May 07, 2019

The secular Indian

M.S. Rao

Commencing an Executive Development Programme with a well chanted shloka energises participants and aligns them towards learning.  While this thought process  was being appreciatively discussed among a B School faculty group, one faculty wondered aloud whether the language adopted – Sanskrit, not understood by any in the programme – brought in a semblance of religion in place of spiritualism. Could not the invocation be in a language that is understood by the participants? The issue, quite clearly, was not the content of the shloka, which was acceptable as an universal pledge to learning. It was the appropriateness of the language, also accepted as the fount of Hinduism.

This is  at the core of the dilemma facing secular Indians today –  of developing a common understanding of a secular Indian.

There is no ambiguity however, in understanding  who is not secular. Quite clearly, the ‘appeasement’ types denounced as wimps or self-seekers are not ‘one of us’.  The shelf-life of appeasement has expired, it has no place in the country now. Similarly,  the  ‘us vs them’ hardliners for whom the issue is as clear as daylight, are not ‘one of us’ either. After years of having had to suppress their identity, these Indians have now come into the open flaunting their  Hindutva.

So who is  a secular Indian asks the secular Indian!

Parliament, as presently constituted,  will not be able to reach a concensus on  Secular Indians. As for the Constitution, the document has laid down the doctrine of Secularism in a manner expected, which is  seperation of religion from the State. The interpretation of a whether a practise, thought or act is secular or not is left to the Courts to settle. This is not the solution the secular Indian is looking for. The challenge  for her or him is to get clarity on the meaning and its practice in the India that is taking shape  today. Which boils down to – how do you profile a practicing Hindu who is secular.

Let us  illustrate the issue with  some real examples that have a bearing on practicing secularism  : questioning  the priest who asks for your gothra for performing the pooja to launch a project. In another context, raising for public debate issues like  doing away with the face veil, reforming madrassa based  education and reviewing traditions not appearing to be in sync with truth today. Praying the gayatri mantra attired in clean wear  without a janeyu.  Responding to those indulging in  unlawful, even violent actions carried out to preserve core religious beliefs that seem to have the approval of society.

In a nutshell,  arriving at an universal understanding among secular Indians  of what constitutes the core beliefs of Hinduism and what traditions and customs are now not relevant and are coming in the way of national progress. And  what is the role of these Indians in bringing about a progressive, inclusive India –  by enabling minorities, backwards and the poor to join the mainstream  urban and rural society and participate in the country’s growth story.

Is there a source that can be relied upon to provide  a pathway for the next generation of Hindus to practice their religion in a secular manner?

There is. In Guru Rabindranath Tagore’s prayer which offers a vision for the nexgen to adopt for their India :

where the mind is without fear

and the head is held high

where knowledge is free

where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls

where words come out from the depth of truth

where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

where the mind is led forward by thee into ever widening thought and action

into that Heaven of freedom

my Father

let my country awake.

What better guidance  than these lines  for defining the secular Indian!

It should be the responsibility of a State imbued with nationalism to design and deliver a model for basic  education that adopts the message embodied in this prayer for living life as an Indian . Such an education would give shape to the image of a secular, practicing Hindu.

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