Saving India’s Secularism from Secularists

Written by: Pathikrit Payne
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Saving India’s Secularism from Secularists
On the eve of the 68th Independence Day it would be interesting to pose a question as to in which direction India is truly heading. No doubt that in spite of the gloom and policy paralysis of the past one decade, things have started looking up. There is also no doubt that defence modernization would also speed up along with economic growth and governance is expected to improve too under Modi's leadership in the next few years. But the key question that often resonates unanswered is that of India's internal coherence.

India Remains Secular at Large- but....

One cannot deny that given the massive turmoil that one can witness in many parts of the world and especially in Asia's Middle East region or that of the mayhem in Afghanistan and Pakistan, India is still relatively a much more stable country and society where even though certain fringe elements of extremism does exist, it has by and large failed to defeat the moderate India that still prevails. But should this be enough reason to celebrate or should one be cautious and wake up to the alarming trend of intolerance and ultra conservatism sneaking into the society?

Can India Afford Selective Outrage on Communal Issues?

Incidentally a few incidents of the recent past depicted a sorry state of affair so far as India's equanimity on issues of communal incidents goes and the divergent benchmarks and selective protests by India's self proclaimed champions of Secularism.

In the first case, there was the incident of some Shiv Sena MPs force feeding the Manager of the canteen of the Maharashtra Sadan. The Manager was by religion a Muslim and was fasting on the holy month of Ramzan. The act of the Shiv Sena MLAs was extremely condemnable and obnoxious and was worthy of all kinds of criticism. The issue was raised in the Parliament as well. Even though the Shiv Sena MLAs tried to defend themselves by stating that they were not aware of the religion of the concerned Manager, it cut no ice and the incident was condemned by everyone.

A similar and equally atrocious incident happened in Pune a couple of months back when a Pune based techie Mohsin Shaikh was killed by members of a Hindu outfit named Hindu Rashtra Sena. That most unfortunate incident was equally criticized and condemned and rightly so. All such incidents should not only be condemned but the most stringent punishments be given to the perpetrators.

Meanwhile the Silence of Secular Champions on some other issues continues....

Yet it was during the same last few months, there was orchestrated violence to prevent Amarnath Yatra. Likewise, there was similar orchestrated violence in Saharanpur where a mob of thousands of Muslims attacked a Gurudwara early morning that led to the death of some and destruction of around 200 shops belonging to people from Sikh and Hindu communities.

However, the sad part is the muted response of the mainstream media as well as the champions of secularism on these two issues. There was lack of condemnation and in certain cases a complete blanket on the news. Why were the champions of secularism silent on those issues? If something is wrong then is it not wrong irrespective of who does it? Incidentally there have been hundreds of such communal violence in different parts of Uttar Pradesh over the last couple of years.

The Silence of the Feminist on the Meerut Issue

The same was the issue when the incident of a girl's gang rape and forced conversion in Meerut came in. There was similar muted response from the famed ‘Bindi Brigade', the champions of feminism and instead a deliberate attempt was made by some vested interests to portray the girl as of bad character. There again, the question that arises is why is there so much of double standards among India's social activists? If honor killing in any Hindu family is wrong, is it not equally wrong to forcefully convert someone to Islam? If rape is a heinous crime then is it not equally heinous when committed inside a Madrassa? Should the benchmarks of outrage be different?

A similar incident was reported from a school in Kerala where Vande Mataram was stopped from being performed by certain elements citing that some phrases of the song goes against the religious ethos of a certain community.

It is a different matter though that A R Rehman belonging to that very community has been responsible for one of the most iconic albums on Vande Matram which remains till date one of the most patriotic song ever played by Rehman. The fact of the matter is that certain external radical ideology is creating fragments in India's otherwise pluralistic culture and India has to be aware of the dangers looming large.

The Paradox of India today- Extremes of Secularism and Extremes of Communal Approach

India today is divided into extremes of secularism or rather pseudo-secularism where secularism has been reduced to worst kind of appeasement politics and biased approach whereas on the other extreme end is violent hatred wherein every incident is given a communal angle and for every incident the whole community is blamed. In between, the core issue again gets diluted.

Is India Failing to Locate the Key Instigator...The Rising Wahhabism in India?

There cannot be any doubt that majority of people of all the communities are peace loving and just want a plain and simple life without any disturbances, Yet there are external elements and ideologies creeping into India's otherwise pluralistic society where for centuries Sufis and Sadhus have coexisted and honored each other for centuries. Shades of Wahhabism and its exclusivist, ultra conservative and radical though ideology are slowly becoming visible and alarmingly so.

Sadia Delhvi in a wonderful interview to stated,

‘Saudi State has sought to export its Wahhabi version of what it calls Islam to Muslims all over the world as an instrument to bolster the legitimacy of the Saudi regime, which lacks popularity in its own country. This literalist, stern, authoritarian and radical and warped version of Islam has been liberally funded, through setting up mosques, publishing houses and other institutions, among Muslim communities across the world, including India.'

She further stated, ‘In India and other Asian countries, Wahhabism has gained a big boost from workers in the Gulf many of who, during their stay there, have converted to that ideology. All this has resulted in a growing attack on local Muslim cultures and Sufi traditions, which the Wahhabis regard as un-Islamic......... Yet, it is crucial to note that the silent majority of Muslims are not Wahhabi at all. Most Muslims are still associated with Sufi traditions in some way or the other, which I regard as authentic Islam.'

'The whole trajectory of Wahhabism is rooted in hatred and violence'

Vicky Nanjappa has also reported extensively in his articles in about IB reports warning on how Wahhabis are taking over Indian mosques by spending incredible amount of money and how as per IB almost 25,000 Wahhabi preachers visited India last year and slowly converting India's moderate Islam into an ultra conservative version which has also given rise to violent extremist groups like ISIS in Middle East or Boko Haram in Nigeria.

It is not the Sufis, the Shias or Moderate Sunnis but rising Wahhabism instigating violence

Thus while majority of the Indian Muslims remain equally perturbed and moved by spread of radical Wahhabism and the violence being propagated by them in most cases, the majority of Indians and non-Muslims in particular have failed to differentiate between the moderate and peace loving Sufis, the Shias who detest Wahhabism, and the Wahhabis who have been responsible for the rising level of communal tension. Unless this distinction is properly explained and unless the condemnation is targeted towards the radical aspects, India would continue to get mired in needless communal animosity where in most cases the objectivity is lost.

The Need for Objectivity- Ban Wahhabism, Promote Sufism

India needs objectivity in dealing with communal violence and would need to pin point the reasons for the rising instances of communal clashes. There is no doubt that Sufis and Non-Muslims, especially the Sikhs and Hindus have peacefully coexisted for centuries. The Shias on the other hand are every small in numbers in India and most have extremely cordial relation with non-Muslim communities. Thus the reason for the increasing violence can neither be Sufis or the Shias or even the moderate Sunnis. It has to be the rise of Wahhabis who have equal disdain for the Sufis and Shias as they have for other non-Muslims.

India therefore needs a strong policy to ban Wahhabism in India and promote moderate Sufism to bring more harmony and coherence in the Indian society. There is also a strong need to put on leash such fringe groups from other communities who resort to unprovoked violence. Meanwhile India's secular champions need to have more objectivity and unbiased approach towards issues of communal clashes because their selective outrage is posing questions on their integrity.

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