indian secularism
A Confused Journo’s Posthumous Interviews: (1) The Politician

IndiaFacts regrets to announce the tragic death of Mr. Akulita Sandeha, a young and promising…

IndiaFacts regrets to announce the tragic death of Mr. Akulita Sandeha, a young and promising journalist whose body was found three days ago on a suburban railway track near Bandra, Mumbai. He was carrying a suicide note which is currently being studied by the police. As it happens, Mr. Sandeha had recently made a series of interviews with a few prominent public figures; those interviews reached the hands of Mr. Michel Danino, an author and scholar of ancient India, who has passed them on to us. As a mark of respect for the departed soul, we thought it our duty to publish them; Mr. Sandeha would probably have edited them considerably, but we decided to reproduce them as received. We hope they will invite a dispassionate reflection on current sociopolitical issues.

Since the interviewer is no more, we are not competent to verify the interviews’ contents and will therefore accept no responsibility for them; we also decided not to name the interviewees.

The first interview was of a prominent political figure of today’s Opposition. Subsequent interviews will be published in due course.


Sir, it’s most kind of you, with your busy schedule, to give me this interview.

You are welcome. What can I do for you?

Sir, I have been confused by some recent events.

Journalists are generally confused. Carry on.

Well, for instance, there has been a lot of outrage about the lynching of a Muslim in Uttar Pradesh….

Of course, don’t you find it outrageous?

Very much, Sir. Now, the other day, I visited a camp of Kashmiri Pandits in Delhi for a report. One of them asked me why the murder of many members of their community and expulsion of the rest had not caused a similar outrage in the country. I did not know what to answer.

Well, it’s not the same thing, obviously.

How do you mean, Sir?

The recent lynching was of a member of a minority community, you see.

But weren’t the Kashmiri Pandits a minority community in Kashmir?

True, but at the national level they belong to the majority.

I don’t understand.

It’s easy enough: minorities are vulnerable by definition; our first duty is to protect them. The majority doesn’t need to be protected.

But, Sir, could one not argue that in a secular nation such as ours there should be no such distinctions?

What a silly argument. It’s only if you protect minorities and give them special rights that you can call yourself secular.

Sir, I looked up the word “secular” in my English dictionary, but I could not find this definition. I also looked up our Constitution and found no definition at all for the word.

That’s because we in India have our own definition for it. We have every right to redefine words as we please. And why should the Constitution give a definition when the concept is well understood by all?

Well understood to mean the protection of minorities, is that it, Sir?

Mostly, yes.


Well, it’s complicated. Our country is complicated. Our society is complicated. Situations are complicated. Sometimes, we need to be flexible and adapt a little this way or that.

But still, Sir, while I understand and share the outrage at the recent lunching, I don’t understand the lack of reaction at the sufferings of the Kashmiri Pandits, the assassination of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati of Orissa, the occasional lynching of Hindus in West Bengal, the murder of Hindu fishermen in Marad, Kerala, the …

Shhh! No need to use the word “Hindu” like that!

Why, Sir?

People were murdered, maybe — it’s a law-and-order problem. Let the law follow its own course.

So if a member of a minority is killed, it’s more than a law-and-order problem?

That’s what I have been trying to explain. I don’t know why you find it so difficult. Minorities are secular — if they are attacked, it’s an attack against our country’s secular fabric.

If minorities are secular, does this imply that the majority isn’t?

It does. The majority is Hindu — Hinduism is a religion and therefore unsecular.

But, Sir, our minorities also have religions — Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism….

Those are secular religions.

Are you sure, Sir?

It hardly matters — this is an academic issue.

Sir, I have an idea. Suppose we stopped calling Hindus Hindus — we’ll call them Brahmins, Jats, Yadavs, Thakurs, Rajputs, Patels, Gowdas, Nairs, Naickers, Vanniyars, Thevar or whatever their communities may be. Then they will all become minorities! Wouldn’t that solve all our problems at one stroke?

Are you mad? Do you want to divide the country further?

Divide, Sir? But don’t those communities exist as such and don’t politicians appeal to them for votes?

Certainly we do: we work for their welfare and need to address their specific problems. But together, they constitute the majority and that’s another story.

Sir, please excuse me, I am very confused now. How can these various disconnected communities be looked at “together”?

Because they are all Hindus, quite simply.

So Hinduism is a socially unifying factor? At the journalism school I attended, we were taught that it was a very divisive religion with its caste system, its …

That’s the social level — it’s different. I was talking of the religious aspect.

Do you mean to say that Hinduism as a religion helps the country’s social integration?

Now, now, don’t go and put words into my mouth! I never said any such thing.

But, Sir, you objected to my suggestion that we should do away with Hinduism and have a society consisting only of minorities – wouldn’t that be truly secular? If you permit me, I thought the idea was brilliant.

Umph, brilliant indeed! As if people were ready to abandon their superstitions so easily! And if they were, what would become of us politicians in your ideal society?

Why, Sir, as you said earlier, you could work for the welfare of all mino… — I mean, communities. All of them would have the same rights, the same opportunities, the same …

I can see that what they teach you in your journalism schools is far removed from the hard realities. Theory, all theory! In no time, all those “communities” of yours would be at each other’s throats and we would have a hundred civil wars ravaging the country.

Sir, does this not imply that if we have relative peace in Indian society, it’s because the majority is Hindu?

What peace? Everywhere we can see violence against minorities and rising intolerance — fast rising, alarmingly rising. Writers, filmmakers, artistes and others have all said so. We are going through very dark times.

The Kashmiri Pandit I met the other day gave me a long list of cases of inter-communal violence and intolerance under previous regimes. Shall I read it out to you, Sir?

No need. We all know that barring stray incidents, society was mostly peaceful then.

It was peaceful then, but is in turmoil now?

Anyone can see that.

So was it peaceful because the majority was Hindu then?

No. It was because we politicians had succeeded in convincing the majority that its primary duty is to show tolerance towards the minorities.

So that’s why there is so much outrage when that tolerance is breached?

Exactly — now you’ve got it right.

But, Sir, I still don’t understand why there is no such outrage when Hindu devotees at Akshardham Temple of Gandhinagar or in temples of Jammu and Kashmir or at Godhra are killed just because they are Hindus?

We have all condemned those attacks; they were the work of terrorists.

Islamic terrorism?

No — terrorism has no religion.

However, isn’t it a fact, Sir, that the culprits in all such cases — also in the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits, the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai, Coimbatore, Varanasi and other places — were Muslims?

They were terrorists. If they acted as Muslims, it must have been under provocation from Hindu extremists.

So now you are the one to use the word “Hindu”?

Why not? If Hindus turn into aggressors, we should not hesitate to denounce them.

But not if Muslims or others happen to be aggressors?

I must remind you that Muslims are a minority; they are victims, not aggressors.

Does that mean that the majority is always the aggressor?

Ultimately, yes. Minorities feel threatened, discriminated against, marginalized. They get provoked.

Yet, our Constitution has granted minorities special rights and privileges.

That was necessary to protect them.

And therefore secular.


So when Rajiv Gandhi amended the Muslim personal law in the Shah Bano case, it was to protect those special rights.

Quite so. It was a secular decision.

Forgive me for asking a personal question, Sir, but are you a Hindu?

Yes, I am Hindu.

And therefore unsecular?

Not at all: I am a secular Hindu.

I thought Hindus could not be secular?

I was only referring to Hindus as a collective majority; individually, we can and should be secular.

Sir, this is a bit hard for me; would you be so kind as to define a secular Hindu?

That’s easy: a secular Hindu is one who protects minorities and whose progressive and liberal ideas give him or her the freedom to criticize regressive and obscurantist aspects of Hinduism.

What are those regressive and obscurantist aspects?

Pretty much the whole of Hinduism.

What about similar aspects of Islam or Christianity?

If they exist, they are not our concern. We don’t criticize minority religions.

Hinduism alone can be criticized, then.

Why not? It has always been the object of such criticism. Wasn’t the Buddha a stern critic of Hinduism?

In other words, Hinduism has a tradition of dissent.

That’s right.

But not Islam or Christianity?

Who says? And how would I know? It seems to me that your questions are tendentious and reveal a communal attitude.

Communal, Sir?

Why else should you keep talking of Islam and Christianity in such critical manner?

It’s only, Sir, that in all these years of study, of reading statements by eminent political figures such as yourself, I have been unable to understand certain fundamental issues about our society, and that bothers me.

I have patiently explained it all to you. It’s not my fault if you won’t understand.

I shall go over your explanations again. But if I may take advantage of your generosity, I would like to ask one last question.

Go ahead.

You said or implied that acts of terrorism against the majority were a reaction against oppression or provocation …

They are.

… and that the majority is prone to be intolerant.

Not all of it — only a minority of the majority.

A minority of the majority??… Anyway, my question is, What about acts of terrorism elsewhere in the world, from 9/11 to attacks on the London metro or cartoonists in Paris, and to the present IS wave — is it not a fact that they are all the work of Muslims? And if so, are they also the result of provocation?

Of course — oppression by Israel, provocation by the U.S., by cartoonists, and so on.

So you find the rise and actions of the IS justified?

Not their actions — we have condemned the barbaric slaughter of innocent people. But their rise certainly is the result of misguided policies by the West.

Still, Muslims are not the only oppressed and provoked people in the world. I don’t understand how almost all terrorist acts in and out of India turn out to be at the hands of Muslims?

Are you an Islamophobist? Haven’t you heard of terrorist acts by far-right groups in Europe or the U.S.? What about our own Hindutva groups — as our leader once put it, they are more dangerous than Islamist groups.

They may be, Sir, but please correct me if I am wrong: I am not aware of a single act of terrorism which was proved in a court of law to be the work of a Hindu extremist group?

That proves how powerful and diabolically clever they are. Look, I have to attend an important meeting of a high-powered committee I am chairing; it’s been a pleasure, but I will have to leave you now.

Sure, Sir, and thanks so much again for your time. May I ask what the committee is about?

Its mandate is to recommend innovative methods to promote communal harmony and heal the marginalization of minorities.

Wonderful, Sir, I hope you will come up with concrete suggestions.

Of course we will. We always do. That’s how we serve our country. Jai Hind!

 (To be continued.)

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