How India remains pluralistic


Staff member
A glimpse to Indian thought and philosophy....

How India remains pluralistic

By Veerappa Moily, Former Chief Minister of Karnataka
Thursday, 19 June , 2003, 12:23

At home, Indians came into contact with successive bands of foreigners - Greeks, Parathions, Scythians and Turks (Kushanas)- who came as invaders and were ultimately absorbed in the vast population of India.
They were completely merged in Indian society and adopted the language, religion and customs of the land, without retaining any trace of their foreign origin.

This reveals to us the catholicity of Hindu society of the period, in sad and striking contrast to the narrow rigidity and exclusiveness, which characterized it at a later age. There are other evidences to show that the Hindu society of this age was a living organism, which could adapt itself to new environment and changing circumstances.

An impression is sought to be - or is being - created that the future of India's secular polity is at stake. This is highly misleading, if not mischievous. Excesses of this kind only give an erroneous impression to the outside world that India's pluralist and liberal mindset is under siege, that we have surrendered our glorious inheritance, and have now embarked on a process of undermining our historical experience of successfully managing a multiethnic, multi-religious, multi-caste society and policy.

Merely because we face a contemporary challenge of a certain magnitude does not mean that we should indulge in this kind of unnecessary self-flagellation.

It is not for the first time that we have faced such challenges; in every such case in the past, reason and logic have triumphed. Our belief in our unity in diversity has never wavered over the years. There is no reason why this time the situation is different.

The basic feature of a modern civilized society is that people belonging to different ethnic or religious groups should be able to live together with dignity, respecting each other's rights, religions and cultures without subjecting any group or groups to hatred or ridicule or mental torture to them. It must always be remembered that the citizenry is uniformly subject to the tax laws of the country, regardless to his caste, creed or religion, and contributes to the revenue of the state and is therefore entitled to equal treatment under the law from the state and its various instrumentality.

In a pluralistic society, where people respect each other, where there is opportunity for a free flow of ideas, a meeting of minds, this alone can generate an atmosphere conducive to national growth and integration. Hatred and intolerance are bound to vitiate the atmosphere and stifle economic growth.

If a section of the population is discriminated against and denied participation in developmental activities, there will not be any "unity of purpose" and we will be drifting in different directions.

Secularism suits the genius of a multi-religious, multi-caste and multi-lingual country like India best. The secular ethos, furrowed deep by Mahatma Gandhi in the minds of India, nurtured a sense of tolerance that had kept society together as well as democratic.

We are one of the poorest nations in the world. Most of our erstwhile third-world brethren have left us far behind. The need of the day is to show laser-focus on economic development. For such progress, we need an environment of peace, unity, enthusiasm and hope.

If we start the divisive mindset, there will be no end to this — North Indians will discriminate against South Indians; Tamil against Telugu; right against the left; educated vs the uneducated; the rich vs the poor; the urban vs the rural, and so on. This is a one-way street with no u-turn; it has no upsides, only downsides.

We should stop thinking in terms of leaders of a community, and think only of leaders of the nation. Moreover, we have to create a system where people elect leaders for their performance rather than their caste or religion. Modern, successful leadership is all about dealing with the contemporary and the future.

It is not about fighting for relics, icons and ideas of the past. As we have seen, a nation is judged by its contemporary status and not by its past.

We have to vigorously work towards economic progress so that the youth have hope in the future. As Aristotle has said 'Hope is a waking dream'. Our leaders have to send the message of tolerance, love and affection to the youth of the country through vivid examples.

Ethnic and religious conflicts threaten to tear apart more societies today than any other issue. These conflicts rise out of identity movements that construct an enemy 'other' and characterize themselves as nationalist even though they are based on exclusionist agendas. Since these movements do not adhere to democratic norms they seek to achieve their goals through private armies or militias.

Just like religion has been used by militants to enforce identity politics so as fundamentalist forces mix religion and militancy to mobilise civil society. The threat of multiple fundamentalism and the militia has torn apart many countries.

Hindu tradition is based not on acceptance of particular gods, dogmas, revelations and religious structures but on reverence for Dharma which is the rule of law and the ethics of the age.

Dharma is not immutable but is liable to change to be in consonance with changing times - hence, the concept of Yuga Dharma. Today's ethics, formulated by the constitution is secularism - that is the Yuga Dharma.

When on January 13, 1948, Gandhi began what was to be the last fast of his life. Sardar Patel acknowledged that communal hate and violence had driven Gandhi to the extreme step, and when during the fast he heard some people demanding the expulsion of Muslims from India, the Sardar responded with these words: "You have just now heard people shouting that Muslims should be removed from India. Those who do so have gone mad with anger. Even a lunatic is better than a person who is mad with rage".

Consequently, the rights of the minorities to their culture and religion and the right to be protected against majoritarianism, were recognized as far back as 1928 in the Motilal Nehru Draft Constitution.

Subsequently, Jawaharlal Nehru writing a note on minorities in Young India on May 15, 1930, was to state that "the history of India and of many of the countries of Europe has demonstrated that there can be no stable equilibrium in any country so long as an attempt is made to crush a minority or force it to conform to the ways of the majority. It matters little whether logic is on its side or whether its own particular brand of culture is worthwhile or not".

On May 25, 1949, Sardar Patel tabled the report of the Advisory Committee in the Constitutuent Asembly. "We wish to make it clear, however, that our general approach to the whole problem of the minorities is that the state should be so run that they should stop feeling oppressed by the mere fact that they are minorities and that on the contrary, they should feel that they have as honourable a part to play in the national life as any other section of the community".

The entire approach and thinking, moulded by Gandhiji, was to not mix religion with politics or the state. He said: “Religion is a personal matter which should have no place in politics.” When he said that politics would be based on religion, he meant that it should have a moral foundation in dharma, not religion in the sense we generally use the term. Pluralism was woven into the warp and woof of Indian society.

Those who participated in the movement for Independence had a dream: “When India attains her destiny, she will forget the present chapter of communal suspicion and conflict and face the problems of modern life from a modern point of view. Differences will no doubt persist, but they will be economic, not communal. Opposition among political parties will continue, but they will be based not on religion but on economic and political issues. Class and not community will be the basis of future alignments and policies will be shaped accordingly.”

Each incursion of foreign elements was a challenge to this culture, but it was met successfully by a new synthesis and a process of absorption. This was also a process of rejuvenation and new blooms of culture arose out of it.

Max Muller, the famous scholar and Orientalist, emphasised this : "There is, in fact, an unbroken continuity between the most modern and the most ancient phases of Hindu thought, extending over more than three thousand years.

If we were to look over the whole world to find out the country most richly endowed with all the wealth, power, and beauty that nature can bestow - in some parts a very paradise on earth - I should point to India.

If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered over the greatest problems of life, and has found solution of some of them which will deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant - I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature we here in Europe, we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans, and of one Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw the corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human a life, not for this life only, but a transfigured and eternal life - again I should point to India".

Aurobindo Ghose added a sad note: "If an ancient Indian of the time of the Upanishad, of the Buddha, or the later classical age were to be set down in Modern India… he would see his race clinging to forms and shells and rags of the past and missing nine tenths of its nobler meaning he would be amazed by the extent of the mental poverty, the immobility, the static repetition, the cessation of science, the long sterility of art, the comparative feebleness of the creative intuition". India should learn lessons of history.

The message of the Gita is not sectarian or addressed to any particular school of thought. It is universal in its approach for everyone, 'all paths lead to Me', it says. It is because of this universality that it has found favours with all classes and schools.

Let us not limit the universal territory of Indian creed with sectarian, caste and religious fireballs of volcano.
Brilliant article by Mr. Moily. It's rather sad actually. When India was formed it was hoped that religion and politics would seperate themselves from one another. What we see now is political parties demonstrating to the public, that they are more 'hindu' than the other party. This is most evident in the sudden upsurge in cow veneration etc. Hindutva has been poured into a new mould now- courtesy the VHP and the RSS. Elections are being won based on this philosophy- one has already been won in Gujurat. This augurs bad times for the muslims who compound their problems by remaining illiterate and uneducated. As far as leaders being elected based on their leadership qualities- in the present situation this is laughable. Politics has now become the profession of the good-for-nothings. The extent to which corruption has invaded the political system is scary. I agree with every single thing he said.
and have now embarked on a process of undermining our historical experience of successfully managing a multiethnic, multi-religious, multi-caste society and policy.

shouldnt the undermining of the "multi-caste" system be a good thing?
It depends on your POV. If we forcefully get rid of Multi-caste, why not multi-ethnic or even multi-religious groups. Let us all get homogenized to one race, one religion and one color....??

No baldness is allowed unless every one is....:D
All said and after all the major communal strifes, the beauty is that the strifes yet remain as aberrations than the dominant thought. If such divisive thoughts had permeated people's minds, all political power would already have moved to religious leaders, which is not the case. Probably this is the central thought and ingrained philosophy that has held the country up for the thousand of years.

At the same time, various religio-political sections should have a rational and reasonable approach, nevertheless.
Ideally religion should be separated from the state. However this should not lead to a situation where the state itself turns into an anti-religious institution and the politicians start projecting themselves as the demigods or alternative gods.

Constant attempts shall be made to incorporate the positive virtues of all the religions within public life and the system. So the state and the system should be able to see all the religions with the same eye and the same lens.

Fortunately India has been always secular and pluralistic, whenever it was free. The concept of religious bigotry has always been alien to the basic Indian concepts. Any administrator, who violated such norms, was never appreciated. Mutual religious tolerance was the key to the Indian way of life. This impression led Cleopatra to order her crew to run away to the lands of India, when her fleet was at the verge of being besieged by Octavion. Hazrat Hussain suggested his followers to move to the safety of India, where justice still prevailed. Parsis could find the survival only at India. India has been the safe heaven for Jews and Christians for approximately two thousands of years, even when they were being persecuted all around.

The alien invasions on India during the last 1000 years tried to puncture many big holes in this very tolerant and pluralistic scheme of the things. Obviously they could not succeed a lot, but they managed to create few dents on the mass psyche and physique. However this could not deter India from following it’s own charted path of secularism after the freedom.

Qualitative change to this scenario was brought about by the collapse of the global socialist system due to it’s own internal contradictions. However the ‘class fighters’ and the ‘religious fighters’ against socialism differently perceived and celebrated this as their own victories. They both feel now that the whole world is at their feet and god willing nobody can stop them from conquering the world. There is an opportunistic relationship of mutual friendship and enmity between both of them.

They combined together to shatter the secular fabric of Yugoslavia and in the process created a history by creating the first state in modern Europe on the lines of religious separatism. On one pretext or the other, the religious separatists are spreading a global tirade against other peoples and states. India is no exception, as to being one of the major targets of this modern religio-expansionism. The serious questions of defending the national integrity and its pluralistic culture have now been brought to the forefront, which can be achieved only through the struggle against the global religious separatism.

With Regards...
I hate to be a whiny, negative biatch but that article is filled with bloated visions of greatness and solutions, that in all good conscience, will never take place. India has every potential for has the right ingredients and budding minds to but it won't happen because the ruling bodies are riddled with ignorance and self preservating thoughts. These so called political fuckers would have their posistions and salaries raised before doing any good for the countries. I agree with the article but my cynisim of heroic proportions in me knows this is just well wishing and little more.

One can dream can't they for the betterment of India.
"The endorsement I have received from the nation, giving me the responsibility to realise our shared dream of India with prosperity, harmony and strength is really overwhelming. "
- Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam in the Central Hall of Parliament after being sworn in as the President of India.

recites the Holy Quran and the Bhagvad Gita daily and is equally at home with both Holy Scriptures
Kalam is a genius, i have nothing but respect for him. All of you should read Wings of Fire - his autobiography. Without him, India's missile programme would still be in the stone age.