May God grant us harmony

This is the misfortune of our country that many Hindus count the Muslims as foreigners and many Muslims behave like foreigners. Such people from both the communities forget their duty towards the nation. If the Muslims here are considered foreigners, then even the Aryans would have to be labeled foreigners. The Aryans came to India from Central Asia. The original natives of India are the Dravidians. Let us check out a few facts.

The reputed archaeologist S. R. Rao has stated decisively that the culture of the Indus River is the actual Vedic culture. The remains of the Indus civilization in Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, are now in Pakistan. The Takshila university where Vishnugupt Chanakya and Vaiyakarni studied is also in Pakistan. If we think about our Vedic culture then India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Burma almost become one form and merge into ancient India. All the castes disappear into Aryan or Dravidian.
The ‘pshyco-civilisational’ chain that joins Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains and Christians is unbreakable.

The Muslims may follow they own religion, but no people can afford to ignore their own culture. The Vedas, Upanishad, Ramayan and Mahabharat are not only the treasure of the Hindus; they are the property of the entire Indian subcontinent. By neglecting this rich inheritance, we display a haste to get bankrupt. The Sanskrit language is the key to this vast inheritance. Islamic culture has come to our country via Iran through the Persian language, the Persian poets and the Sufis. Girilal Jain (Times of India, dated 17-12-1991) rightly says that the Vedas are the only basis of our unified culture.

Many fanatic Hindus have assumed that the Muslims are the only ones who betray the nation. These mad men sometimes would like to believe that patriotism lies in fighting the Muslims. No one calls the Hindu who never does his job without taking a bribe, a traitor. A Hindu who steals public money, who brews illicit liquor or who deals in drugs to make money is not be considered a traitor. A Hindu teacher who does not teach his students after being paid his full salary or the one who sells the exam papers or takes a bribe to pass a student is never considered a traitor. A corrupt businessman who propagates fanatical Hinduism and fights with Muslims will definitely be considered a patriot. Even if such a businessman fleeces Hindus he will remain a good Hindu. Even a terrible, vice-laden, violent Hindu goon is considered more patriotic than a decent Muslim citizen – such is the atmosphere being created in the name of Hindutva.

No one could be sadder than a decent Muslim in this country. The men of his community are not willing to listen to him. Fanatic Hindus are satisfied only after terming him a Pakistani supporter. If you find such a Hindu specimen then you must be careful. I often meet Hindu friends who complain strongly against Muslims, but who would not sacrifice even one milligram for the country. All their devotion to the country lies in putting down the Muslims. To call such a Hindu patriotic is tantamount to insulting patriotism. Patriotism asks for selfless service or creative production. No country can stand on criticism and accusations.

The Muslims are taking too much time to understand one thing. If religion cannot be the parameter of joining us, fine. But at least we can be united in solving the hundred problems before us. Unemployment, illiteracy, rise in population, exploitation of women poverty and filth are not the problems of only the Hindus. These are our joint problems. Even though our religions are different, our difficulties are the same. Even if mutual love cannot be the symbol of our unity, we can be one in our pain and save our nation. That would be wise. The Muslims will have to shout out loudly and say that this country is ours and we too are the children of this earth. So our problems cannot be different. It is also very important for our national unity that our problems do not remain the problems of any particular community and take on the face of national problems. If our common culture and our common problems cannot unite us, there is no possibility that our religions or religious leaders can save our country.
The religious leaders have long since defeated Parmeshwar and Allah. Now if we defeat these religious leaders, then only can we live in peace.

We must salute the quiet gentleness in both the religions. When God created and sent man on earth, he did not make any such arrangement that only decent people from one religion and only bad people from another would be born. A Hindu or Muslim who cannot understand such a simple thing should not be mistaken as religious.

From ‘Ishwar Allah Tere Naam’ by Dr. Gunvant B Shah, © January 1993
Translated by Farida Noorani, Batul Mukhtiar, © January 2009

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