Sarva dharma sama bhava

Q – Dr. Gunvant Shah, what is your viewpoint on Indian secularism? Is it an article of faith or irrational rhetoric?

A – In response to your provocative question, I would like to ask two questions. 1. Was Moghul king Akbar a secular person? 2. Was Mahatma Gandhi a secular saint? It seems to me that the answer to both these questions is an emphatic ‘yes’. Please remember that both of them were highly religious persons.

Akbar was a Muslim ruler but with a difference. He had respect for other religions. He did not try to convert Hindus and nor did he impose the religious tax ‘jiziya‘ on Hindus. Gandhi called himself a ‘sanatani‘ Hindu, but he had respect for all other religions. In his last days, Gandhi used to address prayer meetings in the evening at Birla House. People of all religions joined these prayers.

Gandhi was not ready to forgo his Hindu identity. And he never wanted a Muslim or a Christian to lose their identities either. Now if you sum up the mind set of both these great persons you will get one usage ‘sarva dharma samabhava‘.

I must admit that this is the essence of my secularism. I am a Hindu. That is my identity. But my identity is not at war with a person who has a Muslim identity. Or a Christian identity. I firmly believe that 99.5% population of India is theist. An ordinary Indian, irrespective of his religion has great faith in God. Whenever some tragedy takes place, an Indian, whether he is Hindu, Muslim or Christian involuntarily utters: “Oh Lord, let your wish prevail” (Hey Malik, jaisi teri marzi).

Atheism has its own value. But in a democracy, the freedom to follow the religion of one’s choice cannot be wished away. Such freedom should not be criticized by some secular fundamentalists in the name of activism and atheism. The Nehruvian model of secularism has been followed for years in India. And yet, we are nowhere near secular peace. This is precisely because the term ‘secularism’ seems to be alien to Indian ethos. Such a non-religious secularism perhaps does not suit the Indian soil. Gandhi knew this better than anybody else. And I find myself in perfect agreement with Akbar and Gandhi.

Indian secularism cannot be concieved as non-religious secularism. MJ Akbar in his article (TOI, 19 Oct 2008) observes that in Jharkhand, Muslims, although feeling disquiet are not ready to actively join the Naxalite movement there, because the Muslims cannot stomach atheism. This is a very important observation.

Our Constitution was already secular when it was framed by Dr. Ambedkar and others. Mrs. Indira Gandhi added the word ‘secular’ later on keeping in mind vote-bank politics.

It is for this reason that I propose replacing the word ‘secularism’ by ‘sarva dharma samabhava‘. I honestly believe that the Congress Party has followed pseudo-secularism during the last 6 decades. At the same time, I don’t consider the Hindutva of BJP, RSS, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal as real Hindutva. If Congress has gone for pseudo-secularism, the BJP has gone for pseudo-Hindutva.

We must remember that secularism in India did not start with the commencement of the Constitution. If I mention a message from the Rig Veda I will be able to drive home my point better. ‘Aa no bhadraha kratavo yantu, Vishwa taha‘. The mantra tells us, “Let good thoughts come to us from all directions.”

You know that the Rig Veda is considered to be the first book of humanity. It may be as old as 5000 years. This mantra gives me secular space in abundance. A good thought may come to me from Mecca or Medina, from Bethlehem or Jerusalem, from Varanasi or Kapilavastu. So long as it is a good thought it is acceptable to me no matter where it comes from. A good thought may come to me from Ram, Krishna, Buddha, Mahavir, Socrates, Jesus, Mohammed or Gandhi. The openness with which I receive good thoughts from all directions is my secularism.

The Western model of secularism does not suit the Indian psyche. It has created many problems and these problems are there for all of us to see.

Secularism in its Western connotation creates the problems of politics of identity. Samuel P. Huntington in his book ‘Who are we?’ writes:

“Historically the substance of American identity has involved four key components: race, ethnicity, culture (most notably language and religion), and ideology. The racial and ethnic Americans are no more. Cultured America is under siege. And as the Soviet experience illustrates, ideology is a weak belief to hold together people otherwise lacking racial, ethnic and cultural sources of community. Reasons could exist, as Robert Kaplan observed why, ‘America, more than any other nation, may have been born to die’.”

If we wish to avoid what can be called identity crisis, the term ‘secularism’ has to be replaced by ‘sarva dharma sama-bhava‘. I honestly believe that multi-culturalism has to depend upon cultural identity. And one cannot wish away various religious ethos.

– Transcribed by Batul Mukhtiar, 27 Oct 2008

14 thoughts on “Sarva dharma sama bhava

  1. Thanks Batul, for this provocative, thought-provoking and truly profound session.

    Gunwantbhai is surely the best person to answer your question, and he has given a succinct reply that has incomparable presence of mind, coupled with a masterly culling of the best features of ‘true’ secularism.

    Most unfortunately the Hindutva parties have started an ugly trend of calling all secularists simply ‘pseudo-secularists’. We all know how religious a lumpen element leading divisive forces and wearing saffron dress can be. Hindu dharma has survived millenia, and can survive much more -it is these misguided souls who are trying to protect a great religion, who are in reality crippling it.

    Amazingly poignant question, answered perfectly well by a writer who thinks and applies his knowledge in a balanced manner.



  2. I agree with the ‘SARVA DHARM SAM BHAVA’ views of Dr. Gunvant Shah.

    There are various routes to reach the world famous New York City, depending on where you are located. The almighty god similarly can be reached by a high way of any religion, and each religion is just as good a way depending on which way the believer wants to follow. All of them are proper routes. No one needs to dig pot holes into the high way of other people’s religious route.

    A multi faceted diamond will show a reflaction of a person in a different way depending on how one sets one self respect to the facet of a diamond. Each facet will reflect an image in a different pose. Imagine the god to be a diamond and the believer will see the god’s image in a way he looks at the diamond facet, and each image is correct for the viewer. The god is the diamond and the religion is the diamond facet. We should learn to respect each facet of the diamond.

    This is my view of secularism or the sarvadharm sambhava.

  3. Thanks,Batul, for sharing such a deep and perceptive dialogical reflection on SDSB by our most renowned thinker.Pl convey our regards to Gunvantbhai.

    email from Pravin Sheth,USA

  4. dear batulm
    it is indeed agreat pleasure reading yr blog. congratulations to all of u for taking lots of effort in translating the write-up of gunvant shah. the views of gunvant bhai must reach to the thousands of our concerned citizens who aspire love and communal harmony in this great country which has been spreading the message of the world family since ages.well done! kudoes to both of u again ! looking forward to seeeing many more articles now onwards. thnks. yrs lovingly dilip bhai

  5. Hi I would like to ask Mr Gunvant Shah or anybody who can boldly reply. “Is it not need of the hour to attack pakistan and show them their own way to stop this bullshit?”

    All strong capable countries have done the same in past. Including usa in afghasitan in reply to attack on their embassy. Nothing wrong. We have right to defend ourselves on one hand and to slap enemy too.

    If you remember 90 minutes at entebbe incident where mossad played major role. In calculated time. Today the newspapers says india is considering to attack pakistan after election. What to consider? What after election? It must begin this morning when Taj mission ended. Within 20-30 minutes pakistan should feel or anybody in pakistan who controls this feel that it will be rough time next time. This is proved history. Nothing to do with morality. This is need of the hour ! Do you agree? pl reply. Thanks

  6. Pingback: The true minority « Tahuko

  7. first…very first..a human child and his/her ‘janins’ janma-data’s belonging from which religion ? how they sprade theirreligion in wich manner? lengueage was differ even today but what is the truth behind religious philosophy of any religions…what??? think it over..bhagirath trivedi[vansda] it is lying between concious and sub concious….only belief is concentrate by different different views,,,no?

  8. namaskar guruji (Dr gunavnt shah)

    there are two wards which is secular and it is halp to any one or any country that is vibrient & honest

    can any one give me teli no.ofguruji ! becuse my i am very poor in lengvage to write here

    my Email is any one can send their tel. No. on above email to share views

  9. i demand divya bhaskar fro my vendor only on sunday.b”coz of dr.shah’s article.”vicharo na vrindavan ma”

    i think dr.shah is very-2 coutious about REAL-FACT thogh,in his coulams.evrybody know that all the notorious people come frm a certain community.their behave their thinking their activity r miserable.some people r coming from other community but their intation is not direcrtly harm the nation,i think so.

    this secular word must b delete from dictionary.most of the nations have had declared her faith in certain religion.not many nation have “secular” defination like ours.

    why we?i say why we.?when any mischief happen by minority-any-the first quetion asking to majority,why r u not hadling things properly?things doing by others and answrble is other!!!!enough is enough!!!!just come streight!!!!

  10. Shah Saheb na vicharo thi hu sampurnpane sahmat chhu…. pehli vaar blog ni mulakat lidhi 6, vanchi saru lagyu… farithi mulakat karish tyare mara vicharo ahi vyakt karvani ichchha 6.

    Jay bharat ,

  11. aadarniya Shah Shaheb,

    Tamara blogni pratham mulakat che, tamari kolamno niyamit vachak chhu. aatle ek vachak tarike abhipray aapvano amaro hak to hoy j ne ?

    Tamara vichar sathe mare amuk matbhed chhe. Jem ke

    Bin Sampradayikta

    Sarva Dharm

    pan teni charcha bijivar ni mulakat mate side ma muku chhu

    -Aniruddhsinh Zala

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