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Secularism and the Myth of ‘Hindu’ Tolerance

‘Secularism’ has now become a bad word and it is quite fashionable to attack, criticize and ridicule it. Just about anyone, regardless of whether s/he has spent even a minute thinking about it, can attack it. A television channel  recently even decided to have a vote on whether we should ‘have’ secularism or not, I understand, after an utterly ill-informed debate. It is almost as if the blame for everything that is wrong with Indian society can be laid at the door of this monster called ‘Secularism’. Modern Hindu ideologues have of course, mastered this art of blaming every evil practice of Hindu society on to some ‘Other’: From untouchability and sati to child marriage, purdah and the everyday violence of caste oppression –  everything apparently happened because of ‘Islam’ and Christianity’. Later, Marxism and secularism were added to the list. And while we are at it, let us remember that the great Bal Gangadhar Tilak led what was perhaps the first mass nationalist anticolonial mobilization, against raising the  Age of Consent of girls for sexual intercourse from 10 to 12 years! Much of that righteous indignation continues to be the hallmark of the new defensiveness that the 21st century ‘raging Hindu’  exhibits.

For everything wrong in the behaviour of these adult men with walrus moustaches, an explanation exists in some founding childhood trauma for which their adulthood can never be held responsible! ‘Secularism’ now is the name of the insistence that wants to hold the modern Hindu responsible for his acts today, rather than let it remain suspended in a permanent state of childhood. I suspect, the term ‘secularism’ today, in Hindu Right discourse, is no longer about the ‘separation of religion and politics’ or ‘sarva dharma samabhava‘ (equal respect for all religions) and ‘dharma-nirpekshata‘ (neutrality between religions) at all, but the ghost-house where all the pathologies of this traumatized child(hood) are played out.

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