By T.P.Naliyath, President, Bengal Rationalist Association, P.B. No.9157, Calcutta 700 016.
Communalism or religious fundamentalism, whether of the majority or of the minority community is no doubt dangerous. We, Indians, had enough of this bitter pill in the past. Our country was even divided by this virus. We are now undergoing a nightmare of revitalised communalism coupled with religious fundamentalism - better call it a demon. We have to contain this demon here and now, if we are not already too late. If we can't hit it at the nose now, no doubt it will finish us. The very existence of the peace loving people of India will be in jeopardy, and our cherished secularism in peril. I am afraid it may even force a further division of our beloved country.
Highest literacy rate in India is proudly claimed by my home state, Kerala. I am however forced, though painful, to call my people "selfish literate but not cultured, human beings with synthetic back-bone, and rubber conscience". About a century ago, Swami Vivekananda called Kerala a "bedlam"! We in the south never had the bitter experience of partition and its aftermath. We always maintained good record of communal harmony. I never thought that my state, and the people, will taste communalism or religious fundamentalism. I never visualised any communal threat in my home state and even believed that we, being more educated and spread all over the world, will show the real secular way for the whole country to emulate. Alas! How wrong I was. Our political parties, compromised with religious fundamentalists, first with the christians and then the muslims. If my memory is correct, after enshrining secularism in our constitution, religious fundamentalism was dragged into politics in the early 50's itself by the organised christian community, followed by muslims. Both of them succeeded in black mailing the then governments of Travancore-Cochin and Kerala and thus reaped good harvest. They even managed berths in governments as senior partners, both under the congress and communist regimes. Perhaps this might have eventually forced hindu communalism to make their presence felt in the state. And they have successfully done it already. As a result, Kerala now witnesses frequent communal clashes, killings, hatred etc., as in many other Indian States.
Mr. E.M.S. Namboodripad realised the danger, albeit late, and has openly confessed his mistake. He has now become a crusader against communalism. Unfortunately, it appears that he is fighting only majority communalism.
Our biggest political party, the Congress, continues to be in league with religious fundamentalists in Kerala. Non-co-operation to the National Front Government in its efforts to find out a peaceful solution to the Ayodhya problem, demonstrates the real colour of the Congress. The Congress invalidated the Supreme Court verdict in the Shah Banu case, with the sole aim of helping fundamentalists. They were also instrumental in re-opening the once forgotten Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue which has now turned out to be the biggest head-ache for the whole nation.
To be frank and honest, I am equally against the National Front government in as much as making a new religious holiday. When we have to strive hard to build a new secular India, religion should naturally be given a back seat. They should not be allowed to do anything in politics or with the governments. Religion, either that of majority or minority, should be treated strictly as a personal matter.
Communalism and religious fundamentalism might have taken its deep roots during the British rule. But even after four plus decades of our "peoples raj", none of us so far thought of going the secular way though it is very much in the constitution. On the contrary our rulers from the states to the centre were instrumental in giving a bad interpretation to "secularism" that all religions can do anything they like. When the eye rests on vote banks, appeasing communalists and religious fundamentalists does not matter.
All our political parties did not bother to educate our gullible common man about secularism. At the same time, all of us did try to exploit them, like the brahmin and upper class lobby, who exploited them for centuries and now fighting tooth and nail against the Mandal commission recommendations - common man worth only to the extent of their vote-value.
However, we still have a few leaders to talk loudly and boldly on secularism. May be they have their own compulsions. Taking them to be sincere, I appeal to them to be brave and act with firmness. Whatever may be the consequences, display courage. At the most they may lose their gaddies, or probably risk lives too. But history will make them immortal. People would install them in their hearts and coming generation would regard them as the true makers of modern Secular India.
We Indians boast of our high traditions and are proud of having had the great Charvaka and Buddha. But I am afraid, at heart we are hindus, muslims christians or sikhs. The trouble with us is that while we speak for hours, and write essays on secularism, volumes after volumes, we always remain within our caste, creed or religion. We only preach, never practice.
Our national media also is in tune with communalism, catering to the needs and demands of religions. It will do anything and everything to safeguard the interests of the man with might, weight and class.
Now, a word to my readers. Kindly spare a few minutes and spend around a rupee for a noble cause, for communal harmony and secularism. Please write to the Prime Minister of India to convert the controversial plot of land into a museum or hospital. We should also tell the religious leaders to confine themselves to spiritual aspects of life alone. We should tell the politicians in unequivocal terms that we have had enough of their gimmics and we will not cast our votes in their favour, in case they donot settle the communal issues. We also would treat them as national enemies if they hesitate to withdraw from the disputed land.
I appeal to my brethren to wake up, I request my countrymen to get up from the slumber and act. To act now or never. Please write thousands of letters, lakhs of post cards, requesting the Prime Minister to hit at the nose of the fundamentalists and communalists. Though we may be late, do not make it too late. Remember now or never!
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Last update: 22 July 1998