It is often believed that the idea of secularism is universal and so it should be applied. However, Rajiv Malhotra, noted Indologist and author of several books on the issues of Dharma, Indian history, culture, and languages, believes that the concept is a Western creation. Yesterday, he shared a video on his Facebook page, where he emphasised on the point that ‘secularism’ was a solution to the problems of West where religions like Christianity propagated the thought of ‘we are the only religion that is right, others are wrong’.
That meant there was no scope of a dialogue in a society that heavily relied on the directives of the Church, which guided police, society and even the reigning monarchs.
He said, “Secularism is a Western concept, to solve a western problem. The problem in Western religion was the ‘exclusivity claim’, which means ‘only I am right, others are wrong’, which is built into the Western religion.”
Stressing further on the power that religion and the Church enjoyed, he said that religion often interfered with science and persecuted people who fiddled away with its own thoughts. The Church didn’t allow even science to have its own independent inquiry.
The Indologist, when asked about whether it was unreasonable to define India as Hindu Rashtra in modern times, continued to elaborate on what Dharma meant and how it was different from European view of religion and the need of secularism as a solution.
“Secularism was to curtail the excessive ‘state authority’ and ‘state power’ that the Church had, not only over the people who dissented and belonged to some other religion, but also people who were scientists.”
However, he said, “In India, the Dharma never had a posture against scientific inquiry. The Raja (King) never had an authority to impose his dharma over others. Manu was very clear that Raja must practice his Dharma, and he must allow others to practice their Dharma. In fact, not only it’s theoretically the case, but (even) in practise like, when the early Syrian Christians came, the Raja even gave them land. When the Zoroastrians from Persia came to India, they were also given land to live and practice their religion.”
Adding to the concept of dharma and how it is pluralistic in nature, Malhotra talked about how Hinduism was not a religion as defined by the West, “Hinduism is not necessarily a religion in a Western sense, it got a lot of claims within it. There are people who believe in different philosophies… there are people who are atheists, which is also ok, you can be a nāstik (atheist).”
The Indologist further explained how concept of religion with regards to Hinduism and Dharma, was different from the Abrahamic religions. “There is a built-in ‘pluralism’ within the Dharma (which) has made it different than the built-in ‘exclusivity’ in the Abrahamic religions.”
“Now, if the Dharma has a built-in pluralism (Sāpeksha Dharma), which means inclusive of all the Dharma, Sufis can have their Dharma, Muslims can have their Dharma, as long as you also respect others to have their Dharma. We can have differences (but) with mutual respect,” he elaborated.
Saying that Dharma meant a flow of free thinking and not a limitation on the same, Rajiv Malhotra debunked the idea of secularism for India as he opined it was a solution for the Western problem where scientists were beheaded and dissidents were persecuted.
As he spoke on the topic, in reply to the question of secularism and Dharma, he remarked that Dharma “never said that if your scientific conclusion is different then you are disobedient and it’s blasphemy. We never had any blasphemy law kind of things. So, free thinking was always there.”
Later, adding on to why pluralism was best suited to us, he said, “Lot of Indians believe that secularism is a “gold standard’ because they have been brainwashed. They don’t even think what it is, where it came from, what does it do. They are just taught that way. They have learnt it from childhood and parroted it saying ‘ain’t we seculars’, this and that.”
Malhotra explained that secularism, as an idea, was needed because the Western society didn’t have a space for any other religion. They needed a concept where people tried to coexist and practice different faiths. They needed an idea where science and other religions could coexist and be tolerated. However, he said that in India there were no such issues as pluralism made sure we have mutual respect.
Answering to the second part of the question regarding India being a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, he said, “As far as would India be a Hindu society, I use the term Dharmic society. India is a Dharmic society and I do not use the word Hindu, because Dharma also includes Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs. It includes anyone who complies with the basic principles like mutual respect.”
“So, the people who themselves want to be called as Hindus are fine, or something else are also fine. But, if you use Dharma, then Yes, Indian civilization is a Dharmic Civilization. This is my position,” he asserted.
The author of ‘Breaking India’, ‘Indra’s Net’ and ‘Being Different’, was asked whether he meant that the alternative name to be asked for India should be a Dharmic Nation rather than Hindu Rashtra.
Rajiv replied in a candid way, “I think it would be very difficult for someone to reject Dharma, no matter who they are, because basic ethics, basic responsibilities, basic life-style of respecting yourself, your family, your community, animals, nature, society, the world, the environment are all part of Dharma. Dharma is not just religion between me and God, it is all encompassing human ethics and responsibility.”
Here is the link to the YouTube video from his speech in December 2014: