Secularism… The Historical Perspective

Published December 3, 2014 by vishalvkale

There is a very interesting narrative, or a series of questions that are being raised in some random media articles and social media updates : that of secularism in India, and how the appeasement of minorities is a signal that we are not really secular, or are pseudo-secular; calling for true equality. This is a very sensitive topics at the best of times, and it pains me to see such views analysed on a short time-window of the past few years, and opinions stated therefrom. 

I myself dont know where to start; for this is not such a simple matter. It has many layers of issues and many parameters to be considered. On top of that, we have to studiously avoid the powerful self-incentive to take a majoritarian Hindu view, and analyse dispassionately based on agreed parameters. Many interesting points have been raised above; but, as I observed earlier, these are views taken on a snapshot of time, and are thus a victim of recency bias, or a limited horizon bias. 

The full range of issues that need consideration in this matter, as occur to me, are : 

1) The historical perspective : society isn’t a standing lake; it is a flowing river. Events in the past have repercussions deep into the future in the form of hurt, anger, impressions, pride, views, attitudes, fears, desires, norms, expectations etc. One cannot ignore this reality during policy formulation on matters that deal with societal issues. Past events modulate the societal responses to present circumstances through the above highlighted aspects in addition to memory and perceived gain or loss. Past events are also the foundation on which the present is made and built. 

2) The Constitutional Perspective 

3) The Current Minority Perspective : it doesn’t matter what Hindus want; in this matter, it is far more critical to analyse what the minority wants 

4) The Majority Trends : Note that I did not state perspective. The majority perspective is completely unimportant insofaras it will have precisely zero bearing on the actions to be taken on the ground. It is far more important to understand trends; the trends are what will set off a reaction – positive or negative – in the minority communities. Since the majority has tacit protection by virtue of being in a massive majority, its opinions are completely unimportant; and need not be taken into consideration except for reasons of understanding the current societal trends. The majority has precisely no locus standi on this issue, ethically or morally. Perhaps even constitutionally, although of that I am not so sure. In fact, it would be deadly dangerous to give any weightage to majority views, and is thus to be completely avoided. The majority is protected, and has no fears by virtue of being in a majority. 

5) The international Perspective 

6) The Security Perspective 

My blog isnt the right place for point numbers 2, & 3; I shall  not state my views in these; for wont of adequate knowledge. Points 4 & 5 will be taken up in the second part of this article. For this part, let us take a look at the historical perspective in detail so as to enable a fuller understanding


Let us take a small step back in time, to the 17th Century and the 18th Century. During this phase, there is no hint of any Hindu Muslim discord, no evidence of deep seated antipathy, even during the time of Aurangzeb, when persecution of Hindus had arguably increased. The reason was the co-option of Hindus in the mainstream political leadership i.e. the ruling classes and nobles. A second vital reason was, conversion stress apart, there was little or no attempt to meddle with the religion of the land; the Islamic emphasis was on seclusion of Islam from other sects; and the denial of high office to Hindus. Even this last bit proved difficult to implement, as Islamic power depended on Hindu Warriors and Kingdoms in no small measure, 

The vital aspect here is the non-intervention in the religion of the people. There was no attempt to sow discord within the two communities; either community could grow rich and prosper, and the religion of the incumbent made no difference in matters of general trade and livelihood. Either community was free to do as they pleased; only difference being Islamic followers obviously had greater clout and chances of political power. But the underlying trade and daily livelihood, cultural practices were not interfered with.

Move to 1947 – and you have widespread rioting and mutual hatred – something that was not achieved even when the Islamic empires were ruling India. Why and how did this happen? How did two communities, that had adjusted and learnt to live with each other, come to such a pass with mutual hatred and distrust, so much so that the land of Aryavarta, the land of Bharat, the land of India was torn asunder into 5 units? {5 counting Afghanistan and Nepal, which moved apart much earlier and due to other reasons}. 

What happened in the intervening 250 years to change the scenario? 

Answer : a series of incidents, let lose by a bunch of uncivilized amoral brutes with no appreciation of Indian realities. 

The British…

The loss of Political Power let lose a series of movements in Islam, with the rise of Wahhabi and other related thoughts, the increasing soul-searching among Islamic scholars with thinkers ranging from Al-Afghani to Kemal Ataturk. The increasing influence of these thinkers was to prove pivotal in shaping future events in many spheres of life; but that is another story, not fully relevant here. 

What is relevant is that there was a sea-change in the foundation on which life was based in India. The loss of primary position in power was a massive hit to many Islamic scholars and people of those days, leading to soul-searching. The first casualty was the denunciation of what some people called the softer version of Islam that was prevalent in the Subcontinent as a series of interactions with the local people let in changes in practices. This was replaced by an emphasis on purer Islam, in its pristine Arabic Version. The voices in support of this increased. 

This went hand-in-hand with a demand from some voices from within the community to identify itself with the stronger British community, emulate them and thus purge the softness in Islam. The voices started demanding a push to modernise Islamic people, as the Hindus were percieved to be faster in adjusting to the new requirements. 

This is the chain of thoughts that was eventually to lead to the demand for Pakistan. There was another vital ingredient – the non-existent Hindu religion. 

There was, and is, no such thing as a “Hindu”. The term Hindu was a short form of Hindustani, which referred to people beyond the river Indus. The real name for our religion does not exist – for we do not have a religion. We have a way of life, a series of norms, behaviours, responsibilities and duties prescribed as a part of the journey of life. 

The religious aspects were contained in the scriptures- The Vedic Texts, The Upanishads, The Puranic Texts, The Ramayan, The Mahabharat and other ancient literature. The trinity etc were all part of what we may now call Sanaatan Dharm.  British interference led to the crystallization of these set of thoughts into one monolith that we now call Hinduism, which is a purely British construct. Unpalatable though this may be, this is a pure statement of fact : The term Hindu and Hinduism are relatively recent in origin. 

In 1857, both communities fought side by side; in 1947, there were Hindu-Muslim riots. How this unity was destroyed by political subterfuge, in a rare display of acumen, intelligence, planning and foresight by a people not known for even one of these qualities forms the rest of this long story. 

Suffice it to state that The British singlehandedly destroyed the unity in the two communities, using the above identified fault-lines, namely : 

1) Islamic self-blaming, and desire to identify with the British 
2) Their reputation in British eyes of being a warrior race 
3) Hindu forward-looking adaptability to situations 
4) Increasing hardline thoughts in Islam, and the desire for power 

5) Divergent and incompatible traditions

One common strand in the preamble above is the rising feeling of loss of power in Muslim Intelligentsia, leading to a series of self-questioning introspective thinkers like Syed Ahmed Khan and others of his ilk. This was combined with 2 diametrically opposite forces – one was a movement for a purer Islam, and the other for reform and modernisation in Islam. This eventually led to a cry of Islam in danger {there were other powerful reasons not relevant to this discussion; I am just establishing the background here}. 

The important point here is that by the turn of the century, Islamic scholars and leaders were convinced that Islam was in need of protection and/or reform. The yearning feeling of lost power added fuel to the fire. These are among the factors that eventually were to lead to the fear that in a majority Hindu democratic nation, Islamic voices would get drowned out – leading to a demand for separate electorates. At least, these are the 2 factors that are critical to us in our hunt to understand Secularism in the Indian context. It is important to note that while the faultlines were internal, they were cruelly exploited by The Raj, giving birth to a raging inferno : An inferno even the creators could not control…

On a parallel note, the more questioning and open nature of Sanaatan Dharm meant that Hindus were relatively faster to adjust to the new realities, and take advantage of the opportunities offered by collusion with The Raj. While Islamic thought was introspective, and various forces were unleashed by The Raj, similar forces were not stoked within the Sanaatani Vichardhaaraa. 

The opposite happened- The Raj led to the hardening of a diverse set of beliefs and thoughts, ranging from Shaiv to Vaishnav, from Dvait to Advait all coming together into one indivisible whole – Enter Hinduism! There were unintended side-effects; the caste equations and realities were torn apart, leading to a hardened casteism of the kind we see today. Ours Arts were targeted and nearly destroyed; culture was targeted and a feeling of inferiority imposed in the Sanaatani mind, giving rise to an existing feeling that a lot was wrong with Sanaatani thoughts, and that the religion {which it wasnt, and isnt} needs reform – which it didnt then, and doesnt now. There was a plan to convert India to Christianity, and raise a European element in India; these were the forces that led to 1857, which was never a revolt, which was never a mutiny; which was never a war of kings against The Raj, as eyewitness accounts and period documents reveal. 

Entire beliefs we hold today have precisely no basis in reality – like Sati, with whose eradication The Raj had precisely nothing to do; by the time of the decleration of the famous Sati law, it was already a dead practice, as The Raj records themselves show. Similar is the case with corruption, arts, culture, caste etc; Modern India, the India we see today is diametrically opposed to the lovely and lofty idyllic land it used to be before the British, as again period documents make crystal clear. This is not a tall statement, but a statement of simple fact. Everything ill we see today was born in The Raj,.. 

The point of relevance here is the divergence in the trendlines of the two communities, and their growth and movement, led by their respective leaders. The other major point of relevance is the rising feeling of alienation and persecution fears in a united India among some Islamic scholars. This is the critical point in all of this long history I have mentioned above; these points were what have led to what India is today on a community perspective.

And it is in this cauldron that 2 forces colluded – Mohammad Ali Jinnah and The Raj. The feeling of fear of being lost in a sea of majority was exploited brutally by these 2 forces, with Islam in Danger becoming a rallying cry. 

The entire detailed background above essential to establish the basis for the modern day, which is what I am now coming to, 

The net result of the above was that the Muslim Majotity provinces – which, due to their majority factor, had no fear in a united India – getting Pakistan, leaving leaderless the entire Muslim community in an independent India. This problem was further exacerbated by the migration of a majority of Muslim leaders to Pakistan post independence. Luckily for India, enough community leaders remained within India, to give it direction and a hope. This was to prove vital for us, as time has shown. 

Point to be noted : the fear of being drowned, which I have painstakingly traced right till its origins in the 18th century, would have been kindled and redoubled had we not gone in for what some people like to call minority appeasement. It was a masterstroke; any attempt to enforce common laws would have led to disaster, for which there was a precedent. It would have strengthened Pakistan’s claim that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together. It would have given them a fertile ground to spread discontent among Indian Muslims. 

For, it was precisely this discontent, more accurately fear, that was exploited by Jinnnah, Linlithgow, Wavell to create Pakistan…

And with that, we arrive at Independent India; please keep this article in mind, as we will link back to it in the vital second part of this write-up…

Please note : The above are my opinions based on the more than several books I have read and reviewed on my blog {as well as some I havent mentioned on my blog}; as well as the regular media coverage during the past few years. The above is an honest attempt to clear the air, and I would like to apologise for any hurt feelings that I may have caused. If I have erred anywhere, please comment so that I may correct the same…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: