INDIA AND SECULARISM IN THE FACE OF INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM
The world has become, all of a sudden, too dangerous a place to live in. There are far too many killings, brutalities against women, children, the feeble and the infirm, and desecration and razing down of places of worship, all in the name of religion. It is an indisputable fact that there had been wars waged and atrocities committed earlier too, throughout the course of history, practically in every part of the world. But the scale of massacres and the degree of accompanying depravity which resulted from the mindless violence and brazen acts of terrorism at its worst form perpetrated in recent times, in blatant disregard of and utter contempt for the opinion of the international community which is aghast by the despicable war crimes, gargantuan genocides, eery ethnic cleansings and wanton violations of human rights, stick out as exceptionally brutal crimes of a monumental scale. Blood baths, beheadings, decapitation, ethnic cleansings, suicide bombings, pillage, robberies from banks and oil reserves owned by legitimate governments, kidnappings of school girls, rapes...... the list of the macabre crimes is endless. Gory accounts of the crimes are only a click away, with the mainstream media and social media vying with each other to bring home to your parlor the ugly face of the daily, nay, hourly addition of the most horrendous and horrific crimes and barbarism incessantly perpetrated against humanity. The sweep of the brutal crimes covers practically every country in the world with considerable Muslim population, with the main thrust in Iraq and Syria. There is no dearth of bloodshed within the Muslim community itself in these war torn countries, with the hardcore Sunni terrorists targeting fellow Muslims from other denomination. In headlong onslaughts against the Yazidis and Christians, the terrorists have tried hard to decimate their populations altogether.
The Ugly Face of Terrorism
The crimes are carried out by armies of mercenary foot soldiers who are on the lookout for money, sex, and vicarious and sadistic pleasure to be derived from cold-blooded acts of perversion by targeting the vulnerable sections of the society in the process of fighting their political and religious enemies. Their despicable acts are backed by the exhortations of a mad clergy with a medieval mindset who justify that the jihadist elements are only serving God by slaughtering the 'unfaithful' or 'non-believers'. Plundering of the property of the enemies, enslaving of their women regardless of their age or marital status and butchering of their children, are all permitted as brave acts of war in the service of their faith and God; the fighters for the cause are assured that their acts would earn them martyrdom and they would be going to the heaven for their 'selfless sacrifice' in defending the name and word of God. Such trash beliefs, based on some vacuous and nebulous doctrine or scripture which was believed to have been handed over by God Himself centuries ago to someone whose religious diktat could be questioned only on pain of death, are espoused day in and day out by the rabid clergy throughout the length and breadth of developed countries with a captive audience of immigrant population from former Asian and African colonial outposts, let alone the gullible ghetto dwellers of developing and poor third world countries. An act on the part of anyone, perceived as a threat or challenge to the holy book or the authority of the Prophet is to be most severely punished. Hence no scope for searching for truth or rationality in the religious dogma in today's context as such an attempt falls outside the pale of discussion. The recent killings of French journalists who made a caricature of Islam and its Prophet is a case in point.
Foibles of Western Countries
The Western States, which consider themselves champions of the democratic form of governance, human rights, freedom of expression, freedom of practicing the religion of one's choice, liberty, equality, fraternity and such dearly cherished values conceived by the best of human minds and borne out of centuries of political and social evolution, are stupefied by the outright denial of their value system and the brazen challenge and terror unleashed by the radical religious groups like Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Taliban, Lashkar è Taiba, and the numerous offshoots of these militant outfits fighting for supremacy of their faith and annihilation of others. They are nonplussed by the demands of the radical religious groups for introduction of the Sharia Law and unfettered freedom to practice their religious beliefs exactly as set out in the medieval times in an altogether different cultural context even when such freedom militates against the common law of the country. The attempts of the Western States to prohibit the 'hijab' in public places and their refusal to introduce the Sharia Law and demand for religious schools in total disregard to the uniform education system have evoked strident opposition and often violent outbursts of protests from groups of migrant populations who aggressively assert supremacy of their faith. The consequent scenario is an unprecedented bedlam of political and social turmoil in the well-organized democracies of Western Europe which are feeling helpless in the face of the stubborn and violent position taken in the matter by the migrant populations refusing to budge from their demands.
Sections of the immigration population indulge in certain unlawful activities like honor killing with utter impunity. A classic illustration to make the point is the inability of Britain to curb the menace of the unlawful practice of the 'grooming' of school going girls by certain sections of their immigration population from the Indian subcontinent and forcing them into inhuman crimes like prostitution. The authorities have pleaded helplessness in the naming and shaming of the criminals as they are all from a particular community and revealing their ethnic identity would render the authorities vulnerable to criticism of prejudice by the community and consequent loss of political support by the community with sizable number of votes, at polls. Resultantly, the suffering of helpless victims continues unabated and political corruption gets perpetuated, posing a serious challenge to the democratic system.
Western Youth for Terrorism
Another area where West European and other developed countries including the US and Australia suffer in their fight against global terrorism is the loss of any number of their own youngsters who are disillusioned with their slowing down economies and consequent loss of employment opportunities and the endless controversies in which the Church is involved, to the oil rich Gulf and West Asian countries which have become a hotbed of religious terrorism. Living in ideological and theological vacuum, these disgruntled youngsters are easily brainwashed by the fiery speeches of the rabid clergy of an alien faith and converted to their fight for supremacy.
Hotbed of Untrammelled Terrorism
The plight of developing African countries like Nigeria and Kenya which face the brutal onslaught of religious fundamentalists is much worse, the poor people of these countries forming an ideal soft target. Kidnapping of girls and mowing down of laymen and women are matters of daily occurrence which don't draw much response from the international community beyond newspaper headlines.
India, Safe Haven of Secularism
Against such a backdrop of the fatal fever of communal frenzy prevailing elsewhere in the world, India has been a haven of religious tolerance from time immemorial although it was during the last sixty seven years of its existence as an independent nation free from the colonial yoke that it has been wearing Secularism as a badge of honor. To illustrate the point, the Sanatana Dharma of ancient India envisaged the whole world as a global family (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam). The lesser known Tamil poet of Kaniyan Poonkundranar of the Sangam Period (3 century BC - 4 century AD) looked upon the whole world as his dwelling place and everyone residing in such a vast homestead his kin. He rejected division of mankind into various categories and emphasized the universality of all men. Throughout its long history, India has given birth to several major religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism which coexisted, and is still doing so, in harmony with Sanatana Dharma despite the fact that the latter assimilated the salient features of those religions and emerged as an inclusive body of faith. Zoroastrianism (Parsi religion) which had been uprooted in its birthplace of Persia took shelter in India and has been doing well till today.
Islam and Religious Intolerance
Religious intolerance reared its ugly head in India with the advent of Arab invaders in 711 AD. The subsequent Muslim invaders from Central Asia made India their home and not only retained their religion but also carried out large scale conversions of the native Indian population to their faith by offering positions in their court to the elite but mostly by the use of brute force.
Notwithstanding forced conversions of large numbers of the native Hindu population, various leaders of Sufi orders chartered the first organized activities to introduce localities to Islam through Sufism. Saint figures and mythical stories provided solace and inspiration to Hindu caste communities often in rural villages of India. The Sufi teachings of divine spirituality, cosmic harmony, love, and humanity resonated with the common people and continue do so till today.
Christianity was believed to have been introduced in India by Thomas, the Apostle, who visited Kerala in 52 AD to spread the gospels amongst Kerala's Jewish settlements. There is a general scholarly consensus that Christianity was established in India by the 6th century AD, including some communities who used Syriac liturgically, and it is possible that the religion's existence there extends to as far back as the 1st century. Christianity has had its fair share of controversies regarding forced conversions of the local population by force or coercion in States like Goa during colonial rule.
Both Islam and Christianity have taken firm roots in India thanks to their policy of propagation and conversion. Both the religions are alive to the vulnerability and susceptibility of the economically and socially weaker sections of the Hindu society, especially in the tribal belts and those regions of the country which are under political dispensations that are ideologically opposed to the Hindu nationalist party BJP, to the persuasions and propagation of other religions and don't miss an opportunity to cash in on the failing of Hinduism to keep its flock together. Hinduism has the unique distinction of being a religion without a Pope-like figure for the purpose of ensuring coalescence of different denominations of faith. In fact, true to its origins in the ancient Sanatana Dharma, the Hindu religion, as it obtains today, allows its faithful the freedom to practise their own religious practices according to their regional and linguistic diversity without prejudice to their adherence to the core belief.
Secularism in Post-Independence India
Throughout the post-Independence era, India has been vertically split into a leftist-leaning, Secularism-espousing bloc of political parties, with the Indian national Congress at the vanguard, at one end of the spectrum and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is fiercely proud of its Hindutva identity, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a thoroughbred Hindu theological outfit with several theological groupings and identities like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal etc in its fold, at the other. While BJP has always condemned Congress and the other parties of its ilk, of espousing pseudo secularism, its rival parties paint BJP and other saffron outfits with the same brush of communalism. While disputing its portrayal as a communal party, BJP has exhibited no pretence of being the champion defender of Secularism.
BJP and Secularism
With the emergence of BJP which has strong ideological moorings in the Hindu theological party of RSS, at the centre stage as the ruling party, there has been a paradigm shift in the perception of the Government of India of its policy on Secularism. The Sangh Parivar units like VHP, Bajrang Dal etc, which come under the fold of RSS, felt upbeat and accordingly initiated activities to give shape to their theological ideas and beliefs. This gave rise to calls for construction of Ram Mandir at Ayodhya, ”love jihad," "ghar wapsi" (re-conversion from Islam and Christianity) etc, with BJP MPs like Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj vociferously supporting the calls. Subsequently, politically appropriate statements were issued by BJP leaders and spokespersons to undo the damage caused by the calls. Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, a Minister of State in the Modi Cabinet, shot off a hugely controversial remark which was communal in nature about opposition parties and, in the face of a strident protest by opposition parties, subsequently retracted the statement. Another raging controversy being debated in political circles today is the issue of passing legislation against conversion. Prime Minister Modi has warned BJP leaders not to make statements out of turn, has himself been maintaining a stoic silence over the controversial statements made by his party colleagues and has been focusing on matters of development and administration. Although his silence draws adverse criticism from leaders of Opposition parties and political commentators, Mr.Modi has steered clear of the controversies. His strategy has been avoiding controversies which could give rise to communal confrontations, and keeping his party men in check. To his credit, the strategy has paid off.
However, BJP would appear to have lost its cutting edge as a progressive party of developmental program’s in contrast to Congress and its allies which have not given up playing the communal card rather than projecting economic and social policies for the development of the country and the people. BJP's inability to win a single seat from the Kashmir valley in the recently-held Assembly elections could arguably be attributed to the loss of its cutting edge.