How The Idea Of ‘One religion, One language, And One Culture’ Is Damaging Indian Secularism

Posted on October 30, 2014 in Politics

By Ananya Barua:

“In spite of our great difficulty, however, India has done something. She has tried to make an adjustment of races, to acknowledge the real differences between them where these exist, and yet seek for some basis of unity.” — Rabindranath Tagore (Nationalism in India)

‘Unity in diversity’, ‘cultural, religious and linguistic plurality’ all sum up to the tentative patronage of the illustrious secularism. And, haven’t we all at some point of time, loved to vouch on that? Well, I have. Since the initial days of my submission to institutionalisation, I have grown up believing that my country is indeed unique and unparalleled due to its exceptional ‘inclusive attitude’ and heterogeneity. A part of my heart still wants to believe so. However, the contemporary times force me to differ.

Secularism in india

It is indeed this cult of nationalism that forces me to differ. But, I apologise for this detraction to an emotional and personal account while firmly believing that this agenda of secularism and nationalism is deeply inherent in both personal and public perspectives. To sweep off this ambiguity clouding the discussion, one needs to understand the very meaning of nationalism and why, despite its much acclaimed fame in India, both in the past and the present, the term still feels utterly foreign in both meaning and practice.

By definition, nationalism is indeed a belief, a faith or a political ideology that helps an individual to identify with his or her fellow individuals with respect to a single nation or country bound by its territorial restraints, a common language, culture and religion to unleash the divaricated feeling of patriotism. So, here comes my question: Can a country endowed with such diversified identity be captured within the ‘singular’ restrains of Nationalism? And, if so, then will there not be an involuntary emergence of a particular caste, religion, language or culture into dominance while the rest is surfaced behind the repression? And this phenomenon of cultural, religious or linguistic superiority of one over the rest has been, sadly, predominant in India despite its much eulogised declaration of Secularism. The status of adjustment of different races and religions on the same land, as mentioned by Tagore in the above quote, is but fading away. This is due to the overpowering influence of one over the other, and the urge to establish one’s unique and ‘separate identity’ midst the assemblage. And this practice is actually a product of the philosophy of Nationalism, one that is extensively a Western concept, where such diversity as that of India is a rare sight.

It is then this widespread communal or cultural prejudice that is inflicting a deepening ‘wound’ to Indian Secularism. The idea of having one nation, through one language, one culture and religion is not what India, in theory, stands for. In practice, however, it’s just the opposite, as in the cases of rampant communal riots stemming out of religious prejudice (mostly Hindu-Muslim scrimmage); the 2002 Gujarat riots and the 2013 Muzzaffarnagar riots being two of the prominent examples of the gruesome endeavour. This widening gulf between communities has been, and is still being used, as a political device in the power-struggle between the political parties. Creating political agendas based on religious feud, as that of the recent issue of building a ‘grand Ram temple’ in Ayodhya is being revisited, one which was included in the BJP manifesto. RSS joint general-secretary Dattatreya Hosabale, to this says: “Ram Temple is in agenda of the country, it’s in national interest. We had been supporting VHP and religious leaders on the issue of construction of Ram temple.” My question here arises as to how does an issue with predominance of Hindu sentiment become a ‘national’ issue in a country which is a religious potpourri embracing within its boundaries, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and other indigenous creed, on the same plane.

The attack on India’s pluralism and secularism does not end there, however. The recent hype regarding the implementation of Vedic mathematics in the school curriculum to enhance the hegemony of the Hindu ideology, roughly termed as Hindutva, is one doing rounds at the debates. Furthermore, the renaming of Teacher’s Day as Guru Utsav by the BJP, or rather Modi’s government, despite much criticism, has been wholly a product of the idea of the Hindutva ideology. These ensure the linguistic dominance of Hindi as a language in a country where almost 25% of the population speak Dravidian languages. Therefore, this culture of inculcating Hindi or the root language, Sanskrit, into the Indian perspective, while ignoring the other predominantly spoken languages, is but an outrageous attempt of linguistic discrimination.

To add to this plight of lingo-war, Tamil Nadu former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa lambasted the Centre’s circular to the universities in the southern state, of introducing Hindi, along with English, as the primary language at the graduate level. Terming it “unacceptable” and not “legal”, she took a step further sensitizing the ages old Tamil-Sanskrit tussle, with her demand to the Centre and the Supreme Court to make Tamil as the official language of the Madras high court. It seems like just the other side of the coin putting forth the same perspective, only with a seemingly unalike carving.

Howbeit, in a country with a perpetual breeding ground for racial, religious or cultural prejudice, communal riots or lingo-wars alone don’t stand out as the by-products of the ‘deliberate’ rotting of the country’s pluralism; the issue of bifurcation has also joined the league. By bifurcation, I mean the separation or partition of one state within the premises of India, to form another state, due to the cultural, linguistic or religious clash (along with other reasons, such as the exploitation of the minorities by the majorities) between two communities. And, several states have been subjected to this ‘tearing -apart’ phenomenon, like bifurcation of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand from Bihar, while Vidarbha from eastern Maharashtra, and Gorkhaland and Bodoland from the North-east are following. Separation of existing states into newer states on grounds of differing linguistic majority in a country with 122 official and more than 780 unofficial languages and over 2000 dialects, is indeed a dangerous affair. It not only inflicts a wound to the unity of the country above all diversity, but also ensures a fractured form of polity in the country. Just imagine, India with its existing 29 states and 7 union territories, already has a plethora of regional political parties contributing to the consequent instability both at the Centre and the states. A dozen more, as per the demands coming up, especially those made by the letterhead organizations, can literally break the country into pieces while fragmenting the entire politics of the ‘nation’, India. If this goes on, it might just bring about the death of plurality leading to the balkanization of India.

The subtle infiltration by non-secularist movements, cropping up nationwide in the guise of ‘Nationalism’, to enhance the country’s ‘Indian-ness’ is what jeopardizes the Indian unbiased plurality. Since the victory of BJP in the Indian General Elections, where they emerged out to be the first, after 1984 elections, to form the largest majority, the party devising the Modi wave has indeed rose out strong. Their recent victory in the Haryana and Maharashtra Legislative elections confirms so. And, this victory along with all its glitters, brings forth the haunting possibility of emanating Hindu influence (not in terms of the religion only) all over the nation. The rising Hindu hegemony in the guise of establishment of ‘Indian-ness’ and the subsequent birth of other religious or linguistic hegemonies in protest of it (like the Tamil-hegemony), is what threatens India’s Secular Plurality. The future of an all-inclusive diverse India is indeed doubtful, provided the contemporary communal feuds incited by the political parties. Then, are we looking forward to an India (or literally Hindu-stan) with one religion, one language, one culture and only a ‘single’ identity?

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