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Building a secular psyche a writers pain

secularism promotion ethnicity religion


The role of the public intellectual as per Salman Rushdie is, “simply point out things. Its up to the people to chose whether to do it or not”. However in India today we find that this role has to evoke wider responses of change. One such issue of concern is creation of communal harmony and developing a secular psyche. This is particularly so in a globalized and localized World signifying a post nation, post state epoch, the emerging contours of which are evident today and will significantly impact inter community relations. Let me deal with these issues separately. Global citizens as orbiting individuals are likely to seek solace in the ecclesiastical sanctuary of their religion, caste or creed. This will place a premium on secularism. However globalization is not a purely geographical phenomenon, it is a wider social and political trend. Globalization represents a process signifying the shift of man from his tribal, subterranean roots beyond the hearth, commune and village to an inclusive individual. Correspondingly secularism is a social process facilitated by communication, physical and linguistic, catalyzed by globalization. Secular philosophy denotes security of the social, cultural and political space and an inclusivist society as India has been over the millenniums. It is a society which is capable of tolerance of all shades of religious opinion, even if these are ideologically incendiary. The vituperative venom of Oriana Fallaci’s of this World is an aberration for the secularist. Secularists are not atheists but respect if not practice all shades of divinity, do not wear their religion, caste and creed on their sleeves and accept practices of variant beliefs with equanimity. Consummated concomitantly with economy and business, the social process of secularizing societies will gather favorable momentum. It represents the sanity achieved through dialogue rather than fissiparous tendencies. However polity is a competitor of secularism, for polity is an either or paradigm of confrontation. Discord will also surface where fissiparous forces feel marginalized by secular forces. There is thus inborn conflict between polity and secularism.

Globalization and secularism go hand in hand. The dyad of globalization and secularism will lead to development and progress. The United States of America is its most prominent example. United Kingdom is another post modern bastion of secularism and globalization, despite the London terror strikes. The Japanese are the only mono ethnic entity which has progressed through secular fostering of ideas with trade acting as a catalyst. South East Asian states and post Apartheid, South Africa are also leading examples of how globalization and secularism can affect progress. Secularism can be said to generate positive social forces which drives advancement. On the other hand states which have abandoned temporalism over the past two decades have regressed both socially as well as economically, be it Russia or the Balkans. These examples are a powerful argument for secularism in a globalised World.

Human group dynamics is the story of onionised cocoons of securing successive oysters. As the outer layer of group identity is peeled off another stratum emerges signifying human propensity to coagulate in closely knit social clusters finding fresh paradigms of affinity. We will also be fighting human proclivity for violence as a solution to social and political incongruities. The human penchant for negative spirals of calamity are fed by the religious orders which to ensure its own survival spreads canards which forsake a doomsday scenario in case their ideology is abandoned. This in turn creates collective self denial of positivism represented by secularism. Add to this the large band of drawing room secularists and bedroom fundamentalists who are modernists by force rather than by choice, the challenges to secularism will be self evident. We also tend to be obscurantist when it impacts our economic status. Witness the Shiv Sena which propagated the exclusivist political philosophy of Mumbai for Mumbaikars due to economic hardships faced by its core constituency, the Maharashtrians.

Globalization is a great personal and human challenge which pulls at ones economic, cultural as well as social moorings. It is likely to drive humans more towards religion for security in a World full of new segregations. An individual obsessive about his own religiosity is likely to fall prey to deviants such as the Mohammad Attas of this World. Illiberal idiots will always have their way as bigotry is easier to propagate then liberalism.
Globalization has raised living standards of large multitudes; however corresponding advancement in societal security has not been forthcoming due to lack of emotional, social and spiritual enrichment. Thus religious radicals are more likely to breed in affluent surroundings as that obtained in Bonn, London or Mumbai rather than the ghettos of yester years. In a globalized World, as the famed columnist Fareed Zakaria has brought out in a recent article, extremist ideology is a leisure time pursuit. The information, communication and knowledge World of instant messaging, broadband transfer of images, compressed data files and steganography have enabled fundamentalist ideologies, incubated in hard core seminaries, breeding deep-seated hatred through deviant interpretation of religious scriptures to prosper due to the free play offered by the global infostructure. The impact of deviant non secular ideologies is thus wide spread, witness the spread of terror since 9/11 from New York to Bali to Jeddah to Chechnya to Moscow to London.

Another of globalization’s challenge is economic threats which will affect a large segment of actively vocal and politically aware elements in society through reskilling required for jobs. Where the work force has successfully reskilled as in parts of Southern India, the threat of the youth taking to atypical ideologies collectively represented by non secularism has receded, however where no reskilling has taken place as in the madrasa oriented education in Islamic countries and particularly Pakistan, non secular forces hold sway and pose a grave physical threat to secular forces.

Secularism in modern India will imply humanism. It will be denoted by, “secuhumanism”, an admix of secularism and humanism. Humanism prioritizes human concerns over all others, politics, state, ethnicity, religion or creed. Bleeding heart issues in such a society will rule over social, political or ideological beliefs. Modern India will also be a globalized India. Globalization of Indians will not be a racial or economic phenomenon but will be denoted by transmutation of human values epitomized by Indian culture abroad. However recasting a society which has patterned itself in a casteist mould for over 1000 years would undoubtedly be an uphill task. The degree of difficulty is indicated by the fact that class divisions are not merely social but also political and economic. The feeble foundations of century’s deep casteist fundamentalism, ethnic divergence, linguistic chauvinism and religious divides are further affected by the export of communalism from our neighboring states as Pakistan and Bangladesh. Despite this India remains the great hope for building secular societies and will emerge as a global secularism hub.

At the level of the individual our challenge is to fill furrows of the mind with seeds of libertarian liberalism and bridge social chasms. The signs of change are already evident as is seen by acceptance of secular credentials of Jinnah by Mr L K Advani. It was a public acceptance of secularism as a base for a modern South Asia by one of its worst critics. This welcome change in the apex political leadership of the country will have a trickle down effect. At the personal and social level, individuals and societies will also have to be driven out of the self fulfilling prophecy of doom, perpetrated by the oldest hierarchical order, religion, based on heretical divination. The pecking order of the ecclesiastical creates a self destructive psychology of doom in those who attempt to escape their clutches. And as religion has been an age old anchor, leaving it becomes increasingly difficult but not really impossible.

At the societal level the challenge is assimilation of the large mass of people who are in the throes of forces which are thriving on casteist proclivities to win votes, retain power and demonize people to prevent transmutation for progress. The formative dialectics of this process are also evident with the example of the Shiv Sena which today is more than willing to accept all residents of Mumbai and not just Maharashtrians as Mumbaikars. Finally secularists will self regulate themselves into prominence and will emerge as global leaders. Those who do not will remain local icons as Praveen Togadia and Syed Imam Bukhari. They will continue to survive but certainly not thrive in a modern India.

Positive human progress has been dictated by affirmative ideology. Ideology underpins political and social development. Secularism is the explicit ideology for a modernizing and globalizing World. Today religious ideology has become a moral weapon in the hands of deviants seeking power through bizarre yet appealing interpretation and exploiting symbolism. The impact of nonconforming, non secular ideologies is thus very wide spread, witness proliferation of terror since 9/11 from New York to Bali to Jeddah to Chechnya to Moscow to London. Applying “Ijtihaad” or independent reasoning to the ideology of religious fundamentalism, to question flawed basics in a transforming World should be the way ahead. The trap of opposing each and every contrarian ideology needs to be avoided. Manifestations of ideologies which are real threats to secularism such as communalism should be combated tooth and nail, while other more genial ones allowed to vent their spleen and gradually wither away. This will remain a subtle choice for policy makers.

Depoliticisation of ideology is essential for the progress of secularism in our country. The challenge is to depoliticize issues of caste, creed, religion and language and marginalize fundamentalists on both sides of the spectrum, temporal and ecclesiastical through control of ideology, physical and economic resources. This will entail conflict. Channeling conflict through non violent processes as dialogue and negotiations will be needed to create consensus for fostering secularism. Assimilation of the large mass of our people who are within the throes of forces which are thriving on casteist proclivities to win votes, retain power and demonize people to remain thus is essential. Avoiding political symbolism of temples, masjids and anniversaries which highlight diversities in people, should become common place in our political routine. Consistently building electoral victories on non secular, non casteist issues as development by voting secularists will be the final indication of change.

Though governments are not the ideal medium to foster social change, some legal and legislative interventions may be essential. Controlling proliferation of polity based on religion by regulating religious based parties across the political spectrum as Hindu Mahasabha, Akali Dal and Indian Muslim League from contesting elections may be in order for secularism in essence is separation of religion and politics.

Altering development priorities will be essential to promote secularism. As the noted Dalit writer Chandrabhan Prasad has brought out from time to time, development is addressed purely in terms of providing necessities as health, employment and education and no efforts are made to allocate resources to build up a social grid based on a social doctrine. Modern India needs a social doctrine based on secuhumanism. Fostering such a doctrine in an institutionalized manner would be the first step towards building a secular country and should form a primary development goal for us. In such an enterprise globalization and concomitantly development will facilitate secularism as it will bridge the economic divide hitherto distinguished by castes. The innate aspirational urge of humans will also make people more secular in the developing world. The forces of modernization, business, trade and economy and aspirations for a higher quality of life will lead to growth of secularism, for business channels are socially seamless, recognize no filial bonds and are purely dictated by the flow of money. Consumerism may thus overcome communalism.

An incremental approach will be the path towards secularism. A revolutionary approach is socially damaging as it marginalizes a large portion of society which is unable to adjust to the changing dynamics of a transforming social and political landscape. This truism of history should guide us on the path to secularism which may be attainable within the next decade given the tantalizing impact of globalization on Indian society.

Published: 2006-04-01
Author: rahul bhonsle

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