Saturday, December 6, 2014

[PADS Public Meeting on Babri Mosque Destruction] Secularism A Democratic Imperative

On the 22nd Anniversary of Destruction of Babri Mosque

People's Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS)

invites you to a discussion on 

Secularism A Democratic Imperative: Is Democracy Possible Without Secularism?


Prof. Achin Vanaik, Dr. Ghazala Jamil, Dr. Sanjay Kumar

Tapti Hostel Mess, JNU, 9 pm, 8th December

December 6, 1992 must count as the darkest day in the history of independent India. While the crowds mobilised by organisations of the RSS destroyed the Babri Mosque in a planned conspiracy, the institutions of the Indian state, elected state and central governments, police and judiciary stood by as mute spectators. This was the culmination of a long campaign of communal hatred and violence. Thousands of Indian citizens were killed in riots during the run-up to, and after the demolition of, the Babri Masjid. Yet the nature of our society and politics is such that not only have the perpetrators of these crimes gone unpunished, they have reaped a rich political dividend. 

The victory of the BJP in the last elections has given a significant push to the Hindutva project. Minority targeting and riots are becoming more brazen and routine. Even while minorities are facing the brunt of the Hindutva assault, other Indians will be grossly mistaken if they think it does not affect them. Hindutva is a totalising project driven by a revanchist, casteist, and misogynist ideology. It valorises violence and targets the vulnerable. It seeks to control what all Indians can think, read, see, wear or even eat. In the name of tradition it attacks youth making their own choices, and it criminalises alternate sexualities. It is trying to propagate mythology as historical truth. All Indians who value freedom, equality, truth and human solidarity are targets of its violent politics. 

The Modi avtar of Hindutva is successful due to a marriage of mutual convenience with corporate capital. And, as a true partner of Indian capitalism, the new government is working overtime to reverse the little welfare rights to employment, land and forests that Indian workers, farmers and adivasis had won. As the ten years of UPA rule showed, the bourgeois hegemony in India can exist without overt Hindutva violence. However, the Modi regime provides the right amount of ruthlessness and state violence against the working poor that the capitalist class needs in times of economic recession. It cannot be denied that under Mr Modi, the BJP has been able to get the support of many sections of the lower middle classes, and also of oppressed castes and adivasis, which add to its core of upper caste and upper class Hindus. In typical Fascist fashion it has skilfully sold the hope of achhe din to the helpless and alienated sections through saturated media projection of Mr Modi as the ultimate saviour. It has successfully harnessed traditionally rooted prejudices and the violences of everyday life for propaganda against the minorities. Freedom loving Indians confront a project of bourgeois hegemony, supported by state terror and fortified by mass appeal. 

Diverse trends of Indian electoral politics, namely caste mobilisations, social justice, economic populism, regional aspirations, and social movements, which were considered adequate antidotes to communal venom, failed to stop the Hindutva success in the last elections. Why is communal fascism so successful after six decades of constitutional democracy and secularism? Surely, part of the answer lies in what has gone on in the name of democracy and secularism in the country. Finding this part of the answer, and unearthing the limitations of democracy and secularism in India, is the first responsibility of those who uphold these two values. The common understanding of democracy equates it with institutional means that establish the rule of the majority. This understanding misses the conditions that legitimise the very notion of majority. Can a majority rule that does not arise in conditions of equality, and which does not obey the principle of equality, ever be democratic? How can a society with pervasive caste, gender, ethnic and religious oppressions and brutalities and economic exploitation be made democratic? 

Secularism in India is understood in two distinct ways. One current believes it to be a modern import imposed by a westernised elite on a deeply religious society; as if the life in India before its Constitution declared it to be a secular country did not have secular aspects! If equality among citizens is the starting point of any democracy, then it follows that a democratic state cannot discriminate on the basis of religion. Hence, it is impossible to even imagine a democracy without secularism. The other trend sees secularism merely as a state policy of dealing with diverse religious communities, the so-called majority and minority communities, in an even-handed way. This trend misses the fact that secularism is also essential to ensure freedoms that are necessary for a secular way of life for every citizen, irrespective of her/his community. No religious authority or community can curtail rights of any citizen. The practice of secularism in our country has mostly been tortured. Presidents of our secular republic routinely inaugurate or lay foundation stones of temples. Our courts have declared official ceremonies with vedic mantras and havans to be not in violation of secularism. Our state has miserably failed to protect the rights of women from community based personal laws. A serious lacuna is the failure to realise that the democracy and secularism of the state shall remain under threat if social life in families, communities and the public sphere is not democratic and secular. 

December 6 is also the death anniversary of Dr Ambedkar, the architect of the Constitution of India, which guarantees the right to equality to all Indians. Communal politics is a direct violation of this right. December 6 is also the day to pay homage to Dr Ambedkar and recommit ourselves to realise his ideals.


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