Secular, The Most Dreaded ‘S’ Word in India

‘Secularism’ has officially become a dirty word in India. In a country that is lost and aching, people are slipping deeper and deeper into a bottomless pit of hate and division. Robbed of our aspirations and opportunities or maybe just stoking our deep-seated bigotry, we have become so engrossed in our recreational hate that we have turned a blind eye to the many advantages that our Constitution grants us. Perhaps this madness is the making of a crucial lesson that was long overdue but wonder how much will be lost before we learn anything sensible and good.

These days, whenever, wherever one expresses a liberal idea or says something sensible, it invites a popular response, “Go to Pakistan.” This may include questioning the Government on its failures and dishonesties or just upholding the key tenets of our Constitution that promises a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic. This begs the question, who are we really “insulting” with that retort? Herein, it is not rabid conservatism that is upsetting, although it is a concern, especially in developing nations like India, but the level of stupidity to which conservatism has fallen.

Currently, in India, rabid conservatism has infected everybody, from the village elder to the young, urban IT staffer. It is as if, betrayed by the promises of a more connected world and in search of our roots and culture, we are returning to our tribes and falling back on our bloody pasts of religion and caste. And while doing so, we are steadily segregating ourselves, weakening the strengths of our society. These days, one can easily find a highly-educated and informed professional from a big city spewing the most senseless, even criminal, speeches to protect an invisible honor.

Gifts of the Constitution

Does a person employed with an MNC in India and chanting “Go to Pakistan” bother to ask why his/her employer chose to open a shop in India and not in Pakistan? There must be just as bright and equipped folks in Pakistan, so why do they have lesser opportunities compared with the youth in India? Asking such questions defeats the idea behind that chant – recreational hate. India’s largely uninterrupted secular, democratic history is a matter of pride compared with the struggles of our neighbors. In the current atmosphere, we refuse to recognize that critical advantage.

India prides itself as a reliable partner in creating growth for stakeholders from across the world, and based on local ingenuity and resources, we have seen a steady rise in partnerships too. While taking advantage of such opportunities, we fail to recognize the Constitutional strengths that allowed them. The secular, pluralistic, democratic features of our Constitution are the pillars that have supported inclusive development and growth in our nation. These are the features that build and nourished a strong middle class and guaranteed an equal voice for a variety of minorities.

However, in the current environment, we credit these advantages to the mercy of the privileged. If a person has a comfortable life, it is because a politician or a business person has allowed it. If a person from a minority group has a voice, it is because the majority has allowed it. This may sound completely idiotic, but, presently, people genuinely think along such lines. People across the nation, who do not have access to quality education, healthcare, infrastructure, job opportunities, etc., are obsessing over their religious and caste pride – this was never the idea of India.

State approval of bigotry

And corrupt Governments and the institutions they control are taking advantage of this erosion of trust and intelligence to hide its incompetence. Just this week, the Governor of the state of Maharashtra, an unelected post nominated by the Central Government, used the word “secular” in an accusatory fashion, officially recognizing the anti-Constitutional stance of the ruling political party of India. The move, which was meant to stoke rabid conservative sentiments, marked a milestone in the steady degradation of Constitutional values under the ruling Central Government.

Also, this week, we saw India’s largest jewelry brand Tanishq, promoted by one of India’s oldest and largest business conglomerates, pull out an ad from the air that showed an inter-faith marriage. Every enterprise is being arm-twisted into abandoning the ideas of India. Hopeless and helpless people are being tranquilized by compromised news media on heavy doses of narrow, nationalist propaganda so that they forget asking for their rights as citizens, and instead engage in divisionary activities. These communications, often criminal, are being upheld by the Central Government.

Meanwhile, a vast section of the educated and the privileged, encouraged by personal ideology or selfish interests, are warming their hands in the fire. These people are lining up behind politicians with whom they would otherwise not do business or have any relations. They want a man as their Prime Minister who they otherwise would not want as their boss or as the CEO of their company. The double standard is vulgar. One will find investors spewing hate about the food habits of certain communities while they are invested in food ventures that cater to those communities.

Soft hate and road ahead

In such groups, one can also find soft conservatives masquerading their real reason for supporting the popular dispensation – religious and caste pride – behind unfounded explanations of economic growth and national progression. Strangely, their expectations from the political oppositions are sky-high compared with the people that are currently in power. They keep running back to the past to explain the disasters of the present. This dishonesty is being propelled through the mainstream and social media, taking us further away from the concerns that should concern us.

There are also the undecided ones, the ones who will not take a stand till the flood reaches their doorsteps, who by not raising their voices have become complicit in the erosion of our values. It is truly tragic how a former colony that worships its freedom fighters has become so cavalier about its freedoms. Here the questions arise, what are the social injustices and economic desperations, or for that matter, hopes and aspirations behind the mass willingness to give up democracy and human rights? What are the insecurities driving people into seeking comfort in chaos?

How can we build a $5 trillion economy, create millions of new jobs, develop and deliver essential infrastructure and services with such conspiracies taking precedence over our Constitutional values? While the ignorance of the ill-informed can be excused, the complicity of the informed in this careful destruction of our nation cannot be overlooked. Again, perhaps these disruptions are components of a valuable learning exercise, but the question remains, how much will be lost before we wake up and just how expensive will be that chaos that wakes us up? Let’s hope we see sense before it is too late!

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