A dictionary would show that secularism mandates equal treatment for people of all faiths. Ancient India welcomed people of faiths entirely different from what was then practised within the subcontinent. Conversely, it would be difficult to argue that all faiths were treated the same during the six centuries when the Mughals ruled much of India, or during the three centuries when it was the turn of the British to be the masters. While there was probably discrimination against Dalits and some “backward castes” during what may be called the Vedic (i.e. pre-Mughal) period, it was the Hindus who were at the receiving end of discrimination during Mughal rule. The mistreatment continued into the British period. The new colonial masters ensured that much of the Hindu temples and their lands and properties that were left after the Mughal period were taken over by the state, while prime plots of land in the cities were gifted for the construction of churches. Hence, while there existed historical grounds for post-1947 affirmative action in support of the Dalits, as also some “backward castes”, the continuation by Jawaharlal Nehru and his successors of Mughal and British-era policies that discriminated against the Hindu community was uncalled for. Nehru seems to have been taken aback during 1935-46 by the growing support of Muslims in the subcontinent to the concept of Pakistan. He apparently came to the conclusion that the best way of preventing a re-igniting of separatist sentiments among the Muslims who remained in India after Partition was to give them additional privileges. The post-1947 provisions relating to minorities in the laws and practices of the country have instead had the predictable effect of increasing rather than reducing feelings of separation between “minority” and “majority”.
Unexpectedly for a BJP Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee retained in full the practices initiated by Nehru, rather than ensure a transition to genuine secularism through doing away with differential treatment by the Central, state and local governments to people of different faiths. Narendra Modi appears to have decided to put off to his second term such a rectification of colonial practice through phasing out the Nehruvian distortions of the secular ideal. The PM has instead been focusing his efforts on creating a cashless economy and a zero-tax evasion society during his first term. It speaks for the self-confidence of Modi that such feats are being attempted through the same colonial model of administration and law that the country has been choking under throughout its seven decades of “Independence”. Thus far, the Prime Minister has not accepted the counsel of those who have called for a complete break from the past in matters of both personnel as well as policy, and has decided instead on a policy of a more gradual incremental change.
Moving in lockstep with fake secularists are India’s phoney liberals. These look to cues from CNN and BBC while fashioning responses to events. Which is probably why they have almost entirely ignored such events as a Dalit youth being appointed as the Head Priest of the Manappuram Shiva Temple in Kerala. The concept of caste as a consequence of birth belongs in the same lunatic asylum as Adolf Hitler’s racial theories, and yet to the “liberals”, the temple appointment is not even a hundredth as important as demanding that the Rohingyas get resettled from Myanmar to India. The 22-year-old Yadukrishna represents the spirit of his faith before its calcification began through the adoption of “caste by birth”. The “liberal” media seems to be almost ignoring the new Manappuram Shiva Temple Head Priest and his guru, Aniruddhan Tantri, who is quoted as having correctly pointed out that the Vedic concept is that “one becomes a Brahmin by his or her deeds and not by birth”. If India had more genuine and less fake liberals, by now there would have been hundreds of Yadukrishnas conducting rituals in traditional style at Hindu temples across the land.
Another sign of the distance our country needs to traverse before it can earn the tag of being “liberal” is the shoddy example of the Indian Navy. Another of the numerous institutions in India still loyal to the hypocrisies and misperceptions of the Victorian era (at a time when the UK itself has moved far beyond such tommyrot), the Navy has dismissed simply for having undergone a sex change operation at her own cost, and that too while on leave. Both the Army as well as the Air Force have shown the absurd prejudice against the induction of women in combat wings to be wrong, and so should the Navy. Prime Minister Modi has often spoken about the need to ensure justice for women, and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman should therefore step in to ensure justice for Sabi.
India is ranked even below North Korea in health and nutrition. The primary reason for this is a hypocritical and self-obsessed ruling class. “Liberals” in India such as Palaniappan Chidambaram oversaw the passing of laws that would have raised eyebrows even in North Korea or Saudi Arabia. 21st century India has become the easiest country in the world to get arrested in. Genuine secularism and liberalism is needed to cleanse the nation of the havoc caused by toxic policies. India has millions of truly liberal heroes and heroines such as Sabi. We have millions of genuinely secular citizens such as Yadukrishna. They need to be celebrated and empowered so that India evolves into the genuinely secular and liberal state that it needs to be, in order to thrive and even to survive.