Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Jamila Verghese
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Why should a section of Parivar Hindus feel oppressed and inferior when they are so obviously part of the dominant majority and ruling elite in every sense?

The Indian idea: towards fraternity

Gujarat has questioned the very idea of India. It is time now to revitalise India's incredible diversity.

By B G Verghese

January 2003. Paper for Rajiv Gandhi Foundation.

Gujarat has rent the country asunder by questioning the very idea of India. The Muslim League tried to divide people but failed and had to rest content with dividing territory. Though partitioned, India remained India, something more than just geography. It embraces the history, culture, values and aspirations of a richly plural society and combines many streams and traditions down the ages. That the forces of Hindutva should now seek regressively to validate the two-nation theory is both tragedy and farce. This will not succeed. Yet, it represents a challenge that needs to be confronted by dialogue and reconciliation. The immediate task at hand is to rehabilitate the victims of hate in Gujarat and ensure that their citizenship is made whole again through justice, the restoration of dignity and removal of fear. The word “rehabilitate” in its original sense meant ‘to invest with dignity’, a noble intent far removed from the squalid official pretence in Gujarat. Civil society must step in to fulfil this solemn duty from which the Central and Gujarat Governments have resiled.

The larger task is to mend India. This calls for introspection about what has gone wrong. Why should a section of Parivar Hindus feel oppressed and inferior when they are so obviously part of the dominant majority and ruling elite in every sense? Why this warped self-image, the lurking grudge and retreat into the dim past when it is the future that beckons? At one level, the ordinary mingling and jostling of everyday living in India has produced a remarkable inter-cultural penetration over generations in every field. Maybe at another level, there has been a relative absence of meaningful social discourse in recent times, with community leaders talking at rather than with one another. Where there is dialogue, the terms of discourse have been skewed.

Secularism narrowly defined

Secularism, for instance, is a basic feature of the Constitution, literally an Article of Faith. The dictionary meaning of ‘secular’ is to be worldly and in the Indian context the term was perhaps meant to signify separation of church from state. Yet the constantly reiterated concept of sarva dharma sambhava implies equal respect for all faiths, not atheism; for India is a highly religious society. ‘Equal respect’ is however difficult to practice when so little has been done to teach even the rudiments of the great religious traditions that flourish in the country. Sarva dharma sambhava has at best established a sense of ‘separate but equal’, quite the opposite of Fraternity, the major social premise of the Constitution. The term ‘secular’ was not found in the Constitution (except in Article 25 where it is used in its “worldly” meaning) until inserted into the Preamble by Indira Gandhi in 1976. The Founding Fathers rightly preferred the broader and nobler term Fraternity (togetherness, bonding, brotherhood) which encompasses much more than “secular” or sarva dharma sambhava.

Unfortunately, the meaning and practice of secularism was soon distorted. The Muslim underclass was orphaned at Partition with the exodus of many among the community’s elite and professionals to Pakistan. Its residual leadership vested with “nationalist Muslims” and the clergy after the integration of princely states and zamindari abolition effectively removed the latter two categories from the political scene. To a traumatised community besieged by uncertainty, it appeared prudent to cling to orthodoxy. Modernising Muslim tendencies for years received short shift from the Government in the name of a touch-me-not “secularism”. Religion and culture Culture is far wider than religion. But failure to distinguish the one from the other further distorted the meaning and practice of “secularism”. Urdu, a rich and uniquely Indian language, was an early “Muslim” casualty because of its part-Persian legacy.. Few who make such fatuous denominational distinctions realise that a good part of their English usage in ordinary conversation draws a great deal from the Bible. The Oxford English dictionary is said to contain over 3000 Indian words. This is enrichment, not aggression.

Everyday way-of-life customs such as bhoomi puja, saraswati puja or the celebration of Vishwakarma are correspondingly criticised as “Hindu” rituals violative of secularism if performed on public platforms. There is no such regressive thinking in Indonesia, the world’s largest Islamic state or Buddhist Thailand and Cambodia all of which celebrate their “Hindu” cultural roots. The great Muslim exponents of Hindustani music sing in praise of Ram and Krishna. The blending of “Hindu”, “Muslim” and other traditions in food, dress, architecture, rituals, festivals, sufi-rishi practices and much else is evident all over India. The teaching of history has been distorted by an unreal categorisation into so-called Hindu/ancient and Muslim/medieval periods emphasising dynastic rule and mutually antagonistic heroes and villains. In truth, after the first Muslim conquest, later invaders were challenged by Hindu-Muslim coalitions and overthrew extant Muslim regimes in Delhi. Beyond the court circle, Hindus and Muslims shared the same joys and suffered similar oppression at different times. The people’s history of India was not denominationally segmented.

Modernising Muslim tendencies received short shift from the Government in the name of touch-me-not “secularism”

However, revivalists see things differently. For some, history ended around 1000 AD with the Muslim conquest. Honour was only restored in 1947. In Hindutva’s new parlance, Porus’s battle against Alexander was the “first war of Independence” and the 1857 Revolt the second. Muslim revivalists on the other hand mourn the period after Plassey as a Dark Age of servitude. The rise and growth of Islam happened to coincide with the ascendancy of the Caliphate whose ending after the First World War saw some in India seeking its restoration. It took a while after Independence for such elements to come to terms with the reality of nation states and to reconcile themselves to the fact that secular India was not Dar ul Harb. On the other hand, the genius of Hindu India has been to make space for everybody and accommodate divergent tendencies within a greater oneness.

The adjustment of deep-seated mindsets and primordial emotions to changing political, economic and technological circumstances takes time. India is going through such a period of transition. The process has been slow and halting because social reform and the concept of Fraternity have been not been given the importance they deserve in nation building – witness the ham-handed manner in which matters of “official language” or cross-community and elite-to-people communications have been treated. The country has been all but bereft of social reformers after Gandhi and Ambedkar and, maybe, Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan. “Godmen” are no substitutes.

Minority syndrome

Another flaw in the country’s secular framework lies in the political investment made in the expression “minority”. The Constitution recognises religious, linguistic and cultural minorities who are accorded the right “to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice” and guaranteed protection of their customary laws and way of life (if scheduled tribes). These are valid safeguards that are not constitutionally extended to the majority community in terms only because they hold the reins of governance in their hands in any democratic calculus. Recognition of a minority implies the existence of a majority. A person’s religion for the most part is an accident of birth and less of independent persuasion, except by adult choice or conversion. Faith essentially is and should be personal, though rituals are prescribed and administered by religious establishments. Furthermore, individuals do take part in congregational worship and other observances and community festivals, many of which are, however, becoming secular occasions, market opportunities and, alas, even political manifestations. Every individual has multiple identities defined by sex, age (child/senior citizen), occupation, cultural attributes/preferences, interests and so forth. This may render him/her a majority under one category and a minority under another. Dr Karan Singh has often said that he is part of the majority community in India, but is a minority in J&K though again restored to majority status in Jammu. Likewise, Sikhs are the majority community in Punjab and Christians in Mizoram and Nagaland.

Often, however, people do not change as much as their appellations do. The label “minority/Muslim” or “majority/Hindu” is not necessarily what they themselves choose but what is pinned on them. It is the others’ perception that gives one his/her public persona. Ehsan Jafri died not because of what he was but for what he was perceived to be by a frenzied and misguided mob. Unfortunately, faith has been politicised and, religious communities/denominations, like caste, sought to be treated as vote banks. This has put a premium on numbers and electoral/political power, whereas being part of a “minority” or “majority” is in many ways more a matter of attitude than of numbers. A self-assured, well-educated, confident Parsee, Sikh, Christian or Muslim, seldom sees himself as a “minority” as he can hold his own among the rest. The same can be said about the “son of the soil” (bhoomiputra) once he knows he can withstand economic and social competition on merit. It is the weak, uncertain and diffident who suffer a minority complex.

Thus Sinhalese often betray a minority psychosis vis-à-vis the minority Tamils in Sri Lanka. Similarly, the Hindutva crowd constitutes a vociferous minority in India because of the strange inferiority complex it exhibits. This condition calls for correction through dialogic therapy. Both majoritarianism and minorityism should be eschewed. In any event, it is quaint to describe the 130 million and more Muslims in India as a minority. This is to drain words of meaning. At best Muslims are a “minority” in relation to Hindus, no more. The term in fact derogates from the principle of equality of citizenship and has by wrong usage come to imply a patron-client relationship. Hence the RSS formulation that minorities must “earn” the goodwill of the majority community. The Canadians have dealt with this problem more creatively by formally labeling their tiny Inuit (Eskimo) community the country’s “second majority”.

Article 30 gives minorities the right to run their own educational institutions. These enable them to make senior appointments and “administer” these institutions and to reserve up to 50 per cent of admissions to members of their own community even though they are beneficiaries of government aid. The width and ambit of this Article is currently being argued before the Supreme Court. The Arya Samaj and Ramakrishna Mission have in the past pleaded minority status to be able to establish and administer their own institutions. This is odd; but answers can be found to such conundrums. However, it is not obvious that minority educational rights discriminate against the majority in any real sense.

Ultimately, what matters is conformity to prescribed standards and, more than that, excellence - whether the institutions be convents or madrassas or shishu mandirs and vidya bharatis run by the Sangh Parivar. Reservations and education Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are granted 15 percent and seven percent reservation respectively for electoral and educational purposes and in significant areas of public employment. Positive discrimination that places disadvantaged groups on a fast track is justified. Similar reservations were, however, declined by the Christian leadership in the Constituent Assembly. On the other hand, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains agreed that be deemed to be Hindus in the exercise of their right to freedom of religion (Article 25).

With the approach of Independence, some British officials sought to persuade Northeastern tribal communities to opt to become part of a new British crown colony. The Nagas and Mizos rejected these overtures and preferred to negotiate their future with/within India. These fragments of history are part of the unwritten social contract under which Independent India (and Burma) came into being. They are not necessarily sacrosanct; but they should not be forgotten, unilaterally reinterpreted or abrogated merely because of the passage of time. Going back on solemn promises must necessarily absolve both parties from their earlier commitments. The inability or unwillingness to understand this simple truth has been the cause of much grief in J&K.

Trust is more important than law. Sophistry cannot therefore mask the importance of the autonomy issue to reconciliation and peace in that troubled state. Reservations were meant to provide an initial impetus towards expanding opportunity and empowerment for hitherto deprived communities. They have served a valuable purpose and are still required, as the overall pace of progress has been slower than anticipated. Nevertheless, the original purpose has undergone distortion because the benefits have been largely captured by the “creamy layer” on top without filtering down the social pyramid. The absence of a rational exit policy has created a vested interest in the perpetuation and extension of “backwardness” through unbridled Mandalisation, efforts by others to secure their inclusion in the Schedules, and even a measure of re-tribalisation.

All this is a product of vote bank politics and has impeded the very purpose of enhancing equity where most needed. The barrier must be removed. If the political will is not forthcoming, the slower but nevertheless sure process of empowerment of the bottommost layers of the underclass through the growth of political and social consciousness will exert an upthrust from below that will not be long resisted. Universalisation of education is, however, supremely important for empowerment, especially of the girl-child, and could promote an earlier demographic transition, secular values and Fraternity. Not pressing forward with this imperative (together with adult literacy) despite the constitutional injunction to achieve schooling for all by 1960 represents a major failure of governance and nation building. It has also undermined secularism and Fraternity by perpetuating inequality, robbing millions of opportunity and reinforcing negative vote bank politics. In particular, Muslim Indians, late starters in modern education, fell behind in relative educational attainments after Partition as they felt beleaguered. Secular politics and the Muslim leadership also confused “protecting” the symbolism of Aligarh Muslim University with the totality of Muslim education as such.

AMU has never accounted for more than a tiny percentile of Muslims students in the country and even a smaller percentage of the successive cohorts of Muslim youth entering the educational stream. It is this educational failure more than anything else that has made Muslims relatively non-competitive in the employment market over and beyond any discrimination that they have suffered. Muslim youths have not competed for public service over the years in proportion to their numbers, resulting in their under-representation in the civil services, police, armed forces, industry and the professions. Where they have entered the lists, they have done well and many among them have excelled. This educational deficit, like that of other depressed sections of the population, must be made good. This must be a national objective and it cannot be left to individual communities to raise themselves by their bootstraps.

Caste, conversion, caring

While the State has fitfully endeavoured to roll back caste through legislation and political action, Caste Hindu society and the religious establishment have clearly done little in this direction despite certain social movements. Caste panchayats are still strong and dalits continue to face discrimination. The Sangh Parivar, with its high caste bias, has tilted at windmills and misdirected its efforts towards reclaiming an imagined past rather than in building the future. Hence the bizarre claim that the Gujarat atrocities, which have brought immense grief, shame and anxiety to the nation, constitute a triumph of “Hindu re-awakening”. Trading on Ayodhya and Gujarat-like pogroms for “Hindu consolidation” is vicious politics that will ultimately win few prizes. The issue of conversions has aroused Hindutva passions and led to the Graham Staines murder among other things. Mr Vajpayee called for a national debate on conversions after the serial attack on churches in Gujarat in 2001. No debate ensued and it is not clear as to what precisely was to be debated.

This writer pointedly asked Mr Narendra Modi, his chief secretary and other senior officials in Gandhinagar (May 2002) if they could furnish details of any illegal conversions to Christianity by force or fraud in Gujarat, as indignantly alleged from time to time. They failed to name a single instance as did the two joint general secretaries of the VHP in Ahmedabad. The Constitution permits “freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion” (Article 25). This is subject only to public order, morality, health and other fundamental rights and includes the right not to believe and to be an atheist or agnostic. The right of an individual to propagate religion is accompanied by the right of others voluntarily and freely to convert to that faith. This is consistent with the citizen’s fundamental right to freedom of expression. Force and fraud are excluded by law and would be repugnant to any true evangelical effort. No doubt there has been crude mass conversion to Christianity in the past and possibly even “force and fraud” on occasion in more recent times. Any current default that violates the law should be proceeded against. If this is not done, it would be reasonable to infer that the allegations to this effect are merely propagandist. It must, however, be said that some revivalist churches and missions have been strident and insensitive in their attitude and approach to other faiths. This is to be deplored and, beyond a point, could be subject to restraint by law in the interests of public order. People convert to another ideology, point of view or religion out of conviction. Indeed, this is the basisof democracy. In post-Independence India, conversion to Christianity has occurred for a variety of reasons. Personal conviction is the foremost factor.

Religiously marginalised low caste Hindus have opted to change their faith to Buddhism, to Islam or to Christianity

Religiously marginalised low caste Hindus have opted to change their faith to Buddhism (first under Ambedkar, but even more recently), to Islam (as at Meenakshipuram) or to Christianity. They are no longer prepared to accept caste discrimination or oppression or tolerate grudging acceptance at the bottom of the caste ladder at the end of a long, slow process of Sanskritisation. Conversion in such cases is seen as an egalitarian option. Even if this has not always worked to the full, it has nevertheless served as an emollient and a first step towards the constitutional ideal of Fraternity and a life with dignity.

The social and economic condition of scheduled castes remains very unsatisfactory and the Commissioner/ Commission for Scheduled Castes and Tribes has been unable to accomplish very much. Parliament and successive governments have alike been indifferent. Political and economic reservations are by themselves insufficient and have largely been captured by the uppermost layers in both categories. Full citizenship is not a favour but an inherent and inalienable right. The Dalit movement has taken a more radical path, eschewing conversion but strongly asserting human rights within the community. The Christian message of loving one’s neighbour has found expression in caring for suffering humanity in the face of the studied neglect or incapacity of the State or others who (politically) claim the wretched of the earth as their own. This spirit of service has taken missionaries where others do not deign to tread.

Graham Staines, to name but one example, was found among the lepers in a backward part of Orissa because of the conspicuously absence of others. The example can be replicated in every part of India and in every sector wherever there is need for caring. This is no sinister, subversive plot, but a challenge especially to Hindu society to uplift its downtrodden and reform that which is outmoded and rotten. The State obviously has a major role to play; but this does not imply that society should merely stand by and watch. The ideals of social philanthropy (other than for individual salvation) are not sufficiently manifest. The Gandhian impulse has weakened.

The Northeast represents a special case. Tribal communities here have become Christian less on account of proselytisation than by osmosis. They have sought to differentiate themselves to maintain their identity in the ocean of Indian humanity in which they suddenly found themselves in 1947 after having been isolated in constitutionally-designated “excluded/partially excluded areas”. Conversion has also been an outcome of the process of modernisation and education for them. It is, however, noteworthy, that once tribal communities have grown in self-assurance, converts begin to search for their roots. This is true of the Seng Khasi movement in Meghalaya, of the Meities in Manipur and the Tipperas in Tripura.

Conversion is an escape for some (like migration to the West) and not a solution for the mass. It has also to some extent seen caste carried into the adopted faith. This apart, it is self-defeating for the Church to seek continuing reservation benefits for SC converts as a legacy of social deprivation. This does not end discrimination but merely mitigates it by transference to another social category. “Re-conversion” to Hinduism is equally, a hollow political ritual, symbolising nothing. Conversion previously entailed an element of de-culturisation that was seen as de-nationalising, especially during the Raj. This is no longer so in the main, but needs conscious correction if and where it exists.

Stability and change

The SCs and STs along with elements from among the OBCs constitute the bulk of those below the poverty line who suffer exploitation and want. The bonded, landless, share-croppers and other marginalised sections who depend on the commons are largely drawn from these categories. Agrarian reforms benefited some of the intermediate castes but were not pushed beyond a point. Vested interests intervened. The Naxalite movement in Bihar, Andhra and elsewhere is a product of aborted agrarian and social reform. Feudal oligarchies have co-opted those whom they could no longer keep out politically. Thereafter, all these joined together to shut the door on the rest. The law enforcement machinery was not used to implement the law in favour of equity and empowerment. On the contrary, it has been employed to prevent “disorder” and maintain peace by upholding the old established order and thwarting change. This continues. Those complaining of political instability should know that the country’s essential problem is excessive “stability” and too little change. Inertia, not “socialism”, is the most powerful force in India, not excluding the ranks of the Left (witness their fossilised trade unions which have become the enemies of labour and employment). Many constitutional promises remain unrealised for lack of political will which is itself a manifestation of the lack of social will.

The absence of a well thought out tribal policy represents another major weakness in the country’s social policy. India has the largest tribal population in the world – close on 80 million. Barring the Northeast, where tribal-majority states exist, the tribal condition is depressing. Official and even public attitudes have been uncaring or at best patronising, with reservations becoming a cover for neglect and exploitation. Most tribal communities live in the remoter plateau and upland interiors of Middle India, the Northeast and the Ghats to which they have gradually been confined. These residual tribal homelands contain the headwaters of most sub-Himalayan rivers, about 90 per cent of all the country’s mineral deposits and a large part of its remaining forests and bio-diversity. A modernising, industrialising and increasingly populous India is now inevitably making larger and larger drafts on these natural resources.

In the circumstances, the potential for conflict is obvious, especially as tribal communities gain political consciousness and begin to reach out to other “indigenous” peoples and the world at large. Indian tribal communities are not necessarily indigenous or more “indigenous” than those alongside whom they live. All citizens are equal, but weaker elements deserve a helping hand. What should cause concern is that some champions of tribal rights have misguidedly come to assert that they be left alone. There is much in the tribal way of life, their arts and crafts, customs and communitarian traditions that should be reserved and encouraged. Beyond this, romanticising the tribal condition is to put them in a time warp and condemn them to abjure opportunities that it should be theirs to enjoy if they so choose.

India’s tribes-people are awakening. They too need development - in a manner suited to their needs and genius. None of this need be in conflict with natural resource development in partnership with them. Unless this is done, Middle India is going to witness much avoidable strife and tension. Dalit-tribal frustration with the status quo is manifest in the Bhopal Declaration on “charting a course for Dalits for the 21st Century” adopted in January 2002 on the eve of the Durban Conference on discrimination and peace. This calls for negotiating “a new social consensus over redeeming the pledges of the Founding Fathers of the Republic to do justice to Dalits”.

Emerging diversity

There has been a deep-seated failure to understand and respond to the social dynamics at work in the country. Politicians, academics and the media alike appear bemused by “hung legislatures”, the continuing rise of regional and local parties and pressure groups, and shifting coalition politics. These are seen to reflect an unstable and dangerous fragmentation of the polity, threatening national unity. There is certain nostalgia for the old days of stable governments based on single party dominance and of a seeming unity in diversity without a sense of things falling apart. This view represents an optical illusion. India is far and away the most diverse country in the world. But in 1952 most of its diversity was latent within the passive underclass at the bottom of the social pyramid.

Over the past half-century, the population has tripled to over 1000 million. With successive cohorts graduating from “Bharat” to India, there has been an increasing manifestation of social diversity in terms of caste and community, dialect, manners and customs, ways of life, levels of development and so forth. This continuing process may take another quarter century to exhaust itself. It is only then that India’s diversity will stand fully revealed in a population that will have grown to 1300-1400 million by then. What this means is that India’s diversity is upthrusting from below, each newly empowered cohort tangling with and pushing against those above and below it in a bid to proclaim and establish its identity and assert its right to access to and participation in opportunity. This unstructured, on-going process will be characterised by turbulence and jostling as long-deprived communities will initially be more zealous of its rights than mindful of its duties.

Hindus have no reason for worry. They have the numbers, the talent and civilisational maturity to hold course

India therefore must be seen as moving from what was a superficial unity of elites to a boisterous diversity, characterised by localism, sub-nationalism and impatient assertiveness. This will organise itself in new, fast-changing social formations ready to make and unmake social and political coalitions to advance whatever be the cause. This will be neither tidy nor “stable”. But, given accommodation, growing empowerment and opportunity, could unleash tremendous bursts of energy providing impetus for radical transformation and change. The process has to be forward looking and unifying, not hierarchical and harking back to an imagined past that cannot be reclaimed.

The next two decades are therefore likely to be conflict-prone and will need careful political and social management through a widening and deepening of access and participation. The established order must yield to change on the basis of liberty (empowerment), equality (social justice) and fraternity togetherness as citizens, in place of zealotry). Greater decentralisation and federalisation of government, smaller states and the strengthening of civil society will help achieve the future envisioned by the Preamble to the Constitution. Secularism inadequately expresses the dimensions of this unfolding drama, encompassing as it does only part of what it is going to take to breathe life into the Idea of India.

India’s unity will be guaranteed in proportion to its celebration of diversity. The country is not a melting pot nor even a bouquet, but a garden of profuse colour, fragrance and variety. There is no “mainstream” here. Every rivulet makes and is part of the ocean. On this reasoning, the revivalist “cultural nationalism” of Hindutva and the concept of Hindu Rashtra appear out of place and irrational. So also any brand of Islamic fundamentalism propagated in India even if enunciated only as a defensive response.

It is unacceptable, as recently happened, for orthodox elements to proclaim a fatwa against Muslims who supported the BSP to form a ministry in UP with BJP support. Religious interventions in politics,
whether Islamic, Christian, Hindu or any other, will provoke a backlash. Nor is there any basis for a “clash of civilisations” in a plural and democratic India. The economy must grow and the polity must
correspondingly allow increasing accommodation and participation.

Hindus have no reason for worry. They have the numbers, the talent and civilisational maturity to hold course. Muslim Indians constitute a large segment of the Islamic world and as heirs to South Asia’s Islamic tradition have much to offer. Therefore, rather than retire into a shell, Indian Islam too must be ready and willing to innovate and not be fearful of change. Socially, Muslim Indians have fallen behind Pakistan and West Asia whereas, historically, they have every reason to be in the vanguard, taking their rightful place as a confident and progressive community within the Indian Fraternity.

Imperative of social reform

For all of this to happen, India must turn to social reform, abandoning the narrow practice of touch-me-not secularism which has come to mean equal respect for everybody’s communalism. An obvious casualty of this trend has been a uniform civil code. This Directive Principle of the Constitution has for too long been used as a stick by Hindu zealots with which to beat Muslims. All personal laws in India need first to be codified before one can even begin to think of a uniform civil code. These codifed personal laws and practices must also be brought in line with the principles and values of the constitution such as gender equity and human rights if and where there is any departure from them. Uniform values are entirely consistent with divergent practice and so there is little need to insist on a mechanical uniformity. Nor is this what the Constitution seeks. At the same time, there is a real and urgent need for an optional civil code for inter-caste, inter-faith, inter-regional and inter-cultural interactions that are becoming increasingly common in India with upward mobility, imigration and urbanisation.

The uniform civil code does not have to be mandatory but can be left to individual choice. It is absurd that none other than Hindus can adopt a child in India. The rest must take recourse to the Guardians and Wards Act. Issues of marriage, divorce and succession have a great deal to do with women’s status and their property rights. The hidden agenda behind much of the opposition to an (optional) civil code is the fear that that gender justice will injure masculine pride and pockets. Few know that Goa has a uniform civil code, a legacy of Portuguese rule, and that efforts by the Maharashtrain Muslim orthodoxy to persuade Goan Muslims to opt for the Shariat law have been firmly rebuffed.

The Government and civil society must enable and encourage all children to go though primary and middle schooling until the age of 14. There has to be an area-wise targeted approach to reach Muslim, SC, ST, OBC and other disadvantaged children. Madrasas enjoy a certain salience in Muslim education because formal schooling alternatives are lacking and as such they have a role to play. But there is no reason why madrasas should not be upgraded and integrated within the formal educational system.

The content and infrastructure of education – textbooks, the writing of history, buildings, equipment and, above all, the training of teachers – must be ensured. The tendency for vested interests to appropriate history for narrow ideological ends must be resisted. The current battle over the school curriculum, textbooks and the writing of history will, hopefully, result in the evolution of sensible norms and methods in this regard. Children must be exposed to all points of view and not brought up on prejudice and stereotypes.

Comparative religion and cultural appreciation should be taught at all levels so that children and adults alike learn to understand and appreciate the inter-cultural rootedness of so much of what is around us. Religion is and should be remain a personal affair while culture belongs to all as a shared tradition.

Towards Fraternity

Hinduism, a great and lofty tradition, is very different from Hindutva, a narrow mindset. It is therefore a matter for concern that the latter should have stridently appropriated the former. The crisis within Hinduism is manifest in the Hindutva narrative of “innocent victimhood” and revenge. Placing “Ayodhya” above the law is to court trouble. The RSS reversion to the two-nation theory at Bangalore and more recently in relation to the “trifurcation” of J&K spells danger. While India does have a problem with Pakistan, any attempt to arouse jingoism and national chauvinism and turn this inward must be firmly resisted. A resolution of Indo-Pakistan tensions and building SAARC would be a potent means of softening communal angularities and enlarging fraternity. That should be direction of Indian diplomacy.

Caste represents another major impediment to progress and modernisation. It has indeed been wasting away steadily; but its death throes could be prolonged and prone to violence if weak or delayed social reform retards political and economic growth to a degree incommensurate with the expanding opportunities needed to accommodate the quantitative and qualitative transition from Bharat to India. wentyfive years ago, Govind Nihilani could make a film, ”Aakrosh”, where the hero, a bonded labourer, remains silent throughout, only grunting and groaning as he is beaten cruelly by his master’s henchmen. That silence has since yielded to a culture of protest. But rising Naxalite and tribal unrest and pent up dalit impatience and anger could explode in greater rural and urban violence unless there is change. The causative factors and pattern of adivasi violence against Muslims in rural Gujarat merits closer analysis.

Is this a harbinger of things to come? There is a crisis in Indian Islam too. Muslim Indians have to come out of their shell in greater numbers and claim their Indian heritage. An outgoing and achieving community will do more to ensure Muslim pride and well being than the dictates of the orthodoxy. The jehadis are, of course, a throwback. The very fact that Muslim leadership has had to be assumed by the Personal Law Board is sad evidence both of a vacuum and an inwardness of thinking that fails to relate to the bigger picture and larger opportunities. This again is not a task to be left exclusively to Muslim Indians.. It has to be a shared national responsibility.

there's no reason why in this day and age governments should have any role in managing religious institutions

The Supreme Court has defined secularism as being a basic feature of the Constitution. Rather that it had substituted Fraternity in this definition. However, there is no reason why in this day and age governments should have any role in the management of temples, gurdwaras, wakfs and similar religious institutions. The State may legislate where necessary; beyond that it should withdraw and leave it to the respective communities to manage their religious affairs. All “isms” tend to ossify. So it is perhaps with secularism. Henry Cox in “Secular City” distinguishes between secularisation and ecularism. He describes secularism as “an ideology, a new closed world view which functions very much like a new religion.

Secularism is a closed "ism". It menaces the openness and freedom secularisation has produced (and) must therefore be watched carefully to prevent it becoming the ideology of a new establishment”. Further, “It clips the wings of emancipation and fixes a society on the pins of another orthodoxy”. (Cited from A.T.Thiruvengadam, “Indian Intellectuals and the mea culpa culture”. The Hindu, April 23, 2002). Are we then in danger of being trapped in a rigid mould? The issues of secularism and fraternity, majoritarianism and minorityism need to be debated anew. Though something terrible happened in Gujarat, the greater tragedy and worry is that some feel no remorse and would justify what happened. Rather than barren confrontation and further polarisation, however, this should be a time for reconciliation.

That will only be possible through widespread introspection and intense dialogue among and between all sections of Indians. The understanding and resolve that that engenders could lead to a national catharsis leading to a new social contract based on Fraternity. January 2003.

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