Can we create a secular India?

Last Updated: Thu, Jun 12, 2014 04:47 hrs

Every time a hate crime is committed in our country, I shudder at the memory of what a friend from Pakistan once told me – “First it was the Hindus and Sikhs, then the Christians and Ahmadis, now it’s, it will be journalists and lawyers who are killed in Pakistan.”

In the last month alone, several journalists, lawyers and women have been attacked or killed in my friend’s country. The murder of Mohsin Shaikh makes me wonder how far India is from going that way.

If sharing a post on Facebook can get one killed, what sort of society is this country nurturing?

This is not about whether the hate crime was committed by Hindus against Muslims or vice versa. In a country that is a hotchpotch of religions, communities, languages and ethnicities, any group can gather a mob and attack any other group.

The only real minority, not just in India but in most countries, is a group drawn from a cross-section of these recognised social divides – this minority is: people who want peace, people who want to coexist irrespective of differences of opinion, belief, clothing, food habits and customs.

In the days since the young man was set upon by a group of fanatics and killed, I have seen various reactions that frighten me. There are those who blame the crime on the fact that the government is headed by what is popularly known as ‘the saffron party’.

There are those who ask why SIMI was outlawed, when the Hindu Rashtra Sena has not been. The question should really only be: Why hadn’t the Hindu Rashtra Sena been banned already, despite the hate speeches its leader has made?

The real ‘us’ and ‘them’ are the liberal and the fundamentalist.

Any organisation that promotes hatred should be banned, irrespective of the belief or beliefs it represents. Any organisation whose members would lynch someone should be outlawed.

To speak of equal rights for extremist groups to exist is absurd. If we are to keep this simmering country secular, we should be campaigning for all such groups to be abolished.

While we boast of being the world’s largest democracy, and have wowed developed countries with the mammoth scale of our general elections, we are a country under threat from within. Any country that comprises a populace united only by nationality, and no other factor, is under threat, and more so when the differences are indulged.

Perhaps the reason Pakistan was condemned at birth was that its creation was based on a cruel premise – the premise that a group had to be in a majority to be safe.

In India, there is no end to the minorities one can identify, on the basis of religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, language, appearance and culture. It
started with the creation of vote banks, and is furthered by the indulgence of the demands of separatists.

The Telangana state was the result of a bloody agitation, and political vested interest. Is the violence that preceded and succeeded the official announcement worth it all?

Is the creation of vote banks and partner religious organisations to rabble-rouse when the political climate calls for it worth the lives of people like Mohsin Shaikh? Is it worth the livelihoods of people like Shah Bano?

The idea of a secular India seems simple enough at times – all it needs is for all of us to keep our heads, and to respect each other. All it needs is for us to accept that we will never have a single, united culture, but that that doesn’t have to get in the way of peace.

Yet, it seems unattainable at others. It seems unattainable when religious groups want to be exempt from the law of the land, because of their myopic interpretations of their religion. It seems unattainable when mobs lynch people over Facebook posts.

It seems unattainable when people set themselves on fire because they want state borders redrawn. It seems unattainable when there are agitations over language.

It seems unattainable when we refuse to recognise that we, the people who want peaceful coexistence, are the only minority which is truly suppressed.
Can India become secular? It depends on whether this minority of us can become a majority.

When one’s appearance, one’s preferred language, one’s religion and one’s ideas will not compromise one’s right to exist on this earth, in this country.

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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage. She sells herself and the book on