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The biased approach of secular forces has brought discredit to secularism itself. It has given an opportunity for Hindutva supporters to malign secularism as an anti-Hindu concept that promotes Muslim appeasement. Even though the BJP itself practises Hindu appeasement, this is being overlooked by a growing section of Hindus. This hypocrisy must be exposed.
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Updated At: May 09, 2022 05:26 AM (IST)
TOWARDS STABILITY: Social harmony needs introspection, dialogue and reconciliation. PTI
Sudheendra Kulkarni
Former close aide to ex-PM AB Vajpayee & Founder, Forum for a new South Asia

TODAY, there is a rising tide of anti-Muslim hatred, which has been deliberately created by the Sangh Parivar’s ideological ecosystem that supports the Modi government. Disturbingly, a large section of Hindus has been influenced by it. This tide must be stopped and reversed. However, this cannot be done unless secular forces and Muslim leaders rectify their serious mistake of keeping silent over the wrongs, historical and contemporary, on the Islamic side. A recent incident triggered this thought in me.
On April 21, on the 400th birth anniversary of the ninth Sikh master, Guru Tegh Bahadur, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation from the Red Fort in Delhi. The occasion underscored the need to remember communal atrocities by some Muslim rulers. As is well known, Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded, in a style made infamous in modern times by the ISIS, in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk in 1675 on the orders of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Several of his colleagues were also tortured to death. Before his execution, Aurangzeb had given the Guru two choices — either to convert to Islam or face death. Tegh Bahadur chose death.
This was not the only act of extreme intolerance and violence during Mughal rule. Arjan Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru, was tortured and killed in 1606 on the orders of Emperor Jahangir because he was a staunch advocate of religious tolerance and pluralism. Aurangzeb had also ordered the decapitation of his own younger brother Dara Shikoh in 1659 in front of the latter’s terrified son. Aurangzeb was angry because his brother had started to advocate harmony between Islam and Hinduism. Liberal-minded Dara had authored Majma-ul-Bahrain (The Mingling of the Two Oceans), which explored the spiritual affinity between Sufism and Vedanta. This was anathema to Aurangzeb, who believed in puritanical Islam. Such acts of religious extremism in India’s history should not be forgotten; rather, proper lessons should be learnt from them.
However, what was surprising — also disconcerting — were the large number of comments on Twitter the following day by many secular-minded people. “Why is Modi harping on something that happened four centuries ago?” they asked. This question is symptomatic of the reaction of most secularists to any debate on injustice and barbarism committed by fanatical Muslims — in medieval or recent history, in India or elsewhere in the world. The April 21 event may have been used for a political purpose, but the fact of the matter is that such acts of cruelty are etched deep in the memory of many Sikhs and Hindus. Blaming today’s Muslims for the crimes perpetrated by some Islamic fanatics in the past is of course wrong. But it is also wrong to suggest that such history should be forgotten. Heinous crimes committed in the past have a way of finding shelter in the collective memory of communities. Such memory, if suppressed, does more harm. It needs to be cleansed through honest introspection, truthful dialogue and mutual reconciliation.
Secularists are usually very outspoken about Hindu communalism, which of course must be opposed. But they generally tend to either deny or belittle the crimes of bigoted Muslim rulers. Because they want to remain politically correct, questioning Islamic bigotry becomes a taboo subject for them. Thus, the breaking of Hindu temples and idols in the past — a source of deep and persistent resentment among Hindus of all castes — is either whitewashed or attributed to reasons other than religious intolerance. Doing so is disingenuous. If the Taliban in Afghanistan had no hesitation in destroying the statue of Bamiyan Buddha in the age of global television, because they saw it as an “idol of the kafirs”, how can one deny that such religiously inspired idol-breaking did not happen in medieval times? Forced conversion of minority Hindus and coercive marriage of Hindu girls have been happening in Pakistan, and to a lesser extent in Bangladesh, even now. So how can anyone claim such things did not happen in the past under orthodox Muslim rulers?
India’s secular Constitution guarantees equality before the law to all citizens, irrespective of their religion. In contrast, in many Muslim countries, religious minorities are denied equal rights and the word ‘secularism’ itself is considered anti-Islamic. This discrimination is not strongly questioned by Muslim scholars and non-Muslim secularists.
Secularists raise their voice, and quite rightly so, against unjust and inhuman customs such as untouchability and caste discrimination in Hindu society. However, their voice is often silent or subdued when it comes to much-needed reforms in Muslim society. For example, secular parties did not support the demand for a ban on the inhuman practice of ‘triple talaq’, even though several Muslim women’s groups had been agitating against it. When the Modi government introduced a law to ban it in 2019, this was hailed not only by Hindus but also by a section of Muslim women. I heard from friends in Uttar Pradesh that a significant number of Muslim women voted for the BJP in the recent assembly elections because of their support for the law against triple talaq. In contrast, Rajiv Gandhi’s secular government in the 1980s, despite the ruling Congress party having 415 MPs in the Lok Sabha, capitulated before Muslim fundamentalists in the Shah Bano case and failed to provide justice to a widowed Muslim woman seeking alimony. Rajiv Gandhi’s surrender became a major turning point in India’s political history and greatly helped the rise of the BJP.
This is just a small list of issues where the biased approach of secular forces has brought discredit to secularism itself. It has given an opportunity for Hindutva supporters to malign secularism as an anti-Hindu concept that promotes Muslim appeasement. Even though the BJP itself practises Hindu appeasement, this is being overlooked by a growing section of Hindus. This hypocrisy must be exposed. Secularism is a basic principle of the Indian Constitution, and hence must be defended. Without it, India’s national unity, integrity and social harmony would be gravely endangered. But the worst way of defending secularism is to become partial and prejudiced, either on the Hindu or the Muslim side.
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The Tribune, now published from Chandigarh, started publication on February 2, 1881, in Lahore (now in Pakistan). It was started by Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia, a public-spirited philanthropist, and is run by a trust comprising four eminent persons as trustees.
The Tribune, the largest selling English daily in North India, publishes news and views without any bias or prejudice of any kind. Restraint and moderation, rather than agitational language and partisanship, are the hallmarks of the paper. It is an independent newspaper in the real sense of the term.
The Tribune has two sister publications, Punjabi Tribune (in Punjabi) and Dainik Tribune (in Hindi).
Remembering Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia
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