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Secularism and Liberalism in the new polity 

Every thinking person knows that the secular-liberal base is shrinking. It is shrinking not only in India, but in the whole sub continent, and possibly all over the world. Even in the stoutly secular European Union, growing Islamophobia has sharpened religious antogonisms within. This is evidence of the hidden threat to liberalism.

The various anti-terrorist laws enacted in Europe, the violent responses to the Danish cartoons, the French oppositon to the hijab, the German angst about Turkish immigrants refusal to integrate and the subtle Europe-wide opposition to Islamic Turkey's entry into the EU are signs that a religious divide is opening up in the continent. It is only a matter of time before liberalism and secularism shrivel under these pressures.

In and around India, various extremisms are taking root. The Taliban has arrived a few miles from our borders in Pakistan's Swat valley. It is one step into Kashmir. The Naxals are running riot in a huge north-south corridor from the Nepal border to Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. The various Hindu Senas are raising their heads in protest against aggressive Christian evangelism from Orissa to Karnataka. Muslim zealots are taking to the streets at the slght provocation, real or imagined.

Where are the secular-liberals on all this? They are ineffective because they are confused and divided. Secular liberalism will take root only when like-minded people from all communities condemn the same things and talk in the same language.

As things stand now, liberals defend only half the turf, while maintaining a deadly silence about the other half. In India they tend to be vociferous in condemning Hindu communalism, but look the other way when minority communalism rears its head.

We don't have to look too far for such examples. We know what happened whe Sri Ram Sene decided to defend its version of "Hindu culture". The entire liberal establishment pounced on them. A Pink chaddi campaign was launched. The goons got their come-uppance.

Around the time when we liberals were teaching the Sene's cohorts a lesson, an editor in Kolkatta was fending off a Muslim mob that took offence over an article written by an atheist religious-baiter from the Independent. Thanks to our one sided secularism, this editor had almost no liberal defenders. He was arrested for disburing communal harmony before being let off on bail. No secularist thought it fit to send coloured under garments to that riotous mob outside his office. Is this even handed secularism ?

If the same crime by different communities merits different responses, our secularism is a fake. If liberals gather in force only to attack majority communalism, they are effectively encouraging minority communalism through silent eloquence. They take refuge under the weak argument that majority communalism is more dangerous than its minority counterpart.

Is it? I don't think so. First, the number of communalists among Hindus is very tiny. What we are fighting is a minority among the so called majority. Second, every time we raise our voices against Hindu communalism but mute the criticism for minority communalism, Hindu communalists recruit more to their cause. The Sangh Parivar has grown many radical new arms not because the RSS is so powerful because it is perceived as weak by more and more Hindu youths. Third, the idea of Hindu majority is partial myth. If you take the 25/30 per cent of SC/ST population out of the head count, Hindus are not a clear majority even in India. This is particularly true in the context of efforts to give Dalits a different religious identity under Ambedkarite Buddhism.

The other point is that we need to look at Hindu numbers from a sub continental perspective given our porous borders with Bangladesh and Pakistan. And large chunks of Hindus are systematically converted by aggressive Christian Missionaries. Demography is destiny, and large part of eastern India have already been inundated by Bangladeshis. But liberals don't want to take note.If you take South Asia's demographics as a whole, upper caste and OBC Hindus -who form the real Hindu core-are merely the largest single minority. So when we talk majority communalism we are quite wrong. There is no such thing.

To expand the secular-liberal space in India we have to battle all varieties of communalism. This means liberals from all communities must band together and not isolate themselves. I find no sense in banners such as Muslims for Secular Democracy. If Muslims and Christians are secular are they really espousing a different type of secularism compared to non-Muslims and non-Christians? Liberals cannot have different yardsticks on this. The world is one village and the concept of majority and minority is a self limiting one.

If secularism is worth fighting for, it is worth fighting for in all communities. If it is good for India, it is good for Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and China. India cannot be the only liberal-secular island in a sea of communal or autocratic states.

Even as Hindu liberals fight for secularism in India, liberal Muslims must take this idea to all Muslim forums every where in the world. It is diffdicult to rubbish the idea of a Hindu Rashtra when Muslim and Christian liberals choose to keep quiet on non secular societies in our neighbourhood.

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