Shrek Comments and I reply. On Religon/Secularism

A reader “Shrek” posted a fantastic comment in response to my last post. It also brings up some things I should elaborate on, so I have quoted parts the comment and added my replies/explanations to it.

In response to  “They know nothing about Muslims”

It is seen (empirical observation- can’t vouch, don’t have data) that most polarized parts are those with significant population from multiple faiths e.g Old city- Hyderabad, parts of Gujarat etc . Part of the reason I reckon, is that, when faced with people from other faiths, each one clings more strongly to his own and then it becomes an “us vs them” situation.

The only way to break this shackle would be to educate- not on faith, but on philosophy of each religion. Unfortunately, all of our schools stay away from such contentious issues. So, there is only imitation and social learning of attitudes- which let’s face it, have been highly bigoted (around the world) in the past.

E.g. When I was ~7 years old, there was only one other family with a kid my age. I got along fairly well with that kid and attended his birthday sermon (they called a pastor/preacher to their house for that). But, the day after that – his mother turned me away from their gate saying “you are hindus, we are christians, don’t try to be friends with my son, we don’t fit.” I was naturally disappointed, but most kids would imitate such behaviour thinking that is the right way.

Hotspots of communal violence in India are indeed places where the  conflicting communities form significant portions of the population. This however, does not automatically mean that the respective cultures know about each other, In fact, distrust, isolation and misinformation is also highly prevalent in these areas. Violence needs ignorance else education (as you suggest) will do nothing, right? look at other places in india where Muslims and Hindus live in peace in spite of large numbers – Kerala, Tamil nadu, Delhi etc.

I am not asserting that all bigotry comes out of ignorance of the other faith, but that ignorance plays a significant role, and that hate-mongering leaders (of all religious bents) would like to perpetuate ignorance.

About the linking of nationalism with anti-secularism.

Linking nationalism to anti-secularism and Hinduism is a much more recent phenomenon caused in part due to the association of those claiming to be secular with demonstrably anti-national voices such as Syed Geelani and in part because anything the conservatives say – irrespective of the merit of the idea by itself, is denounced.

The specific instance of anti-secularism as demonstrated by the derision to the word secular might be a new thing, but anti-secularism is most definitely not. The RSS was formed in 1925, various regional parties, all claiming to be nationalist – Punjabi, Tamil, Assamese- have been around for a long time. It also serves to remember that while Gandhi and his teaching had a strong element of Nationalism, Nehruvian Congress and the party after that has been less and less nationalist. This in some ways created the secular vs nationalist divide. BJP, as long as it takes orders from the RSS and projects itself as nationalistic, will continue to be considered anti-secular. Hinduism teaches pluralism, but secularism as envisioned in the west or as many of us understand it is not something the Sangh stands for.

One also needs to differentiate between understanding and realizing that secularism as perpetuated by the Congress is a joke and the new, systematic effort to malign the very idea of secularism.

Pay close attention to this

That brings us nicely to the final point I’d like to make- I don’t know whether you would endorse adopting the patronizing tone with conservatives if it was effective (and if the ‘problem’ really did go away). But, condescension is an almost certain way to evoke resentment and anger. If you really believe in liberal values and in their superiority over the points conservatives try to make – treat them with respect (the people, not necessarily the ideas). Civility is sometimes overrated, but is necessary most other times. Instead of addressing valid concerns, the reaction to most conservatives has been to reach out for crutches like “bigot, troll, Indian Taliban,” and treating them with general apathy (hoping the problem goes away) etc.

Missing is a sense of perspective and proportion and such crutches point to an intellectual drought. And just because someone otherwise bad supports a morally right act doesn’t make it morally wrong. It still becomes our moral duty to act irrespective of who else supports such an issue.

A counterpoint- is in order perhaps – The Uniform civil code, which implies equal treatment of all people irrespective of faith has been made into a conservative issue whereas it really is a liberal/secular one.

I could not agree more.  The typical reaction to conservatives, whether of the cow protection variety or of high intellectual caliber, has almost always been a one of condescension. As if not conforming to western ideas of liberty, democracy, secularism were a result of brain damage. (not that people with brain damage should be treated that way, but they are)

However, one needs to ask not just why liberals dont want a uniform civil code, but also why the conservatives want it.

He makes some more important points about the role of history in name calling in his post on CRI: Ideological Lables

If words like “liberal” and “secular” have become curse words for many, it is because, hypocrisy, duality and bias (bigotry in many cases), too obvious to ignore, have become rampant amongst those claiming to be secular or liberal. Intellectual consistency dictates that just as the burden of disowning bigotry was put on Hindutva movement, the same burden also lies with those identifying with liberal movements (or for that matter any such movements).

Or we could just ignore this and go back to calling each other names, using labels as curses, obviating the need for any intellectual effort and critical thought on either side.

Note: When I use the term “Liberal” about political parties, am talking about the left leaning, socialist ideology. I am not a liberal in this sense – as a casual reading of my blog will reveal. However, conservativism in India and abroad is usually associated with religious sentiments and social/moral protectionist beliefs.