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  Opinion   Columnists  01 Apr 2022  Farrukh Dhondy | On theocracy, secularism, and new truths about the past

Farrukh Dhondy | On theocracy, secularism, and new truths about the past

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Apr 1, 2022, 11:26 pm IST
Updated : Apr 1, 2022, 11:26 pm IST

Did Jinnah actually foresee the possibility of India’s pronounced secular democracy turning into a not-so-secular, intolerant nation with


“I said I was sorry
I shed crocodile tears
I’ve made the same apology
All through my years.
O Bachchoo, then tell us
What is it you regret?
That shall remain secret
So, remember to forget? --
Not yet, not yet…!”
— From Chembur Music, by Bachchoo

I have just read a brilliant and diligent essay by eminent Indian historian Romila Thapar. It’s a mini-thesis on the interaction of the pre-historic civilisations of India and contradicts the new orthodoxy which insists that the Aryan “civilisation” didn’t originate in Central Asia and was exported to Persia and Europe from the Indo-Gangetic plain. However disconcerted that may make some people in India feel, Thapar demolishes the theory quoting the very texts which the Hindutva lobby claims as their own.

There is never conclusive evidence in any pre-historical argument. Ancient history is by definition progressive and things come to light as archaeology digs deeper — so to speak.

There is mounting evidence that Hinduism was born of an interaction of various beliefs over the centuries, pre-historic and recorded, from the gods of natural phenomena to the Trinity to Shankaracharya’s Advaita Vedanta and further. Thapar’s essay traces the founding influences.

Though she doesn’t quote them in this particular instance, the great epics, the Ramayan, for one, is clear evidence of distinct races making alliances or combating each other. Perhaps one can’t conclusively label Ram’s people as Aryans, Ravan’s as Dravidians, displaced from the north and ruling the south, and Hanuman’s as Adivasis, but still!

Religion has defined cultures through the centuries in every tribe and nation, with very few exceptions — the Greek city-states perhaps? —  and has governed or influenced its politics.

As is evident in Europe, if not absolutely in America, capitalism has eroded the hold that religion has over politics. One may even contend that Lenin’s revolution in Russia and Mao’s in China had abolished the institutions of religious belief, declaring their respective states to be atheistic. But one may equally consider that they replaced God with the Vanguard Party and the medieval Popes with the likes of Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Xi. The popes with their papal bulls and Xi with his “thoughts”, both rigorous and infallible.

It is arguable that Lenin in his last years had realised that Russia under the heel of the vanguard party would turn into the dictatorship which resulted in the tyranny and holocaust of the Stalin era. The evidence that he did may be the late Leninist essays entitled “On Education” and “On the Peasant and Workers’ Inspection”. Lenin had never admitted that attempting to bring about a “Communist” revolution in a country which was 90 per cent peasantry and feudal was a deeply anti-Marxist ambition. Mao probably didn’t even think of it. Both their revolutions were nationalistic and against the tyranny of the czarist class and the Chinese nationalist aristocracy. The new religions, demanding absolute obedience, were born and suppressed their predecessors.

Once upon a time, Christianity wouldn’t even allow scientific endeavour to assert that the earth moved round the sun. Poor Galileo was prosecuted for mentioning it, retracted what he knew to be true in open court, but muttered “epur si muove” under his breath as he left it.

Christianity burnt supposed heretics at the stake. But the hold of dictatorial Christian doctrine over public policy and legal punishments is long gone. The Christian nations, uniformly capitalist, are democracies and don’t poison their opponents with Novochok injections or throw them into jail or into mass concentration camps.

The new-religious and non-democratic states do just those things. And labelling themselves or being labelled “Communist” states is just as plausible as my declaring myself to be the Queen of Sheba.

And, of course, theocracy is not dead. Very many nations label themselves officially “Islamic” and some implement Sharia law in its severest interpretation and still have heresy on the statue books as punishable by death.

But take the strange case of the nations of the subcontinent. The founders of India and Pakistan were certainly not theocrats. Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah were professed democrats and, whatever their own religious affiliations, insistently secular.

Jinnah sought the foundation of Pakistan not because he wanted an Islamic nation, but because he believed that a perpetual Hindu majority in a united India could turn to oppressing its minorities through legislation and despite it. On achieving Pakistan’s nationhood, he declared its secularity. It is reported that every now and then when some military dictator pulls a coup in Pakistan and declares some oppressive measure, or when some poor Christian is accused and punished for heresy, a distinct rumble can be heard under a tomb in a famous Karachi mausoleum.

A paradoxical question occurs. Did Jinnah Saheb actually foresee the possibility of India’s pronounced secular democracy turning into a not-so-secular, intolerant nation with, albeit a minority of rabidly primitive theocratic politicians? Or did his victory in partitioning India cause or eventually lead to that state of affairs and that viciousness? Err… discuss!

And yes, gentle reader, I am aware that in the Western democracies, and specifically in the United States of America, there are considerable lobbies of people dedicated to bringing back Biblical enforcement — not quite burning witches at the stake or stoning adulteresses to death, but still inspired by Jeremiah or Leviticus. Still, they don’t demand the beheading of gay people and women accused of some sexual transgression or the chopping off of hands.

Tags: romila thapar, hindutva, dravidians