Happy Gudi Padwa! Why a pluralistic country is important.
- The Path AheadHere is something to think about seriously. It can directly affect our children and grandchildren. It is instructive to see what is happening in Pakistan.1. It was demanded on the basis of a religious identity. That is, people of a particular religion need a country of their own.2. When they got the country they lost no time in declaring it as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.3. By definition a republic means a country that is governed by the will of the citizens as expressed from time to time, directly or through elected representatives. Whereas Islam, a religion, codifies the Shariat Law in the Koran Sharif and it is unalterable., meaning the wishes of the citizens are not relevant at all to the laws that will govern them. It is immaterial that the conditions that dictated the provisions of the Shariat no longer exist in a large measure. It is also not region or country or society or community specific and ignores local requirements that change from time to time.4. Being based on a specific religion the state is obliged to give predominant importance to that religion and all that goes with it.5. It also means that the non-Islamic religions need to be marginalised in order to maintain and keep up the primary position of Islam in the country. As a consequence non-Muslims, such as the Hindus, Sikhs and Christians had to be made irrelevant by conversions to Islam, driving them out of the country or persecuting them on various counts. Now the non-Muslim population in Pakistan is next to nothing and the few Christians still in the country are being persecuted regularly.6. Since it is declared a theocratic state, enhanced importance had to be given to the Islamic clergy and religious schools, the madrassas controlled by the orthodox elements.7. The next inevitable stage that followed was the emergence of fundamentalist militant groups committed to enforce their narrow, self-serving interpretation of the religious practices.Today, Pakistan is suffering the consequences of declaring itself a theocratic state and conducting its governance as a theocratic state where religion - as interpreted by clerics whose knowledge and vision does not go beyond their limited understanding of their religion - rules the roost. There is nothing to be happy about it.It has not stopped with the marginalization of the non-Muslim citizenry.After the kaafirs were made irrelevant, the by-now powerful and power hungry religious bigots needed further targets. They can be found only among fellow Muslims. The first targets were the Ahmediyas. Now it is Shia versus Sunni. Where does it stop?The short answer is: IT NEVER STOPS. Inter and intra religious warfare will continue to weaken the theocratic state of Pakistan.Not Islam only. We can look at the theocratic states across the world. The material and emotional progress of countries whose policies are largely dictated by religion - be it Catholic Christianity, Islam or Buddhism is either low, poor or bad in parts. The difference between the Catholic southern European counties and the Protestant European countries is highly perceivable. The more liberal Protestant populations are relatively better off in all the indices of development. The largely Catholic South American countries are relatively less prosperous compared to the United States and Canada where religion plays a less intrusive part in the psyche of the citizens. Think of what the Middle East was before oil wealth put them on an artificially different plane. Iran was a liberal state with individual freedoms largely untouched under the rule of Shah. The arrival of the mullahs changed things radically in Iran. Taliban is taking Afghanistan back to the dark ages. The inability of the Buddhists to accept pluralism in Sri Lanka created the Eelam problem. After they marginalised the Tamils, the powerful Buddhist clergy is pressurising their government to turn its wrath against the Muslim minority. Perhaps the Christians could well be the next. These examples should be enough to bring out the harm in letting religion and religious sentiments dictate state policy.Where do we stand? There are many Hindus in our country who have an emotional connect with the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena, BJP and similar organisations in the belief they articulate Hindu supremacy. They do so unabashedly. They want a religion based Hindu Rashtra. It gives a genuine sense of being led to a path that will correct the “wrongs of the past”. In reality what it ULTIMATELY leads to is a theocratic state. More than the Hindu state or rather through the Hindu state the RSS et al want the power that comes with it.The foregoing discussion on the effects of theocratic states will apply equally well to any and every religion. By itself every single action of a religion based/inspired organisation will seem to be innocuous. But all such organisations have a well thought out plan to achieve their final goal. What is not unlikely is something like this: After marginalizing all the non-Hindus the theocratic warriors will look for fresh pastures to flex their muscle – just as the Taliban and Jehadis are doing now in Pakistan. We already have a long history of one caste fighting another caste and seeking dominance on what are considered lower/weaker castes or groups. The intra Hindu struggles can become a frightening reality with each subgroup seeking its own supremacy. The current chaos in Karnataka is the result of one Hindu group seeking dominance over the other Hindu groups. Luckily, it has remained bloodless, so far. Our own equivalent of the Pakistan created Talban was the Indira Gandhi created Bhindrawala, a Frankenstein which could be putdown only after a near war.One needs to be extremely careful in giving importance to religious fundamentalism, no matter of what hue.The best option any society has is an open and pluralistic society that learns to respect different points of view. European countries have learnt the hard way the need to separate governance from religion before they really got on the prosperity curve. They have also become far more tolerant as compared to what they were in their dark, middle ages in the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries, though admittedly there are small numbers of extremists even today.The majority community in our country needs to take a well thought out call on whether we want to be a truly tolerant and secular state or go for the deceptive myth of a theocratic Hindu Rashtra that is expected to bring back the lost glory of the Hindus.Think about it. Your choice decides the future of our country.1,099 words.Pune, 2013 Mar 28. DVR Rao