Our secularisms by Pratap Bhanu Mehta
Written by Administrator
Tuesday, 23 April 2013 09:52
New India needs a secularism embedded in institutional commitments
For those who care about secularism, the politics of who can be labelled secular is a puzzle.
Secularism sometimes seems to be reduced to an ineffable quality of the heart. Secularism
as a personal virtue is the idea that the individual does not harbour invidious prejudice
against particular communities for being who they are.
This is an important virtue. But in India this personal virtue has been such an unreliable
guide to the institutional practice of secularism. This is what deepens the puzzle. How do
people come to be marked as secular in political terms? If people make the transition from
being allegedly non-secular to acceptably secular in political terms, like L.K. Advani apparently
has but Narendra Modi has not, what are the markers of this transition?
This question is complicated. Religiosity has never been a marker of secularism in India. Some
deeply religious people can be good political secularists; many non-religious characters have
been perfect charlatans on secularism. Being secular used to be identified with a historical
orientation: subscribe to one single Congress-Left narrative of Indian history.
This was a paradoxical position. It recognised that avoiding religious strife was an important
political task. But it went about this task by disavowing the idea that there could have been
genuine religious difference and conflict in the past. It sanitised, almost as if to say that the
truth of Indian secularism needed the lie of Indian history.
Where secularism lost out was that both secularists and non-secularists were fighting on the
terrain of the past. It was something of a liberation when some finally recognised that let history
be history, and let it be argued out as such. Crafting a forward-looking community of fate, bound
by common values, would be ill served by the narrow interpretations of the Left or the fanatical
ones of the right. And so the irony that the Indian political system did not know what to do when
figures like Advani and Jaswant Singh took a rather more complicated view of Jinnah. At first, it
made them anti-national, then it seemed to have shored up their secular credentials.
The third marker might be institutional behaviour. But here the story gets puzzling. Rajiv Gandhi's
regime, in a short span, took more anti-secular decisions than any government had in living memory,
achieving the rare feat of making every community feel targeted. You might ask the question: which
government has gone by its rajdharma in the face of imminent riots?
Even the redoubtable Tarun Gogoi seems to have a difficult time preventing the largest internal
displacement of Muslims. Here the record turns out to be mixed. The Congress's legendary
inaction for four days during the Mumbai riots, documented by the Srikrishna Commission, is up
there in the abdication of rajdharma. And how can we certify that Narayan Rane or Chhagan Bhujbal's
change of heart was more genuine than that of any other lapsed secularist who professes now to be
secular? Are Muslims less likely to be targeted for being who they are in terrorist investigations or riots
in Congress-ruled states? The evidence from Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan suggests not.
Then there is the question of how close you have to be to communal forces to vitiate your secular
credentials. Why does the fact that NDA allies did not pressure Vajpayee more forcefully to act
against Modi not count against them on the secular question?
There is a nauseating use of the 1984-2002 pair in public argument. One side says, since 1984
happened don't ask questions about 2002. The other responds by saying Rajiv Gandhi has passed
away, while Narendra Modi is a live political issue. But here is the problem. What do you make of
a government that appoints a CBI director who gives Tytler a clean chit as governor? You don't have
to prejudge Tytler's case. But the appearances are damaging to justice and erode trust. You have to
wonder why this act of messing with institutions does not warrant the communal tag. You have to
wonder why clamping down on art in Baroda University is communal, but clamping down on free
exchange of ideas on the Jamia campus is not. Is it because of a construction of secularism that
regards it as a matter of ineffable intent, not one that assesses institutional conduct? Or is it a
version of the hilarious line from Ishqiya: tumhara ishk ishk aur hamara ishk sex?
The point is not to pick on the Congress. Despite its veneer of pedigreed gentility, it is rotten
enough to be an easy target. The point is this: it is worth reminding us why the terms of
ideological discourse are still very much set by the BJP versus Others, not by the Congress.
Nitish has his opportunistic calculus. But his speech could draw lines in the sand more convincingly
than Rahul. The second point is more conceptual. Secularism has been conflated with a rather
shadowy personal virtue that seems to survive all kinds of institutional perfidy. Even within the
BJP, what distinguishes Advani from Modi? After all, Advani's autobiography gives the same
narrative of 2002 that Modi does. Or is it simply that secularism means consecration by passage
of time? Often, secularism is a kind of gesture of reaching out, as Nitish Kumar hinted: recognizing
that the topi has the same place as the tilak. Faced with the organised violence of right-wing mobs,
this is a valuable gesture. But this politics has limitations. It rests on creating coalitions of fear:
the topi being swamped by the tilak. It rests on boxing people into identities, which you then protect.
It does not recognize that a robust secularism now needs a new institutional language: one founded on
individual freedom, dignity, rule of law, building institutional accountability and so forth.
This version of secularism also personifies it: the knight with benevolent intentions providing protection.
This was Mulayam Singh's model: a benevolent protector presiding over a rotting state structure, secularism
embedded in his persona even while the institutions that should embody it go to the dogs.
Modi's own answer to the question on the meaning of secularism was bizarrely off the mark.
Secularism, he suggested, means putting India first. It aligned secularism with some kind of
personal loyalty test, a move with an insidious history. But again, missing the element new
India needs: secularism embedded in a series of commitments — individual rights, freedom
of expression, dignity, equal treatment by the state, rule of law. But then he might be forgiven.
Between opportunist cant and ineffable virtue, the institutional foundations of the idea long
disappeared. Which is why the three-cornered fight over secularism seems a contest between
the shallow, the hollow and the callow.
The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi and a contributing editor for 'The Indian
Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 April 2013 10:02
PRESS RELEASE- Condemn the witch-hunt of anti-communal activists
Written by Priyesha Nair
Saturday, 23 March 2013 07:59
We at Citizens for Peace, express our solidarity with the undersigned
individuals and organizations, condemning attempts to harass activists
working for justice in Gujarat.
In solidarity with Teesta Setalwad and CJP
March 22, 2012
We the undersigned condemn the sinister attempts to malign and hound activists
engaged in ensuring justice for the victims of state sponsored violence against the
minorities in Gujarat. In what has now become a pattern, powerful vested interests
close to the ruling party in Gujarat, have again attacked Teesta Setalvad and Citizens
for Justice and Peace (CJP) on charges which are blatantly false and malicious. CJP has
already clarified that no one associated with their society has either collected money nor
acquired anyone’s land for the Gulberg memorial; the insistence by a section of the press
to continue to publish partisan and fabricated reports can only be attributed to ulterior motives.
More than ten years after thousands were killed, maimed, raped and rendered homeless
under the watch of a government, these motivated campaigns only point to the continuing
impunity at the highest level. The timing of this vicious campaign is all the more significant,
as it pre-empts the filing of a protest petition against Narendra Modi by Smt. Zakia Jafri.
We express our solidarity with CJP and appeal to all media houses not to be party to this witch-hunt.
Manisha Sethi, Ahmed Sohaib, Sanghamitra Misra, Adil Mehdi (JTSA)
Kavita Srivastav,Mahtab Alam and Ramdas Rao (PUCL), Anil Chaudhary, INSAF
Harsh Dobhal, HRLN, Madhuraesh Kumar, NAPM,
Kamayani Bali Mahabal, human rights activit, Mansi Sharma, Activist
Last Updated on Saturday, 23 March 2013 08:22
The pillorying of Ashis Nandy: His critics need hearing aids
Written by Priyesha Nair
Tuesday, 29 January 2013 14:45
The Jaipur literary festival is almost notorious for creating storms in a teacup.
To its credit though, if offers a different flavor of literary tea every year. Last year, it was
a variant of the Rushdie phenomenon, where a group of aspiring litterateurs read out
passages from the Satanic Verses and then succumbed to political correctness.
This year, the controversy came in a session chaired by Urvashi Butalia, publisher Zubaan,
where the debate was about corruption. The participants were an assorted lot including
Ashutosh of IBN 7, Tarun Tejpal of Tehelka, Philosopher Richard Sorabji, and Political
Sociologist Ashis Nandy, who is also author of The Intimate Enemy.
Tarun Tejpal set the tone of the debate by referring to the hypocrisy of the elite while
arguing how difficult it was to break its coral reef of corruption. Nandy began by taking
off from Tejpal’s comments. Nandy tried to suggest that corruption is a form of collective
competence. The elite feather its nest through rituals of mutuality.
One secretary gives a fellowship to a friend’s niece and the other in turn offers a cozy
position to the secretary’s nephew. Caste almost turns into a cozy club where the elite
distribute the goodies of a system. Corruption thus becomes a way of diverting public
goods and services to private gain. The elite played this game with great elan.
Nandy’s argument is a complex one. To understand it, one has to first understand that
the electoral system circulates corruption. New groups entering the system therefore, see
election as an opportunity for corruption. Indian democracy becomes a game of musical
chairs of corrupt practices.
Any one reprimanding a Dalit or Tribal for corruption often gets the response that, “it is
our turn now”. The performance of a Khoda or a Mayawati confirms this will to corruption.
The only difference is that their behavior looks more blatant next to the oiled corruption
games of the elite.
Nandy’s statement has to be seen in this context.
Ironically he sees corruption as a form of confidence, of new elites entering into a
system. A corrupt Dalit who is milking the system understands and exploits the new rule
games as well as a seasoned Brahmin Congressman. Corruption becomes a form of
distributive justice in an electoral system, an Index of how well new elites can play
the power game.
Playing a one-man transparency International, Nandy claimed that the most corrupt
acts now came from OBCs, Dalits and increasing scheduled tribes. It was this statement
that sparked the controversy.
Political parties and activists had a field day asserting political correctness. Ashok Gehlot
observed that naming a political community, especially an oppressed class was not fair.
Kamal Farooqui claimed it reflected a mindset, and like Brinda Karat stated it reflected
certain elitism. Mayawati was more ruthless in demanding that every legal mechanism
be used to ask for Nandy’s arrest.
Nandy was surprised by the controversy. He was quick to apologize but his apology was
more in the nature of clarifications. He said he was not trying to hurt people’s sentiments.
In fact , he claimed his statement was in support of Dalits and tribals.
Corruption, he claimed, was a sign of their confidence in handling the system, an ability
to face up to the arrogance of the elite. However it did little to clear the air, with TV
anchor Ashutosh describing Nandy’s statement as “bizarre”. How does one look at such
a controversy which has Orwellian tones of some one being more corrupt than others?
What Nandy defines as agency, as hope, is treated by others as an attribute, or
essentialism about lower castes.
One wished the critics had a hearing aid.
Nandy was claiming that equitable corruption was indicator of the health of the
openness of the system. He was implying that the right to corruption is as critical a
right as the right to property, development or free speech. It was a nuanced argument
probably made in a unnuanced way. A chorus of political correctness cannibalized the
quote without any sense of Nandy’s writings or his politics. Here was a man who had
consistently argued that politics was the most open of systems, more open to new
players and new ideas than the economy or education. A systemic comment was misread
as a personal statement.
There is something about our politics that combines subaltern ideas and populist
statements into a lethal hybrid of political correctness. Dalits and OBCs are treated as
sacred cows. We provide them with an official identity kit while trampling their life chances.
Nandy was trying to break through that hypocrisy, but unfortunately got caught in a fly
trap of populism. Mayawati and Kejriwal both had their field day.
One must emphasize that Nandy as a public Intellectual has always been controversial.
His writings on Sati, or the scientific temper or on Gandhi’s assassination attracted
similar vitriol. Nandy has mellowed but he still remains a ‘street fighter,’ ready to grapple
with the fate of ideas, obsessed with the idea of democracy.
This brings me to the last point, the importance of context for text. Maybe Nandy’s
statement came on a day when official unity walked in uniform. Republic day presents
Indian culture in statist tableaux. Fortunately this sense of order was challenged by the
disorderly order of the Kumbh where a civilization festival provided a context to a parade
of the nation’s state on Republic day.
Bollywood turned out at its official best where patriotism from Manoj Kumar to Lagaan
was the preferred idiom. But Nandy once again proved the joker of conflating levels by
reading corruption by Dalits as part of the new agency of democracy. He played the
gadfly and public intellectual.
The question is, can democracy learn to listen and then respond? A provocation can
be domesticated by an argument. Sadly one heard very few arguments. What one
saw instead, was provocation being met by a vigilantism of political correctness. One
hopes that more playful minds enter the debate. The Nandy controversy is a perfect
fable of our literary and cultural impasse as constructed through politics.
Shiv Visvanathan is a social science nomad.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 January 2013 05:40
Written by Priyesha Nair
Thursday, 24 January 2013 00:00
I’d like to say thank you with all my heart to the six hundred guitarists who gathered and
played IMAGINE together in India a few weeks ago in protest to the terrible violence done
to an innocent woman. You have used your creative skill to make a powerful statement.
On New Year’s Eve, somebody suggested to me how about OCCUPY PEACE?
OCCUPY PEACE will bring an immediate result, since you could create it everywhere on
Earth just by imagining.
I love the idea.
Start imagining covering the planet with OCCUPY PEACE. Occupy dark alleys. Forgotten parks,
land roughed up by ignorance and anger.
In our world, at this time, it is a challenge to use our true wisdom and creativity to keep peace
against violence and war. But we will.
Follow the Indian musicians’ act of courage, and designate a time for all musicians of the world
to play the song. The Key of C is the key of Peace. The purity of the sound will help heal our
John will be standing with you with his old Rickenbacker.
Photo: A group of 600 guitarists in Darjeeling paid a musical tribute to the Delhi gangrape victim,
playing “Imagine” by John Lennon in a bid to spread “hope, peace and promise” in a country still
coming to terms with the violence. AFP/Diptendu Dutta.
Last Updated on Monday, 28 January 2013 11:02
Silent gathering mourning victim's death
Written by Administrator
Monday, 31 December 2012 02:19
At least three CfP members joined one of several meetings across the
country to express outrage over the Delhi gangrape; this one was at
Shivaji Park on Saturday December 29th. It attracted perhaps 250 people
and was entirely silent. Many who gathered wore black armbands. Others
held placards: "Don't Rape", "Disqualify Rapist MLAs/MPs" and more.
They formed a line that stretched most of the way across two sides of the
park; later, they walked silently to nearby Chaityabhoomi where they sang
a song, observed a minute of silence, and then dispersed.
There is plenty of anger and outrage, of course. This was a horrific atrocity
and CfP demands that its perpetrators are severely and swiftly punished.
Still, it is a reminder of two things.
One, law and order remains something the ordinary Indian feels increasingly
unable to count on. The bus drove through several police obstacles
("nakabandi") that night. Why was it not stopped and checked? And after
public anger began erupting, why did the police react so hamhandedly and
brutally, by attacking those who were protesting this ghastly crime?
More sensitive and more responsive policing is not just something this
incident demonstrates the need for; it must be seen as the legitimate
right of every citizen. This is an essential foundation of a just and
Two, molestation and more remain everyday realities for most
Indian women. In understanding that, we at CfP suggest that no better
policing or severe punishments or fast-track courts will change those
realities. What will change them is a rethinking of a whole spectrum of
attitudes towards women: from their place in our homes to their freedom
to love and marry to the clothes they wear.
This is no easy task, but this gangrape show how urgent it is to begin
the process of introspection and rethinking.
Last Updated on Thursday, 03 January 2013 03:08
Bangladeshi’s in India: Myth and Reality
Tuesday, 02 October 2012 00:00
by Ram Puniyani
The Assam violence between Bodos and Muslims, alleged by many to be Bangldeshi infiltrators, has a long chain of repercussions. The number of dead is nearly eighty. Killings are continuing and the people who have been displaced have been over 4 lakhs. There is no exact statistics to tell us how many of the displaced are Muslims and how many are Bodos, still roughly some investigators have put the figure of Muslims 80% and Bodos 20%. The few reports which have come out tell us that the condition of the all refugee camps is abysmal, much worse of those where Muslims are living. Meanwhile many a voices have come up to express their own opinions.
The BJP leaders have strongly asserted that the whole violence is due to the Bangla Deshi infiltrators, whose number is estimated as per the flight of one’s imagination ranging from 10 million to 20 million or even more. It is alleged that they have encroached, taken over the land of the local natives, which is causing the dissatisfaction and so the hate for them. This hate in turn is at the root of violence. This is one case where displacement overshadows the violence.
Last Updated on Saturday, 20 October 2012 11:39
Confessions of a troubled secularist by Shiv Visvanathan
Monday, 15 October 2012 13:21
“If Muslims insist on speaking
exclusively for Muslims
and do not recognize Bodo
suffering then theirs is an
ethnic of narcissism”
This is an essay on secularism and the Indian Muslim. And I must admit the
recent events have made this a difficult piece to write. Let me begin
at the beginning.
I was born in Jamshedpur where I saw riot after riot triggered in urban
areas. I still remember the day in school when my classmate Obidul Islam
came to say goodbye. He told me sadly that his family was going
back to Pakistan. Obidul was a brilliant 100-metre runner and I
am still unsuccessfully racing against him.
As I grew older and watched the Mumbai 1992 riots and the Gujarat carnage of 2002, I saw with sadness how for the majority community, democracy tasted like castor oil, good for health but difficult to consume. While studying the Gujarat violence I saw how the community of Muslim survivors built a new citizenship around a community of law. I heard Mr Bandukwala, once professor of physics at Baroda University, tell the Hindus that even if you do not apologise I forgive you. Listening to all this I wondered what secularism meant.
Last Updated on Thursday, 03 January 2013 03:19
Gandhi and the clash of cultures
Wednesday, 10 October 2012 09:10
Do we want a peace born out of tolerance? Or do we want a peace that is the means for a much greater purpose in the onward journey of civilisation?
Sometime in October 2001 a laminated and framed letter appeared on the gate of a small park in downtown Manhattan. The author of the letter had lost her husband in the terrorist strike on the World Trade Centre two months earlier. Please, let there be no more killing, pleaded the writer in a letter which had been published by the Chicago Tribune and posted at the park gate by an unknown person.
That widow’s plea echoed the phrase made famous by Gandhi: ‘An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind’.
This conviction must have resonated strongly with others bereaved by the 9/11 attacks, for many joined a campaign to establish a Department of Peace in the US government. Many also rallied together in 2006 to celebrate a hundred years of Satyagraha – since it was on September 11, 1906, that Gandhi first made a public appeal for non-violent civil disobedience.
Last Updated on Monday, 15 October 2012 12:58