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Hindu History

Religious Tolerance and the Challenge of Secularism

by Sudheer Birodkar

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View the Table of Contents

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Many a times the question that arises in the mind of an Indian is - why are we secular? This question becomes more demanding for an answer when we feel the heat of communal conflagrations. India being still a traditional society that contains not one, but many traditions owing their origin in part to the different religions that exist here.

A Hindu Temple from the Khajuraho temple complex

The Hindu religion is unique in the sense that it is the only surviving major religion today that has retained a continuous link with its hazy origins in antiquity. Hinduism has no founder, no code of beliefs, it never had any religious organisation that wielded temporal power over its followers. Its distinguishing characteristics are its diversity and multiplicity. The term Sanatana dharma, which is also used to refer to this religion reflects its character - Sanatana means continuing. The religions of the Mesopotemians, ancient Greeks and Romans were similar to Hinduism. But they were replaced by Christianity and Islam.

While India carries with it many traditions it has managed to retain the secular character of its polity, while in many countries especially from the third world, a secular authority has crumbled in face of conflicting traditions. Lebanon and Cyprus are only two instances. Even in those countries where a single tradition holds sway, secular forces have not always been able to hold their own against the forces of tradition. Iran and Algeria being a case in point.

Secularism actually means an attitude unconnected with any religion. But if asked its meaning an Indian would invariably say that secularism means 'religious tolerance'. Why is it that this term which is enshrined in our constitution should have a popular misconception about its meaning? To answer this question we would have to probe deeper into Indian polity and the dialectics of Hinduism, the religion of the majority.

The Roots of religious Tolerance in India - the Pluralism of Hinduism

The Hindu religion is unique in the sense that it is the only surviving major religion today that has retained a continuous link with its hazy origins in antiquity. Hinduism has no founder, no code of beliefs, it never had any religious organisation that wielded temporal power over its followers. Its distinguishing characteristics are its diversity and multiplicity. The term Sanatana dharma, which is also used to refer to this religion reflects its character - Sanatana means continuing. The religions of the Mesopotemians, ancient Greeks and Romans were similar to Hinduism. But they were replaced by Islam and Christianity, both of which are monotheistic religions.

Rigid Social Structure of Hinduism

But, ironically, though Hindu philosophy is very liberal and tolerant, the social framework that is associated with the Hindu religion, displays rigidity in its extreme. For instance, the hereditary caste system, or the ban on re-conversion into Hinduism of those who had got themselves converted or were forcibly converted to other religions.

Worship of the forces of Nature

But taking a closer look at the methods of worship, Hinduism displays a tendency to change phenomenally over time. Students of Vedas know that in Vedic times nature worship was prevalent. The five forces of nature - the Pancha Mahabhoota included Teja (light) represented by Agni (fire), and Surya (sun), the other four were Vayu (wind), Aapa (water), Akasha (sky), and Prithvi (earth). These forces of nature were the first to be worshipped, The personified Gods like Vishnu with his ten incarnations, came much later.

The Personified Incarnations (Avatar)

The Vishnu incarnation idea is suggestive of the theory of evolution and Man's social progress. Beginning with Matsya, the fish; followed by the amphibious tortoise, Kurma the mammalian boar Varaha; followed by the half beast half man Narasimha, to the dwarf Vamana, the axe wielder Parasurama and the warrior king Rama, the cultivator Balarama and the cowherd Krishna to the enlightened Buddha. The last incarnation Kalki is yet to appear.

A Hindu Goddess

The Hindu pantheon of Gods and Goddesses has been an ever growing one and has grown in an overlapping manner, with constant additions being effected at various times and places.

The above incarnations are only a few from the Hindu pantheon, there are many others like Brahma, Shiva, Ganapati, Shakti, Kartikeya, Sheshnaga, etc. The point that comes from This, is the endless multiplicity of objects of worship that has existed in this religion. The Hindu pantheon has been an ever growing one and has grown in an overlapping manner, with constant additions being effected at various times and places.

Because of this, a follower of this religion may not even be aware that a said deity froms part of the Hindu pantheon and may not recognise it as such, even if he comes to know. Due to this a Hindu's religious consciousness has been a vague one and his commitment to his religion has not been as fanatical as in the cases of monotheistic religions.

The Mushrooming of Various Hindu Sects

The mushrooming of innumerable local sects Hinduism has been an inevitable result. This endless and overlapping multiplicity of sects originating from a common system of beliefs, made essential, the tolerance of every sect and subsect of each other. At times, the sects disassociated themselves from the main body and went their separate ways as in the case of Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. But the pluralistic tendency they had inherited from their mother faith re-asserted itself and the process of split and re-split in these offspring religious sects continued. The Buddhists are split into Mahayana and Hinayana sects, apart from Zen, Lamaism, etc. The Jains are split into Shwetambar and Digambar sects. The Sikhs are a small community which are split into innumerable sects like the Akalis, Nirankari, Radhasoamis, Udasis, Nihangs, Nirmalas, Sanyasis, Namdharis, etc.

Adi Shankara's Attempts to Organise Hinduism

This character of Hinduism prevented the formation of a central body on which could devolve the authority of taklng decisions about Hindu religious affairs. Adi Shankaracharya did make an attempt to integrate Hinduism. His attemps led to the foundation of monasteries (Mutts) in charge of bishops (Jagadgurus) like the ones at Kanchi, Dwarka, Badrinath and Puri. But even this system failed to wield Hinduism into a monolithic religion. This System did not even receive the following of Hindus all over and in the absence of any temporal power to back it up, coupled with the presence of rival centres of spiritual power in the various localised dieties and godmen, the Jagadgurus came nowhere near the Pope or the Caliph . This feature which demonstrates the lack of capacity for organisation of the Hindu religion deprived it, since historical times till today, from having any effective institutional means by which it could confront the state and make demands upon it.

No Congregational Worship in Hinduism

There is even no congregational worship in Hinduism such as found in Christianity and Islam. "In Christianity the parish church is a center of organised religious activity and the basic unit of ecclesiastical organlsation. The lack of a clearly defined and trained Hindu clergy subject to the discipline of superiors is another point. The hereditary priesthood of the Brahmin caste has not functioned effectively, and relatively few Brahmins these days are priests by actual occupation. The functions of the clergy in Hinduism are performed by a wide variety of temple priests, pandits, astrologers, Sadhus (holy men), Swamis, Gurus and so forth.

The Hindu "clergy" is thus not organised for an effective political role, nor do the Sadhus and temple priests enjoy the general prestige which would make for success in politics.

"The Hindu "clergy" is thus not organised for an effective political role, nor do the Sadhus and temple priests enjoy the general prestige which would make for success in politics."

(Donald Eugene Smith, ' India as a Secular State' , Princeton Unliversitv Press:. Princeton, New York. U S.A.. 1963 P 28)

. Commenting on the lack of ecclesiastical organisation among the Hindus, a British scholar has written. "Hence Hinduism has never prepared a body of canonical Scriptures or a Common Prayer Book; it - has never held a General Council or Convention; never defined the relations of the laity with the clergy; never regulated the canonization of saints or their worship; never established a single center of Religious life, like Rome or Canterbury; never prescribed a course of training for its priesthood." This absence of a central co-ordinating authority within the Hindu religion also left no check on the mushrooming of mutually exclusive forms of worship. For instance both Rama and Ravana (portrayed as enemies in mythology) are reversed, though the latter has only a small following in parts of South India. In Hinduism no spiritual body could issue religious edicts. There is no parallel of a Papal Bull or a Fatwa or Hukumnama in Hinduism.


Hinduism is not One Religion - it is a Collation of Human Thinking on Attitudes Towards Worship

The multiplicity of Hinduism, also reflected itself in the absence of any terms to identify Hinduism. The term 'Hindu' itself is a result of corruption of the word 'Sindhu' by the Persians who could not pronounce the word Sindhu as the letter 'S' was missing in Pahelavi, the language of the ancient Persians. The reasons; viz. the tribal origin in antiquity, the multlplicity of cults, sects and deities, the absence of a central authority, etc, made Hinduism an assimilative religion which tolerated different sects that mushroomed from itself and even absorbed minor sects whose origins lay outside Hinduism (e.g. worship of the various medicants like Saibaba ar Shirdi in Maharashtra) and when it came in contact with religions from other countries it did not resist their assimilation into itself.

(W. Crooke, 'Hinduism, - Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics,' ed. James Hastings, 1925, Vol 6p. 712.)

Even when Hinduism came into contact with aboriginal peoples like the Adivasis) no attempt was made to formally convert them to Hinduism. They were gradually Hinduised and absorbed into Hinduism. This was sometimes done by incorporating tribal deities into the Hindi and they became a Hindu cult. Hinduism thus spread by assimilation and acculturation. Thus Hinduism cannot be called one religion, it is more a collation of human thinking on attitudes towards worship, The Vedic seer had proclaimed "Truth is one; people call it by various names" (Ekam Satya, Viprah Bahuda Vadanti).

The Chosen Deity - Ishta Devata

The Hindu doctrine of having an ishta-devata (chosen deity) invites every Hindu to select his deity from the wide pantheon of various gods and goddesses conceived since time immemorial. While this liberal doctrine was originally applied to the numerous deities mentioned in the Hindu scriptures, there is no logical stopping point, and hence the same tolerant attitude is taken towards other religions who have defined frontiers. "Hinduism thus holds that there are many ways, many paths which lead towards salvation or spiritual liberation. Historically it has convincingly demonstrated this belief. The following info will bear this out.

In addition to Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists, who have emerged as refrom movement from Hinduism, we have had communities of Jews, Syrian Christians, and Zoroastrians who settled in India and lived there unmolested. Muslims lived peacefully in India for three hundred years before Islam came as a military force in the eleventh century A.D. Hinduism, unlike Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, is not a missionary religion, and the rejection of proseleytism on principle is regarded by many Hindus as an important part of tolerance". Thus "tolerance is a strong point in support of the secular state ".

(W. Crooke, 'Hinduism, - Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics,' ed. James Hastings, 1925, Vol 6p. 712.)

Relationship Between The State and Religion in Ancient India

As in the West, the idea of separation of the Church from the state has also existed in India since ancient times. Hindu traditions lend strong support to the idea that the functions of the priest and king are to be separated. According to the 'divinely ordained' caste system, the priestly function belonged to the Brahmins while the rulership vested with the Kshatriyas. The Brahmin priest was expected to advise the king, but could not himself rule as per the caste rules.

In ancient India it was the king's duty to promote dharma. Now the term dharma has a wide connotation involving law, duty, morality and religion. Thus dharma did not just connote administration it also had ecclesiastical overtones. The king was expected to encourage piety and virtue and also aid religious institutions. Government was not based on a theocracy and considerable impartiality was practised in the treatment accorded to various sects - irrespective of the sect to which a king belonged. However, the religious overtones of regal policy were very pronounced. The ancient Hindu State, like today's Indian State, was tolerant towards all religions, was equidistant from all religions and also generally gave equal promotion to all religions. But despite all this it could not be called secular as it was not a non-religous state and the promotion of dharma tied it down to ecclesiastical pursuits which cannot go into the making of a secular state as per the Dictionary meaning of the term.

In promoting dharma the state in ancient India built temples, granted them large endowments, and exercised strict supervision over their affairs. As the Hindu kings were tolerant towards all creeds and frequently aided them all, the foundations of religious tolerance which is one of the bases of secularism could be said to be indigenous to India. In addition a clear-cut distinction was made in ancient Indian polity between the functions of the priest and the king.

There was an intimate relationship between the Brahmin clergy and the Kshatriya nobility. The Brahmin, Purohita (royal chaplain) occupied a prominent position at the court of a Hindu king. The purohita also wielded considerable influence over the king through his rule as the King's Guru (spiritual preceptor) .

In the Gautama Dharmasutra (circa 500 B.C.) It is stated that even the King's authority could not touch the Brahmins, since they are representatives of God on earth, and the king's prosperity depended on divine blessings which only the Brahmins can invoke. In other texts the king is warned that if he fails to employ a qualified Brahmin priest, his oblations would not be acceptable to the Gods. Even the success of a king was said to depend on his bowing three times before the Brahman Purohita at his coronation, and thus accepting a subordinate position. The king traditionally was potrayed as a protector of cows and Brahmins.

Bitter curses are pronounced in the Dharmashastras, against rulers who confiscate the cows of Brahmins. "But the Brahminical order never developed the kind of tight-knit organisation which would enable it to enjoy an effective political role comparable to that of the church in medieval Europe. Furthermore, the divinely ordained social system had clearly given the function of governance to the Kshatriyas.

(U.N. Ghosal has referred to "The striking fact that this class (the Brahmins) throughout our history failed to assert (except in theory and legend) its claim to control kings and emperors " This absence of an effective ecclesiastical organisation within Hinduism even today is a significant factor in the development of a modern secular state in India "

The general environment of religious liberty and the official tradition of religious tolerance which prevailed in ancient India, represents one important commonality with of the secular state in India today. The ancient Hindu state never sought to impose a particular creed upon the people. In the words of Donald Smith various schools of thought propounded the doctrines of agnosticism, atheism and materialism. Jainism, Buddhism and later Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Islam were permitted to propogate their teachings, build their places of worship, and establish their respective ways of life. The struggle for freedom of conscience in Europe and America, stretching over many centuries, has no counterpart in Indian History. From the earliest days this right seems never to have been denied " (in India)

As the famed historian Max Weber put it: "It is an undoubted fact that in India, religions and philosophical thinkers were able to enjoy perfect, nearly absolute freedom for a long period. The freedom of thought in ancient India was so considerable as to find no parallel in the west before the most recent age."

Thus in India the secular state of today is built upon our substantial ancient historical foundations. According to Donald Smith, "The Hindu state of ancient medieval, or modern times was not a narrowly sectarian state in any sense; patronage was frequently extended simultaneously to various sects and religions. The British policy of religious neutrality was the direct antecedent of the secular Indian state of today, and the legal and administrative institutions introduced by the British rulers pointed the way to the development of a common citizenship. India's present system of secular public schools have Over a century of history. The mainstream of Indian nationalism, which led to independence in 1947, had a decidedly secular orientation throughout most of its history.

(Donald Eugene Smith, Op. cit. p. 61., Max Weber, The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism, Free Press Publishers, Glencoe, Illinois, U.S.A., l956, Donald Eugene Smith, Op. cit. P. 493 .

Attitude of Various religious Communities Towards Secularism

Hinduism the religion of the majority in India i8 a Łaith which on the whole is favourable to the development of the secular state in India. The Hindu view of history is that ultimately it is pre-ordained,thus a Hindu is generally fatalistlc. Secondly, the material reality is also looked upon as sn illusion. Jagat Mithya Brahmam Satya which roughly means ("The world is an Illusion, The Ultimate Truth lies beyond it")sums up the orthodox Hindu attitude towards the real world. This kind of a fatalistic attitude towards history and the material reality made the appearance of an aggresive theocratic tendency very difficult.

Hinduism also has a strong tradition of freedom of conscience and tolerance of religious diversity. Religious liberty for the Hindu is not based on political expediency but on the conviction of the ultimate oneness of the religious quest, howsoever varied the numerous paths which might be followed towards salvation.

Further, Hinduism also lacks ecclesiastical organisation and centralised authority which would be essential for any kind of theocratic challenge to a secular or for that matter a hostile theocratic state supporting some other religion. This explains the absence of a unified challenge of the Hindu community when it was tyrannized for nearly 750 years by the various Mohammedan dynasties whose administration was run on theocratic Islamic lines except in the reigns of Akbar and to an extent Jehangir.

The existence of sizable and influential religions minorities in another factor which indirectly lends support to the secular tradition. According to Donald Smith, "The Muslims and the Sikhs have little in their respective traditions which lends positive support to this concept of the state they will strengthen Indian - Secularism chiefly by guarding the rights of their respective communities". Both the Muslims and the Sikhs have strongly theocratic elements in their traditions, and secularism does not have much inherent appeal, apart from their minority status" The shallowness in the understanding of the concept of secularism is illustrated by the statement of a Kashmiri Muslim Leader in an interview published in the Illustrated Weekly of India a few years back, in which he had asked for a clear explanation about secularism, and had said that if secularism was found to be superior to his religion he would not flinch from getting himself converted to secularism. The understanding of secularism as just another religion, to which the only concession given is of its being possibly a better religion to which a person could get formally converted reflects a qeneral backward attitude and the inability of a member of any theocratic religion to perceive secularism as an attitude above religion, and more importantly, beyond religion.

According to the Dictionary meaning of secularism, a modern polity need have nothing to do with any form of religion. Secularism which ultimately is the political expression of rationalism can never be a faith, it is, and will always remain an "attitude" if it has to remain rational. If rationalism ever does degenerate into any kind religion. It would not remain rationalism any longer.

All religious minorities have a real interest in the maintenance of the secular state. But among India's three largest minorities only the Christians have a tradition of church-state separation behind them. No doubt, it is the history of a religions community that goes into the shaping of its attitude towards other communities and towards a non-religious concept like secularism. In the following table we have tried to examine the attitude of various religious communities in India towards secularism.


THEORY OF HISTORY

Indifference to history would make political arrangements like the secularism more acceptable.

Hinduism

History is ranked at a lower metaphysical level and is looked upon as pre-ordained. Thus the Hindu view of history is fatalistic and not much significance is attached to historic happenings. Hence there is not much proselytization.

Christianity

Metaphysics is recognised as the central force in Christian doctrine. But in practice history is taken more seriously. Emphasis is on proselytization by persuation.

Islam

History is decisive. Hence a certain pattern of life must be established on earth. Hence proselytization is undertaken by force of arms and only insignificantly by persuation.

ATTITUDE TOWARDS OTHER RELIGIONS

An attitude of tolerance is important in the development of a secular state.

Hinduism

Extremely tolerant theologically and generally so in practice. Ekam Satya Viprah Bahuda Vadanti (Truth is one, people call it by many names".

But internally, displays extreme rigidity in its social (caste) structure.

Christianity

Missionary Religion culturally tolerant towards other faiths.

But is Monotheistic and hence is theologically intolerant internally. "Thou shalt have no other Gods before me."

Islam

Theologically intolerant and often so in practice.

CAPACITY FOR ECCLESIASTICAL ORGANISATION

The more highly organised a religion is, the more difficult is to establish a secular state.

Hinduism

Practically no eccleslastical organisation, no congregational worship, no organised clergy.

Christianity

Well organised ecclesiastlcal order, regular congregational worship, strictly organised clergy.

Islam

Regular congregational worship.

SEPARATION OF POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS ASPECTS

Tradition of separation of these two functions supports the secular state

Hinduism

Two functions traditionally performed by separate castes.

Christianity

Principle of separation of church and state well established.

Islam

Tradition of Mohammed and Caliphs supports fusion of temporal and spiritual authority

TENDENCY TO REGULATE SOCIETY

The stronger this tendency, the more difficult is it to establish a secular state.

Hinduism

Rigid practices like the caste system existed and Hindu law (Dharma-Shastra) gave sanction to thc caste system. But the system was strictly applicable only to Hindus. It was expressly prohibited to extend the system to members of other faiths.

Christianity

The Church made continuous attempts to regulate Society.

Islam

Shariah (Islamic law) imposed detailed and rigorous regulation of Society.


As is evident from the table the inherent nature of Hinduism supports the attitude of religious tolerance. Separation of religion from the state and the confinement of religion to ecclesiastical sphere as against its taking on a militant theocratic form. This makes Hinduism tolerant towards all religions. The spirit of co-existence and tolerance that has characterised Hinduism from ancient times has its parallel today in the freedom of religious worship that is guaranteed under our constitution. So much so that it has been ingrained into our minds that religious tolerance equals secularism.

MUTUAL RESPECT AMONG RELIGIONS

Before proceeding further with our discussion we shall examine the oft repeated statement that all religions have mutual respect for each other. This seems natural as we are told that all religions lead to a common goal - unity with the Supreme. These thoughts are indeed ennobling. But what is it that inclucates respect about a certain thing ? What is respect ? Respect is defined as high opinion or regard for a high quality. In itself it implies recognition of superiority in the thing that is respected. One cannot have respect for something inferior.

When a member of one religion says that he respects another religion, he obviously does not recognise the other religion as superior to his own. And if he does consider another religion as superior to his own, it is but natural that he should get himself converted to the other religion That he does not do so implies that the word respect for him, as for most of us, does not connote recognition of superiority or regard for a higher quality. What we imply by the term respect is tolerance and non-interference as regards other religions.

Again, if one religion respects other religions, there would be no conversions into that religion. We know that almost every religion wants to convert members of other religions to itself and every religion considers itself the true faith, while other religions are untrue and their members are either pagans, infidels or heretics. Hence it would be inconsistent wlth the true and evident spirit of religion to say that one religion respects others, what can utmost be said is that while some religions tolerate other religions, most others do not.

Much to our credit, it needs to be conceded that in India, the pantheistic character of Hinduism - the religion of the majority, has been conducive to the survival of religious tolerance,misunderstood as secularis For a polity to be termed secular it has to be outside the pale of religion altogether.

RATIONALISM - THE INTELLECTUAL BEDROCK OF SECULARISM

In this chapter we have seen up to now, what condition are favourable to the existence of a secular state. Now we shall outline what Secularism actually is and what are Secularism's intellectual moorings.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English offers the following definition of the term Secular. "Concerned with affairs of this world, worldly, not sacred, not monastic, not ecclesiastical, temporal, profane, lay, sceptical of religious truth or opposed to religious education, etc."

This definition is full of many negative adjectives. It spells out all that secularism is not without saying much about what it is or what is should be. This is what we shall try to examine below. The author is in agreement with the negative connotations given by the Oxford Dictionary but beyond this can we answer the question 'What is Secularism?'

As pointed out earlier in this chapter, Secularism is the political expression of Rationalism. And now what is Rationalism ? Rationalism is, as per the Oxford Dictionary, 'An attitude which is "endowed with reason, reasoning: sensible, sane, moderate, not foolish or absurd or extreme; of or based on reasoning or reason, rejecting what is unreasonable or cannot be tested by reason". It adds that rationalism expresses "doubts about the truth of divine revelation, the possibility of miracles, etc." Thus this definition has much to say what rationalism is.

From the above definition and from the popular understanding we can say that rationalism is an attitude by which human beings always try to explore and explain the unknown and by doing this they try to extend the frontiers of human knowledge. Nothing in rationalism is ever an article of faith, everything in rationalism is subject to inquiry, and inquiry is never given up.

Any phenomenon which comes within human understanding should be such that can be explained to any human being who is qualified in that discipline. Nothing can remain en exclusive preserve which can be mastered only by "Godmen" claiming "special" powers.

There has to be no sinister shroud of secrecy around any fact or method that has been mastered by human intellect, according to the rationalist attitude Hence nothing in rationalism is an article of faith except the attitude of inquiry. Rationalism is hence an attitude of inquiry from end to end. It does never entertain any dogmas, rituals and beliefs whatsoever which are to be followed unquestioningly. Rationalism does not have the word faith in its dictionary.

Thus no one can ever be converted to rationalism. The taking up of a rationalist attitude can be decided by a person for himself individually. The taking up of a rationalist attitude presumes that dogmas have been entirely eliminated from the persons mind. The shift to rationalism is no doubt a process of transition, it is a battle for the conquest of one's own mind from the stranglehold of dogma.

A charge very often made against the rationalists in apparently quite a convincing manner is that as rationalists refuse to accept any phenomenon that is beyond human understanding they wrongly deny the existence of many such phenomenon. Examples like the existence of Ghosts, Haunted houses, trees, caves, the presence of Psychic Powers, Telepathy, Reincarnations, etc., are put forward which many people feel exist and to vouch for whose existence respectable individuals can come forward.

The rationalists, these people say, deny the existence of such phenomenon because their occurence cannot be explained with the existing human knowledge. But the fact is that, not only are such phenomenon beyond human knowledge, but a part of phenomenon will always remain beyond Human knowledge. And for this reason we cannot, as rationalists, say that it would do good for everybody to believe and fear the unknown. In denying the existence of such phenomenon these believers say, the rationalists are making a mistake.

But the rationalists do not deny anything, in fact rationalists neither assume the existence or non-existence of anything at all. With their minds free of any pre-conceived notions whatsoever the rationalists try to penetrate the unknown and try to bring more phenomenon from the sphere of unknown to that of the known. In going about this inquiry a person can use all the senses of perception available to him/her. Any phenomenon that can be so perceived is within human understanding.

If there is any phenomenon beyond the human senses of perception human beings will not know of its existence hence their would be no question of entertaining any idea of its existence. And if at all humans come to know some way that such a phenomenon does exist and such a phenomenon is beyond the available senses of perception, a rationalists will endeavour to devise a method or a new sense of perception to understand and if possible to master that phenomenon. In doing this human beings may or may not be successful. But success is another issue, what matters is the question of what attitude to take as regards such partly known phenomenon. A rationalist would like to explore it, a dogmatic person would like to treat is as a diety.

A rationalist would agree that there today exist definite limits to human knowledge and there would always exist limits to thi8 knowledge. Thi8 is so as there will always be many (rather infinite) phenomenon, which would remain unknown to human beings. We would never be able to offer an explanation for everything. But however tough and frightening the challenge facing us, the rationalists would pursue the objective of trying to unravel it and this objective the rationalists would pursue forever, generation after generation. This is Rationalism, the intellectual bedrock of Secularism. And Secularism is the political expression of this rationalist attitude.

THE POLICY OF A SECULAR STATE TOWARDS RELIGION

Having seen what the intellectual bedrock of Secularism is, we shall now turn to the ace question of what should be the policy of a State that is Secular according to the dictionary meaning of the term?

Assuming that the state which professes secularism to be its policy, also professes the concurrent policy of rationalism, the attitude of the state would have to be of looking at religion as a transitory phenomenon. The long term declared objective of the state should also be of gradually replacing religious beliefs with scientific temper. The state would naturally be equidistant from the various religions (i.e. the various forms of theism). The state policy would also be of being evenhanded as far as different religions go. But the undercurrent of this policy should not be to give equal encouragement to all religions (as the Hindu state did in ancient times) but to regulate in an impartial manner the process of transition from belief in the various religions to a scientific rationalist attitude.

This being the declared aim of state policy, the state cannot be non-committal or passive towards the existence of religious beliefs. The state policy should be infused with a missionary zeal to combat religious attitudes in an aggressive manner. But while doing this the secular state need not follow the repressive policies of persecution which have so far been followed by theocratic states towards religions other than the one patronised by them. The Secular State in fact should allow the right of religious worship alongwith that of anti-religious propaganda. Religion being an instrument of personal salvation and unity with the supreme - as religious theologians understand religion, freedom of religious worship should be guaranteed in a Secular State. But alongwith this, there should be the right for anti-religious propaganda which should be backed by the state in line with the declared policy of replacing religious belief with scientific temper.

The battle of rationalism which is basically an intellectual attitude, would have to be a battle for the conquest of human minds.

Religious freedom can be guaranteed subject to the conditions that no religion should create situations dangerous to the existence of the secular state and that religion should remain confined to purely ecclesiastical pursuits. The declared aim of state policy should be of inculcating scientific temper and its corollary - the spirit of inquiry into the unknown part of phenomenon. In such ensuing interaction between rationalism and religious belief, the attitude that would emerge victorious from the process of intellectual debate would finally shape the destiny of humankind.

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References:

(A.S. Altekar 'State and Government in Anclent India, Motilal S Banarasidass, Banaras, 1949 pp. 31-35.

Donald Euyene Smith, op.cit, p. 59.

Ghosal, A History of Indian Political Ideas, Oxford University Press Bombay 1959, pp. 32_33.

Donald Eugene Smlth, op.cit p. 59.


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Sudheer Birodkar

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