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Is Indian secularism ‘anti-Hindu’ in nature?

Secularism in India

The anti-Hindu nature of Indian secularism.

~ Arvind Sharma.

In an earlier post, I tried to draw attention to what I perceived to be the failure of Indian secularism[Read her the earlier post]. In this post, I would like to identify its anti-Hindu character.

I admit that the claim, that Indian secularism is perceived as hostile to Hinduism, is a controversial claim, and therefore, I would like now to provide the evidence in support of this claim.

Soon after independence, the Hindu community rebuilt the Somnath temple which had been destroyed by Mahmud of Ghazna in the 11th century, and also subsequently by other rulers. Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of India, not only declined to participate in the celebration but also tried to prevent the then President of India from participating in it, whereas Pandit Nehru had no compunction in attending functions of a similar kind when organised by minority religions.

Although the Indian Constitution directs the government to endeavour to establish a uniform civil code for all Indians, the then government only consolidated Hindu personal law and left the minorities out of that exercise. This was, and is, perceived as discrimination against the Hindus. It leads to the anomaly that a Muslim in India can have four wives, but not the followers of other religions in India. It is not so much that the followers of other religions want to have four wives; the feeling of resentment springs from the discrimination involved.

Another aspect of the Constitution, which has caused considerable anguish in the Hindu community, is that the rights of the minorities to run their own institutions are clearly safeguarded in the Constitution but no such protection is afforded to the institutions run by the Hindu majority. A glaring example of how this works out in the field is provided by the Ramakrishna Mission. This quintessentially Hindu body petitioned the courts in 1980 to have itself declared a non-Hindu minority religion (following Ramkrishnaism), in order to benefit from the protection of Article 30 of the Indian Constitution, which allows Muslim and Christian institutions to safeguard their autonomy. The request was finally turned down by the Supreme Court of India in 1995, after the Calcutta High Court had accepted it. The fact that a Hindu institution had to claim to be a minority institution to safeguard its independence speaks volumes.

According to most scholars, the case of Shah Bano disillusioned many Indian intellectuals regarding the commitment of the Indian government to secularism. Shah Bano was the name of a Muslim divorcee, who petitioned Indian courts for maintenance under India’s secular laws and the request was granted by the Supreme Court. The government, however, under pressure from the Muslim lobby in India, introduced legislation in 1985 to modify it in accordance with Islamic law. The prolonged debate around the issue, and the volte-face of the government, on the issue, seriously undermined popular confidence in the secular claims of the Indian government. One Muslim member of the cabinet, Arif Muhammad Khan, resigned over the issue. He now serves as the Governor of Kerala. According to him, the Shah Bano case was a point of departure on the issue of secularism.

The Indian government has rarely shown such legal sensitivity in cases involving Hindus.

Kashmir has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan for a long period. It could be argued that Kashmir as a Muslim majority state within India, which is a largely Hindu country, is a strong factor in keeping India secular. However, a chain of events from 1989 to 1991 led to the expulsion of a large number of Hindus from the state, amidst violent circumstances in which many Hindus lost their lives and those that survived the convulsion had to be accommodated in camps in Jammu. The spectacle on TV of unarmed Hindus being driven out of the Kashmir Valley to threats of rape and murder (some of which were carried out) was not the best advertisement for Indian secularism. The plight of the exiled Hindus has been captured in a film, released recently under the title “The Kashmir Files” and creates the impression that there is no place for Hindus if they are in a minority anywhere in secular India.

A glaring example of the anti-Hindu nature of Indian secularism is provided by the way Hindu temples have been taken over by the state governments. The extent of this practice is simply mind-boggling. What is even more disturbing is that some of the states, where the BJP is in power, have not discontinued the practice.

It is difficult to imagine a more serious violation of the secular principle. It has led to such potentially incendiary developments, as money collected from Hindu temples being used to fund Haj trips for Muslims, and trips to the Holy Land for Christians. It is as if the looting of the Hindu temples, once associated with Muslim and British rule, continues unchecked in a secular India.

I hope enough evidence has now been provided to convince the sceptical reader that the charge regarding the anti-Hindu nature of Indian secularism should be taken seriously.

The author, formerly of the IAS, is the Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University in Montreal Canada, where he has taught for over thirty years. He has also taught in Australia and the United States and at Nalanda University in India. He has published extensively in the fields of Indian religions and world religions. Views expressed are personal.

This article was first published on Aug 21, on First Post.

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