Whose India Is It? by Gautam Adhikari (edit Pg TOI) October 31st 2015
Today’s intolerant hordes would do well to read the Constitution, plus Vivekananda
Clouds are gathering over the idea of India, threatening to shut out the sun of liberal democracy. The light of liberalism opens minds. It shines on debate and diversity. It radiates tolerance. That is how the founding fathers of the nation saw it. So, they wanted India to be liberal and tolerant.
They wrote a Constitution proclaiming ‘liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship’ as a founding principle of this republic. Today, there’s a growing anxiety in the air, an anxiety about the life of that principle. People in India, as well as in other parts of the world, have begun to wonder: Is India tolerant? Is it safe to live or travel in those swathes of the country where the beast of intolerance prowls? Is it safe to dine in public if you eat meat and fish?
Is it a safe home for a Christian or a Muslim or a Buddhist or an atheist or even a Hindu of any shade different from the one declared as exclusively authentic by the marauding mobs of Hindutva? Will it turn into a Pakistan, where if you don’t surrender to an exclusive brand of Islam as defined by the radicals, being a Muslim by faith is no longer enough to ensure safety? Ask a Shia or an Ahmadiyya or a liberal. Jinnah himself won’t qualify to be Islamic in today’s Pakistan.
Just as Gandhi and Tagore and, yes, even Vivekananda would blink in disbelief at the kind of India demanded by today’s intolerant hordes. It won’t be possible to enter into a detailed discussion in this space but here are two thoughts for consideration: One, India is not a Hindu nation, not even a ‘Hindu-majority’ country in constitutional terms. Two, Hinduism can be seen as a way of life or a portmanteau term to describe a civilisation. It’s not a single-faith dogma.
On Point One, the framers of the secular Constitution were careful to avoid any reference to Hinduism as a requirement for citizenship. Article 25 assures citizens ‘freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion’, which means any religion. Sub-clause 2(b) mentions Hindu religious institutions only in the context of the state’s ability to provide ‘for social welfare and reform’ and explains ‘Hindus’ here to mean also Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists.
Clearly, the founding fathers were determined to ensure that India would not be a Pakistan, which had been created solely as a home for Muslims. India would be a democratic, secular entity in which people of any faith or no faith would be able to pursue their preferred way of life or religion. Unless there is any highly unlikely move to throw out the Constitution and rewrite its basic tenets, it would remain totally unconstitutional to call India a Hindu nation.
Although the census might say that India contains a majority of persons who describe themselves as Hindu, it remains a constitutionally secular republic which does not officially recognise any religious identity as a defining characteristic of an Indian. In fact, among those who say they are Hindu by faith or custom there exists such a range of belief and practice that, in a sense, every single religious sect, caste and ethnic group can be considered a ‘minority’ in a secular India which does not recognise any section of its diverse population as dominant. The Jains and the Sikhs saw this as a door to get minority status. Others, like dalits, can as well.
Point Two. Indians have just two secular faiths in which all communities, castes and ethnic groups believe: Bollywood and cricket. The religious picture, especially of Hinduism, reflects myriad realities. Even Diwali, assumed to be the quintessentially Hindu festival, is an occasion when Bengalis and eastern Indians worship a blood-drunk Kali, not sweet Lakshmi. Navratri in Gujarat has little connection with Dussehra in north India even as they happen at the same time.
And, vegetarianism is not, repeat not, a required Hindu practice. Going by available surveys, a minority of Indians are vegetarian, including a minority of Hindus. Not even Hindu brahmins are all vegetarian. Kashmiri and eastern Indian brahmins eat meat and fish. And ancient Hindus merrily ate beef after sacrificing bulls way back then.
If you don’t believe me, read the literature. For spiritual endorsement, read Vivekananda.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.