Indian “Secularism”

The BJP government has been in power at the federal level in India since 2014, and in various Indian states, e.g. Gujarat, for much longer. While BJP, like most national-level parties in India, is a broad church representing the entire spectrum of views from just Right-of-Centre to fringe Far Right bigotry, it seems (to me at least) that the Far Right has definitely been gaining ground. This is visible through a lot of what’s said explicitly or dog-whistled by various persons of consequence in the party. Besides, there’s an obvious attempt being made to influence ostensibly non-political institutions like the academia, cultural bodies, research funding agencies etc which directly/indirectly depend on the Government for funding and/or management.

The use of institutions for political gain is unfortunately not a new thing in India. This is an art perfected by the previous Congress governments, under whom, entire central university departments, the University Grants Commission (of which my Dad has many horror stories to recount!), historical and cultural research centres, scientific and industrial research centres, even the national archives were veritable arms of state propaganda and political power-play in true socialist fashion! Anyone can tell you that a country where even mathematics is politicized is fairly screwed up – yet that has been the condition of India for a very long time. And the rot really started setting in under the patron saint of Indian autocracy, Indira Gandhi, who subverted many institutions into instruments for projecting the ruling Government’s influence and narrative. Her rule was characterized by extreme nepotism – the main beneficiaries being the old and influential Kashmiri Pandit khandaan (families) of the erstwhile Moghal belt related to Nehrus, the Dhars, Haksars, Kaws, Razdans, Kauls and Katjus, who played a major part in running the country through the 70s and most of 80s.

The nepotism, corruption and utterly hollowed-out state of India’s public institutions headed by the ruling party’s yes-men contributed in many ways to the strong disestablishmentarian politics of the 70s and 80s in India – Janata Party & Jai Prakash Narayan‘s movement – in turn spawning off the modern day Rashtriya Janata Dal of Laloo Prasad, Samajvadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its RSS affiliations. These parties rode on the popular mandates against the Congress and when in power at either state/central levels, used exactly the same sorts of networks Congress (I) had created precedents for to project their own influence and narrative. The current BJP-led dispensation is not doing anything new or radical on the Indian political scene that the “secular” Congressis did not do. They are replacing Congressi stooges by Hindutva ideologues, using the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to go after the sort the opposition had patronized and have subverted institutions in the same Indira-esque fashion but under the saffron banner this time. In fact, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy is quite brazen about this deliberate “correction” of institutions that he is executing for the BJP (including settling personal scores against the likes of Amartya Sen). This interview is a must see:

Of the many institutions/ideals of Western Enlightenment that animate the Indian Constitution, none has been so comprehensively dragged through mud by Indians as Secularism. From its lofty origins in the French Revolution, Indians have reduced it to mere euphemism for Muslim vote-bank politics and Mullah appeasement, one of the many cynical tools used by Indian politicians to keep hold of power. The infamous Shah Bano case under Rajiv Gandhi’s government is a watershed in the state’s use of “secularism” to further oppress the oppressed to get in the good books of a few regressive Mullahs (and hope they ask their congregations for votes).

The patronizing attitude of the Indian state towards Muslim citizens is a symptom of a wider malaise inherited from the British colonial state, of treating communities as the units of a nation state (and managing their conflicting interests as statecraft), rather than a model of governance based on rights and freedoms of citizens. So, for example, the manner in which the modern Indian state (or even Indian media) deals with the views of a woman who happens to be Muslim is to tag her as “Muslim” and then proceed to respond to her views by using received wisdom on how to deal with Muslims. It is akin to outsourcing all thinking to a colonial era manual on Muslim sensibilities and reducing every individual, suitably tagged, to that outmoded (and patronizing by design) community calculus. The fact that the citizen is a thinking individual with Constitutional freedoms and ideas of her own – which may be completely outside of the narrow confines of how the State thinks Muslims would/should react – is almost immaterial. That is the reason why a state which professes to be a modern Constitutional democracy, tolerated something as regressive as triple talaq for its citizens for as long as it did.

The manual has had a few updates courtesy Nehru since the original British blueprint, due to the creation of Pakistan and the predicament (N Indian) Muslims who stayed behind found themselves in. So, in the immediate aftermath of the Partition riots (more like genocide, actually!) of Muslims in North India, the Nehruvian Consensus took shape as an unwritten government policy to treat Muslims with kid gloves. This meant turning the gaze away from outdated social practices among Muslims, even while Hindu society was undergoing tremendous top-down social engineering (cf. Reservations). This was a well-intentioned, if doomed, policy by early Congress governments to nurture a Muslim middle-class to regain their importance in the politics of North India. However, its effect was exactly the reverse: it increased the importance of Muslim clergy (Deobandis, Jamiat Ulema-e Hind etc) who frequently assumed the role of interlocutors between Delhi and the vast Muslim population of the hinterland, and emboldened the Hindu Right who identified Secularism as partiality to and appeasement of (similarly demented) Islamic religious practices while their own Hindu version (caste-system, widow remarriage, cow fetishization etc) was being proscribed. The frustration of the Hindu Right with such policies led to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by an RSS ideologue, starting an ideological war that continues unabated to this day.

The virus of cultural relativism at work here is not just limited to Muslims alone and neither is the dismal state of Muslim society its worst manifestation. Indian government has condoned the practice of ritual murder of children by tribal populations in the name of preserving communities (as opposed to upholding human rights), with the head of an Indian Government organisation even referring to possible arrest of baby murderers as “mishandling”:

The pace of change worries specialists like S. A. Awaradi, the director of the Andaman and Nicobar Tribal Research Institute, who describes the tribe as “our human heritage.”

“This has been a self-sufficient civilization for thousands of years,” Mr. Awaradi said. “By mishandling, you are creating a blunder of civilization.”

BJP’s founding animus for all things Islamic means that, at least on face-value, they are against the cynical use of “secularism” to shield Mullahs and other regressive religious bodies from 21st century moral scrutiny. However, that goodwill for the Muslim downtrodden is ill-motivated, as the Hindutva movement is essentially revanchist in nature. It is a sad denouement of Indian liberalism that they have ceded moral high ground to the Hindutvavadis, when it comes to rights of the weak or minorities within Muslims. Hindutva movement itself was borne out of a deep-seated insecurity about the medieval Muslim rule in India, and the desire to reestablish continuity of modern-day India to some (frequently imaginary) pre-Islamic India of milk and honey. As the famous Bollywood movie song (sung by the Punjabi King Puru, just before he had his arse handed to him by Alexander) goes:

jahaN Dal-Dal per soney ki chiRiyaN karteeN haiN basera, voh bharat desh hai mera, voh Bharat desh hai mera.

Trans: Where on every (tree) branch sparrows-of-gold nest, 
that Bharata nation is mine, that Bharata nation is mine.

To the Hindutva movement Indo-Islamic art, architecture, music, dress, names, even Arabic/Farsi/Turkic loanwords in Indian languages and, above all, the existence of hundreds of millions of Muslims in India are inconvenient reminders of India’s indelible Islamic past. These facts are hard to swallow for a dyed-in-the-wool Hindutva fanatic and a daily reminder of the centuries of perceived humiliation of Hindus and their culture at the hands of successful Muslim invaders. Therefore Hindu Right has a tendency to distort/efface history taught in schools, discriminate in research funding for the study of specific periods of Indian history or display outright unwillingness for upkeep, maintenance or promotion of historical sites that do not gel with the government’s idea of what ought to be preserved. While Central Board school history syllabus in India has been largely spared of the Hindutva bile at least for now, the project has been on-going in state-level school boards (school education in India is not a Central Government responsibility) for a while. E.g. Maharashtra school board textbooks focus on history of relatively insignificant early Maratha kings to the point that Moghals seem little more than an occasional irritant in local politics, as opposed to overlords of the whole of Deccan. The latest controversy on UP Government’s decision to not include Taj Mahal in its tourism sites booklet is another case in point, a high-water mark in the rising tide of Hindutva politics. In terms of ideological bent, therefore, Hindutva ideologues, both old (like V D Savarkar) and new, totally concur with the views of Muslim nationalists like Jinnah, articulated beautifully in his historic Lahore address to the Muslim League:

The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, and literature[s]. They neither intermarry nor interdine together, and indeed they belong to two different civilisations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their aspects [=perspectives?] on life, and of life, are different. It is quite clear that Hindus and Mussalmans derive their inspiration from different sources of history. They have different epics, their heroes are different, and different episode[s]. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other, and likewise their victories and defeats overlap. To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent, and final. destruction of any fabric that may be so built up for the government of such a state.

While the pro-BJP swing seen in India since 2014 actually had as much to do with anti-incumbency sentiment against the Congress as Modi’s personal charisma and good PR of selling vikas (economic development) to the masses, it has inevitably led to strengthening of the cultural Hindutva core of the BJP. So, besides economic experimentation (not bad or ill-motivated in itself; though consequences are arguable) we also have the rise of cow-protection politics – an old pet project of the Hindu Right. The best example of this is Modi’s home state of Gujarat, where the BJP government has instituted a gauseva (lit. cow service) board, funded by taxpayers’ money of course. Besides the usual cow welfare monitoring, the board apparently issues advisory notices. The latest one is for women to switch to natural cow products for beauty treatment and claims gaumutra (lit. cow urine) can cure 108 (why not 110?) diseases including AIDS and cancer. Consider this gem, which is meant as advice to Gujarati women to turn them into “cleopatras”:

For healthy, glowing skin like Egyptian queen Cleopatra, use panchgavya, which is a concoction of cow urine, dung, milk, curd and clarified butter.

Gaumutra will remove dark circles, black spots and pimples. Use of panchgavya will give you long-lasting beauty.

We want women to understand the benefits of using cow milk, urine and dung to beautify themselves instead of damaging their skin by using chemicals.

While many may laugh off the above example as just a local idiosyncrasy, there is unfortunately a pattern to this growing government involvement with pseudo-Science that is deeply worrying and dangerous. Not to mention, cow fetishization has murderous social repercussions too: cow-protection vigilante violence, mob lynching, attacks on businesses etc.

But are these fears legitimate? As the argument goes, any Hindutva dream of converting India to a Hindu Shuddhsthan (land of the pure) modelled on Islamic Pakistan, only much larger and way more powerful, has to contend with the rough and tumble of Indian reality: the quotidian shoddiness of Indian bureaucracy, the general lack of civic duty within every mohalla (let alone pan-Indian paroxysms of patriotism which Hindu Right would like to engender), the deep-seated social cleavages of Hindu society, plurality of beliefs in the broad church of Hinduism, linguistic and racial divides (if caste weren’t enough already), the rise of an affluent and fairly Westernized middle-class that looks down on attitudes described above, and (most importantly of all) the Indian democratic setup.

Most of these frictions in India are rather obvious for a country of the size and population of India, yet they should not be taken for granted as a natural bulwark against authoritarian rule. Aggressive-nationalism is a very effective social meme (especially in combination with a pervasive victimhood complex) and its effect on human societies (esp. one as religious as India) must not be underestimated. In India, Hindutva ideology has also successfully managed to co-opt symbols of the Indian Republic, notably the flag and the Constitution as quasi-Hindu icons – the same symbols their ideological Jan Sangh forebears hated:

In an editorial published in the RSS mouthpiece, the Organiser, on the eve of India’s independence, the Sangh opposed the tricolour flag, declaring that “it never be respected and owned by the Hindus”. “The word three”, the editorial went on explain, “is in itself an evil, and a flag having three colours will certainly produce a very bad psychological effect and is injurious to a country.”


“But in our constitution, there is no mention of that unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat… To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing.”

To be fair, India is not alone in this quasi-religious use of national symbols. American Right (e.g. Tea Party activists) also tend to apotheosize the Founding Fathers of the USA and the American Flag arouses similar devotional feeling. This is not entirely a negative thing (if kept in check) as patriotic idiocy is useful for the functioning of democracy and often such useful idiots make the best attack dogs protecting the same Constitutional values that obviate them. What keeps such people in check, however, is a solid institutional framework (judiciary, policing etc) that can enforce the rule of law and a social contract of abjuring the use of violence for political gain. These institutional and social checks are present in the United States but largely missing in India.

Therefore, I find the oft-touted Indian diversity argument to be quite parochial and really no match for genuine Hindu authoritarianism. Think about what the Pakistan movement could achieve by mobilizing opinion around religion with far fewer people and lesser resources. A politically unhindered Hindu Right is capable of just as much of a transformation within India – in spite of all the aforementioned social frictions. A rudderless opposition does not help matters either.

My own opinion on what can really save India from a terrible Hindu utopia is an unassuming, almost technical, feature of Indian electoral democracy: the first-past-the-post system that makes the fate of political leaders extremely sensitive to swings of public opinion. Note that the current BJP government only had 31% of the Indian voteshare, with Congress at 19.3%. This means just 5.9% swing of BJP voters to Congress would decimate BJP seats throughout the country’s constituencies. Obviously this mere technicality is contingent on a democratic culture, where the mandate is accepted by political parties and peaceful power transitions can occur. Obviously no body can predict the future, but if India’s post-Independence record is any indication whatsoever, I can safely wager Indians (for all their terrible shortcomings) manage that very well indeed!

Author: Slapstik

I was born in Kashmir and a strange turn of events spanning over 2 decades led me to London, where I now live and work. I have a deep interest in linguistics, geo-political history, Science and philosophy of Science and occassionally my writings reflect that interest. I am an ardent Popperian, a technophile, a trekkie and a below average cook. Twitter: @kaeshour

40 thoughts on “Indian “Secularism””

  1. Can I ask a few questions?

    The Hindu Tattva (called Hindutva or Hindu quality), based on my understanding, say that they respect and honor the ten eastern Darshanas. From the BJP website:

    “Hindutva will not mean any Hindu theocracy or theology. However, it will mean that the guiding principles of Bharat will come from two of the great teachings of the Vedas, the ancient Hindu and Indian scriptures, which so boldly proclaimed – TRUTH IS ONE, SAGES CALL IT BY MANY NAMES –

    Since Hinduism is a nonexclusive religion (which doesn’t even accept the concept of religion; hence Hindus often claim to believe in all religions or even be a member of all religions; in addition to believing that all religions are more or less the same), aren’t Hindus by definition secular? Don’t Hindus become more secular the more religious and spiritual they get?

    Often the political execution is ham handed. But isn’t much of the attack against Hindutva because they are accused of dividing muslims (many muslims support Hindutva); including dividing secular/liberal/minority muslims from deeply conservative (perhaps what some would call regressive) Sunnis?

    37% of Gujarat muslims voted for Modi in the 2014 elections. And the BJP won a landslide victory in the district of Deoband itself. Both results despite all the communal branding the BJP has received from rival parties. Recently, a prominent ex-bureaucrat and Syrian Christian, has become a member of the BJP.

    The BJP has tried to reach out to Sunnis too. Recently, Modi was conferred the “Order of King Abdul Aziz”. Maybe Modi has consulted some experts in Saudi Arabia and has (or has a plan)
    to incentivize maddrassas in India to offer science education, along with regular Islamic education. Many local Indian sunni muslims do not want their youth to become radicalized. They want them to get IT jobs or maybe an H1B visa to the US. Plus many feel jerked them around for 6 decades by Indian “secular” governments, which contributes to their working with the BJP.

    Maybe I am minunderstanding. But it seems to me that the attacks on the BJP come from two primary angles:
    1) Secular,Post Modern, Freud, Intersectionality, Marxist Indians who fear all religion oriented parties; perhaps because they don’t understand them.
    2) Deeply conservative Sunni Indians who fear that the BJP is splitting muslims; picking off the Sufis, Ishmaelis, twelvers, Ahmedias, liberal muslims, secular muslims as part of some plot to divide muslims. [Which again might be based on a misunderstanding.] In particular they worry, perhaps, about the close links between some Hinduttva figures and some Indian Sufis. Another major fear some deeply conservative Sunni Muslims have is the Hindu hug . . . the well intentioned “we are all one, all religions are the same” idea expressed by Hindus who haven’t carefully studied Sunni Islam and don’t understand how to express their sentiments in ways that Sunnis and some non Sunni muslims find deeply offensive and threatening.

    Slapstik, please share your thoughts on the above. I would be deeply interested in your perspectives.

    1. “37% of Gujarat muslims voted for Modi in the 2014 elections. ”
      Can you cite a source for this statistic ?
      “And the BJP won a landslide victory in the district of Deoband itself.”
      See this :
      First of all Deoband is not a muslim dominated constituency. The more likely explanation is that muslim votes got divided between the muslim candidates of the SP and BSP.
      There are some muslim outfits funded by RSS. They make it sound as if they represent some significant constituency of muslims. They are marginal and I would not give them too much importance

  2. In my opinion, secularism in India is a professed ideal but not always practiced in reality. The destruction of the Babri Masjid is just one example (one of the most egregious). In a truly secular country, the government would not permit a mob to destroy a minority place of worship simply because it was allegedly located on the birthplace of a deity. One group’s religious beliefs cannot take precedence over an actually historically existing place of worship. The anti-Muslim pogroms of 2002 are of course another blot on Indian secularism.

    It seems to me that the current leadership of India really wants to turn the country into a “Hindu Rashtra.” They justify this by pointing out that if Pakistan can be a religious majoritarian state, so can India. Of course Indians are entitled to govern their country however they see fit. One would wish however that they learn the right lesson from the Pakistani experience–that mixing religion and politics never ends well. Many liberal Pakistanis used to look at India as an example of a secular and democratic country in our neighborhood. It’s sad that India is becoming more like Pakistan instead of the other way around.

    1. In my opinion, secularism in India is a professed ideal but not always practiced in reality.

      I think the comment is generous. I don’t think Indians even properly get the ideal of “Secularism” let alone practise it.

      If they did, the state wouldn’t be banning Satanic Verses on one hand and unable to protect mosque demolition on the other, or violating Taslima Nasreen’s freedom to speak and simultaneously hounding out Maqbool Fida Husain for his paintings, failing to act against the anti-Muslim pogrom or the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus or the murderous riots against Sikhs.

      Indian institutions are still rather primitive & endemically corrupt, society is stratified with bare minimum civic sense and understanding of the rule of law and political class more concerned with expediency than statesmanship. It will take a very long time, over many more election cycles, to come anywhere close to fixing these deep issues.

      1. Not just secularism, any western liberalism based ideas in India have a hard time being embraced by the people on ground since it is not an organic development. So, it is facetious to be okay with Indian democracy (even with its flawed implementation) while at the same time hold it at a higher standard for implementation of secularism (or any other liberal idea. e.g., gender equality, trans-rights).

        This always was and still is a flawed implementation of the secularism by government of India. I don’t particularly understand the unique railing against BJP as a sole instigator of this trend rather than just the one to cynically use it for vote grab.

        Also, neither democracy nor liberalism really need secularism since Scandinavian countries seem to do fine even with a declared state religion of Protestant Christianity. And seriously, does anybody ever see France’s style implementation of “true secularism” useful for anybody in India?

        1. So, it is facetious to be okay with Indian democracy (even with its flawed implementation) while at the same time hold it at a higher standard for implementation of secularism

          It actually is not facetious to be okay with democracy in India. It is an entirely reasonable position to take. For one, Indian democratic institution is a very well oiled machine, at par with institutions in the W Europe. India scores above various Eastern and Central European countries in the democracy index.

          Secondly, democracy is, in a sense, a much more fundamental social/moral good than secularism (to see why, I urge you to read my earlier blog post on “Why Democracy”). In fact, one could argue that democracy is a necessary condition for durability of secularism and similar values. So, what India has in fact done is to (fairly) successfully implement the political backdrop for other contingent Enlightenment values to play out. India’s record on upholding the values of social equality, gender equality, religious freedom etc has been far patchier, precisely because they represent a high level of abstraction than democracy. It’s like a village play where the producers have managed to get a half decent stage and backdrop setup, but the direction is haphazard, script shoddy and acting crude. In Pakistan, on the other hand, the village daroga sitting in the front row hates the play so much that he bans enactment altogether, and the village Mullah joins him saying acting is haraam.

          1. Here you argue in favour of bureaucracy related to democracy. Not really how the democracy is in execution. The liberal idea of democracy is “one vote – one person” and it is a secret vote allowing any person to vote as they wish.

            Democracy is flawed for many decades because of “vote banks”. Why all this issues with politics? Buy leader of a community and get all the votes of that community. This is where Indian system of segregated living came in picture. One can easily figure out which community didn’t keep its promise by ballot counts from different precincts.

            Democracy of India is Indian style now where voters openly ask for money to vote. Caste and religion vote banks have seen their end days and apathy made vote-selling as a viable way to make money. It is not the “Enlightened background” for any other liberal value.

            If you see “institutional democracy” as being implemented well, then “institutional secularism” is also implemented well. There aren’t any state-funded religious events for the majority religion (not like “Christmas tree in Blue room” style secularism …). Minority religion based reservations are strictly implemented in the government hiring. Minority religions are allowed to use their own law for marriages and inheritance matters (although these are state issues not federal issues).

            How is secularism any deficient?

        2. And seriously, does anybody ever see France’s style implementation of “true secularism” useful for anybody in India?

          I was actually thinking of American-style secularism, not the French. The US is in many ways more enlightened than France on this issue.

  3. “Therefore, I find the oft-touted Indian diversity argument to be quite parochial and really no match for genuine Hindu authoritarianism. Think about what the Pakistan movement could achieve by mobilizing opinion around religion with far fewer people and lesser resources.”

    Consider this,

    This is exactly the issue of “diversity” and GoI isn’t in a position to solve this simple diversity issues.

    I would want to see how would uniquely “Hindu Rastra” mobilize opinion around religion. Any dog-whistle for “othering” ends up bring one or other Hindu groups raise up an issue even the one as “unifying” as beef as contenders of some caste being traditional beef eaters (even there are traditional rat-meat and dog-meat eaters).

    This was not an issue in Pakistan as the idea “we are one under Muslim brotherhood” was given. India always struggled to answer how “we are one” even on a religious basis. So, seriously, how does one unify India with religious thought or be analogous to Pakistan?

    Perhaps Slapstik can provide some examples of religious opinions that Hindus have high likelihood of rallying around for “genuine Hindu authoritarianism” to happen?

    1. “This was not an issue in Pakistan as the idea “we are one under Muslim brotherhood” was given. India always struggled to answer how “we are one” even on a religious basis. So, seriously, how does one unify India with religious thought or be analogous to Pakistan? ”

      Even in Pakistan, “we are one under Muslim brotherhood” didn’t go so well. Within 25 years, half of the country seceded because they felt that their ethnic identity as Bengalis was more important than their religious identity as Muslims and that their ethnic identity was not being respected. Clearly, religious homogeneity is not enough to hold a country together. Even within (West)Pakistan, we are seeing increasing fault-lines within different religious sects (Shia/Sunni). Forcing one exclusionary identity on a people was a mistake. It would be tragic if India goes from “unity in diversity” to a Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan kind of thinking.

    2. Pakistan is a clear model for the BJP. You don’t need Hindu unity – Muslims never had unity — you just need a common enemy.

      Killing muslims is the ticket to BJP victory.

      Pakistan also demonstrates the limits of exclusionary identity. Once you have wiped out your first enemy, a new one must be found: from Ahmadis, to Shias, to liberals, to Salman Taseer.

      The ultimate casualty of the current Indian trend of Hindu authoritarianism will be Hindu liberals. Martin Neimoller’s lesson, never learned.

      1. This is exactly what I am saying. Having common “enemy” is hard for Hindus. Anything that describes “enemy” is already being done by some Hindu or other. Please define me what is “Hindu Authoritarianism” instead of throwing the word around.

        “Killing muslims is the ticket to BJP victory.”

        Seriously? You must think all Indians are stupid, as if there hasn’t been killing of other people? Again, what’s with “BJP” victory? Every political party has already done this with one group or other (even regional ones). And, BJP didn’t even win nationally following Gujarat riots. Who did BJP kill to win in this elections, other than embarrassing stupidity of Congress in every front?

        Indians grew up living and breathing “othering” (they are NOT our caste, NOT our language, NOT our tradition, NOT our region). Political parties are yet to find the formula for a “common enemy” (Pakistan stopped working a decade ago, even China didn’t work in that role….).

        I am not sure who would jump on to “Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan” other than the cow-belt which has already jumped on it for more than 20-years now. Nobody seems to have read Indian history carefully.

      2. Whatever hinduism is, it doesn’t have any majoritarian orthodoxy that approximates what sunni islam is to Pakistan. Its a riddle as to whether anti-islam serves the master of indian nationalism or the reverse, regardless, whats more likely in the case that the political profit of antagonising muslims is expended, the next great battle will be regional/linguistic. Anti-communism is hard-coded into the current strain of anti-islam that one could assert it is of the same movement.
        Brown Pundits as a forum tends to magnify the hindu-muslim axis as that which subcontinental culture is mapped onto.

    3. Perhaps Slapstik can provide some examples of religious opinions that Hindus have high likelihood of rallying around for “genuine Hindu authoritarianism”

      I actually provided the example of how the Hindutva movement has co-opted symbols of Indian nationhood (the flag, the anthem etc) to make them into quasi-religious symbols. Indian right wing has been pushing the envelope on this for a long time. Hindu authoritarianism (unlike Islam) is not beholden to a faith – after all V D Savarkar was an atheist. It is a form of aggressive cultural nativism or chauvinism – a (hitherto milder) version of the cultural chauvinism in late 19th and early 20th century Europe. Unlike Europe of that time though, India has a far better political democracy and therefore smaller chance to end up like the Weimar Republic of the 1930s.

      1. I think you underestimate the depth of caste divisions that flag and anthem could genuinely overcome.

        There are only two news events to know that if ever anybody can bring together “Hindus” under flag and anthem:
        1. Rohith Vemula:
        2. JNU protests:

        Please, show me comparative protests from any other democracy in the world where their own student body organizes events in support of known terrorists. Even with all their “freedom of speech” there aren’t any Americans who said Osama Bin Laden didn’t deserve to die (despite disagreeing with the method of killing).

  4. Indian secularism is as confused as other Nehruvian input, Fabian socialism. It is not possible to have group based secularism. It will be meaningless, creating lot of conflict.

    Secularism should be based purely on individual rights, even superseding family and the bond of marriage.

    For me the judgements and intervention of Indian courts look so confusing.

    They jumped their gun to place a ban on sale of firecrackers during the festival of divali of Hindus. Please note the ban is imposed only during the Hindu festival, not throughout the year, nor at christmas or new year. I feel this should be the job of the executive n0t the courts.

    When it came to gays and lesbian rights, the courts refused to intervene favouring the community. It looks like a violation of fundamental rights to me, if sexual activity of consenting individuals can be construed as some criminal activity. Such sexual orientation and activity can be considered as not very common, but cannot be labelled as unnatural.

    The courts failed to intervene and impose any balance in sexully biased Muslim personal laws.
    Why the court look into Quran and Hadith and try to interpret them? Are they competent to do it? It is the job of religious scholars to look into it. Courts should only examine whether the personal laws pass the test of fundamental rights as per constitution.

    1. Prashant,
      My understanding is that English common law is the law of the land in India unless contradicted by the Indian constitution or Indian laws. That is the source of laws about gays and lesbians in India.

      Ancient Indian law (such as Dharma Shastra or Manu Smriti) to my knowledge doesn’t discriminate against Gays and Lesbians.

      You are right of course that India imposes Sharia law on Indian muslims which has greatly harmed LBGTQ Indian muslims.

        1. Not in any real way. Anan is an idiot.

          Homosexuality is still a criminal offense in India, per section 377 of the criminal code, dating back to the 1860s. Criminal law is “secular” in that the same rules apply to all religious communities. Not secular in that the British wrote the law informed by the religious attitudes of the time.

          Anglo- Muhammadan family law (what Indian mistakenlycall sharia), a mix of statute and case law dating back to the 1830s (and split into three parallel and different streams in the 3 successor states of British India), governs inheritance, divorce, adoption, and a few other matters (e.g religious trusts).

          Gay Muslims cannot marry in India under Muslim marriage laws, but they can’t under the Hindu, Christian, or Parsi law either.

  5. I’m not sure we disagree much. But two points below:

    1)You have the mistaken view that a difference in actions is required for exclusionary identity. It is not.

    American whites can hate American blacks, despite eating the same BBQ and watching the same football teams. Group identity can be built around almost nothing.

    To be even more clear: Hindu identity can be built around hating muslims, even when there is not a single action in the Muslim community that cannot also be found among some Hindu group.

    2) I’m not sure why you had such a (metaphorically) violent reaction to the idea that the BJP does well when it abets killing muslims — or, to be less inflamatory, when it polarizes the political environment on a muslim-hindu axis, using murder. It’s pretty obvious.

    The party has improved it’s standing after every paroxysm of anti Muslim hate. The 1993 Babri masjid riots created the short lived 1996 Vajpayee gvt. The 2002 Gujarat pogrom gave Modi an increased majority. The Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013 gave us the worst yogi east of jellystone. And next on the hit list is west Bengal — see article.

    (To forestall the inevitable whataboutism: yes other parties use murder to win elections as well — INC after the anti Sikh pogrom of 1984. And the BJP could win without killing -it is a sufficient but not necessary condition.)

    Just to note I’d be thrilled to be wrong. Do you have any examples of anti Muslim riots abetted by the BJP that did not improve the party’s political standing? Is killing muslims ever a losing political strategy for Saffronists in today’s India?

    1. The 2002 Gujarat pogrom gave Modi an increased majority.

      Generally agree, but I just want to point out that BJP lost nationally after the 2002 Gujarat violence – leading to an entire decade of Manmohan-led government.

      I also think you should not treat BJP (which has some genuinely sensible leaders) as synonymous with Hindu authoritarian right. BJP is a broad church (and came to power precisely because it broadened its appeal) and there’s a lot of internal conflict within it. Cannot simply use it as a proxy for Hindutva, though it has significant overlap.

      1. I agree with Slapstik and I give Bhagalpur violence of 1989 as an another example. I want to add one more point that everyone seems to be missing here. It’s not that all communal riots are instigated by the BJP or I should say actually the RSS workers. In fact in many cases, the Muslim community started the rioting and killing first and largely due to the apathy of the police in India it got worse for them later on. Both Godhra and Mumbai riots are two examples. During Mumbai and Bhagalpur riots, the ruling party was Congress at the state level and they controlled the police.

        1. I find Muslims, as a whole, haven’t unfortunately adopted Gandhian non-violence as their primary instrument for civil rights..

          1. To be honest, most of the Indians have forgotten non-violence. Sometimes it’s really sad to see people resorting to violence in India so quickly over very minor issues. I feel that Indian society (if I could also include people of subcontinent) could be suddenly quite violent while being quite tolerant at other times. I think people do remember teachings of some great people in the subcontinent about compassion and forgiveness but not always.

          2. Isn’t India one of the least policed and least violent countries in the world per capita? Most Indian villages have next to no police and little violence. India also happens to have 1.35 billion people.

            There is a huge difference between lived reality and sensational media coverage.

      2. The reason Modi is popular in Gujarat is I think because of good governance, low corruption and rapid economic growth. The BJP won a large percentage of the muslim vote in Gujarat in the last election if you believe the polls.

        What I am curious about is the breakdown of the typical muslim BJP voter. The stereotype is that the BJP wins a lot of Sufi, twelver Shia, sixer Ishaeli Shia, Ahmedia votes but doesn’t do as well among conservative Sunnis. But I haven’t seen good polling about this. If anyone has such polling data, could you please share it?

    2. This is why I say nobody read history carefully. Others have given examples.
      BJP consistently lost on Andhra Pradesh until they specifically came up with a caste-based alliance (Venkaiah Naidu + Chandra Babu Naidu against Rajashekar Reddy of Congress. FYI: Naidu and Reddy are caste names).

      Because of Babri Masjid is specifically that’s why Vajpayee government was so short lived. It is a glass half-full vs. glass half-empty situation.

      I see it as a proud Andhra Pradesh voter who decidedly rejected BJP because of their stupid Rathyatra. Here, look at the election map, is the South looking saffron to you?,_1996#/media/File:Wahlergebnisse_Indien_1996.svg

      You see 13-day government as an achievement for something P.V. Narasimha Rao (then Prime Minister with limited majority trying to save his government to implement his economic vision) has strategically let happen.

      Between 1990-1995, two major Hindu-Muslim riots and killings happened in Hyderabad, India because Congress decided change their chief minister. Guess who came to power later?
      Decidedly not BJP (lost two seats too).,_1994


    Could part of the negativity against the BJP and Hindutva be a sectarian response to their friendship with Shia? Do some fear that the BJP and Hindutva by getting so much support from muslims are trying to organize an intra muslim fitna (civil war). If so I don’t think this is the intent. Most Hindus are clueless about the many different currents within Islam.

    Hinduism isn’t an exclusivist faith, but a secular universalist one. Aren’t Hinduism, pluralism, diversity and secularism more or less synonymous? Why are some threatened by Hindu symbols? Most Hindus genuinely don’t understand why some would be threatened by them. Especially since Hindus love to include symbols from every other religion in their Puja rooms, alters and temples. Side bets can’t hurt.

    When Hindus say that all religions are the same or one; this is because that is what they believe. This is one of the reasons for such confusion when other faiths don’t agree.

    1. Isn’t it ironic that you pick an American to explain Hinduism?? I could agree with some of your assertions about the tolerance shown by Hindus towards the other religions but I should also remind you that Hindus (high-castes) exploited their fellow Hindus (low-castes) for centuries with impunity and without any compunction…And worse in many parts of India they still do. This I saw while growing up in a rural village in North India where I spent 18 years of my life. So you should be a bit cautious while glorifying Hinduism…

    2. When its not even agreed upon that “hinduism” describes a coherent religion, its no great credit to attribute to this ill-defined thing the virtue of being theologically tolerant. What we do know is that the upper and middle castes of hindu society practice radical intolerance in matters of social custom. The cruel expression of that intolerance is analogous to the ideological violence we see in other parts of the world.

      1. girmit, I think “Hinduism” or “Sanathana Dharma” or the “Eastern faiths” are coherent; although not a “religion” the way the Abrahamic faiths are.

        Around 2600 years ago; they could have been described as those traditions linked to the 10 eastern Darshanas (philosophies):

        –[Samkhya’s subset] Yoga,
        Purva Mimamsa
        –[Purva Mimamsa’s subset] Uttara Mimamsa [also known as “Vendanta” . . . almost all Hindus formally belong to this school, while also adopting part or all of the other 9 Darshanas, and in many cases parts of other faiths elsewhere in the world]

        Of course since then the eastern faiths have expanded out quite a bit and these newer currents such as Sikhism also belong to the Sanathana Dharma tradition. In some ways Saint Mathews Christianity, Sufism are affiliated with the eastern traditions while remaining loyal to their Abrahamic roots.

        Zorastrianism is an interesting case. Iran (land of the Aryas) was probably Hindu at the time of Zoraster. However, Zoraster might have intended to represent change.

        Part of the confusion is because Hinduism has no word for “religion”. It is assumed that there are as many paths to enlightenment as there are people and that all paths might be true. This is why Gandhi claimed to be a Muslim, Christian and Jew. This is a typically Hindu way of thinking.

        I would argue that Hinduism is not “theologically tolerant”. Hinduism represents deep respect for other ideas and other paths. Every person and all inanimate and animate matter and antimatter in the universe is thought to be divine . . . or God . . . depending on how one views it. Of course “God” is what happens when our limited minds encounter the “truth”. The reality is far beyond what minds can conceive. This is why there have been many atheistic Hindus for over 10,000 years too; and they are very much accepted within the eastern tradition.

        “What we do know is that the upper and middle castes of hindu society practice radical intolerance in matters of social custom” Why do you think this? Of course in a population of over a billion people there will always be bad apples.

        In the east there is a saying: “tell me your friends and I will tell you who you are”. As a result people seek good company. Sometimes this effort for good company goes off the rails leading to abuse. People often avoid anyone they don’t know just in case they might be bad company.

        “The cruel expression of that intolerance is analogous to the ideological violence we see in other parts of the world.” Why do you think this?

        Naveen Kumar, why is it ironic for a caucasian person to be a Hindu? Anyone can be a Hindu if they want to be. Hinduism is by Karma or action rather than by birth.

        Dr. David Frawley is in many ways a more spiritual Hindu than most Hindus. By action he would be similar to a Kshatriya . . . someone with a balance of Sathwik Guna and Rajas Guna. Dr. Frawley is involved in the world of politics . . . the realm of Kshatriyas.

        Brahmins are those who are Sahwik Guna predominant by character.
        Vaishyas are those that are Rajas Guna and Tamas Guna predominant by character.
        Shudras are those that are Tamas Guna predominant by character.

        The Varnas (qualities of people or division of labor) are by action in many parts of the Sanathana Dharma scripture versus by birth.

        If you are asking why South Asians honor and respect light skinned people of European ancestry so much; that is something I have wondered all my life. Maybe because south Asian minds are colonized and afflicted with inferiority complexes?

        Naveen, can I ask where in India you saw the exploitation of low caste people? I would argue that this was not exploitation since the high caste people economically hurt themselves by mistreating low caste people. Everyone should be treated as divine and God; with the deepest love and respect. Especially if we are avoiding them, or they are our enemy, or they are bad. Perhaps some of this misbehavior is because very few Hindus have studied spiritual texts or have had the company of spiritual seekers the way Dr. Frawley has.

        The place with the worst treatment of Harijans/Dalits that I have seen is in Kerala; but since I have only visited Kerela for very short trips I don’t want to generalize.

        1. If you really believe that caste based exploitation doesn’t exist in India then I really don’t know what should I say to you…Btw I come from UP. And if everything is by karma then why we assign caste at birth in India?

          1. Bigotry generally harms the bigot more than the person bigotry is directed towards. I don’t agree with the concept of “exploitation” because it is lose lose. Yes there is a challenge with caste-ism. Caste-ism doesn’t appear in the eastern scriptures (Hinduism only has Varna and Jati; not “Caste”). “Caste” was invented by Europeans and then imposed on South Asia by Europeans. “Caste” came to become a calcified living reality because of colonialism.

            Thanks for sharing your living experience in UP. Did you find caste a challenge in people’s businesses and careers? My own observation of India is that caste is generally not a factor in business and careers in most of urban India. Although it might still exist in some rural areas that I am not familiar with.

            My anecdotal observation of India . . . which might be totally unrepresentative . . . is that class (based on socio-economic characteristics) is a much, much bigger challenge in India than Caste. Among young people discrimination and arrogance based on academic excellence, intelligence and knowledge is a much bigger challenge than Caste. Poverty is a much bigger challenge than Caste. Cliquism based on ethnicity and sectarianism (Parsi vs. Marvari vs. Gujarati vs. Kashmiri vs. Tamilian vs. Andhra vs. Bengali vs. Twelver vs. Sunni vs. various Christian/Hindu factions and denominations against co-religionists etc.) is a much bigger challenge than caste. Nasty over the top politics is a bigger challenge than caste. Pride based on knowledge, intelligence, materialistic achievement, and spiritual achievement is a vastly, vastly greater challenge than Caste. For the most part Caste exists mostly among the older generation which is dying off.

            Of course every country has idiots and Bharat is no exception. Bharat has the best people in the world; many of the most spiritually evolved people alive; and most of the biggest demons in the world too. A lot of older generation Indian men are extremely arrogant and proud about their greatness (academics, intelligence, wisdom, careers, and spiritual attainment) and extremely dismissive towards those they regard as beneath them. India is number 1 in spirituality, greatness, corruption and proud older male jerks. Of course India also has tens of millions of extremely accomplished sweet loving spiritual humble older men too.

            I think a lot of older Hindu men don’t know much about Hindu scriptures or spiritual experience; or why they do what they do religiously. As a result they insult those who ask questions . . “mind your own business” . . .”how does it matter” . . . “clear your mind of questions” . . . “shut up” . . . “what do you know” . . . “respect your elders, we know more than you”. I once heard a 16 year old Indian girl ask a question about women’s dharma . . . the older wise Indian male spiritual figure dismissively said . . . “you don’t have to worry about that yet”. The crowd cheered the older man insult the 16 year old Indian girl. These are probably the type of people who engage in caste craziness. They don’t know much.

            Naveen, I look forward to learning more about your observation about how caste operates in UP now.

            “And if everything is by karma then why we assign caste at birth in India?” Caste is not by birth. Any Hindu or any non Hindu if they follow Brahmin Dharma [which are stringent and difficult to follow daily] can get a sacred thread and become a Brahmin. If they are truly spiritually sincere; almost all religious spiritual Hindus will respect them [Most Hindus are not religious spiritual].

            A spiritual master can come from any caste, no caste or another religion altogether. They can have any type of crazy parentage and upbringing. Once they are enlightened, Hindus will fall at their feet in the millions. Those who are spiritually great will always be far beyond any caste system. This is why great Sufi masters and great Christian spiritual people are so revered by Hindus across the board. I was at Ajmer and Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia Dargah less than a year ago. Both of these places are overrun by Hindus. So is Shirdi.

            “And if everything is by karma then why we assign caste at birth in India?” Eastern faiths believe that one’s birth circumstances are greatly influenced by past life Karma. As a result a rich loving person’s daughter has fairly earned her wealth and loving parentage by virtue of her past life karma; and we should not begrudge her for it.

            Slapstik, you are a genius. Always love your comments. 🙂 Sorry I am not as pithy and concise as you. 😉 I am trying to learn from you. Yup I blew it with even longer comments this time. :LOL:

          2. I forgot to mention, male misogyny against young woman among some older Indian men (but not most) is an enormous problem. Many but not most older Indian men do not treat young woman with sufficient respect. I have noticed this from early childhood and have no idea where it comes from; certainly not any Hindu spiritual texts.

            Now some young Indian men (not most) in Delhi, Agra, and some other North Indian cities also behave like animals towards young women too. It is incredibly embarrassing, a national disgrace; and much worse than it use to be one, two or three generations ago. I have no idea where this has come from either.

            I would argue that male misogeny is a bigger problem in India by far than caste.

  7. @ Anan

    What you write is merely a theory, maybe good for academic discussions. The ground reality is far away from it…It’s laughable that an alleged past life consideration can override your big claims about the castes in India. It also makes your arguments sound so shrill and devoid of any logic.

    Yes, male misogeny is a problem in whole India and it’s not just limited to North India. I think you should shun your preconceptions and get to know the ground reality a bit better.

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