Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Exposing the Saffron Scheme: A Popular outline-lV

The myth of ‘secular’ Hinduism

Comrade Vinod Mishra

Another oft-repeated argument of the Sangh Parivar is that India is secular because Hindus constitute the overwhelming majority of the Indian population. Incidentally, this idea of equating the supposedly inherent tolerance of Hinduism with secularism also informs the official ‘secular’ opinion in India and hence the Hindu ethos is constantly invoked in all preachings of secularism in India.

Now, the present rise of Hindutva is marked by an alarming escalation of religious fanaticism in the Hindu masses, the growing clout of sadhus and mahants in the nation’s political life, a dangerous consolidation of all the dregs and scum of society in outfits like Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena, a heightened spate of anti-Muslim pogroms, the open exhibition of communal bias by various wings of the state and increasing intolerance of every kind of dissenting idea in the academic world. This convincingly shows that a pure Hindu state can only mean the negation of democracy and secularism.

Secondly, several developed countries, where Christianity and Buddhism are dominant religions, are far more secular than India. Christianity in particular was quite an orthodox and intolerant religion — if one remembers the Inquisition — and in many European countries the church was a very powerful institution. In course of time, however, various trends emerged within Christianity and successful bourgeois revolutions led to the separation of the church from the state. In fact, the very concept of secularism, based on separation of religion and the state, arose from the successful bourgeois revolutions of the West.

Proponents of the supposedly inherent secular character of Hinduism, however, contrast it only with the supposedly inherent intolerance of Islam. This perception of Islam is shared by a vast majority of Hindu masses and therefore it is necessary to delve deep into the evolution of Islam.

In the sixth century, various tribes inhabiting Arabia were engaged in internecine clashes. The decline of the caravan trade and the consequent need for land was the major factor behind this. Islam as the movement for unification among warring tribes arose out of this socio-economic condition. Muhammad’s preaching advocating the merger of tribal cults and submission to the single supreme god — Allah — began in this historical situation. Chiefs of his own Koerish tribe as well as the merchant nobility were initially hostile to his ideas and he had to flee Mecca. People in the agricultural oasis of Medina, who were in conflict with the Mecca aristocracy provided a strong support base to Muhammad and with their help he eventually seized Mecca. With the emergence of Mecca as an important religious and national centre the Koerish nobility too not only accepted Islam, but even became its leaders.

Engels wrote that Islam was a religion intended, on the one hand, for city-dwellers engaged in commerce and craft and, on the other hand, for nomadic Bedouins.

Islam which had emerged as a national religion for Arabs soon turned into a world religion. By eighth and ninth century, Islam became the exclusive religion in the vast territory from Spain to Central Asia stretching to the borders of India. In the latter centuries, it spread on a larger scale to Northern India. Still later, it expanded to Indonesia, Caucasia and among certain peoples in the Balkan states.

Conquests recorded as holy wars for faith (Jihad) and arising out of the Arab need to unify and seize new lands did play a major role in the spread of Islam. But if people in many states like Byzantine and Sissamid empires did not offer any resistance, the reason being the terrible oppression suffered by them at the hands of local feudal lords. In the countries conquered by the Arabs, the obligations of the peasant populations — particularly those adopting Islam — was lessened considerably. In India the spread of Islam was facilitated by inhuman Brahminical caste oppression. The spread of Islam also has much to do with its simplicity, which made it attractive for the peasant masses in the patriarchal feudal states of the East.

Subsequently, the Muslim theologians and secular scholars have reinterpreted the commandments of Jihad. There have been attempts to reinterpret Hinduism as the religion with a holy book and Ram and Krishna as prophets of their times. Readers may recall in this context a recent debate in Muslim theological circles in Bihar where a certain Muslim scholar gave a call to withdraw the label of Kafirs on Hindus.

Islam has codified civil and criminal laws based on religious laws known as Shariat. Patriarchal tribal attitudes did influence the family ethics in Islam where women are subordinate to men. This is perhaps common to all religions. However, in the concrete social conditions prevailing in Arabia then, the Koran by condemning the cruel conduct of a husband towards his wife — and by specifying the woman’s property rights — the right to dowry and inheritance — did elevate the status of women somewhat.

Though Islam united people on a large scale under the banner of religion, the national and class contradictions went on intensifying in Muslim countries. This was reflected through the emergence of various trends and sects in Islam.

One of the earliest and largest among such trends has been Shiaism. It began as an internal struggle among the Arabs, as a struggle for power between Muhammad’s successors, but soon it developed into an expression of discontent of the Persians against their Arab conquerors. Shiaism till date remains the state religion of Iran. Most of the Muslims of the world, however, follow Sunnism. In the eighth and ninth centuries, Mutzilites — a sect among Sunnis — tried to interpret the Muslim doctrine in a rational spirit, maintaining that the Koran was a book written by the people and not created by god, and that man has free will. As against schools of thought based on literal interpretation of religions dogmas, certain schools of thought arose within Islam, which allowed for a more liberal interpretation of the doctrine and enjoyed support in more developed regions of the Muslim world.

Sufism grew within Shiaism but was also adopted among Sunnis. Adherents of Sufism did not pay much attention to superficial rituals and sought a mystical union with the divine. In the strict sense, they deviated from the Koran in their pantheistc perception of god. Initially they were persecuted by orthodox Muslims but later on a compromise was brought about.

In keeping with the era of democratic revolutions and anti-imperialist movements, radical changes occurred in Muslim traditions during the 19th and 20th centuries. In a number of Muslim countries the sphere of influence of the Shariat has been limited, legal norms have been secularised and the state separated from the hold of the Muslim clergy. In Turkey, in 1920s, democratic revolution occurred under the leadership of Kemal Pasha and after the establishment of republic radical reforms were introduced.

India provides a classical case of Islam’s coexistence with Hinduism, a religion with idol worship and many gods, for centuries. At the level of religious beliefs, there could hardly be any meeting point between the two, but at the grassroots, people from both religions share a common life, common aspirations, and many common beliefs. As the country was divided on Hindu-Muslim lines, obviously Muslims who remained in India would have a sympathetic attitudes towards Pakistan quite similar to the attitude of a Pakistani or Bangladeshi Hindu towards India. However, after Partition, the politics of Indian Muslims has generally veered around the Congress. To preserve its vote bank, the Congress went into political and social deals with Muslim fundamentalist forces often to offset the concessions it made to Hindu fundamentalism. This game had its obvious limits, and recent events have caused disillusionment of the Muslim community in relation to the Congress. Parties like Janata Dal have now jumped in to cash in on the Congress’ predicament, aligning, however, with the same fundamentalist forces.

The BJP’s advocacy of a Hindu state and its religious fanaticism is only, albeit negatively, strengthening fundamentalist forces among Muslims. Opposing bigamy or polygamy as part of progressive social reforms is one thing, but linking it with the growth of Muslim population is highly absurd. Having more children is an attribute of the feudal society and has nothing to do with religion. Polygamy is practised by a miniscule section of Muslims in India, and moreover, a little common sense can explain that given the ratio of male and female population, neither can this be the general phenomenon in a society, nor can it in any way account for population growth. The BJP’s concern for a uniform civil code and the rights of Muslim women is a big fraud and is only part of an overall attack on Muslim identity. Its jumping into the fray in the Shah Bano case only led to an orthodox Muslim backlash and caused a setback to a progressive social reform which otherwise had good support among Muslims too.

By advocating second-grade citizenship for Muslims in Hindu India, the BJP is only strengthening pro-Pakistan feelings among Muslims. Similarly, the demand for merging the Muslim identity with the Hindu ‘cultural’ identity is a direct negation of a composite Indian identity, notwithstanding the BJP’s trickery of equating Hindu identity with Indian identity. The Sangh Parivar’s ideological offensive shall only perpetuate and strengthen the myth of Pakistan among Indian Muslims.

Pakistan and the Pakistani myth among Indian Muslims was created because of the pronounced Hindu bias of India’s freedom struggle. And it continues to exist and draw fresh sustenance from the Sangh Parivar’s Hindutva hysteria. True to their treacherous role in freedom struggle, they are repeating the same for the sake of splitting and weakening the Indian people’s resistance to the neo-colonial danger. The Sangh Parivar is once again at His Master’s Service, exactly when it is needed most.

However, the BJP is not going to have the last word on the future of Indian Muslims. New generations of Muslim youth no longer have any deep emotional attachment with Pakistan and are eager to carve out their space in India as Indian Muslims. They are quite receptive to the ideas of a secular state and recent events have brought them closer to the Left. Progressive and democratic intelligentsia among Muslims are raising their voice for democratic reforms within the Muslim society, stressing modern education and, particularly, elevation of the status of women. All secular forces must strengthen this developing current among Indian Muslims, which will lead to their becoming equal partners in deciding the destiny of India. Only a genuinely secular Indian state will destroy the very rationale of Pakistan, and if Pakistan still exists, be sure that the Indian Muslim youth will celebrate India’s victory over Pakistan in a cricket match with the same fervour as his Hindu brother.


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