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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Secular modernists prove greater threat

By Swapan Dasgupta

The appeal by the Union Cabinet to all Indians to exercise restraint and keep the peace after the Allahabad High Court delivers its long-overdue verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute was a necessary pre-emptive measure. Such an appeal may well be pro forma but it does send out a signal to the country to take the verdict in its stride.

It is equally reassuring that the two main parties to the dispute have actually pre-empted this call for calm. The RSS chief has indicated that his parivar, which includes the VHP and the wild Bajrang Dal, will be guided by strict Constitutionalism and the various Muslim bodies have advised members of the community to refrain from either celebrations or assertions of victimhood. It is possible that the extremist fringe in both communities will not be moved by the calls of the leadership and emulate the stone pelting delinquents in the Kashmir Valley, but as long as the unruliness remains localised and without wider community support, it should be possible for any purposeful administration to control the hotheads.

On the face of it, there are only two sides of the dispute: those who want to construct a grand temple on the site they believe is the exact birthplace of the epic hero Ram, and those who want to restore the place to its pre-1949 status of a mosque. As far as the judicial process is concerned this binary divide is valid. However, in a wider social and political sense, the dispute has also been cluttered by the interventions of what Pope Benedict XVI described last week as the very distasteful "aggressive forms of secularism".

Of course, what the Pope had in mind in the context of Europe was a variety of macho atheism that does not exist in a meaningful way in India. The "aggressive forms of secularism" in India has come packaged in the guise of rootless modernity.

Found mainly in the rarefied enclaves of the English language media, history and sociology departments of universities and internationally-connected NGOs, rootless modernism proceeds on the premise of inherent cultural and intellectual superiority. Though this section occasionally falls back on quotations from Mahatma Gandhi, the Upanishads and the rhythmic excitement of Sufi music and Baul songs—all items of favourable currency in trendy, avant garde circles—their intellectualism is aimed at establishing a separation from both the "great unwashed" and the nouveau.

Wilfully giving offence to the mass of believers or simply mocking them is the signature tune of aesthetic superiority. Since organised Islam tends to be extra prickly in viewing both blasphemy and disrespect—witness the harassment of Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen and the Danish cartoonist—the impetuous modernists have concentrated their ire on popular Hinduism.

Some of this derision, particularly when directed at charlatan godmen and cruel practices that discriminate against women and 'lower' castes, is richly deserved. The problem lies not in the criticism or even denunciations but in the tone of the assault.

Public memory being short, not too many people may recall the seminal contribution of India's modernist elite to vitiating the atmosphere and triggering a vicious and often unpalatable Hindu backlash. It began with the disingenuous denial and justification of vandalism by medieval Muslim rulers—a process that led to the dishonest rewriting of Indian history. It continued along this path with political interventions that were not merely insensitive but positively inflammatory.

The Ram devotees were asked to produce a birth certificate testifying that the figure they venerated actually existed; the dispute over the religious antiquity of the disputed site was sought to be settled by a show of hands in the Indian History Congress; a Left ideologue argued that Ram was chosen over Krishna and Shiva for 'liberation' because he was upper caste; another Left activist was reported as saying that the disputed site should be converted into a non-denominational, public urinal; and a cultural organisation linked to the CPI(M) organised an exhibition highlighting some obscure belief that Sita was actually Ram's sister.

To believe that these were maverick voices comparable to some of the hurtful ballads popularised by some itinerant Bhojpuri singers who appeared in local VHP programmes is to create a false equivalence. The 'underground' cassettes and histories sold in the narrow lanes of Hindu temple towns such as Ayodhya were truly fringe: their creators never figured in mainstream discourse and never got invited to the interminable seminars on the subject.

The secular modernists were different. They tried to steer the debate into another direction by a campaign of mockery and derision which included posters saying "sharam se kahon hum Hindu hain". To my mind, their smug condescension and haughtiness were significant factors in triggering Hindu anger in the late-1980s and early-1990s and, indeed, preventing a negotiated settlement. The Ayodhya explosion had a strong anti-elitist bias which stemmed from the fury of the outlanders.

The Government has appealed to Hindus and Muslims to show restraint and keep larger national interests in mind. But it is not the religious-minded who necessarily provoke each other. A big threat to calm could come from the 'cool'secular-modernists (not least in the media) who believe that they have a monopoly right to give offence.

Sunday Pioneer, September 19, 2010



aniketvishwarupe said...

Mr. Swapan Dasgupta I am little lost in this article. You mean to say that justifying the vandalism by Muslim sultan's was wrong and apparently you are secular (I assume this because you supported building of mosque near where twin towers once stood) but if modern secularist are wrong then how should a secularist like would defend secularism? I know we can take revenge now on people who did not do anything but the fact that 'vandalism by Muslim sultan' is true , angers lot of Hindus. How do you calm them. Also I believe the result of case mostly will go in favour of Muslims as there is no way the existence of ram can be proven. What's your view?

Ketan said...


What you wrote was eye-opening! I didn't know the kind of things that some members of media and the leftist organizations, viz., the history writers and communist parties had done. My initial reaction was that you were stereotyping atheists and were generalizing about them [I am an atheist], but perhaps you are right, the majority of atheists (or who pretend to be so) in India, do not appreciate the nuances of ethics. Ethics is not a binary of 'legal' (I have a right to do something) v/s 'illegal' (I do not have a right to do something), but very much factors in the motives behind doing certain thing and also its consequences. It is sad and shocking that I had not even known about such provocations! The media hardly covered these. Why?

You are very right that the history text books are a watered down version of what could have been the reality, especially with regard to the tyranny of Muslim (and in particular, Mughal) rule in India. In my textbooks there was hardly any mention of violence by Mughals. It was very late - around a year back (I am twenty-five, now) I realized reading an interview of VS Naipaul, that Muslim rulers had been tyrannical and very destructive. My grudge is, why not speak out the plain truth? Moreover, how were then these efforts any different from 'saffronization' of education that Murali Manohar Joshi was accused of?

Two possible typographic errors in the article:

1. "...signature tune of aesthetic superiority" should have been "...signature tune of atheistic supremacy"

2. "'cool'secular-modernists": there should have been space between 'cool' and 'secular'. :)

Ketan said...


I think you are missing a point here. It is not about proving the existence of Ram, but only of Ram Temple!

If it ever came to proving the existence of any kind of God, perhaps, most places of worship would have to be made illegal.

Even the existence of Allah (to whom, I believe the Babri Mosque was devoted) cannot be proved, and additionally, Islam considers idolatry as blasphemous, so there is no special need for any Mosque to exist anywhere.

So we are not talking proving existence of one mythical character or the other, but given the archaeological and historical evidence we have and using the concepts of ownership and inheritance (or any other ethical/legal/Constitutional considerations that might come into play), the question is: which of the bodies (representatives of Muslims, Hindus or some other party) should have control over the disputed site?

Anonymous said...

Sorry but previous mail by Ketan exemplifies what is wrong with so-called Indian/Hindu "atheists" - complete inability to think for yourself and blinded by years of brainwashing by colonial education system marked by self-hate.

You asked how MM Joshi was trying to "saffronize" textbooks? (Another misnomer which you have blindly borrowed from secularists.) Well answer is in you e-mail itself- as you have indicated in your mail that your textbooks did not mention any Islamic atrocities, well, would you call including those in textbooks as "saffronization"? or discussing Vivekananda, Sankara, Bankim Chandra in place of mass murderers like Mao and Stalin saffronization?

Ketan said...

Anonymous above,

I have no idea what changes MM Joshi had suggested or got effected in the history text books, and it was keeping that in mind, I had put 'saffronization' in inverted comma and moreover, I had used the qualifier "accused of".

Ketan said...

And one more thing Anonymous, which of my statement you found to be filled with self-hatred?

Anonymous said...

I don't see anything wrong, as a matter of rational and historical enquiry, asking for proof that RJBM is indeed Ram's birthplace. However, that question is only as relevant in the context of Mandir-Masjid dispute as is the question of whether Quran is indeed the word of Allah, or if Mohammed is indeed the last prophet as is claimed. The case for a masjid eventually rests on these claims. The fact that the so-called modernists demand proof of Ram's birth, but not of Muslim claims vis-a-vis their belief, is evidence for me that these chaps are no "modernists" but apologists of Islam.

Anonymous said...

This is one of your BEST article. Kya kahu sir, I'm speechless. We need more people like u..par kya kare Swapan jaise log(ppl) paido(trees) par nahi laga karte. U r rare sir. Aape bina India right ka kya hota soch kar he dar lagta hai..

aniketvishwarupe said...

I am just saying that Ramayana is mythology and so is Ram. So in the court of law its hard to prove that Ram existed and Babari mosque is his birthplace. I do not have problem worshiping lord Ram or any other god neither am I atheist but point is how do you convince the Judges. Instead if someone said that there was Ram mandir there and it was demolished by Babur to build mosque then I will agree and existence of Ram mandir can be proven easily through the hard evidence. I welcome comments on this issue.

JayKumar said...

Aniketvishwarupa: -

Still you live in the world as demanded by secular media. If some one asks what is your religions say I am secular that is what media wants from Hindus and not from others. Reason behind is that they cant digest the success of Hindus which has attained global high compared to others. In spite of breaking Hindus into different caste and community we Hindus have done far excellent in all fields.

Lets come to point: -

But fact is that media never showed this fact before nation that yes there exist ASI report on Ram Mandir.

Now after this proof of excavation of grand Hindu temple benaeth the Mosque, media argues there is no evidence that temple was destroyed and mosque was built. Even small child in this country will never believe this theory of media.

Read last para what secular court orders stoppage of excavation work just because norms was not followed what stops court to appoint new head and continue excavation? Even what stops court to bring new technology to trace what really exist beneath the mosque.?

Karuna questions existence of Ram but same he never questioned existence of Lord Murugan who is mostly worshiped across TN. Same is the case with media they question Ram Mandir but same they will never support cause of Hindu sentiments. So far not a single media asked why Muslim wants that structure constructed Babar?

Bhanu Prasad said...

--So in the court of law its hard to prove that Ram existed--

The argument in court can be of the existence of Ram temple and not of the birth place of Ram.

And only a fool worthy of a membership of communist party of India or fan's association of Arundathi Roy would contest the historical claim.

ashok pai said...

Atheists like Karunanidhi are astounding. they are selective in their attacks, and mostly divisive only to the extent of a local vote bank strategy. but they have a larger impact on the collective memories of Indians as a whole. the deep divide that had existed between north and the south will be renewed afresh. Lord Ram conquers the Hindi heartland, and to show contempt at Lord Ram is a sacrilege, and the anger of the Hindi heartland would be vented out against south Indians in some other way.

so people like karunanidhi are fomenting trouble that will make the country less united. it probably serves the purpose for these regional satraps.