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The Riddle of Secularism And Modi’s India

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“One of the greatest dangers is secular religion- state worship.” – Noam Chomsky

There are many words and notions used ambiguously by the media and a certain line of intellectuals. With time and some creative diplomacy various desired meanings are poured into their molds. And it seems Noam Chomsky is not far behind, except perhaps, secularism is really a religion and disguised state worship.

Secularism and Religion have often been propagandized and misused and in this case not just by the media. The deceptive use of semantics reveals more than just any propaganda- it’s of a dangerous sort-the general idea of these seems to be shifting towards a more aggressive form even in the words of a layman.

While Religion makes easy prey for some bad press, it seems secularism has wrought upon itself similar reputation among independent thinkers and research. There’s substantial amount of criticism even from agnostics who question its ethical dimensions- the way it intrudes into daily life and takes a very reductive approach for its citizens.

Recently, the Pew Research Centre reported a surge in “government harassment and use of force against religious groups.” But from history’s standpoint, this isn’t anything alien to secularism, which in itself was a ‘new experiment’ violently established to get rid of the power of the church. There were two crucial things the new secularists then couldn’t do without- Propaganda and Force. And along with the power of the church, thousands of their innocent followers- mostly peasants- who had nothing to do with the politics of the church, were executed or lynched by mobs. They were peaceful people who just happened to get their heads chopped off because of their belief in a religion the new ruling power was now aggressively opposed to. It was violence against violence. Or, as Karen Armstrong puts it, “…. secularization began with dispossession, humiliation and marginalisation.

Although now quite refined, it cannot be denied that the secularist idea time and again draws upon this very prejudice, where anything opposing religion is deemed to be patriotic or progressive despite obvious hints of disguised religious persecution. A ‘modest rise in global religious restrictions’ is portrayed to be far less threatening than ‘religion-related terrorism’ that is largely based on loose facts and sources with glaring inconsistencies. Religious groups are often excluded, cannily stereotyped, and huddled with an erratic minority of violent religious fundamentalists. A harmless religious majority has been singled out as enemy for a common secular cause of peace and security. Incessant drumming of this calumniation since school has obscured all reality and the winners in this race of hate are the self- professed heroes who exhort ‘peace’ and yet are profoundly anti-religious.

The Oxford States:

“No word in either Greek or Latin corresponds to the English ‘religion’ or ‘religious’. Our modern definition of religion is a rootless idea shaped by the ideals of secularism. Traditionally, religion was so naturally intimate with human nature that it was unimaginable to shove it into a separate sphere of life. But somehow, the modernists, with their modern view of religion, expected men to keep their religious beliefs- that ran in their blood- behind shut doors while they continued to publicly march with their freedom of outright irreverence and disbelief. And this reverberates in our present societies where secularism in the minds of radical secularists means utter disregard for individual or religious choices enabling none but themselves to participate in a civil society free from some imagined religious violence. This facet of secularism is predatory and feeds off the constitutional right to live and speak in accordance with one’s religious tenets. The adage of live and let live just doesn’t seem to ring a bell.

When Harry Farley wrote on the French Burkini ban, he needled the French secularists saying, “The fundamental problem with secularism is it completely fails to understand the significance of religion to someone’s identity. Asking someone of faith to keep it private is like asking them to keep their childhood private. It’s like asking someone to ignore the fact they were adopted. Or ignore the fact they are married. For a religious person their faith is a fundamental part of who they are. Asking them not to let it influence their decisions in public life is nonsensical.” He then explains how ‘unstable and volatile’ a secular society is “because religious people feel they do not have a seat at the table… The much prized laïcité is now nothing but barely disguised Islamophobia. And Muslims know they are not welcome.”

If it’s not Islamophobia, it’s another phobia targeting another religious group. It’s nothing short of breathtaking to see radical secularists and atheists go ballistic at ‘religious apologetics’ and chastise them for seeking ‘special treatment’. Sadly much of their paranoia revolving around the despised fear-word is based off on anecdotes and hate and suspicion. If we go from perceptions to facts and figures, it is ‘greed, unbalanced power and causeless hatred- not religion- …the causes of most wars, and eliminating these should be our focus.” And the gospel truth that most people with religious identities are law abiding citizens is lost in the ambush of their woefully ignorant rant.

This madness is symptomatic of how their minds work and how regressive their ideology is.

State Worship

But for the patriots believing in secularism is quintessential to being a good citizen. With a religious identity it seems we fall short of that utopian vision and any disagreement with the decision of the state would be horrendous. Chomsky calls such patriots ‘religious fanatics’– “They happen to believe in state religion, which is much more dangerous than other religions, for the most part. So they…happen to be defenders of the state religion, namely the religion that says we have to support the violence and atrocities of our own state because its being done for all sorts of wonderful reasons, which is exactly what everyone says in every state. It’s just another religion.”

It seems even the pioneers of secularism drew a line between their own rights and the rights of religious groups. In other words, they were more assertive of their newly found secular rights than they were of the fundamental rights of the ‘others’. Similarly, they enjoyed and boasted their own right to freedom of perhaps everything than others who continued to struggle for their freedom of religion or any sort of verbal expression for that matter. This is consonant with what was done with the human rights of the blacks, those of the indigenous people and the rights of the slaves and the reverberations can be felt even today, where ‘religious rights’ can, quite literally, go to hell.

Not so coincidentally, those who laid the foundations of secularism were also ‘white’ who didn’t mind owning the lives of their slaves or ransacking lands by force in the shade of secularism. It is but a ‘white’ ideology.

Indian Secularism

Even though the current state of affairs in our country indicates a skewed form of secularism in practice- a smattering of this and that- as is convenient, we can find exact prototypes of Modi and the like in John Locke, the inspiring force behind early secularism. Dubbed the ‘apostle of toleration’ he “was adamant that the liberal state could tolerate neither Catholics nor Muslims, condemning their confusion of politics and religion as dangerously perverse.” The Father of Liberation was indeed being rhetorical, revealing his deeper paranoid fears. There was no will to extend the non-violence of secularism to the society given the thinly caped references to religion just as our amendments to the citizenship laws where ‘religious markers were always present; they just became more intelligible with successive changes.’

Keeping in mind the present government machinery that feigns no remorse for its victims, and the recent foreign tryst with a mass murderer, recounting their religious crimes is hardly necessary. Ever hell bent on decimating the ‘others’ inside, they concoct silly questions- ‘Are you a Muslim first or an Indian?’ And when the country’s educated and laymen, both pose the same question to their counterparts, nodding in approval of such a government, what does it portend for India’s future? In the words of Khushwant Singh, Indian Secularism is ‘only notional- naam ke vaastey.’

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