ARTICLES FROM THE SUNDAY GUARDIAN
Copyright. All rights reserved. Ram Jethmalani. 2019.
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I have always agreed with Karl Marx that religion is the opiate of the masses. Religion has often lulled the unfortunate and the underprivileged to accept the injustices, sorrows and failures which they face within the inequitable social and political systems that they live in. In Hinduism, injustices and sorrows of life are ascribed to karma, and in other revealed religions, there is promise of rewards for undeserved suffering in the afterlife. But clinically, opium is expected to have a tranquilising, pacifying effect, leading the subject to passivity and separation from the real world. I'm sure even Marx would have been somewhat bewildered at seeing the opiate transforming itself into a strong stimulant for violence and discord, as is being witnessed in the world today.
Unfortunately, it is an accurate statement of the debit side of religion that all the ships of all the navies of the world can sail comfortably in the ocean of innocent blood that has been shed in the name of religion throughout the history of mankind. But I am proud of the outstanding wisdom of our founding leaders that we in India, opposing strong pressures to the contrary, opted to create not a religious state, but a secular one.
The speed and intensity with which religion is spilling over political and social space across the world is startling. The wheel is turning full circle, just when we thought we had left religious fanaticism and religious wars far behind us in history. And it is indeed ironic that religion seems to have become the signature of this young 21st century that held so much civilisational promise for democracy and secularism.
Christianity and Islam are two foreign revealed religions in India that came first through missionaries and then through conquest over the last two millennia. But today, both are asymmetrically placed as minority religions, with Christianity having turned completely secular in traditional Christian countries, but not in "propaganda territory" (i.e. third world countries), and Islam that has been politically captured by Wahhabis and extremists. Our non-revealed religion of the majority of people of India, called Hinduism, a name given to Sanatan Dharma by the British, has been under sustained pressure of conversion after conquest by Islamic rulers, for about 800 years, and after that by the Christian missionaries of the Empire for about 200 years, until 1947. Conversion to Islam and Christianity has been the norm in Indian society for the last 1,000 years, and I do realise that present day secular Indian intellectuals would have a problem in breaking with the past. However, it would appear today, after six decades of Independence that the majority religion has found a voice to speak, without any of the hypocrisy of simulated or engineered secularism, or any of the sham of vote banks. The hired secularists, who have no views on conversion, but only criticise any statement about it from the majority community, have enough space and freedom to continue the debate. Let a thousand flowers bloom in the marketplace of ideas, without judgement from apologetic mercenaries or hired secularists, and let the best ideas win in accordance with Article 25 of the Constitution. Let the crazy statements from Sadhvis Prachi and Niranjan Jyoti, or Yogi Adiyanath or Azam Khan and Asaduddin Owaisi come forth and be demolished, as they are being demolished, in the level playing fields of the secularism debate, as enshrined in our Constitution. So too let the highly avoidable statement from Sushma Swaraj advising that the Bhagwad Gita should be declared the national scripture of India be debated — a statement that has since been repeated in different forms and words by others, bringing no credit to our secular credentials. Monobina Gupta, editor of DNA Thought, has written a very sensible piece on this subject on 19.3.2015.
I have been an ardent adherent of the Gita, after I read the poem Song Celestial by Sir Edwin Arnold. I do believe that it is a sacred scripture. To me the essence of the Gita is contained in the portion that reads, "If one ponders on objects of the sense, there springs Attraction; from attraction grows desire, Desire flames to fierce passion, passion breeds Recklessness; then the memory — all betrayed — Lets noble purpose go, and saps the mind, Till purpose, mind, and man are all undone."
But this is not to say that I accept every word or message that it contains — certainly not its exposition of the duty of Kshatriyas to kill their kith and kin in a horrible war, fought and won with some treacherous actions too. However, every scripture has its essence and its disposable waste too. Secular India committed to the supreme rule of reason and logic must follow the former, and treat the latter as a myth. Mahatma Gandhi did that. He never suggested that when India becomes free, it shall make Gita a national scripture. He followed V.D. Savarkar in this particular formulation, and I am proud to follow them both. The great Shri Aurobindo too wrote in his essay on Gita, "Every Scripture must necessarily include two elements: the first is temporary, perishable, relative to the time and place in which it took shape, and the other is eternal and imperishable, applicable to all times and cultures." The second is captured in Sir Arnold's Song Celestial quoted above.
Now let me come to Subramanian Swamy, who has been in politics perhaps much longer than me. I am happy that the BJP has recognised his talent by elevating him as a member of the party's National Executive. I have had many differences with Swamy but our friendship has survived all of them.
Swamy has been in the news lately for stating his views about mosques during his recent visit to Assam, that they are not religious places, for which he gives historical evidence and contemporary evidence from Saudi Arabia, and even a quote from the Supreme Court constitutional bench, 1994, in the Ram temple matter, "that a masjid is not an essential part of Islamic religion and, therefore, in the British time mosques have been demolished for a public purpose". His views must be seen in their entirety on the merits of his evidence and logic, in the spirit of a secular debate, instead of being condemned, just because he has said something unconventional about a mosque at a time when religion has gone astray.
Swamy, himself a highly educated person and Harvard alumnus, is not really wrong in his belief that it is piety and devoutness of worship that constitute religion, and not the architecture or premises of prayer. I am sure he went to Assam with a pious political mission and certainly not to anger the Muslim population of the state or indeed the country. Unfortunately, only some portions of his speech have been extracted without context, and used against him, not only for an attempt to block his entry into Assam but also to institute proceedings against him by the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) before the local police for promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion.
Even though the BJP has tried to distance itself from Swamy by declaring that his statement reflects his personal views, I personally think a healthy debate on the subject, which incidentally Swamy wanted, would have been a much better reaction.
The right of every citizen to profess, practise and even propagate his religion has in express words been made completely subordinate to public order, health and morality by our Constitution. All religious belief must surrender to the rule of reason and logic, and the Constitution also, in express terms, makes it the duty of every citizen to develop a scientific spirit. Shifting a mosque from one place to another for the sake of peace, harmony or national integration would be quite in accordance with our Constitution. Of course, senseless demolition of a mosque, synagogue or temple without an overriding compulsion arising out of national need must be an offence punishable by law. But Swamy has not suggested anything like that. It will do some good to the BJP as well the people at large to understand the advice that Swamy gave in Guwahati with respect and an unprejudiced mind. I do hope the FIR filed against him will soon be withdrawn.
As far as I am concerned I have been continuously advocating that we must come out with a textbook on secularism that must be made compulsory reading in all schools and colleges. I also recommend that a wonderful interfaith book Religion Gone Astray, jointly produced by Christian pastor Don Mackenzie, Jewish rabbi Ted Falcon and Muslim imam Jamal Rahman, must be made available to our citizens in all regional languages, and be prescribed in our educational institutions.
And what exemplifies our secularism better than the oft quoted poem of Kabir, the famous weaver and Sufi Saint of India: If Khuda lives only in Masjid/ who looks after the rest of the world?
If Ram is lodged in the temple idol/who takes care of the universe?
Is East the abode of Hari,/and West that of Allah? Search in your heart for both of them,/there live both Karim and Ram.
They are one and the same,/Creator of the universe men and women are His image and Kabir is son of both Ram and Karim his preceptors are Guru and Pir alike.