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The Saffron Book

With all Iiving being forming a part of the Hindu universe and the transmigration of souls amongst them, tolerance Is logical.

22. Tolerance

Dear Moses
I am glad you asked this basic question on secularism that evening when we happened to meet and had a chat. Otherwise, I would not have known about your interest in the subject. Yours was a genuine question whereas all the others were using the panel discussion to push their point of view. They were not interested in knowing more about secularism.

There could be any number of definitions of secularism. One is the separation of the church from the state. The second would be the abolition of the church as was attempted by the communist states led by the Soviet Union. Yet a third one might be the Indian version; ideally, the equality of all religions before the state. The fourth would be the English variety whereby the state is the oretically a theocracy; the monarch is also the head of the Anglican church. Yet, in practice, England is a just and liberal society.

The expression secularism owes its origin to the Reformation in 16th century Europe. The Reformation was not against religion or Christianity but against the Catholic Church which owed extraterritorial loyalty to the Pope. This allegiance to Rome resulted in the drain of wealth from other countries of Europe to Italy.

There were ad hoc contributions to be sent, for example, to build a new St Peter's cathedral in Rome. There were also regular levies like the tax on farm produce and cattle. It was estimated that every year some 300,000 gold coins found their way from Germany alone to Italy.

'Why should Germans put up with such extortion by Rome' was not an uncommon question. 'Why should not the German clergy establish a national church under the Archbishop of Mainz' was another popular question. A German priest called Martin Luther planted his standard of revolt not in religious terms but on the basis of the national spirit. Wherever nationalism won, the Reformation succeeded and the church became Protestant.

In France, the Reformation took a different turn. With tact and diplomacy, in 1516, King Francis took over from the Pope the powers to appoint the priests in his kingdom. It was said that the 'nationalization of Christianity' was achieved in France without war or rebellion. The same could not be said for England where the exciting cause of the Reformation was King Henry VIII's desire for a son and male heir.

The story goes that since divorce was unthinkable of a Catholic in those times, he wanted his marriage to Queen Catherine, who had failed to give him a son, annulled. The Pope could not oblige as he was a virtual prisoner of Charles V. King of Spain and nephew of Queen Catherine.

England went to war with Spain but to no avail. Finally, onNovember 3, 1529, King Henry called the parliament which abolishedthe right of Pope to govern the church in England. The nationalist spiritwas even stronger in England than in Germany. The priests did not liketo make the king their spiritual head. But they considered the foreigninfluence of Pope to be a greater evil.

What comes through from the history of the Reformation was the revulsion against and the rejection of the senior priests due to their extraterritorial loyalty, their greed and womanising. Doctrinal disputes were few; some in Germany but none in England and France for example. Even the radical views of Martin Luther were not such as torequire a complete break with Rome. There was a widespread demand to exclud the senior priests from interfering in the conduct of government, or at least, to make the bishops and abbots subordinate to the kings and princes.

In France, this was done by diplomacy and mutual understanding. In England, the monarch replaced the Pope as the head of the church and to this day Britain is formally a theocracy. In Germany, the priests owing allegiance to Rome were replaced by those royal to their own soil. The northern areas of Europe broke jway asProtestants but the southern ones remained Catholic. There h. notbeen much change in this regard since the 16th century.

This was the Reformation as a result of which the concept of secularism or anti-clericalism came to be the political fashion in Europe.It was a rejection of neither religion nor Christianity. Nor was it a formal or deliberate separation of the church from the state. As we have seen in England, the church and the state were rolled into one in the office of the monarch.

Three centuries later, socialism emerged to be a standard of secularism. Karl Marx had interpreted human history as the epic of class conflict whereby the powerful enriched themselves by taking away the wealth created by those who toiled. The toilers thus remained poor and their desire to reject their exploiters was blunted by the fear of God instilled into them by religion. Which is why Marx said that religion was the opium of the masses.

T'he communist states have treated this as a commandment. Beginning with the former Soviet Union and carried on in all such states, there was a systematic endeavour to abolish worship and the practice of traditional religion, whether Christianity or Islam or Judaism or Buddhism. Cathedrals, churches, mosques, synagogues and pagodas were closed down and the buildings converted into museums, libraries or government offices. If in every city or town one or two places of worship were left alone, it was for purposes of display or for reasons of diplomacy.

Marxist secularism was therefore not a separation of the church from the state but the abolition of traditional religion from society. The communist profession was the denial of God and the enforcement of atheism.

Whether the Marxist or the Christian version, secularism is essentially a European concept. It would be difficult for any Asian sceneto relate to it.

In India, secularism has meant different things to different people. To anyone who is reasonable, it means the freedom of worship and the equality of all religious groups before the law. The state is equi-distantfrom all denominations. For those seeking political or electoral advantage, it offered scope for manipulation. Secularism has been used to divide and divert the attention of the Hindus while some political parties pampered the mullahs and their agents. How was the 1987 Supreme Court judgement in the Shah Bano cost overturned by the Congress government and the Muslim Women Bill passed?

How in Kerala, from time to time, the Congress as well as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have formed coalition governments with the Muslim League? The pre-Independence League did not admit anyone as a member except a Muslim. It was the cause of India's partition. Yet, partnership with the League has never been condemned as anti-secular. There are countless instances of such double standards in the name of secularism. The word should better be avoided in India where religious tolerance would be a preferred expression because it has been an integral feature of the Hindu world view.

Every Judaic or western ethos conceptually divides humanity into us and they. The Jews call the other gentiles, Christians label non-christians as the heathens or pagans. The Muslim divide the universe into momins and tapirs, whereas in Marxism the division is between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The Hindu ethos is not only not divided into us and they, but has instead considered all living beings, be they human, animal, birds or reptiles, as Tart of one universe. This all inclusiveness is the foundation of Hindu tolerance.

Its philosophical superstructure is the belief in the transmigration ofthe souls amongst the various living beings. The soul is permanent, whereas the body is merely like clothes which are shed at death and new ones are acquired at birth. The individual souls or jeevatmas move from body to body when reborn. Religion is incidental to the parents of the child and is not a permanent attribute of the jeevatmas. Hence conceptually, there is no prejudice. Nor has there been any great inclination for Hindus to convert embers of other faiths.

The corollary of transmigration is also the fear that the soul of   one's own neat and dear one, who died some time ago, might be resident in any body. This fear makes the Hindu comparatively  reluctant to kill anyone. This is the conceptual basis whereby the Hindu prefers tolerance even towards animals, which, in turn, leads to his bias for vegetarian food.

In a tolerant society, is not the talk of secularism irrelevant?

The Saffron Book
Prafull Goradia
1. Awake and Unite!
2. Why The Saffron Book?

10. Small States
3. Vision
4. Economic Face
5. Abolish Casteism
6. Bride Burning, Divorce
7. Rape, Prostitution
8. Revolutionising Education
9. The Constitution

11. Nationalism
12. Pan-Islamism
13. Communism
14. Subnationalism
15. Casteism

16. Hindutva is Dialectical
17. Origin of Hinduism
18. Medieval Phase
19. Modern Resurgence
20. Not Fundamentalism
21. Not Fascism
22. Tolerance
23. Strengths
24. Weaknesses
25. Opportunities
26. Threats
27. Individual Brilliance

Hindu Paradoxes
42. Idolatry
43. Fatalism
44. Double Standards
45. Masochistic Fringe
46. Fifth Column
47. No Soul before Birth

48. Proselytising Unwelcome
49. Myth of Divide and Rule

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