment to pander to minority fundamentalism. Remember how church attacks in Delhi and the nun’s rape in Bengal were blamed on a particular political party without any proof whatsoever. These incidents were given a quite burial when facts came to light. Similarly, Wendy Doniger is treated as a hero and her critics slammed when she publishes works having derogatory references against Hinduism, but a Salman Rushdie is treated like venom. Further, when Taslima Nasrin was harassed relentlessly by All India Muslim Personal law board, or when she was haunted out of India after a series of death threats by Islāmic organizations, media, and civil society reaction was at best muted, in sharp contrast with the scenes when religious identity of those involved changes. Threats and boycott calls against Perumal Murugan were decried vociferously [rightly so]. But, calls for the ban and boycott of “Agnes of the lord” and the subsequent threats to the director and organizers by Catholic bishops conference and some other catholic organizations are quietly given a burial. Is this how the concept of freedom of expression works?
The so-called “secular” parties in India have openly pandered to minority fundamentalism to garner votes as minorities tend to vote en bloc. They along with the so-called “liberals” relentlessly attack the majority faith as if it is something to be ashamed of; they even play the caste card to rile up passions of lower castes against upper castes citing historic injustices [may be they should whip up communal passions as well as citing historic injustices right?]. Elements of the so-called secular liberal intelligentsia don’t have any qualms about tarnishing India’s image abroad with trumped up charges. Some prominent ones like Julio Ribeiro even have the audacity to admit that they exaggerate and trump up charges so as to garner attention! They don’t care if the nation is thrown to dogs as long as Modi and BJP are somehow thrown out of power [sabotaging a democratic mandate].
It is time to stop this madness. We need to stop this dangerous game of polarization. For that, our intellectuals, media, and political parties should shed their hypocrisy and see things objectively rather than dwelling on their prejudices. You cannot stoke minority communalism and then cry hoarse when the majority counter polarize. We must stop the nonsense of tolerating minority fundamentalism while coming down heavily on the same tendencies in the majority community. If the country has to redeem its lost place as the brightest star in the comity of nations, all of us need to stand together. No more appeasement, no more pandering to religious fundamentalism irrespective of the faith involved. At the turn of the millennium, India was widely expected to emerge as the next global power, a benevolent superpower in sharp contrast to a hegemonic China. We almost missed the bus then and the world almost gave up on us. But, now we have a glorious opportunity again as the world warms up to a new confident India trying to take its rightful place at the global high table under a stable and strong government. Despite our booming economy and technological prowess, challenges are many as abject poverty and substandard quality of life still plague the nation. We have the potential to succeed and make the 21st century an Indian century. But, for that we all need to stand together rather than fighting each other. Hopefully, sense will prevail among the compatriots of Buddha and Gandhi and we will be able to usher in an age exuberance.