Mandir-Musjid 1: the Bhumi Pujan

August 9, 2020

Rohit Dhankar

We must free ourselves from mind-numbing slogans like “majhab anhin sikhaata aapas men bair rakhana”, “all religions teach peace” and “all religions are equal”. They definitely teach animosity; they certainly teach strife, often violent, and they are not equal in their bigotry and hatred for others. Presently they all, particularly two major ones in India, are spreading hatred and are attacking the constitution with impunity. Exaggerated lamentations of atrocities on Muslims, snatching their rights, and ‘dara hua musalmaan’ on one side, and underplaying of Muslim belligerence and atrocities where they are more numerous, on the other, fuel this fire further. In response to such narratives the hardliners among Hindus preach their historical grievances narrative more aggressively and more vociferously. The hardliners among the Muslims thinks that their Sharia supported bigotry is either condoned or is legitimate, therefore, pronounce their threats in a more confident and venomous manner. Unless the saner elements in the nation raise their voices in a balanced manner, condemning all atrocities and all bigotry equally, this evil duet will continue escalating.

The Bhumi Pujan

The world has seen a very loud and gaudy Bhumi Pujan for Ram temple in Ayodhya on 5th August 2020. In this hyped drama we have witnessed excessive and dramatized news coverage, the victory narrative emphasized, blowing up importance of Ram to eclipse everything else in the long cultural history of India, and equating Bhumi Pujan for a temple with the freedom of India, an atrocious comparision. This exhibits narrow imagination of India, belligerence of a section of Hindu population and did away with all possibility of spirituality in the occasion. This seemed to be a fit example of reclaiming the body by losing one’s soul. One TV channel creates a whole nautanki set of Rama Mandir in its studio. Rama was proclaimed to be in the heart of every Indian.

I never understood what this metaphor means. Yes, Ram is widely worshipped, and believers have deep respect for various narratives built around him. Ram is part of the culture, in large parts of the country even the routine greeting is “Ram Ram” among the peasants, or “Jai Siya Ram” among the more religiously rooted. Respecting sentiments of people who believe in Ram is a demand of behavior in civilized society. But does every Indian believe in Ram as an avatar? Does every Indian believe even in the historical fact of existence of Ram? The answer is an unambiguous NO. And still anyone who raised these questions was painted as an enemy of Hindus and India. Ram is one deity among dozens of similar importance in Hindu-dharma.

One can still understand that devotees of Ram must be genuinely elated and may genuinely believe that a bigotedly destroyed Ram Temple is being restored. Destroying someone’s place of worship is definitely insulting, demeaning and traumatic for the devotees. Thus, a sense of restoring one’s self-respect also may be understood. But flaunting of such an event as a victory is certainly a deed of a sallow and hateful mind.

There is an ambiguity regarding the site. There is a high probability on the basis of archeological evidence that there was a temple at this site, but it is not certain that the temple was destroyed to erect the mosque. There is no ambiguity that the mosque was destroyed deliberately in 1992. Thus, this occasion demanded a civilized reconciliatory tone from supporters of Ram Mandir, not belligerence and victory narrative. The Ram devotes would have earned much more respect through a widely reported but sober ceremony, without blowing the trumpet of victory. Frequent reference to Supreme Court judgment and heart felt appreciation of acceptance of that judgment by the Muslim population of India would have shown them in better spiritual and humanitarian light. But they chose a victory narrative with belligerence.

The Bhumi Pujan and shilanyas by the Prime Minister is a new low for Indian democracy and secularism. No, I am not singing in tune with so-called secularists that Indian democracy and secularism are dead. They have a habit of declaring Indian democracy and secularism dead on drop of a hat. By their reckoning both secularism and democracy died thousand times; one wonders how do they find them alive to die the next death a few weeks later! To me Indian democracy and secularism both are robust, alive, and kicking; the unabashed maligning of India itself is a proof of that. Yes, there are aberrations from the supporters of the ruling party, as well as misinterpreting secularists to a lesser degree, but the debate on Ram Temple itself proves strength of the democratic fabric of the nation. However, it is of concern that the Bhumi Pujan of a religious place by a Prime Minister is one more act against the secular constitution, and the most damaging so far. These acts weaken democracy and secularism; and even if they are not dead yet, they are pushed a step closer to death.

Whenever a state functionary in his/her capacity as a state representative goes to Babas, Dargahs, Temples, Mosques, holds iftar parties, celebrates religious occasions; the secularism takes a hit, and is chipped a little bit. This has been competitively going on in India since independence itself. Even the very secular PM Manmohan Singh is on record participating in a temple inauguration. But Bhumi Pujan and shilanyaas of a temple by a Prime Minister are the biggest blow so far. However, I will repeat: secularism is not dead, neither because of Bhumi Pujan nor because of Ram Mandir being built where once Babri Masjid stood. Yes, it is weakened and is under serious strain, but we can still make it all powerful. But only if we recognize all forces that have reduced respect for secularism in India, Sangh Parivar is a major culprit, but by no means the only one. Islamists and so-called liberals are no less responsible.

But we are jumping the gone, we will come to this point later in this essay.

To be continued tomorrow ….


9th August 2020

Thinking about CAA and Intentions

January 14, 2020

Rohit Dhankar

The country is on the boil on the issues of Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA), possible National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR). We need to think carefully in forming our judgment on these issues. The current protesters certainly do not seem to be thinking either clearly or consistently.

Clear thinking demands looking carefully at your facts, assumptions, moral principles and constitutional provisions. If our assumptions happen to be factually wrong and/or morally unacceptable and/or unconstitutional; obviously whenever we use such premises in arguments the conclusions are likely to be unsound. Another possibility of conclusions becoming unsound is that they are logically invalid.

I make a distinction between sound/unsound arguments on one hand and valid/invalid on the other. Validity of an argument is a purely logical matter; and an argument which involves false premises can be logically valid. However, being sound requires that all the premises used should also be true, or at the least accepted as true in the context.

I also make a distinction between logical necessity and contingent factors. Contextual impact and intentions I consider contingent factors. It might be wrong but I first want to decide acceptability/unacceptability based on purely logical/rational grounds. If something fails at that level, one does need to go to the level of context, intentions and impact. If something passes the test of logic and reason; the second necessary part before accepting the conclusion is testing it for intentions, impact and context. If it fails in the second test then in spite of passing the logical test it cannot be accepted. But talking of intentions and impact first and coming to logical/rational correctness later is certainly putting the cart before the horse, an admittedly foolish act. To my mind that is wrong order if one really wants to understand things. This wrong order also opens up possibility of imputing motives and spreading lies; in other words gives full scope to demagoguery. Thus, I find it necessary to examine intentions and impact but am not in favor of mixing the two.

This is the bare minimum and broadest characterization of the style of thinking which is necessary, as far as I can understand. Those who are shouting slogans and repeating others judgments without this minimum work are running the risk of being misled by people with vested interest.

Rational thinking operates on some content—facts, assumptions, principles etc.—all of them cannot be generated by logic or reason alone. They come from various sources of our experience, history, previously agreed upon principles and so on. Below I will try to list the premises relevant in this context, i.e. thinking about CAA, NRC and NPR; and base my conclusions on them. There is a possibility of human error in listing as well as arguments, if that is pointed out and proved one must be ready to correct. I would do the same.

This article begins with CAA. As said above; first on rational grounds and then I will try to look into intentions. But we should not forget that while BJP and RSS may have nefarious intentions that can be understood from their pronouncements and actions; the so-called[1] liberals themselves have to be subjected to the same criteria of looking into intentions. No one can be placed above nefarious intentions; and yes, nefarious.

My premises and arguments

Part One: Moral obligation

  1. All thinking on these two issues should first happen in the framework if Indian Constitution. The values listed in the Preamble and Parts I, II, and III should be taken as primary guiding principles. However, the whole of constitution with all so far made laws under it through due process have to be taken in to accounts. Violation of these is not admissible. (Preamble state the values and vision of a democratic society very clearly, Part one defines India, its territory and importance of integrity, part two talk of citizenship and part three defines fundamental rights.)
  2. We may have humanitarian moral consideration which go beyond the constitutional obligation. While considering them we have to make a difference. Not accepting the humanitarian moral obligation which are not demanded by the constitution may make us “lessor moral beings” but does not make our acts unconstitutional. We are not bound to accept such considerations. Therefore, we are not obliged to accept every illegal migrant or refugee who comes to India. We have the right to decide whom to allow and whom not to allow. Allowing one does not grants the same right to other foreigners.
  3. India was divided on the basis of religion, a separate nation explicitly for Muslims. Finally, that itself divided into two Islamic republics. A religious state is by nature discriminatory, constitutionally discriminatory.
  4. The demand was raised, pushed and finally brought to fruition primarily by Muslims under the leadership of Muslim League. (The idea of two nation theory was first expressed by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in his lecture at Lucknow and then in another Lecture at Meerut. He also claimed that two nations cannot live on terms of equality in one country. One of them should necessarily dominate the other as Muslims dominated Hindus for more than seven hundred years. He used this argument to convince Muslims that it is better for them that they serve under the English rather than under the Hindus, as the English are at the least people of the Book. In the Lucknow lecture he argues against the Congress demand of competitive examination for jobs so that British and Indians can come to some government jobs on the basis of merit. His argument is that since the Muslims are not ready to compete at that time, therefor no Indian should be allowed. The demand for merit-based appointments was clearly in the national interest, but for Sir Syed national interest was subordinate to Muslim interest. These two things, two nation theory and national interest is subordinate to Muslim internist[2] set the tone of Muslim politics in India and elements of this thinking still persists in Muslims and so-called liberals.)
  5. The Hindus who believed that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together peacefully with equal rights were marginalized and rejected by the Hindu masses. One can count Savarkar and Golwalkar etc. among them.
  6. The Muslims who believed that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together peacefully with equal rights were overwhelmingly supported by Muslim massed and made their leaders. The overwhelming majority of Muslims voted for Muslim League in 1945-46 elections is a clear proof of this. The partition of India was a major election issue in those elections.
  7. After migration from both sides and some going-and-coming back on both sides; by 1951 almost everything was settles regarding citizenship issues.
  8. In the light of points 3, 4 and 7 above, the Muslim population of Pakistan became as good foreigners to India, as any other foreigners, say, Chines Americans, French or Saudi Arabian. India had no legal or moral obligation for their protection or wellbeing. They achieved what they wanted and were a free nation on which India had no claim or command.
  9. The case of minorities in Pakistan was different. They were assured (by the leaders who later formed government of free India) that India will not be divided, so they need not migrate. Later when partition was inevitable, they were assured by the same leaders that they will be safe in Pakistan.
  10. The Nehru-Liaqat Pact is formal recognition of the historical moral obligation of Indian state in 1950 towards the safety and persecution free life of minorities in Pakistan.
  11. Bangladesh separated from Pakistan in 1971. The Indo-Bangladesh Friendship treaty does not specifically mention protection of minorities in respective countries, but does mention adherence to principles of equality between people. However, the historical moral obligation recognized in Nehru-Liaqat Pact remains to Bangladeshi minorities, as far as I can think.
  12. Pakistan and Bangladesh both are constitutionally Islamic states. In both these countries minorities have faced persecution based on religion[3]. Most of the people belonging to minorities in these countries who have come to India came to avoid persecution. Thus, India has failed in fulfilling its historical moral obligation to minorities in these two countries.
  13. The illegal migrants belonging to minorities in Bangladesh and Pakistan are thus due to result of this failure mention in 12 above.
  14. Indian even now is in no position to ensure the safety of minorities in these countries; thus, they cannot go back. Therefore, India is under moral obligation to provide citizenship to these people, though not under constitutional obligation.
  15. Due to premise 8 India is under no moral, historical or constitutional obligation to provide whatever support to Muslims illegally coming to India from Pakistan and Bangladesh. The obligation is only as much as to any other person from anywhere in the world coming to India illegally. Therefore, they have to follow the same path to citizenship in case they want it.
  16. Thus, Rohingyas, illegal Muslim migrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan, Shias and Ahmadis from Pakistan, Hindus from Sri Lanka, all are in the same class as far as India’s obligation is concerned.
  17. Minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh constitute a class for which India has a historical moral obligation. India has no such moral obligation to others mentioned above.
  18. As far as I can think the moral obligation of India to minorities who came from Afghanistan is only as much as to any other refugee fleeing persecution, they are not at par with the people coming from Pakistan and Bangladesh. The government argument is that people from Afghanistan came when there was Taliban regime there, and the Taliban was installed by Pakistan; therefore, they are also part of the Pakistani persecution. The argument is clearly weak and cannot be accepted.
  19. That however, does not make the whole of CAA obnoxious to me. One, because it includes someone who we do not have a moral obligation but needs the protection, it does not take away anything from any one else. Two, see point 2 above. and three, if one want to oppose CAA in this basis, one should not call it all bad and against secularism; one should demand correction.

In the light of above understanding CAA makes sense and is a necessity for India if it has spine as a nation and moral fiber to fulfil its own admitted obligation to the persecuted minorities of Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Part Two: Constitutional Possibility for special treatment for persecuted minorities of Pakistan and Bangladesh

But this could be done only if the spirit of constitution allows it. If the law made to fulfil this moral obligation goes against the spirit of Indian constitution (of which secularism is a central principle) it should be opposed, repealed. Therefore, we will try to see the constitutional position on this issue. Once we are through with the constitutional position will start looking at the issue of intentions.

Two values of constitution most relevant in this discussion are secularism and equality, which are inseparably connected with each other. Secularism as a state doctrine means separation of state policy and functioning from religious considerations. This directly implies equality of all citizens irrespective of their religion. Therefore, rights, entitlements and protection of low accorded to citizens are not affected by religion of citizens. In other words, a secular state does not discriminate on the basis of religion in any manner.

India as per the constitution is a secular democratic republic. In connection with the CAA debate articles 14 and 15 are most often quoted to establish that CAA is discriminatory against Muslims (a religious minority) and therefore, is against secularism and violates the constitution. Clause 1 of Article 15 states “15. (1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.” Note that it is about Indian “citizens” and that it prohibits discrimination on “grounds only of religion …”. Why is there this word “only” in this article? I am not a legal expert, but as a citizen it seems to indicate to me that there could be other grounds and the totality of grounds may include religion. Though, the basis of discrimination will not be a citizen’s religion alone. (I may be wrong here.) But reading the clause 2(5) of the same article with clause (1) of article 30 one comes to the conclusion that minority institutions established by religious minorities are granted exception from making rules regarding admission of students of educationally backwards communities in them. As we all know, several exceptions are granted to religious minority educational institutions in management, appointment of staff and religious instructions even when the institutions receive grant from the government.

Minorities also have their separate civil laws concerning marriage, divorce, inheritance of property etc. Such laws for Muslim community are: the Shariat Application Act, the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, the Massalman Wakf Validating Act, the Wakf Act, and the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act.

All these are examples of provisions in Indian constitution and law of differential treatment on the basis of religion. And they are not considered as violation of the principles of secularism or violation of equality. This is because the principles of secularism and equality are not understood in a dogmatic or absolute sense. It is recognised that special provisions may have to be made for classes of citizens for their upliftment or protection or advancement. The same idea of positive discrimination is used in reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. In conclusion then, the idea of positive discrimination used for the benefit of a deprived or otherwise disadvantaged class of citizens which gives them benefits over and above others is considered neither against the ideal of equality nor against the ideal of secularism. This is the position with regard to the citizens of India. But the CAA is not about citizens of India, it is about illegal migrants coming from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Now we shall consider their case in the light of admissibility of positive discrimination in case of Indian citizens.

For this we turn to article 14 which states: “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.” This article is about persons, that is all who are within territory of India, be they citizens or not citizens of India. The illegal migrants from the three mentioned countries are “within the territory of India”. The first part of the act states that “the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law”, and it may look as if the Muslims are denied equality before the law through CAA. This is the version most people are getting agitated about. But the second part says that the “State shall not deny to any person … the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India”.

The idea of equal protection of law depends of equal treatment of equals, but allows differential treatment to unequals in terms of their circumstances. “The varying needs of different classes of persons require different treatment. In order to pass the test for permissible classification two conditions must be fulfilled, namely: (1) the classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia which distinguishes persons or things that are grouped together from others left out of the group, and (2) the differentia must have a rational nexus with the object sought to be achieved by the statute in question.”

The intelligible differentia demanded in the first criteria can be formulated as thus: Those to whom India has a historical moral obligation and who are a persecuted minority in Bangladesh and Pakistan. To my mind it is difficult to justify Afghanistan. Criteria two: the nexus with the objective is obvious—equal protection of law to those who pass criteria one.

Therefore, as far as I can think the CAA is all about providing protection to those for whom India has a moral obligation and there is no violation of the principles of secularism and equality in this. This brings us to the issue of intentions.

Part three: Issue of intentions of the BJP government

A fuller discussion on intentions will require lot of space and therefore will have to wait. This article is already longer than most people read. Therefore, here I will just raise a few questions to understand the issue of supposed to be evil intentions:

  1. If the government is within the bounds of constitution why should it not try to find out how many and who are the foreigners living in this country? There must be an intelligible reason given by the protesters.
  2. If there is some supposed to be legitimate objection to 1 above—is it in principle or dues to practical difficulties or due to intentions? It must be clearly spelt out.
  3. Suppose the government goes ahead with CAA, NRC and NPR, and with very bad intentions for Muslims; what can it do? Try to imagine.
  4. Presently we don’t even know who will be asked to show documentary evidence of citizenship and who will not be asked. Nor do we know what kind of documentary evidence will be demanded. Most of it is imagination of some people. But suppose three crore people living in this country are found to be without any evidence of citizenship of this country on yet to be defined documents. What do you think the government will or can do with them? Try to imagine the worst-case scenario. Can it send them back? Where? Can it eliminate them? Those who say yes to such an horrendous thought should think again. It is possible in todays world? Can it keep them in detention centres? How long?
  5. When I think about it, I am incapable to think anything very bad. It seems to me that the government will be forced to come up with some scheme of citizenship for them.

The key in this kind of thought experiment is precision. One has to think in terms of actual acts of injustice rather than in nebulous terms like ‘they will be persecuted’. Try to think actual acts of persecution. If one cannot, then there is a possibility of being victim of some demagoguery.


14th January 2020

[1] In last about 10 years the liberals have proved to be the most intolerant to difference of opinion in India. Their proves in language cannot hide their intolerance of counter views. The people who talk the most about freedom of expression, right to dissent and questioning have been the most prompt in attacking and stifling dissenting voices. Since, the very first principles of liberalism is recognizes the freedom of every citizen to order his/her own life as s/he thinks fit, and which includes freedom of speech. Therefore, I will consistently refer to the this particular group of Indian liberals as ‘so-called liberals’.

[2] Those who want to understand this mindset in greater detail should refer to the following:

  1. Speech of Sir Syed Ahmad at Lucknow (1887),
  2. Speech of Sir Syed Ahmad at Meerut (1988),
  3. Presidential address of Rahimatulla Sayani to the Indian National Congress, 1896, particularly section 15 on Alleged Mohamedan Objections to the Congress
  4. Sir Muhammad Iqbal’s 1930 Presidential Address (Muslim League),
  5. Tiderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan by MJ Akbar

[3] Those who doubt this can look at the population figures of Bangladesh and almost continuously coming reports of persecution of minorities in Pakistan. This persecution is very often with the tacit support of the state.

A dialogue with Prof. Shailaja Menon

December 16, 2019

Rohit Dhankar

[This post is a dialogue with a bleeding-heart liberal (by her own admission) friend. We are in habit of having such dialogues time and again. This one was going on FB and is related to my yesterday’s post “Is CAB against secularism?”. That is why posting it here.]

Rohit: (In response to a post by Prof. Bhupenrda Yadav) I am sorry for being politically incorrect but actually do not understand what is wrong in trying to identify illegal migrants from Bangladesh? Have not come across any cogent argument yet. I do understand the limitless harm caused by dubbing Indian citizens as Bangladeshi, but do not understand why CORRECT identification would be wrong?

Shailaja: What is the process that would be followed for CORRECT identification? Ask people to produce documents they may not have access to, run from center to center for days on end, give up earning a living wage on those days? How will you solve problem of lack of correct documentation?

Rohit: By your question should I understand that the OBJECTION is because of lack or impossibility of reliable and fair procedure, and not to the idea of identification itself? If, yes, then it is worthwhile to device or develop reliable and fair procedures.

If the objection is in principle to the idea itself, that need to be shorted out.

So, which one is your objection?

Shailaja: I object to this at multiple levels, in principle, and due to process. Unlike you, I am not comfortable saying humanitarian sentiments you appeal to should only kick in for religious persecution of a certain segment of the population. [The original response from Shailaja was one continuous statement. I am breaking it up into separate points that statement makes, and responding to them one by one.]

Rohit: I am not saying that humanitarian ‘sentiments’ (to me ‘principles’) should kick in only for religious persecution of a segment of population. I am saying for some practical reasons due to religious persecution being one of the major causes of the citizenship crisis of lakhs of people living in India, THIS PARTICULAR ACT is trying to take care of this issue. AND THAT taking such a route to solution is not necessarily morally and legally objectionable. Humanitarian concerns should address other problems as well, and with sensitivity. BUT THE SOLUTION MAY NOT BE THE SAME. ACTUALLY, THE SOLUTION SHOULD NOT BE THE SAME.

Shailaja: I am a bleeding-heart liberal.

Rohit: I too consider myself a liberal in spite of what others think these days. 😊 However, I am not bleeding heart. I try to be as hardnosed rationalist as far as possible, though often fail (unfortunately ☹).

Shailaja: My heart bleeds when I see people migrating for economic reasons, as well.

Rohit: I too have concern for them. But distinguish between someone trying to flee to save his daughter or faith or may be life; and someone moving on the basis of one’s own judgment for better livelihood. And equating the two is injustice to my mind, irrespective of their religions.

Shailaja: My heart bleeds when the Rohingyas are massacred, yes, it’s a complex history, but my heart doesn’t understand these subtle differences when it sees a large section of humanity in distress.

Rohit: I do not have a bleeding heart, and can not demand others to go by MY heart, they may have THEIR OWN hearts. So, I prefer having good reasons that all may understand. However, I have concern for miseries of large populations, and Rohingyas as well. But, do not want to be responsible for it. To me India’s role in this is limited to may be providing temporary shelter and help the concerned countries solve it with as much humanity as possible. I see absolutely no reason for extending speeded up citizenship to Rohingyas. I believe that when India is not legally or morally bound to extend a favour, it has its freedom to restrict it to whom it sees fit.

Shailaja: My heart does not understand the idea of a non porous national border – acorss the world humans have and are migrating across national borders seeking to flee various kinds of atrocities; my heart is not able to sort them out into neat logical categories and behave in a humanitarian way towards one group, and in an indifferent way towards another.

Rohit: My mind understands and is forced to accept national borders; not completely non-porous, but reasonably firm and clear. My mind does not allow me to assume that justice (in all respects) to human life is possible without reasonably defined political formation at the current state of human intellectual and moral development. Such formations have political, legal, and administrative systems. They have economies, cultures, traditions, and ways of functioning. They make human cooperation and sharing the fruits of that cooperation in a just manner possible. I agree that they must be open minded and magnanimous in sharing whatever goods they have managed to create; but that can be done only in a reasonable manner; can not be considered free for all. Therefore, migration across the borders has to be regulated through legal systems. Otherwise, the necessary political and economic system will be destroyed. That reasonableness demands categorising the problems and devising appropriate solutions for each, rather than lumping everything together.

Shailaja: Most of all, Rohitji, my heart does not believe in punishing grandchildren of poor, illiterate muslims for what the elite counterparts of their grandparents chose – your grandparents chose two nations, we remember that, no fast track for you! The sins of the forefathers!

Rohit: My mind Shailaja ji, does not allow me to forget or disregard the causes and reasons advanced for partition; the methods used and resultant loss of human lives and property. The jolt to a developing culture and set-back to a polity. Imagining that those who disagree want to punish grandchildren for the wrong decisions of their grandparents is somewhat insulting to their intellect or moral compass. There could be reasons not motivated by a desire to punish, but based on better grounds.

But, one, I do not know why I should not consider the countries created in this manner at par with hundreds of other countries in the world as far as citizenship of those for whom these countries were created goes. And two, how can I ignore the trauma faced buy those who did not want such division. But accepted with heavy heart once it became inevitable. The division was of population, resources, kind of preferred laws and political formation. Thinking only of the grandchildren of those who wanted partition seems to be one sided to me. What about the legitimate issues, I am not talking of feelings, such open policy may create for the many more grandchildren of those who did not want partition? To be fair means thinking for all.

One needs to look into history of various failed pacts as well. Because of all this: why should one not consider them at par with foreigners coming to India from anywhere in the world? Why should one feel responsible in the same way as the victims of failed pacts and continuing atrocities simply because of their faith? I often wonder why hearts of some of my compatriots bleed only for one section of people who have come to India; and there is no mention at all of atrocities and hardships of those who do not belong to that section? Why their being minorities in other countries is ignored? Fairness and equality demand differentiation on rationally valid criteria. My mind does not allow me to ignore that.


16th December 2019

Will Citizenship Amendment Bill make India a Hindu Pakistan?

December 5, 2019

Rohit Dhankar

[This one I have written with much less certainly then most other posts. I am tentative on many of my arguments and will we open to better arguments offered without exaggeration.]

There is a lot of opposition to Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB). Most people misrepresent what the bill actually wants to do, exaggerate it as if it is denying citizenship to Muslims. Even as balanced people as Yogendra Yadava coin slogans like “Its essence may be summed up as: No Muslims please, this is India”. Which is less then half a truth and maligns India. Some declare India to become “Hindu Pakistan” if the bill is passed. A citizen today needs to examine these claims with a cool head. For that, lets first see what CAB 2019 wants to change in Citizenship Act, 1955.

First, let’s understand that the bill has no effect at all on the status and rights of Indian citizens. All present citizens of India; irrespective of their caste, creed, language, etc.; remain equal citizens. Thus, those who are telling us that it is discriminatory against Muslims citizens of India are telling lies.

Second, it does not debar Muslims from any country of the world from becoming citizens of India through due process. Which is: they can become citizens through naturalisation and by registration. There is no religion-based discrimination in Citizenship Act, 1955 for ordinary people in this regard and CAB 2019 is not snatching away or reducing those rights of any person from any country.

Then what is CAB 2019 supposed to do? Those who want to understand the issue fully in terms of citizenship as in Part II of Constitution, Citizenship Act 1955 and CAB 2019 can click hear to read original documents.

In brief, CAB 2019 wants to do two things (which are relevant to the point of discussion):

One: “Under the existing provisions of the Act, persons belonging to the minority communities, such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have either entered into India without valid travel documents or the validity of their documents have expired are regarded as illegal migrants and hence ineligible to apply for Indian citizenship. It is proposed to make them eligible for applying for Indian citizenship.” That is; it wants to change the definition of “illegal migrants” for persecuted minority communities, such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. But does not want to change this definition for Muslims from the three countries.

Two: “It is proposed to amend the Third Schedule to the Act to make applicants belonging to minority communities from the aforesaid countries eligible for citizenship by naturalisation in seven years instead of the existing twelve years.”

In brief, it is changing definition of illegal migrants in favour of Hindus, Boudhs, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians; but not for Muslims. And it is making the possibility of citizenship by naturalisation in seven years for these people, while others will have to wait for 12 years.

Now is it declaring “No Muslims please, this is India”? It is half truth to deceive people, couched in emotive terms. Neither deception nor emotive expression can serve as good arguments. But most of the debate runs on such lines. Mr. Yadav wrote an article in January 2019 titled “With amended Citizenship Act, BJP will do Jinnah proud”

He makes a point that by passing this bill India will accept two nation theory on which Pakistan was created. We will do well to remember that two nation theory was mostly propounded by Muslims from Shah Waliullah to Zinnah via Sir Syed and Iqbal. Among Hindus only Golwalkar and Savarkar, among the people of note, accepted it. Now, Mr. Yadav argues that this bill would mean India has accepted the bigoted theory. Well, finally Nehru, Patel, Gandhi and virtually every congress man and woman has to accept Pakistan. Of course, after they realised that no amount of persuasion and assurance is going to cut any ice among Muslims against the possibility of a Shariya governed theocracy. Did they all accept two nation theory when they accepted Pakistan? Or they were only forced to admit that two nation theory in Muslim mind can not be defeated by their secular arguments?

This bill is criticised for being against secularism. It does not debar Muslims from becoming Indian citizens through due process as defined in Citizenship Act 1955. It only refuses to make it especially easier for them as it makes it for Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs coming from precisely three countries where they are persecuted.

Why is the bill proposing to make it easies for persons belonging to these communities? Well, who does not know that these communities are being persecuted in the three Islamic Theocratic states mentioned? They have come into India in large number to escape such persecution due only to their religion. Staying here for years, some for decades. Most of them remained in Pakistan and Bangladesh after partition hoping they will be allowed to live there as human beings. But the Islamic intolerance, which is squarely denied by most liberals, proved to be stronger than their hope. Should India do something to help them in coming out of their miseries? A humanitarian answer seems to be yes. But those opposing the CAB argue that “don’t make any concessions to persecuted, unless you are ready to make the same to Muslims who are not persecuted as well”.

The crux of the secular argument, as Barkha Dutt elaborates in her ill argued piece, is: if it is because of persecution why does not India extend the same hospitality to Balochis, Shias, Ahmadis from Pakistan and Rohingyas from Myanmar?

This is an interesting mix of categories. Balochis are being persecuted not for religion, but for political reasons. Of course, India should help them as much as it can and also give them political asylum and refugee status if need be. But why facilitate citizenship? Political struggles are to gain rights at their own place.

Shias and Ahmadis may be prosecuted in Pakistan today for their faiths. But they demanded Pakistan for Muslims along with Sunnis. They were part of the two-nation theory and were successful in getting what they wanted. The problems they are facing are their own creation. Muslims when partitioned the country on the basis of religion lost all rights for special consideration. However, if they want to become citizens of India, they can follow the normal course of coming with proper documents, which they can easily do, and apply for naturalisation, they will get their citizenship if deserved in 12 years. Why should India make special considerations for them?

Rohingyas is a very complicated story. Their history in Myanmar has not been only of victims but also includes separatism, Shariya movements, attacking Rakhines, denying equal citizenship without special consideration for shariya etc. Also, India has no special obligation to them. They certainly do not deserve facilitation of citizenship. May be temporary refugee status as per the refugee conventions and on sweet will of India.

The argument that the facilitation of citizenship acquisition is being based on religion is not entirely true. It is not being advanced for Hindus etc. from all countries of the world. But only from three Muslim majority Islamic theocratic states. The real reason is not religion but religious persecution. There is a difference between the two for those who want to see. India is being forced by the Islamic intolerance in the three named countries, it is a response to a crisis created by these countries where India is at the receiving end, it is a consequence of their intolerance and resultant situation. Not something India is initiating.

Still India blaming is the favourite social mediate discourse. Let’s see a few tweets.

Arfa Khanum Sherwani, @khanumarfa: All this while, we were protesting and resisting to save India from turning into a ‘Hindu Pakistan’. But now it looks like the day is not far when we will turn into a ‘Hindu Israel’. #CitizenshipAmendmentBill, 10:53 PM · Dec 4, 2019·Twitter for iPhone

Her and her friends use of ‘Hindu Pakistan’ is multilayer and interesting. Let’s not forget that Pakistan was created by cutting a chunk out of a very old country for the sake of religion. There is also a hint that Hinduism has all the making of an intolerant religion as Islam has proved through history. It is to malign Hinduism to equate it with Islam in intolerance. This kind of rhetoric will force people to ask harsh questions, which liberals will see as non-secular. Which Hindu scripture sanctions jihad on non-believers? This is important because intolerance at the level Pakistan practices necessarily requires scriptural sanction. When in history Hindus indulged in forced conversions? This is relevant because Pakistan practices it in the name of Islam. When did Hindus destroy others’ places of worship? This is important because Pakistan did that in the name of Islam and Islam did it throughout the world in the name of religion of Allah. The people who talk of Hindu Pakistan do not notice that Hinduism does not have the theological and cultural ingredients to create something as monstrous as Pakistan even if majoritarian attitude hardens. Secular Hindus will surely defeat the BJP kind of Hindu-tilt; but the more the liberals equate Hinduism and Islam in intolerance longer time they will take and more efforts they will have to make.

Yogendra Yadav suggests a portrait of Jinnah along with Savarkar. “@_YogendraYadav: When passing CAB, Lok Sabha should install a portrait of Jinnah, alongside Savarkar. If Bapu was alive, he would have done a fast unto death agaist this preposterous law that strikes at the idea of India.”

His secularism argument we have dealt with. Bapu’s fast hardly makes anything right. Bapu did many things to push his ideas and ideals as well as favoured individuals on the basis of not any spiritual power but pure emotional and political blackmail and Ambedkar noticed. Maybe he would have won even today, but that hardly makes it right.

Savarkar, in-spite of his Hindutva accepted equality of all citizens by 1944 resolution of Hindu Mahasabha. And he did nothing to divide the country. Jinnah deliberately divided the country. Again an untenable parallel which will reduce the weight of his good arguments.

Saba Naqvi is more balanced “@_sabanaqvi: #CAB would make India a #HinduRashtra in spirit and law. It should be legally challenged for discriminating against people on basis of religion. 6:34 PM · Dec 4, 2019·Twitter for Android

Her first claim of course is wrong. Passing of the bill will certainly not make India a Hindu Rashtra. As all citizens will still remain equal irrespective of their religion. But if the bill is seen as discriminating one should take it to the court. That is definitely a proper way of dealing with legislations bulldozed through parliament but happen to be against the spirit of constitution.

Prof. S Irfan Habib is a very sane voice in today’s climate. Even he thinks that it is against the spirit of Indian nationhood. “@irfhabib Tweeted: The CAB stands against the very spirit of Indian nationhood and inclusive nationalism as defined by our founding fathers. Leaders like Gandhi, Patel, Nehru, Azad and others debated and discussed it intensively during freedom struggle which was later enshrined in the Constitution. (”.

But even he does not payed attention to the situation in which India is pushed because of intolerance to minorities in its neighbourhood. Indian nationhood primarily constitutes in treatment of its citizens and rights and entitlements its citizens enjoy. So far, we have no discriminatory legislations which curtain or deny rights on the basis of religion. Yes, we are going through a turmoil. But we will go through it without harming any section of the Indian citizens as well as without harming the secularism and democracy.

An interesting feature of all such writing is that none of them pays even lip service to the atrocities faced by minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Forget about suggesting any measures to help those persecuted people. These are the same people who have such huge sympathy for Rohingyas. Well, if you think that making citizenship easier to these persecuted people is against secularism, please do suggest what India should do with lakhs of such people in India? Or do you insist that the same facility be extended to those who have come here of their own freewill without any persecution? Would that be just?

Finally, to the doom’s day says: India is an old country with an age old cultural and religious diversity. Its constitutional nationhood is new, but as a ‘country’ it is millennia old. Its tradition of tolerance and dealing with multiple perspectives on life and world is very old. Even if we deny it vehemently, this tradition of tolerance and accepting diversity has played a very important role in keeping India secular even after a bloody partition based on religion. Presently, that tradition is under threat, its is true. But the threat has at least partially emerged because there is a certain ‘intolerance’ in the voluble elite even to the mention of anything good Indian, its culture and Hinduism. The BJP and RSS saw the opportunity of harnessing this public irritation with this constant maligning,  and captures public imagination in this environment. The so-called intellectuals did not know how to communicate with the masses, therefore, could not counter BJP etc.

But in-spite of the failure of western bookish intellectuals and misguided rhetoric of BJP, Indian culture will create solutions which will remain open, inclusive, tolerant, democratic and sane. Or at the least I hope so.


5 December 2019






Misinterpreting secularism, Indian culture and education

July 6, 2019

Rohit Dhankar

Professor V. Santhakumar’s article “Indian Culture, Secularism and Education: Let us be Realistic and Pragmatic” completely misses the point regarding secularism in education due to misinterpretation of the ideal of secularism. He assumes that the central point in the ideal of secularism is to make disappear “non-secular ways of life through” secular education and that there is a necessary dichotomy between emphasis on Indian culture on one hand and secularism on the other in school education.

The declaration of Indian constitution “to secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual” is an embodiment of secular ideal in the constitution, right from the beginning, despite of not having the word “secular” in it before 42nd amendment. The declaration in the preamble does not make a distinction on the basis of religion among the citizens and is not guided by any religious doctrine. It is a state policy which implies in its very proclamation that ‘religious doctrine and ideals’ are not going to govern or influence the relationship between the citizens and the nation state.

For the rigour of this blog piece it is enough to say that secularism “in the twentieth century has come to refer to two interrelated practices: (1) a mode of political organization in which the state is neutral with reference to all established religions; and (2) later in the century, a political practice of the state that protects the rights of minorities in a multicultural society”.[1] The ideal of secularism then is an ideal to be followed by the state; in separating its policy from the religion and religious considerations. And it is not about making people abandon their religious or communitarian practices. Some religious practices, however, may have to be restricted in case they interfere with others’ rights and entitlements; that will be necessary for the state to fulfil its promise to all its citizens. I will discuss some such cases below.

Strictly for the present purpose, if we take the promises of justice, liberty, equality and dignity made by Indian constitution in its preamble (and then expanded in fundamental rights) then the state, on certain occasions, may come into conflict with religious practices of various communities. The constitution makes these promises to the ‘individuals’ not to ‘religious communities’ and makes these promises to all its citizens without any consideration of their practiced or professed faiths.

If a religion prescribes unequal treatment to its adherents then the state has to take note of it, and if any individual approaches the state with a complaint of injustice or inequality or encroachment upon his/her liberty etc. then the state is duty bound to protect its promises made to individuals irrespective of their religious affiliations. For example, from this perspective whatever the religious communities may believe the state cannot allow unequal access to public facilities (public transport, hotels) in the name of caste. If the state decides for health and other reasons to ban marriage before 18 years, then it cannot make considerations on the basis of Manu’s criteria of marrying a girl before puberty or Mohammad’s example of marrying a girl of 9 years. In such cases a secular state necessarily comes into conflict with practices recommended by religions. But this is because these practices trample on girl’s rights grow up as free individuals.

In India we are not very secular in our lives and the state actually does not fulfil the promises it made in the constitution. (That, however, does not make secular ideals any less important.) Our politicians indulge into non-secular practices as office bearers of state (Modi’s meditation in the cave) and we have state schemes that are non-secular in character (Kejriwal’s promise to send elderly Delhi residents on religious tourism on public exchequer). Modi and Kejriwal are free to practice their religion in their personal life, but not as office bearers and as state schemes. That is what secularism means.

If a religion wants to encroach on public spaces in the name of Ganesh or Durga puja or in the name of Friday namaz, it is the duty of the state to protect other citizens’ right to use those spaces; and not to advise people to stop either Ganesh/Durga puja or Friday namaz. That is none of the states business, all the state is concerned is that you practice your religion privately.

If a religion does not want to give women equal share in ancestral property, as was the case with Hindu women till as recently as 2005 and is the case with the Muslim women today, then the state is duty bound to protect the individual right of the woman who considers herself wronged. If the state does not do that with all women whatever their religion than it is not fulfilling the constitutional promise. However, if the woman herself in pursuance of her religious beliefs forfeits her rightful share, then the state, as far as I understand, has no business interfering in it. Professor Santhakumar assumes that the secular ideal is about not allowing the woman to donate her property to her brothers under her exploitative religious beliefs; as far as I understand, that is not the case, it is only if the woman wants her equal share, the state should ensure that she gets it. The secular ideal provides a framework of liberties and entitlements to each individual irrespective of their religion, it does not force them to depart from their religious practices if they do not encroach on other citizens’ rights.

Religions are known throughout history to accord unequal status to sections of population, treatment of Dalits and women in Hindu practices is an example. Treatment of women in Islam is another example. Whether the communities themselves reflect and amend these practices or not, the state is duty bound to provide opportunities through a legal framework to those who want to resist this unequal treatment.

The religions also have had ideals of not allowing other religions flourish or even exist. And the conversion of non-believers is mandated as sacred duty of believers in scriptures of some religions. That has been interpreted as theological legitimacy of conversion through force, fraud, fear and allurements; and is being practiced even today. A secular state that gives equal rights to practice their faiths to all its citizens can not allow this. And has to intervene even if the religious communities do not reflect and change themselves. And our students should understand these ideals and positions and should build a rational commitment to them. That is the duty of education.

Religions also put restrictions on people not belonging to their own communities. The present-day beef ban is an example. Not being able to buy meat on certain festival days is another example.   This is not about demanding from Hindus that they eat beef, nor from Jains that they eat meat. They are free to eat what they like; it is only about the rights of other citizens to eat what they want. It can not wait for the communities to change themselves and become open minded, it is about telling them that there are other people who live here, and they do not have any right to force their choices on them. And our future citizens should understand this, through education, of course.

Another issue in India, and in the world, has been of expressing one’s opinion freely without fear. This is part of liberty of thought, expression and belief. A citizen does have the right to critically analyse the doings and preaching of Ram, Krishna, Mahavir, Buddh, Christ, Muhammad and all such religious figures. And also has the right to express his/her opinion. If he/she finds something obnoxious in their behaviour or preaching, she has the right to say so openly and without fear. This does not mean asking believers to be critical about their religious figures or dogmas, it is not about forcing the believers to read or listen to such criticism. This is only about other citizens’ right to think and speak what they want to. Again, it can not wait till the communities themselves become wise enough to see that they should not try to control other people’s thinking. Citizens in a democracy need to understand and value this freedom.

This is about accepting others’ rights to live as they want, and not about wanting them to change their practices. If we want a multireligious and multicultural society to live in harmony, we have to get across these ideas and build commitment to them through education. That is where secular ideals are necessary in education.

This is true that these ideals can properly function in a society only when people accept them, and all the efforts about multicultural understanding and reflection within communities that Professor Santhakumar recommends are needed, and are very important. But that does not do away with emphasis on secular ideal in schools and in education.

In education and curriculum fair representation of all cultures and religious beliefs is another big issue. And that can not be avoided. I believe our education has been too shy (rather scared?) of critiquing cultural practices and religious dogmas in schools. If we want multiculturalism to flourish, we have to bring the critical understanding of religions in the curriculum and have to learn to call a spade a spade.

Professor Santhakumar is not correct when he claims that there is no evidence that ‘secular education’ makes people secular. Indian constitution is an example of people understanding the need to co-exist within the same country with multiple religious and cultural beliefs. And that was right after the country was divided on the basis of religion. And the education of the framers of constitution played a big role in that. His examples of educated Indians re-emphasizing their cultural roots do not negate this as long as they are not encroaching on others’ rights.

Another ideal that is necessary part of the secularism is using your own mind, being critical, being rational. The freedoms given to citizens and demand for responsible use of them necessarily requires development of critical thinking and demanding reasons and evidence for beliefs and actions. If education does not do it, democracy can not function. And that demands being fair in analysing all ideas religious or otherwise.

This also has to be done more seriously that the Draft National Education Policy recommends. It talks of the ‘skill’ of ‘critical thinking’ umpteen number of times, and even proclaims that “[T]extbooks will aim to contain only correct, relevant material; when unproven hypotheses or guesses are included, this will be explicitly stated.” Also talks of ‘evidence based’ thinking, again as a skill, many times. And then also makes claims like “India’s languages are … most scientific, and most expressive in the world”, and that “The concept of zero and its use in the place value system … also originated in India, over 2000 years ago”. (Emphasis added) By their own proclamation they should at the least have called them “hypotheses”. How do they defend the claim of Indian languages being most scientific and expressive? What is their evidence that zero was being used as a number 2000 years ago? One wonder how critically they have thought about these claims and what evidence they have for them. But then, when ‘critical thinking’ is taught as a ‘skill’ that is all you can expect. Our curriculum under secular ideals should have done better than that; and now will necessarily have to improve.

Calling secularism completely an alien ideal does gross injustice to Indian culture and its openness. It is true that the modern formulation of it as ‘separation of the state and the Church’ comes from Europe and is negatively inspired by Christianity due to its stranglehold on the state and people’s minds. But the ideals of people professing and practicing different faiths living together and state treating them equally—that does not necessarily mean treating ‘well’—is an age-old norm in India. A historian friend of mine told me that Ashok was fair to Buddhist monks and Brahmins in giving grants and donations, in spite of himself being a Buddhist. Ashok’s 12th Major edict gives an interesting peek into Indian mind in this regard, it is worth quoting in full here:

“The Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, honours all sects and both ascetics and laymen, with gifts and various forms of recognition. But the Beloved of the Gods does not consider gifts or honour to be as important as the advancement of the essential doctrine of all sects. This progress of the essential doctrine takes many forms, but its basis is the control of one’s speech, so as not to extoll one’s own sect or disparage another’s on unsuitable occasions, or at least to do so only mildly on certain occasions. On each occasion one should honour another man’s sect, for by doing so one increases the influence of one’s own sect and benefits that of the other man; while by doing otherwise one diminishes the influence of one’s own sect and harms the other man’s. Again, whosoever honours his own sect or disparages that of another man, wholly out of devotion to his own, with a view to showing it in a favourable light, harms his own sect even more seriously. Therefore, concord is to be commended, so that men may hear one another’s principles and obey them. This is the desire of the Beloved of the Gods, that all sects should be well-informed, and should teach that which is good, and that everywhere their adherents should be told, The Beloved of the Gods does not consider gifts or honour to be as important as the progress of the essential doctrine of all sects. Many are concerned with this matter – the officers of Dhamma, the women’s officers, the managers of the state farms, and other classes of officers. The result of this is the increased influence of one’s own sect and glory to Dhamma.”[2]

This is from an all-powerful emperor about 250 years before Christ was born, addressed to the general public as well as to the state officials. It may not be articulated in the exact terms as modern secularism quoted in the beginning, but comes as close to “a mode of political organization in which the state is neutral with reference to all established religions” as would have been possible at that time.

About openness and changes, yes, there is much resistance in changing practices in the society. There is also much injustice to sections of society and that is not giving way, often only changing form. But neither is it an absolutely ironclad rigidity. How the new age couples are changing Hindu marriage ceremony can be an example. I know at the least two couples personally who considered the practice of ‘kanyadan’ as demeaning to women and did not include that in their marriage. One couple used preamble of Constitution of India as ceremonial vow in their marriage. These changes have come about through secular ideals taught in the schools and colleges.  

Finally, there is no necessary dichotomy between emphasis on secular ideals and having one’s own religious or cultural identity. One can happily be a Hindu, a Muslim, a Jain, a Boddh, a Sikh, a Christian or an atheist; and be true to secular ideals as far as public behaviour is concerned. One has to compromise only on the religious beliefs and practices which restrict others’ freedoms. And that in any case has to be accepted if one is not living in a theological state. Those who want to force precepts of their own religions on others have to be prevented from doing so, even if they don’t like it. This much is necessary under any kind of modern state today, and is a necessary condition for existence of multireligious societies. If the future citizens of India are to understand all this appropriate emphasis on secular ideals in the school education is absolutely a must.


[1] International Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences, Second Edition (2008), Volume 7, p277-378.

[2] Romila Thapar, Asoka and the decline of the Mauryas, OUP, 1997, p255

Sundry thoughts on political tirth-yatra

July 5, 2019

Rohit Dhankar

[The only things that can save our future as a proud democratic and secular nation are clear thinking and courage to act. Otherwise we will continue to be duped by various devices as our history of last 70 years has proved.]

During the elections the Prime Minister Narendra Modi was beckoned by his god to meditate in Kedarnath cave, in solitude. But since he is the PM the cameras in the cave did not violate his solitude. This was a confirmation to the voters that he is a Hindu before being the Prime Minister of India. Of course, he has the freedom to ‘practice’ his religion and no one has the right to question his religious beliefs. But one wonders if symbolic use of religious acts to remind the voters their shared faith is all that innocuous. One also wonders if the government paid for his private visit to Kedarnath, and if that is legitimate expenditure for a secular state.

The so-called secular parties which took pride in cosying up with Islamic practices like iftar parties and usually down played their Hindu practices are now catching up. It started with ‘secular to the core’ politicians flaunting their multicoloured pooja threads on their right wrists. The pooja thread works as a symbol to remind the public that the person bearing it is a Hindu or at the least respects Hindu practices. In the times gone by this thread used to be a thin single strand wrapped around the religious ceremony participants’ wrist in such a manner that it automatically unwrapped in the first bath or washing of hands. As per the custom one is not supposed to deliberately break or remove it. Now for some inexplicable reason it has become thick like a rope and tied with such care that is impossible to come untied by itself. And since it is not supposed to be deliberately removed and the politicians attend numerous religious occasions, the multiple coloured ropes around their writs proclaim their respect for the Hindu rituals as well as bread germs as they become quite dirty in a few days.

Now it seems a very very secular son of Dilli called Aravind Kejriwal has proclaimed “To all the elderly citizens of Delhi, I want to say, this son of yours will send you on at least one ‘tirth yatra’ in your lifetime” (The Hindu, 5th July 2019). By this time I am sure the images of Shravan Kumar taking his parents on pilgrimage on his shoulders are vivid in the minds of many of the devote Hindus of Delhi, or that is what this avatar of Shravan Kumar hopes. One wonders if a secular Delhi Government is within its legal bounds in spending hundreds of crores in such a flagrant act of luring voters on their religious sentiments.

Till 2014 all parties used Muslim religious sentiments to assure the Muslim community of their ‘secularism’. This was under the belief—true or not—that Muslims vote en-block and thus can act as a veto to making government at the centre, even if cannot by themselves ensure coming to power. In last two general elections the BJP has countered this ‘secular’ strategy by consolidating Hindu votes by the same trick played on the larger community; and Hindus being in overwhelming majority can actually ensure coming to power, as they did, over riding so-far believed Muslim veto.

The awakening of ‘secular’ parties to a need to dupe Hindus by playing with their religious sentiments started becoming visible through the thick pooja threads on political wrists. Now that gesture is being taken to the next level by Mr. Kejriwal through his Shravan Kumar act.

This act certainly is against the spirit of secular constitution, I am not sure if it is downright illegal and whether can be taken to the court.

Our politicians have proved themselves man and women without principles. We as voters so far have been easy to dupe, have proved ourselves excessively selfish, completely devoid of thinking of greater common good and myopic to the core. This has brought our democracy to a perilous situation. Every single retrograde practice of the society is being used to the hilt to capture power, be that caste or religion or any other kind of conflict in the society. The crude force that was used in a feudal setup to control populace has been replaced by chains in the mind, which are even more dangerous to humanity.

There is an all-round attack on clear thinking, rationally held convictions and courage to act. The tools come in all imaginable kinds of shapes and sizes. Ranging from blatant play on caste and religious sentiments, drawing people into cycle of consumerism and leaving no place to think by bombarding people with half-truths and dubious opinions. Sadly, this very post is likely to add to the last-mentioned tool of dumbing down clear thinking.

Caste and religious thinking charge our minds. The cycle of loan-buy-earn-pay-more-loan leaves us with no time to reflect. In such a situation reasoned convictions get no chance of forming, and if formed erode quickly. Bombardment of half-understood half-truths through social media serves in creating a false belief of being well-informed, knowledgeable and produces an illusion of thinking for ourselves. The only way to break free of the sinister web is to reflect. And reflect we don’t.

Gita warns against loss of clear thinking:

क्रोधाद्भवति सम्मोहः सम्मोहात्स्मृतिविभ्रमः | स्मृतिभ्रंशाद्बुद्धिनाशो बुद्धिनाशात्प्रणश्यति || २.६३ ||

“Anger produces confusion, confusion produces loss of memory, loss of memory produces destruction of the mind, and because the mind is destroyed, he perishes.”

The cycle does not need to start with anger, though that is being stocked through religion and caste. It can actually start directly with ‘sammoh’ (confusion or bewilderment). The politicians and mass media presently focus on this. The rest of the cycle progresses to logical end by itself.

Socrates declared unexamined life as unworthy of living. But was also aware that his audience is unlikely to believe him: “you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say again that daily to discourse about virtue, and of those other things about which you hear me examining myself and others, is the greatest good of man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you are still less likely to believe me. Yet I say what is true, although a thing of which it is hard for me to persuade you.” He was right, and he could not persuade his audience. Nor are we persuaded by him today, we do not examine our beliefs about what our politicians say and do seriously enough.

The only things that can save our future as a proud democratic and secular nation are clear thinking and courage to act. Otherwise we will continue to be duped by various devices as our history of last 70 years has proved.


“As per government policy – No Muslim candidate was invited …”

March 12, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

Early morning a friend sent a link to an article titled ‘As Per Government Policy, No Muslim Candidate Was Invited, Selected or Sent Abroad’ which claims that the Ministry of AYUSH has categorically stated in reply to an RTI query that “as per government policy, no Muslim candidate was invited, selected or sent abroad” as a trainer/teacher during World Yoga Day 2015. The article also has a scanned copy of the letter from the Ministry of AYUSH which sates “As per government policy – No Muslim candidate was invited, selected or sent abroad”. The letter also states “Total 711 Muslim candidates applied for short term assignment (Trainer /Teacher) during World Yog day 2015”. This information seems to have come from “Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga”.

The admission that it was “as per government policy” that “no Muslim candidate was either invited, selected or sent abroad” is so brazen and stupid that an ordinary citizen of the “SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC” of India does not know what to make of it. Assuming that the present day government actually has such a secret policy would it be so stupid to admit it openly? Such an admission is extremely risky in political terms, and the Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court can definitely—if I understand the legal position correctly—take the government to task for this. One hopes with crossed fingers that it is some kind of stupid clerical mistake. Not because one has any trust in the secularism of the party in power, but simply because the cost of such an admission is too high for any political party to be able to take that risk.

Therefore, one tries to look for reasonable logical possibilities why such an open admission of blatant unconstitutional religious discrimination may take place. There seem to be four reasonable possibilities:

1.   The government does have such a discriminatory policy secretly, and some inefficient official spilled the beans inadvertently.

2.   The government does have such a discriminatory policy secretly, and some unhappy official spilled the beans deliberately to warn the country.

3.   The government has no such policy but some official deliberately used such language to defame it.

4.   The government has no such policy but some official made a stupid and dangerous drafting mistake.

I am not counting the possibility of the letter being forged, as that would be too risky for the author of the article. Possibilities 3 and 4 only provide further proof of incompetence of the government and I will not consider them here anymore. Therefore, rest of my comment is only on the possibility of the government really having such a secret policy.  

One does not need to deliberate on the issue of such policy being against the constitution, that it in violation of human rights, and would be morally extremely depraved; as all this is too obvious.

If one believes in this possibility then the nation is in great danger. Secularism, justice, equality and fraternity among its citizens are being deliberately destroyed. And this should become the most grave and important concern for every democratic citizen of the country at the moment. If this be the case, then all the charges of intolerance, throttling freedom of expression, unleashing lynch mobs and victimisation of critics are automatically proved. Condemnation of a government which can even contemplate such a policy would be grossly inadequate response. This becomes an occasion for all out fight against such a government. I do not know the legalities; but such a government loses all moral right to remain in power in a secular democratic country. And the citizens who want to safeguard democracy and secularism have no more important duty than to dislodge such a government as speedily as possible.

However, as I said above, one still hopes that it is some kind of stupid mistake. I wonder if one can seek clarification from the government through the Human Rights Commission or through the Supreme Court.


Unprincipled Politics and Distorted Secularism

September 5, 2015

Rohit Dhankar

“I shall not therefore enter into the merits of the Constitution. Because I feel, however good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot. The working of a Constitution does not depend wholly upon the nature of the Constitution. The Constitution can provide only the organs of State such as the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. The factors on which the working of those organs of the State depend are the people and the political parties they will set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and their politics.” BR Ambedkar, 25th November 1949

Ambedkar was prophetic in this statement. The insight expressed in the statement is not limited to constitutions; it is equally true for any other provisions in the law and principles in political ideology.

Nothing illustrate the truth of the statement more painfully than the misuse of two potentially positive ideas by the Indian politics in last more than 60 years. The two ideas I have in mind are: One, the idea of reservation as affirmative action for those who suffered deliberate deprivation by the powerful in the history. Under this idea, which is enshrined in the constitution, reservation in various positions in the polity, administration and government jobs are provided to the scheduled casts and scheduled tribes. The second idea I have in mind is interpretation of secularism as sarva-dharma samabhava.

Both these ideas are distorted by the political exigencies to the extent that they have become obnoxious tools to destroy social harmony and encourage communitarian competition which has made communities totally self-seeking gangs devoid of any ethical considerations. The distortion does not only create competitive animosity between communities, it also instills the value of selfishness in all citizens.

If the reservation would have been used properly for upliftment of deserving communities with other supportive economic and educational measures it would have not only helped the deprived community, but also would have contributed to the overall capabilities of the country by including a large section of population in national endeavors at appropriate places and with appropriate powers. But the political parties were quick to realize the vote-bank potential of the provision and used it to the hilt. Now we have communities like Patels (Patidars) and Jats, who are doing reasonably well, clamoring for reservations. The whole process of vote-bank use of the provision has helped caste becoming a political identify which is firmly entrenched in the Indian society for many decades to come, if not many centuries. Now even if the caste markers like ­ideas of purity, endogamy, occupation, etc. disappear the caste as a political power group will survive by reinventing itself. The misused idea of reservation has helped in giving a new lease of life to this ancient monster of Indian society.

The second idea sarva-dharma samabhava was itself a distortion of secularism. But still it could have functioned as a positive idea if we would have taken it in the spirit in which Gandhi defined equimindedness towards all religions. (For a brief comment on this see my blog )

In this blog I write: “But modern-day Indian sarvadharma-samabhava is equal capitulating in the face of all religions. One cannot interrogate and raise questions about religion. Hussain, Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie are victims of this mentality. The current interpretation of sarvadharma-samabhava bans critique of religion, kills freedom of expression. It sets all religions in competition with each other for more and more preferential treatment from the state, more and more freedom to create public inconvenience in the name of melas, poojas, namaaz and muharram. If one religion encroaches on the road to build a temple, the current sarvadharma-samabhava attitude does not allow the law to take its course and declare that as an encroachment and act to remove it. Rather it prefers abject surrender to encroachment in the name of Mosques, Chapels and Gurudwaras constructions as well. It is a mindless bowing down in front of religious force and cannot be justified as a kind of secularism or even as Gandhian sarve dharma sambhava at all. However, the Constitution of India correctly interpreted, and if implemented in spirit, still has the strength to uphold secularism in its true spirit of equal distance from all religions.”

At one level it is a good sign that Indian intellectuals are recognising the problems in this Indian interpretation of secularism. For example Prof. Irfan Habib recently has said:

“Actually, one of the difficulties, ideologically, is that we have rejected the global notion of secularism. … It was first used by (George Jacob) Holyoake (in 1851), who said secularism is morality without religion, without any idea of after-life. He also said secularism is linked to the idea of welfare (of people). This is the correct notion of secularism.[1] Emphasis added.
Another very reputed historian and public intellectual Prof. Romila Thapar recently observed that “Secularism is the curtailment of religious control over social institutions, not the absence of religion from society. It is when our primary identity is of equal citizens of the nation, not as belonging to a particular religion or caste. But the Indian definition of secularism is limited to the coexistence of many religions …”.[2]

I am neither a historian nor have been following Professors Habib and Thapar, but it would be interesting to investigate if this understanding that Indian definition of secularism is incomplete and defective, and that it has created problems for us, is their recent discovery or their past writings also have been on the same premise. This observation of mine is just a politically relevant curiosity, and no accusation that they understood secularism differently in the past should be read into this.

However, be that how it may, they both are still determined to ignore half the truth and emphasise only the half that they like. Prof. Habib, after recognising the problem of Indian understanding of secularism says that this “idea of secularism opens the door to majority communalism” and that “It is absurd to say that if we treat all religions equally, then religion can play a part in the state. Since there is no abstract religion, then only the majority religion can play a part”. Thus the problem with this idea of secularism for him is that it could be used by the majority religion. Prof. Thapar echoes the sentiment, with some difference, when she says that “is incomplete because some religions can still be marginalised as they are”.

The actual situation is that this distorted definition of secularism open up a long contest between all religions to grab as much pubic space as possible, and to attack as many democratic ideas as possible, from their own perspective; be they minority or majority.

It is quite clear if we look at the recent history of religious attacks on the freedom of expression. If a Hussain paints Saraswati or a Ramanujam writes an article on Ramayana; one kind of bigots will be after their blood. If a Rushdie or a Taslima write something another kind of bigots will be after their blood. The state rather than protecting the fundamentally important democratic value of freedom to criticise will try to placate both. And open the doors for killing people who might criticise religion.

If a Namaz blocks a road every Friday, rather than stopping this public inconvenience the state will allow Ganapati Pooja or Krishna janamastmi to block the roads for days. This competition for grabbing public places escalated and due to this distorted understanding of secularism the government can stop neither this not that. We need to correct the definition but not because it privileges the majority religion, which it actually does not; but because this provides a convenient ground for all religions to attack democracy and freedom of thought.