Could a Muslim be a secularist?
Public memory is very short and we have ignored an important political event in the form of a statement by Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray recently...
Thackeray has recommended that he should be awarded a Bharat Ratna. There are usual brickbats on the statement of both Thackeray and, interestingly, even on Ali Khan. The Ajmer Dargah, according to some scholars, is a symbol of the composite culture of India. Being a secularist, I visited the Ajmer Dargah during one of my official tours. I found a lot of our Hyderabadi culture in and around the Dargah and felt very happy that we have our share in this glory.
The criticism against a Muslim head for his patriotism, and his offensive against another Muslim simply on an emotional tip about his Motherland is found to be really arcane. A This is contrary to the stereotyping of Muslims. In fact, religion never united Muslims. Otherwise, we would not have seen Bangladesh or the Arab problem.
Why is it that our so-called secularists have not recognized the importance of the statement of Ali Khan, the Khadim, even if there were some theatrics? Are Muslims not qualified to be patriotic and remain secular in their approach to international relations? How has Modi become secular for Americans? In fact, most of our current debates on secularism are superb examples of political drama and intellectual disgust without practical programme of action to sustain secularism in a pluralistic country.
Then what is the harm in appreciating the khadim? The situation was different during the freedom movement. A Scholar-statesmen like MN Roy, BR Ambedkar and a forgotten Telugu bidda KB Krishna had provided sincere and honest analysis of the Muslim problem and the need for secularism in India.A KB Krishna, who taught Marxism to AK Gopalan in jail, was a Harvard University scholar who produced a dissertation on "Communal Representation in India' for his PhD degree.
He added some essays and published "The Problem of Minorities or communal Representation in India" in London in 1939. A After a survey of the situation in different countries in the British colonies, including Kenya, Krishna concluded that 'the only solution is to demand independence for India from British imperialism'.
He has analyzed that "Hinduism and Islam represent different stages of human development. The Islam of immigrant Moslems was divorced from its natural surroundings and transplanted to Indian surroundings. The association of Moslems with non-Moslem communities in different localities created different situations and outlooks. This also accounts, in addition to educational and economic factors, for cleavages of opinions and interests in the political classes of the same faith.
The differences between general Islam and Hinduism and between particular local Islam and Hinduism are expressed in the relationships of classes belonging to these faiths�.
"Moral ideas are the outcome of material needs. Religion is the organization of such moral ideas. A "At some stages of human development moral ideas and needs coincide. The contradictions between morality and practice are becoming deeper with the growth of class antagonisms." A Around the same period, MN Roy also expressed a similar opinion and lamented that we do not try to understand the conditions and the situation of our own Muslim neighbors and alienate them.
BR Ambedkar has in a way drawn some of his insightful thoughts from the experiences of Muslims and his dialogues with Jinnah and others. A He has narrated how 'every change, executive, administrative or legal inflicted a series of blows on the Muslim community'. A The exclusion of Muslims from political power was "the essence of the distinction" between the ruling group and the subject group.
Thus, he had an inexplicable longing for the Muslim community. Was it a historical slip that Ambedkar was allowed to embrace Buddhism rather than Islam, which he was at one time contemplating?
It also shows that Islam, compared to other religions, is far-off from open proselytization. In fact, religion is not a full- time activity of people, except of the priestly class, and most of the conflicts are confined to the vested interests amongst them. KB Krishna said that 'the Arab-Jew problem, like the Hindu-Muslim problem, is neither racial nor religious. It is a struggle between two classes belonging to different faiths accentuated by the political policy of imperialism'.
The imperialists have gone now and we do not know who has stepped into their boots? Abundant wisdom had gone into the Constituent Assembly debates in formulating certain Articles relating to the secular nature of the State. Though secularism is added as part of the Preamble during the Emergency, there was already a basic structure to entail secularism and socialism. The Constitution-makers were not guided by the medieval feudal practices of some Muslim or Hindu princes and even English officers having wives from different religious groups to declare their neutrality.
It was a depraved kind of approach to a serious issue that was later theorized as "Sarvadharma samabhava" by some disingenuous scholars. A In a country which was converted as a colony of several alien settlers and their belief systems, it was inevitable for the native Indians to absorb unfamiliar practices sometimes with persuasion and many a time with force.
Could it be due to their large-heartedness in embracing different faiths without any prejudice and still remaining at the bottom of society to guard it? Or is it their vulnerability? Otherwise, how can one think of respecting an animal that is adored by one community and abhorred by others? Our principle of equality of treatment of all religions does not work like this. It might operate among those classes or groups who were from the same stock, but spread into different faiths over a period of time and have come to an understanding to rule together.
This feudal business is gone and India has become a democratic and secular State. A Therefore, we need to practice rigorously what secularism stands for. It is neither atheism nor irreligiousness. It is detaching all personal beliefs and practices from public/ State functions, if someone represents the State. A It is not vulgar display of personal beliefs as we see frequently now. There is no other way as of now, and no public servant, including the judiciary, should be spared for violating this value. It is the principle of proportional representation in a democratic polity based on equality of economic opportunity, together with scientific temper that would ultimately make religious problems trivial .
Till then, we need to cultivate constantly the feeling of brotherhood in an unemotional environment to build a nation called India.