The debate on secularism in our context is completely superficial and also perverse. Let us recall that secularism was not part of our original constitution and was interpolated during emergency by Indira Gandhi Government. So it does not have legitimacy along with socialism which was also inserted.
Then the communists and more so Lohia socialists like Madhu Limaye began to counter pose communalism against secularism and the Indian intellectuals and political class has taken to this idea hook line and sinker.
If we have to have an antonym for secular, it is sacred. In our tradition secular is pertaining to this world or what is called Lowkikam and sacred is pertaining to the other world which is Vaideham. As an example, the Murti inside Garbhagraha is sacred — called Moolavar — and even among priests very few are allowed to enter it based on Agama Sastra etc. while the Murti which is taken around the town — known as Utsava Murti represent secular interaction of the sacred. In some temples they even put scent on the Utsava Murti.
The point is the word ‘communal’ has been foisted on unsuspecting Indians by leftists and it has become an abusive term even though being communal was in the past considered to be a contributory way of living and helping others. In the defence forces, even today they talk about communal services. Not only has the antonym been wrongly anchored, but it has also been twisted to mean the treatment of minorities and more so of Muslims.
Now the critical issue is — can Indians, and more importantly Hindus, be secular as opposed to sacred in a socio-political context? For Hindus, everything is sacred and to that extent the word secular has no meaning. For Abrahamic faiths, nothing is sacred except the bread and wine in the Christian tradition representing aspects of Jesus. The whole secular-versus-Church debate began in Europe since there was a desire to separate Church from government and its dominance from the temporal sphere.
In India we never had that problem and even the king was expected to be under Dharma. Since we did not have an organised Church, the founding fathers of our Constitution did not think of ‘secularism’ as an issue to be put inside our Constitution. Most important is the fact that Gandhiji never wrote about secularism in all his voluminous writings.
So the fundamental question is – If I am not secular why should I be termed communal? I am sacred and so I do not accept being called secular. I am not concerned about worldliness in the Western sense and so I am not secular.
Once we juxtapose sacred with secular, many issues will fall apart. Since no one can find fault with someone who is sacred. Of course those who believe in the Abrahamic faiths like Islam and Christianity can and should decide if temporal concerns are going to rule their political world or the religious. They have a choice and that was the basis of the major secular vs Church confrontation in Europe and Turkey.
Even in India, we find Sikh groups periodically get into the debate of superiority of the ‘spiritual’ or Akal Takht over temporal or political. Hence the regular confrontation resulting in a Hukumnama declaring someone as Tankhaiya. No Hindu temple or spiritual Centre has the power to issue any such Hukumnama on secular issues even though some social organisation like khaps adopt it as pressure tactics.
There is a view that the Indian state should be neutral or irreligious. This view is held by alienated metropolitan rootless wonders [AMRO] who know little about our tradition or culture. Since for Hindus everything is sacred, it is not possible for state to be neutral since it will damage the fabric of our society.
The Indian state’s neutrality is a threat to the existence of legitimate Dharmic institutions.
Incidentally, this neutrality is only with reference to Indic institutions since Abrahamic faiths all over the world terrorise the state to achieve their ends. To take the neutral-state-argument to its logical conclusion, we would have to conclude that the state should have taken over land and property allocated to the Church by the British immediately after independence. But as we all know, the state did not do so.
The Abrahamic traditions can intimidate the State as they have global backup. Normally, the Church globalises local conflict using global networks while Islamists localise global conflicts. Witness the death of five people in Sholapur because a mad Jeremy Falwell (a televangelist in USA), called the Prophet a ‘terrorist’. Witness the outpouring of anger and protests — at the global Church level — to the (false) attack on nuns at Jhabua by ‘Hindu fanatics’, when actually it was the work of rowdies from the same faith.
We have created a perverse situation wherein secular is not kept in opposition to sacred but in opposition to communal which is practically short-hand for being anti-Muslim which is unfortunate.
The Indian state can never be religion-neutral since every aspect of our culture – dance, music, arts, architecture, literature — is completely entwined with sacredness and spirituality. Not many know that some copies of the original Constitution contain calligraphy depicting various scenes from Ramayan / Mahabharat on each page.
Hence, what is to be debated is how to accommodate the secular in the sacred — namely Abrahamic faiths which do not believe in sacredness other than their prophets, as opposed to Hindus who consider everything sacred including trees/animals mountains and rivers.
The next time someone asks you: “Are you secular?” kindly respond “ No! I am sacred.”