Am I secular?

Do we need to conform to the skewed concept of who is 'secular' in India?

Am I secular?

There was a time when the word ‘secular’ elated my heart. ‘Secular’ was synonymous with the blossoming of peace, and the oneness that has been propagated by mahatmas of the past. This magnanimous belief of our land is etched in the ancient Sanatan spirit of “Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava”. The secularism I knew widened horizons and created stimulating circles of writers, thinkers, philosophers, scholars and artists. It nourished sentiments of compassion and brotherhood.

The actual word secular implies that the State has nothing to do with religion – initially with reference to the Church. However, in this article, I am only and purely referring to the loosely, commonly understood household usage of this word ‘secular’, at a small social and personal level.

On exploring Hindu traditions many of my views on spirituality and Hinduism transformed. I found myself back at the lotus feet of my Ishta Devata who was missing in my heart for the past twenty-odd years. Temples opened their doors for me, and festivals burst with beauty and colours of lavish celebrations. In all this wonder that had unfolded, something started to change in the most unexpected way.

Learning about my teerath yatras, interest in Bhagawad Gita, or sharing the need to free temples from the government, was not digested well by my like-minded secular friends. I was taken aback by their growing allergy.

Are we not secular? Did we not enjoy Sufi music and relish kababs at my iftar parties in my non-vegetarian days? Did we not speak about how India and Pakistan shall surely become peaceful, and artists and sportsmen need not be dragged into politics? Did we not enjoy Christmas parties and Holi celebrations with chandan and tesu flowers? We even spoke about Navratri and Vaastu Shastra.

I thought we were truly secular and had no objections to any particular religion. However, soon I began to receive ‘enlightening’ lectures on what Hinduism truly is – as my articulate friends discovered from reading books authored by politicians on this subject. I was told how I must never start imagining Krishna as a personality (naam-roop). No one gave me the same advice regarding Buddha when I was studying Zen. I received offensive messages about how temples have too much wealth and are “useless” to this poor country while their Gurus do large langars. These friends were unfamiliar with the roots of their own Gurus and their entire history that is inseparable from Sanatana Dharma. They were not aware that our temples have been crippled by our ‘secular’ Government and devotees pay ‘taxes’ for being Hindu, unlike them (when we give offerings to the temples). My friends would probably be in deep shock if they are to ever discover the traditional function of a Hindu temple and the vast ecosystem it supports.

On matters of Kashmir, I was asked to stop playing ‘victim’ and was patronizingly told how the repeated genocides of Hindus must be forgiven and forgotten. Some claimed its purely political. They never even acknowledged the existence of the displaced Kashmiri youth who had no family outside Kashmir or settlements abroad when they were thrown out. Those who live in pathetic refugee camps, have lost parents, homes and identity. Strangely, the same indifferent secular friends were dedicated to the welfare of victimized Kashmiri youth (of current Kashmir) and campaigned tirelessly for justice for Tibetan Buddhists.

Did I have a very poor understanding of secular views or my friends have some rare illumination which was yet to dawn upon me?

Secular friends were upset if I shared discoveries on the ideological differences between Dharmic traditions and Abrahamic faiths – quoting right from the teachings of their own scriptures. They could not sit through ‘peaceful’ discourses of notable Islamic clerics or watch Evangelists do their ‘salvation’ magic in Punjab. I was warned about my ‘communal’ tendencies. Absurd, since we often argued about and criticized ills of Hindu society and researched endlessly on them. Why the partiality?

My brothers were happy to distort facts and history to suit this mysterious secular ideology. Soon there were just too many instances to bring forth the rude realization that this secularism is plain dishonest.

Ishwar, Allah, God – all meant the same to secular people in theory but with the exception of Ishwar on bases of convenience, regardless of what the actual implications of these words that are in the very philosophies of these traditions. If you truly believe that all religions are the same and equal, why don’t you stand strongly against conversions as are happening in India?

The point is not to raise issues about other religions or indulge in “what-aboutism”. The examples are stated purely to demonstrate selective secular views. All have the freedom to follow the religion they love. Every human being is potentially divine, regardless of religion as per a dharmic view. However, if you are truly secular and have no comments to make if I am visiting a Mosque, Church, Buddhist temple, or Gurudwara then why do Hindu temples and its practices agonize you?

Why do you have a problem with me practising aspects of my religion without any fear or apology?

Why is there an issue in accepting differences and yet acknowledging the oneness of humanity and divine life-force in all? This is at least what Hinduism teaches us – we are pluralistic and profess no ‘one way’ for all. All religions have different practices, philosophies, and goals too – hence they are not the same or equal, factually. However, we may appreciate and mutually respect one another, putting basic human values first. Universally, human beings have the same inherent desires, while they may belong to any religion, country, or belief system. Is that so far-fetched?

What is the real nature of such secularism that props up in the drawing-room conversations? How does it operate from two opposite poles simultaneously? Where is at the heart of this secularism? Or does this secularism target those who practice a way of life of the oldest living civilization and its traditions?

Hinduism is the majority (very naturally) of the land it belongs to. With its narrow views, this secularism is against anything that would represent the majority. However, if Hindus happen to represent minorities due to Islamic terror, their views suddenly shelter the majority. Peace and love are reserved for few. Are we really all-inclusive or liberal then?

It seems only fear or vested interest can instil such selective and inconsistent responses of compassion, respect or outrage. Do these ingredients make a meaningful value system?

With experiences as above, the wishy-washy secular fragrance of my heart was recognized to be nothing more than a repulsive stench of double standards. My pop-liberal ideas were crushed. It was time to let go of the stinking garbage bag and rejoice.

All ‘secular’ doors are closed for one who adorns a tilak, wears saffron, and says Jai Shri Ram. Hindu expression is bigoted and spreads hate, feel the secular angels. Till when would I remain a part of this spineless brigade?

So then, am I secular – the kind described here? NO.

My eyes were further opened by learning the origin of the term “Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava”. This sealed the epic end of a grand illusion.

We can surely appreciate differences like one does while walking through a garden. I may choose to sit under the fragrant Parijaat tree. I would avoid the thorns and would have to pluck out the weeds to maintain the garden. The mango tree shall only give mangoes and not apples – both are different and can’t be compared, so expectations need to be realistic. The snakes and birds have their own indispensable role to play in the ecosystem. Would I put my hand in a snake’s hole? No. We can honour every aspect of life, knowing where to indulge in and where not to.

I personally prefer to be guided by the lamp of the Hindu philosophy based on dharma and adharma. This prejudiced secular view certainly doesn’t feel very healthy.

Recently, it was amusing to watch the responses of secular brothers. In the past, they were resentful towards BJP for supporting the Hindu cause of the Ram Mandir at Ram Janma Bhumi, Ayodhya. They used the term “bhakt” in the most derogatory fashion. Post the 5th of August, the same people expressed sudden bhakti towards Shri Ram with an unrealistic nationalist surge. Others declared 5th August as a “Black Day” on the anniversary of article 370 being abrogated. I was speechless and am glad to have resigned from the secular parade a while back. Do such ‘progressive’ ideas represent good human ethics and integrity?

We need the courage to stand up for our ideals – not impressive English or big professional roles. Sometimes we have to question our beliefs, swallow pride, and stupidity to let go of rotten mindsets, as I had to. It’s never too late. Flexibility and discernment can help us change for the better so we can get a good night’s sleep. The liar in us may just start taking the back seat.

About Author: Mudita Badhwar

Mudita is a housewife and a perpetual student. She is in awe of ancient temples, loves to be in nature, and explore Indian arts and crafts.

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