Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Base Text and Its Commentaries: Problems of Representing and Understanding the Cārvāka/Lokāyata - PART III & IV

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya

Jayantabhaṭṭa, a luminary of the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika school (ninth century C.E.) was a domicile in Kashmir although he was a Gauḍa brāhamaṇa by origin. His exegetical work Nyāyamañjarī (NM) contains stringent attacks against the Cārvākas. Speaking of the instruments of cognition, Jayanta at one place says: “the Cārvākas say that there is only one kind of pramāṇa, which is perception (pratyakṣa).”17 Jayanta assures his readers that he would establish the validity of inference (anumāna), which the Cārvākas allegedly do not admit as a pramāṇa.

Apparently, Jayanta is here going by the Cārvāka aphorism: “Perception indeed is the (only) instrument of cognition” (BHATTACHARYA 2009: 80, 87).18 So far so good. Had this been the only example of going by the literal meaning of an aphorism, we could have dispensed with Jayanta. After all, he takes the words of the aphorism as they appear in the base text and stands firmly on its basis. However, he soon changes his track; instead of the sūtra work, he takes his stand on a commentary, presumably the Tattvavṛtti written by his fellow Kashmirian, Udbhaṭabhaṭṭa. Jayanta does not name him anywhere in his work but refers to him in various indirect and ironical ways and refers to Udbhaṭa’s view three times in successive pages.19

After referring to the alleged one-pramāṇa position of the Cārvākas (quoted above), Jayanta writes: “The Cārvākas, the well-learned ones (suśikṣita), say that it is really impossible to specifically state the number of pramāṇa-s.”20 In another instance Jayanta complains that the Cārvāka, the cunning one (dhūrta), does not explain the principle (tattva) but merely expatiates on “the impossibility of making a specific rule regarding the number and definition of pramāṇa and prameya (the object of cognition).”21 It is no longer the number of pramāṇa-s but those of prameya-s as well. On yet another occasion Jayanta derides the Cārvākas by saying: “The nāstika-s, not having enough intelligence to determine the power of the pramāṇa-s have been clamouring in vain that in the case of pramāṇa-s, there is no specific rule as to the number.”22 The same kind of contempt is manifest again on the same page: “By declaring before the assembly of the learned that tattva is nothing but the impossibility of determining (the true nature of pramāṇa and prameya), they (sc. the Cārvākas) have only revealed their dullheadedness.”23

It is to be noted that Jayanta does not ridicule Udbhaṭa alone, or even those who allegedly adhere to his views, for holding this agnostic position regarding the number of pramāṇa-s and prameya-s. In the first two instances he does so, but in the last two he condemns the Cārvākas as a whole, not a section of them or a particular individual.

The charge is not true, for it goes against the statement made earlier by Jayanta himself that the Cārvākas admit one pramāṇa only, as the sūtra says. Even though we have to work on the basis of very few Cārvāka fragments, we at least know that Udbhaṭa in some respects differed from the ancient (cirantana) Cārvākas (NM II: 257) and that Cakradhara himself tells us, as does Vādidevasūri that Udbhaṭa sought to explain some sūtra-s in quite unconventional and novel ways.24 Therefore, Udbhaṭa’s view concerning the number of pramaṇa and prameya should not be taken as the opinion generally held by all nāstika-s or Cārvākas, past and present.

Moreover, Udbhaṭa’s view flatly contradicts the sūtra, which specifies that the principle is earth, air, fire and water and nothing else (iti) (I.2) (BHATTACHARYA 2009: 78, 86). Udbhaṭa himself was aware of his departure from the old way of interpretation. He tried to reinterpret the word iti in the text in a tortuous way by saying that here iti does not denote the end but instead is illustrative.25

Jayanta, then, is inconsistent in representing the opponent’s view (pūrvapakṣa). He knew full well that the Cārvākas interpreted the sūtra in a very different way than the wording suggests. At least three commentators, Purandara, Aviddhakarṇa and Udbhaṭa, took pains to point out that although they did not consider inference to be an independent instrument of cognition, they did not reject inference as such. Only such inferences as are drawn from scriptures or unverifiable sources are rejected by them; inferences established in everyday life and verifiable by sense perception are admitted by them (BHATTACHAYA 2009: 81–82, 88–90, commentaries 3, 12, 18). Jayanta in fact paraphrased the view of those whom he calls “the better educated ones” (suśikṣitatarāḥ)26 as follows:
Indeed who will deny the validity of inference when one infers fire from smoke and so on; ordinary people ascertain the probandum by such inferences though they may not be pestered by the logicians. However, inferences that seek to prove a self, God, an omniscient being and the other-world and so on, are not considered valid by those who know the real nature of things. Simple-minded people cannot derive the knowledge of probandum by such inferences so long as their mind is not vitiated by cunning logicians (NM I: 184; BHATTACHARYA 2009: 86, 92, verses 18–20).
By refusing to abide by the commentator’s interpretation of the sūtra concerning the partial validity of inference but by generalizing the same commentator’s purely personal opinion about the impossibility of determining the number of pramāṇa and prameya to be the original Cārvāka view, Jayanta merely betrays his personal antipathy for Udbhaṭa in particular and the Cārvākas in general. He would at one point go by the literal meaning of a sūtra in the base text but at another point accept the commentator’s view rather than what the sūtra says. No doubt the commentator (Udbhaṭa in this case) provided an opportunity to an opponent of his system by resorting to a far-fetched interpretation; Jayanta makes full use of it. Instead of bringing the charge of sūtrabhaṅga, going against the aphorism (which Udbhaṭa definitely does while interpreting iti in the Cārvāka fragment I.2), he refers to the view as if it represents the true position of the Cārvākas. On another occasion, he refers to the sūtra itself just because it suits him. On yet other occasions he conveniently forgets the sūtra and picks up Udbhaṭa alone. If he believed that a particular commentator’s view properly reflected the intention of the sūtrakāra, why did he suppress the same commentator’s interpretation of a vital sūtra (III.1, discussed above) and stick to the letters of it instead?


Hemacandra, the Jain savant (twelfth century C.E.) also criticizes the nāstika, or heterodox view in his Anya-yoga-vyavaccheda-dvātriṃśikā (AYVD) solely on the ground that it does not admit inference as a valid instrument of cognition (verse 20). Malliṣeṇa (thirteenth century), in his Syādvādamañjarī (SVM), a commentary on the AYVD, identifies this nāstika with the Cārvāka. Rightly so, for the two words are synonymous (see above). Malliṣeṇa then explains the point as follows: the Cārvākas accept only perception as the sole instrument of cognition; hence they do not accept anything else, not even inference, as a means of valid knowledge.27

We have already seen that this is a common charge brought against the Cārvākas by many of their opponents, both Vedists (Brahminical, such as Jayanta) and non-Vedists (the Jain, Hemacandra in this instance. See also KAMALAŚĪLA, II: 520, but see also II: 528, quoted below). In fact, the point that the Cārvākas accepted nothing but perception as pramāṇa is so widely – almost universally – believed by so many authorities, both ancient and modern, that it may appear to be an exercise in futility to question the veracity of this oft-repeated objection. Yet the fact is that long before Hemacandra wrote this, Purandara, a Cārvāka philosopher (fl. eighth century C.E.) whose name is connected with both the base text of the Cārvāka/Lokāyata system of philosophy as well as with a short commentary (vṛtti) on it,28 had clearly stated: “The Cārvākas, too, admit of such an inference as is well-known in the world, but that which is called inference [by some], transgressing the worldly way, is prohibited [by them].”29

Purandara was not alone in asserting this view. Aviddhakarṇa (not later than the eighth century), another commentator on the Cārvākasūtra, also declared:
It is true that inference is admitted by us as a source of knowledge, because it is found to be so in general practice; (but what we only point out is that) the definition of an inferential mark is illogical (BHATTACHARYA 2009: comm. 3.81, 88).
And last but not least, Udbhaṭa, the last known commentator on the Cārvākasūtra, who in other respects was rather atypical in his interpretation of certain Cārvāka aphorisms (see above), states the Cārvāka position vis-à-vis inference more elaborately:
Failure of concomitance is not seen even in the case of probanses well- established in the world; so also it is not noticed in the case of the probanses established in the scripture; so, on the basis of the quality characterized by ‘non-perception of failure of concomitance’ being common to them, the probanses established in the scriptures are admitted as being gamaka. It is because of this that inference is secondary. Now the knowledge of non-failure of concomitance in respect of worldly probanses is instrumental in bringing a bout the knowledge of the probandum. But that is not there in the concept of probanses established by the scriptures. So it is not proper that non-perceptible things should be known with the help of these. Hence it is said that the ascertainment of things is difficult to attain by dint of inference (BHATTACHARYA 2009: comm. 12.81–82, 88).
The position of the Cārvākas is perfectly clear. They do not admit inference as an independent instrument of cognition on a par with perception, but at the same time they do admit the limited validity of inference insofar as it is confined to the material world, which is perceivable and verifiable by sense experience. It is in this sense that Udbhaṭa in response to some opponent makes a distinction between “incapable reasons” and “capable reasons” (BHATTACHARYA 2009: comm. 14.82, 89). Jayanta certainly knew all this. Hence, he makes “better educated ones” declare this in clear terms (as quoted above).

Given the incredible mobility of mss from Kashmir to Kerala and the custom of getting such mss speedily copied in various local scripts from Śāradā to Nāgarī to Malayalam, it is inconceivable that Hemacandra (respectfully called the “omniscient one of the Kali era,” kalikālasarvajña by the Jains) did not know any of them. Ratnaprabhā (fourteenth century), another Jain scholar, echoes the view of the three Cārvākasūtra commentators mentioned above:

The Cārvākas, however, contend that they admit inferences which are of practical utility, such as the inference of fire from smoke, and deny only those which deal with such supernatural matters as the heaven, the unseen power (apūrva) which generates in a next birth fruits of acts done in a present life, etc. etc. (VADIDEVASURI 1967: 540).

Guṇaratna (fifteenth century), yet another Jain commentator, also repeats all this 30 as do both anonymous author of the Avacūrṇi to the ṢDSam (1969: 508) and another digest-writer of a small, anonymous and undated work called the Sarvamatasaṃgraha (BHATTACHARYA 2009: 58).

Hemacandra and Malliṣeṇa do not shift their position from the base text to the commentary (as Jayanta does) in their criticism of the Cārvākas. They err in completely ignoring the commentaries and thereby, like many others before and after them, misrepresent the Cārvāka view of inference. In fact, as has been shown time again by other scholars before, partial acceptance of inference distinguished the Cārvākas (among other things) from the earlier materialists, some of whom might have held one-pramaṇa position as alleged by their opponents.31 Very much like Jayanta, he too conveniently avoids mentioning the view of the “better educated Cārvākas” in this regard.


One last word. Why did Jayanta and Hemacandra, two stalwarts in the field of Indian philosophy, make such injudicious choices between the base text and the commentary? It will be insulting them to say that they did not know or understand the actual position of the Cārvākas in regard to inference. Yet to say that these savants deliberately distorted their opponent’s view will be equally ungenerous. Then why?

The only explanation I may venture to offer is that their desire to trounce their opponent blurred their vision and made them recourse to the shortest and easiest way. By damning the Cārvākas as ‘wretched’ (varāka) and undeserving of any serious discussion (NM I: 299),32 both chose to portray them as simpletons, which they were not. Jigīṣā (desire to conquer) is the greatest enemy of objectivity, as a learned friend of mine is fond of saying.


17 NM, I: 43. Translation in: C/L, 154.
18 For variant readings of the same (III.1), see BHATTACHARYA 2009: 60, n. 23.
19 CAKRADHARA, author of the Granthibhaṅga, a commentary on the NM, identifies the person/s referred to in such ways (suśikṣita and dhūrta) as UDBHAṬA and others (I: 52, 100). CAKRADHARA is corroborated by VĀDIDEVASŪRI who quotes at length from UDBHAṬA’s commentary on several occasions and provides the title of the work (Tattvavṛtti) as well (265). Tantravṛtti (270) in all probability is a misprint. See BHATTACHARYA 2009: comm. 11, 13. 81–82, 89.
20 NM I: 52. Trans. in: C/L, 154.
21 NM I: 100. Trans. in: C/L, 155.
22 NM I: 101. Trans. in: C/L, 156.
23 Ibidem.
24 CAKRADHARA I: 100. Cf. VĀDIDEVASŪRI (SVR 764): “This respectable veteran twice-born is revealing to us a novel way of answering criticism.” (comm. 15 in: BHATTACHARYA 2009: 82, 89).
25 Cf. VĀDIDEVASŪRI (SVR 1087), and BHATTACHARYA 2009: comm. 16.82, 89–90. Cakradhara too points out in relation to other sūtra-s that Udbhaṭa’s explanations go against the conventionally proposed ones. Also BHATTACHARYA 2009: comm. 8, 81, 88; NM I: 100, 257–258.
26 Unfortunately, Cakradhara does not identify these persons as he did in case of the welleducated
Cārvākas and the cunning Cārvāka (see n23 above). The use of plural may be ironically
honorific. On the basis of the extract quoted by VĀDIDEVASŪRI (SVR comm. 12.
81–82, 88.265–266) we may safely conclude that this person cannot but be Udbhaṭa.
27 For a detailed study of SVM, chapter 20, see BHATTACHARYA 2009: 167–168.
28 See BHATTACHARYA 2009: 67.
29 As quoted by KAMALAŚĪLA in TSP II: 528 (on TS, Ch. 18, verse 1481, comm. 18 [in:] BHATTACHARYA 2009: 82, 90).
30 TRD, on ṢDSam verse 83, 306.13–15; C/L, 273.
31 Whether all pre-Cārvāka materialists too held such a one-pramāṇa position is open to further enquiry. A passage in the MBH mentions three pramāṇa-s, namely, perception confirmed in the world (lokataḥ sidddhaṃ pratyakṣam), doctrines having the Veda to support them, and the practice of eminent persons, śiṣṭa-s (13.147.9). Dandekar has noticed that inference is absent in the list but suggests that presumably inference is understood to have been included in perception (critical edition, Anuśāsanaparvan, notes, 1119). This would suggest that inference was required to be confined to this world only and not to be derived from the Veda, etc. to prove the existence of supernatural objects. Cf. Nyāyasūtra 1.5: tad (sc. pratyakṣam) pūrvakam. See also MBH 12.211.26–27 where reasoned-out truth (kṛtānta) is called nothing but perception. See BHATTACHARYA 2010a: 426.
32 Cf. HEMACANDRA 1926 (Yogaśāstra 2.38, f. 96b). Śilāṅka (19) also uses this insulting word to denigrate nāstika-s who speak of five elements (on SKS


AIYANGAR, Kumbakonam Viraraghava Rangaswami (1941): Bṛhaspatismṛti (reconstructed). Baroda: Oriental Institute.
ĀRYAŚŪRA, Jātakamālā (1959): Paraś urā ma Lakshmaṇa VAIDYA (ed.). Darbhanga: Mithila Institute.
AYVD – Hemacandra. Anya-yoga-vyavacheda-dātṛṃṣikā with Malliṣeṇa. Ā nandaś aṅkara Bā pubhā ī DHRUVA (ed.) (1933): Syādvādamañjarī. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. See also THOMAS 1968.
BĀṆABHAṬṬA (1956): Harṣcarita. Pandurang Vaman KANE (ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
BĀṆABHAṬṬA (1950): Kādambarī. Haridas Siddhantavagisa BHATTACHARYYA (ed.). Kalikata: Śaka.
BHATTACHARYA, Ramakrishna (2007): Will the True Ānupalambika Please Stand up? Anvīkṣā 28, 13–18.
BHATTACHARYA, Ramakrishna (2009): Studies on the Cārvāka/Lokāyata. Firenze: Società Editrice Fiorentina (also published in 2011, London: Anthem Press).
BHATTACHARYA, Ramakrishna (2010a): Commentators on the Cārvākasūtra: A Critical Survey. Journal of Indian Philosophy 38, 4, 419–430.
BHATTACHARYA, Ramakrishna (2010b): What the Cārvākas Originally Meant: More on the Commentators of the Cārvākasūtra. Journal of Indian Philosophy 38, 6, 529–542.
BHATTACHARYA, Ramakrishna (2010c): Lokāyata Materialism: Classification of Source Material. [In:] Subuddhi Charan GOSWAMI (ed.): Lokāyata Philosophy: A Fresh Appraisal. Kolkata: The Asiatic Society, 37–42.
C/L – CHATTOPADHYAYA, Debiprasad, GANGOPADHYAYA, Mrinal Kanti (1990): Cārvāka/Lokāyata. New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research.
CAKRADHARA (1982–1984), Granthibhaṅga, with Jayantabhaṭṭa’s Nyāyamañjarī: Gaurinatha SASTRI (ed.). Varanasi: Sampūrṇānanda Saṃskṛta Viśvavidyālaya (three vols).
CHATTERJI, Kshitish Chandra (1972): Patañjali’s Mahābhāshya. Paśpaśāhnika. Calcutta: A. Mukherjee & Co.
CHATTOPADHYAYA, Kshetresh Chandra (1975): The Lokāyata System of Thought in Ancient India. Journal of the Ganganath Jha Research Institute 31, 137–155.
COLEBROOKE, Henry Thomas (1977): On the Vedas or Sacred Writings of the Hindus.
[In:] COLEBROOKE, H.T., Essays on History Literature and Religion of Ancient India. Vol. 1 (reprint of Miscellaneous Essays). New Delhi: Cosmo Publications (first published 1805).
DASGUPTA, Surendranath (1975): A History of Indian Philosophy. Vol. 2. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass (first published 1922).
GANERI, Jonardon (2008): Sanskrit Philosophical Commentary. Journal of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research 25, 1, 107–127 (also available at – accessed: 28.12.2012).
GANGOPADHYAYA, Mrinal Kanti (1973): Nyāya Philosophy, Part IV. Calcutta: Indian Studies Past and Present (abridged translation of the elucidation by Phanibhushana TARKAVAGISA).
HARADATTA Śarmā (1965), Padamañjarī. [In:] Kāśikā, Dwarikadas SASTRI, Kalika Prasad SUKLA (eds). Part I. Varanasi: Prachya Bharati Prakashan.
HARIBHADRA (1969), Ṣaḍdarśanasamuccaya (with Guṇaratna’s and Somatilakasūri’s commentaries and an anonymous Avacūrṇi). Mahendrakumar JAIN (ed.). Varanasi: Bhā ratī ya Jñ ā napī tḥa.
HARIBHADRA (1926), Samarāicca Kahā. Hermann JACOBI (ed.). Calcutta: The Asiatic Society.
Harivaṃśa (1969): Paraś urā ma Lakshmaṇa VAIDYA (crit. ed.). Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (first editon 1905).
HEMACANDRA (1914–1919): Abhidhānacintāmaṇi. Hargovindand DAS, Jayanta VIJAYAJI, MUNIRAJ (eds). Bhavnagar: N.L. Vakil.
HEMACANDRA (1926): Yogaśāstram. Bhavanagara: Srijainadharma Pracharasabha. 
ILANKO ĀDIGĀL and SATTANAR (1989): Manimekalai. Trans. Prema NANDAKUMAR. Thanjavur: Tamil University.
ILANKO ĀDIGĀL and SATTANAR (1996): Silappattikaram/Manimekalai. Retold by Laksmi HOLMSTÖRM. Hyderabad: Orient Longman.
KAUṬILYA (1965–1972): The Kauṭilīya Arthaśāstra. R.P. KANGLE (ed.). Bombay: University of Bombay (three vols).
KOSAMBI, Damodar Dharmananda (1975): An Introduction to the Study of Indian History. Bombay: Popular Prakashan (first edition 1956).
MAHĀRĀJA, Ācārya Sarvanandājī (ed.) (1978): Ācāraṅgasūtram and Sūtrakṛtāṅgasūtram with Niryukti of Ācārya Bhadravāhu Svāmī and the commentary of Śīlāṅkācārya. Re-ed. with appendix by Muni JAMBUVIJAYAJI. Delhi: MLBD Indological Trust.
MALLIṢEṆA (2005): Syadvadamañjari with Anya-yoga-vyavacheda-dvātṛṃṣikā of Hemacandra. Ānandaś aṅkara Bā pubhā ī DHRUVA, Push Raj JAIN (eds). Delhi: Akshaya Prakashan (reimp.). See also THOMAS 1968.
MBH – The Mahābhārata (1933–1966): Vishnu S. SUKTANKAR et al. (eds). Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.
NĀGEŚABHAṬṬA (1960–1962): Paribhāṣenduśekhara. Ed. and trans. Franz KIELHORN, Kashinath Vasudev ABHYANKAR and Vā sudevaś ā strī ABHYAṄKARA (second editon). Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (two vols).
NM – JAYANTABHAṬṬA (1982–1984): Nyāyamañjarī. Gaurinatha SASTRI (ed.). Varanasi: Sampūrṇānanda Saṃskṛta Viśvavidyālaya (three vols).
NS – Nyāyasūtra – GANGOPADHYAYA, Mrinal Kanti (1982): Nyāya (translation of the Nyāyasūtra and Vātsyāyana’s commentary). Calcutta: Indian Studies.
Nyāyasūtra with Vātsyāyana’s Bhāṣya, etc. (1996–1997): Anantalal THAKUR (ed.). New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research.
Padmapurāṇa. Sṛṣṭikhaṇḍa (1903–1904): Pancanana TARKARATNA (ed.). Kalikata: Manasukharāya Mora.
PĀṆINI (1989): Aṣṭādhyāyī. Sumitra Mangesh KATRE (ed. and trans.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
PREISENDANZ, Karin (2008): Text, Commentary, Annotation: Some Reflections on the Philosophical Genre. Journal of Indian Philosophy 36, 599–618.
SAṄGHADĀSAGAṆIVĀCAKA (1989): Vasudevahiṃḍi. Part I. CATURVIJAYA and PUṆYAVIJAYA (eds). Gandhinagar: Gujarata Sahitya Akademi.
SDS – SĀYAṆA-MĀDHAVA (1981): Sarvadarśanasaṅgraha. Kanhaiyala JOSHI (ed.). Ahmedabad—Delhi: Parimal Publication.
ṢḌSam – HARIBHADRA (1916): Ṣaḍdarśanasamuccaya (with Guṇaratna’s commentary, Tarkarahasyadīpikā). Luigi SUALI (ed.). Calcutta: The Asiatic Society.
SKS – Sūtrakṛtāṅgasūtra: Prathama śrutaskandha. Series „Jinā gama granthamā lā ”, Bewar: Sri Agama Prakashan Samit, 1982.
SVR – Syādvādaratnākara (1988): VĀDIDEVASŪRI (ed.). Delhi: Bharatiya Book Corporation.
TARKAVAGISA, Phanibhusana (1981–1989): Nyāya Darśana Vātsyāyana Bhāṣya (in Bangla). Calcutta: West Bengal State Book Board (five vols; reprint). See also GANGOPADHYAYA 1973.
The Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa. Ayodhyākāṇḍa (1962): Paraś urāma Lakshmaṇa VAIDYA (crit. ed.). Baroda: Oriental Institute.
THOMAS, Frederick William (1968): The Flower-spray of the Quodammodo Doctrine. Trans. of Hemacandra AYVD and Malliṣeṇa SVM). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
TRD – GUṆARATNA (1916): Tarkarahasyadīpikā with HARIBHADRA’s Ṣaḍdarṣanasamuccaya. Luigi SUALI (ed.). Calcutta: The Asiatic Society.
TS – ŚĀNTARAKṢITA (1981): Tattvasaṃgraha (with Pañjikā by Kamalaśīla). Dvarikdas SASTRI (ed.). Varanasi: Bauddha Bharati (first edition 1968).
TSP – See TS.
VANAMAMALAI, N. (1973): Materialist Thought in Early Tamil Literature. Social Scientist 2, 4, 25–41.
VP – Viṣṇupurāṇa (1965–1966): Pañcānana TARKARATNA (ed.). Kalikata: Aryyasastra (reprint).

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya taught English at the University of Calcutta, Kolkata and was an Emeritus Fellow of University Grants Commission. He is now a Fellow of Pavlov Institute, Kolkata.

This paper was first published in Argument: Biannual Philosophical Journal, Vol. 3, no. 1 (2013), pp. 133-149 (

Friday, 24 January 2014

Modi’s Caste and Hindutva Political Strategies

Ram Puniyani

As Narnedra Modi was close to being nominated the Prime Ministerial candidate, another Modi, Sushil Modi, flaunted Modi’s backward caste origins. Recently (Jan 2014) in a public rally in Delhi, Narerndra Modi himself brandished his caste while speaking at a public rally. At one level it is surprising that Modi is showcasing his caste, as the aim of RSS, whose trained swayamsevak (volunteer) he is, is to forge a monolithic Hindu identity, papering over the caste differences and underplaying its inherent hierarchy. Hindutva, the RSS politics, is essentially an ideology based on a caste pyramid, where the different castes have a well defined place. The caste system gets its strength through subordinating the dominated castes. Dominated castes, dalits-OBCS, assuming Hindu identity, over and above their caste identity, is the fulcrum of strength of Hindutva politics.

Caste has been the major phenomenon, with which the Hindutva politics had to engage with. The beginning of RSS was more as a reaction to low castes coming up in the society. In 1920s when the dalits launched Non Brahman movement, aimed to fight against landlord-Brahmin combine, the upper castes, came forward to lay the foundation of RSS. This formation was aiming at Hindu Nation, in contrast to the agenda of Ambedkar who was talking of caste annihilation and was conceptualizing the concept of social justice in the framework of rising Indian Nationalism. RSS was also opposed to the national movement, which recognized the need for transformation of caste hierarchy, towards the values of equality. At this point of time the Hindutva ideologues like Golwalkar, upheld the Hindu holy books which had caste equations ingrained in them. These ideologues, overlooking the cruelty of caste system, glorified it as the basis and strength of Hindu society. With independence and the coming into being of Indian Constitution the march of dalits towards equality took the next step aided by the affirmative action provided by Indian Constitution. They did start the journey for their own share sky.

The changes in social scenario by 1980s led to a situation whereby upper caste felt that this undeserving section is being treated like ‘son-in-laws’ of the Governments in matters of education and jobs. They felt that their ‘deserving’ children are not able to get their due share of admissions and jobs. The result was anti-dalit violence in Ahmadabad in 1980s. Later the anti OBC violence in mid 1980s, opposing the promotion of OBCs in jobs was witnessed. With Mandal Commission coming in 1990s, the discomfort of upper caste was articulated by RSS progeny, who for electoral compulsions did not formally oppose the Mandal but diverted the social attention by enhancing the mobilization for Ram temple in a big way.

Meanwhile RSS planned for social engineering by which the dalits were co-opted into Hindutva politics and at places put in the forefront like in Babri demolition and also in the anti Muslim violence in Gujarat in particular. The anti-minority violence plays the role of bringing religious identity o the fore. In case of dalits through communal violence ‘Hindu identity’ came in as the overshadowing one, overshadowing the caste identity. After every case of anti minority violence, the Hindu identity became bigger for dalits. The recent case of Muzzafarnagar violence is the good example to observe this phenomenon. Here the Jats-Muslim bridges were broken through this violence and more so by transforming the Jat identity to the Hindu identity, by showing the fear of Muslims. Earlier also through this social engineering the dalit OBCs like Uma Bharati, Kalyan Singh, Vinay Katiyar have been brought in the forefront of RSS scheme of politics, through the act of Babri demolition and other related communal agenda. With this social engineering one can see the section of dalits veering towards this divisive politics.

At another level there is a conscious ploy through floating organizations like Samajik Samrasta Manch (Social Assimilation Platform), which talks of caste harmony while retaining caste inequality. This idea is in total contrast to the idea of Ambedkar for whom caste annihilation had to be the central agenda of dalit politics. While Ambedkar painfully drew attention to the plight of dalits and struggled for justice for them RSS has subtly and openly opposed the affirmative action for dalits and never raised its voice against atrocities on dalits. Agenda of communal politics is a clever ploy. At one level it opposes all affirmative action for the dominated castes, at another level it co-opts them and at yet another level it talks of harmony between different castes.

There is a twin track strategy as far as caste question is concerned. On one side it aims to project Modi’s backward caste identity, and this is for an electoral appeal. At another level it also aims to bring in overarching Hindu identity over and above the caste identity, while retaining the caste pyramid. The overarching Hindu identity is constructed through communal violence, through projecting the fear of the ‘other’, Muslim or Christian, as the one’s threatening ‘we the Hindus’. At ideological level it propagated ‘Integral Humanism’ propounded by Deendayal Upadhyay. This concept of Integral Humanism says that we Hindus believe that different Varnas have come from same Virat Purush (Grand Man). From his mouth came Brahmins, from arms Khstriyas, from thighs Vaishyas and from feet the Shudras were created. It menas that all these Varnas-castes are complimentary to each other.

Modi took this concept to spiritual level, in his recent book, Karmayoga, published by the state information department. In this book Modi says, “Scavenging must have been a spiritual experience for the Valmiki caste, “At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their (Valmikis’) duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods; that they have to do this job bestowed upon them by Gods; and that this job of cleaning up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries. This should have continued generation after generation. It is impossible to believe that their ancestors did not have the choice of adopting any other work or business.” This spiritual experience is reserved for the ‘Valmikis’, a sub-caste among Dalits, which has been condemned to scavenging jobs for centuries. The functions of the caste are also being glorified and propagated by many a Godmen, one of whom Pandurang Shastri Athwaley clearly stated that any deviation from the pre-assigned caste duty is detrimental for the society. Another God man Sri Sri Ravi Shanker has been propagating about caste harmony through his writing.

There is no linear relationship between this politics and its strategies. This politics, Hindutva, wants to uphold the caste hierarchy in a subtle way and adopts different tactics in dealing with the caste question. Undoubtedly once the non upper caste become assertive as ‘Hindus’ through ideological indoctrination and become icons of Hindutva politics; that is the biggest ‘success’ of this politics. Modi being a Hindutva icon, being an OBC, is a big leap for Hindutva agenda of upholding caste system and at the same time making stronger forays on the electoral battlefield.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Secularism in India– the Inconclusive Debate

Justice R. A. Jahagirdar 

During the freedom struggle and during the deliberations of the sessions of the Indian National Congress, prior to independence, there was little, if any, debate on secularism and on what character the State of India was to take. It was no doubt accepted that India, inhabited by many religions, will not discriminate against any religion and will allow freedom of religions to the followers of different religions.

Justice RA Jahagirdar
Independent India was anointed in a bloodbath consequent to communal riots that rocked the sub-continent for nearly two years. The Muslim majority areas of the British India were constituted into Pakistan, a theocratic Islamic State – a concept that was duly incorporated later in the Constitution of Pakistan. It should be remembered that in the history of the world Pakistan is the first and the only Islamic (indeed a theocratic) State born or established as such. Other Islamic States were States already existing that came to acquire Islamic character. This development has certain political and social consequences that should form the subject of a separate study.

Because of the generally non-communal character of the political party that spearheaded the freedom struggle and the wise leadership that guided Indian polity at the initial stages, India fortunately did not become a religious or a theocratic State. The debates in the Constituent assembly that framed the Constitution of India show that there was unanimity on the point that there would be no discrimination based on religion, though there was no common understanding what secularism meant. Surprisingly or otherwise, there was no discussion on this subject at least in the public till the sixties. Apparently there was no judgement either of a High Court or of the Supreme Court dealing with the subject – or else there would have been some debate among our alert academicians.

Studies in Indian Secularism

In 1963 there appeared what has been regarded as a pioneer study on secularism in India. This was 'India as a Secular State' by Prof. Donald E. Smith of Princeton University, New Jersey. Around the same time there was another study on the subject made by Ved Prakash Luthera of University of Delhi, India, which was awaiting publication. It was published in 1964 as 'The Concept of the Secular State in India'. In the Preface to his book Luthera mentions that when Donald Smith’s India 'As A Secular State' appeared, his study had gone to the press but Smith had read the manuscript of Luthera’s study. As will be mentioned later, the two authors take contrary views on the subject.

Thereafter, for reasons which are not clear, regular discussion and debates took place on this subject, namely, Secularism and India. It would be in order to take note of some of the earlier studies which were published. In November 1965 The Indian Law Institute, New Delhi, had organised a seminar on 'Secularism: Its Implications For Law and Life In India' and the papers presented at the seminar along with the inaugural address by the then Chief Justice of India were published in a volume under the same title.

Challenges to Secularism

Prof. A.B. Shah, the Founder-President of the Indian Secular Society, Poona, wrote some articles in a newspaper which brought forth some responses. A Muslim friend put some questions to Shah and he responded to them in his characteristically frank and outspoken manner. Then there was his correspondence with Shankaracharya of Puri. All this material has been published in 1968 in a book under the title 'Challenges to Secularism'. This book deserves much wider reading than it seems to have enjoyed. Sample the following headings: The Challenge from Hindu Obscurantism; The Challenge from Muslim Obscurantism; Dialogue with a Hindu Obscurantist (i.e. Shankaracharya of Puri).

A collection of essays in the form of a symposium has been edited by Prof. V.K. Sinha and has been published under the title of Secularism In India on behalf of International Association For Cultural Freedom. The readers will be interested to note that this volume contains criticism of Prof. Smith’s book by two other academicians viz. Prof. Marg Galanter of University of Chicago and Prof. John T. Flint at the State University of New York at Binghamton, New York, and Prof. Smith’s rejoinder to the same.

During the forty years or so secularism has been a supremely debated, discussed and contested subject. In India everyone says he is a secularist. Hindutvavadis insist that they are the true secularists and the Congress is pseudo-secularist; some Muslim scholars – notable among them Dr. Rafiq Zacharia and Asghar Ali Engineer – propound a theory that Islam based upon the Holy Quran is secularist. Moreover so many topics and sub-topics related – directly or indirectly – with secularism have been the subject of secular discourse in India that it is not possible to survey it within the space permitted for this essay. I intend to cover the debate in so far as it deals with three questions, which I formulate as follows:
    1. What is the true meaning of secularism?
    2. Is the Republic of India, as per the Constitution of India, a secular State?
    3. Is secularism desirable or possible in India?
The Meaning of Secularism

To answer the first question, a survey – though very brief – of the origin of the concept and meaning of secularism is necessary. As a concept, secularism was the product of Renaissance in Europe though the word secularism was not then used. Secular attitude arose as a reaction to the tendency displayed during the medieval ages to despise human affairs and to meditate upon God. If a beginning is to be made towards understanding the meaning of this word, one may turn to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED Vol.IX 1978), which states that secularism is the doctrine that morality should be based solely on regard to the well-being of mankind in the present life to the exclusion of all considerations drawn on belief in God or in a future State. OED further points out that it was George Holyoake (1817-1906) who gave this name to the definitely professed belief.

The next step is to find out what Holyoake meant by secularism. Unfortunately, primary sources in the nature of collection of Holyoak’s own writings are not available – at least not easily. But, happily, wholly reliable material is available to show the unmistakable views of Holyoake and Bradlaugh. In 1851, a definite stage in the emergence of explicit secularism was reached by the founding of the Central Secular Society by Holyoake. The Society issued a statement of secularist doctrine proclaiming:
  1. science as the true guide of man,
  2. morality as secular, not religious, in origin,
  3. reason as the only authority,
  4. freedom of thought and speech, and
  5. that owing to the uncertainties of survival we should direct our efforts to this life only.
George Holyoake was no less an atheist than Charles Bradlaugh. Holyoake had been sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for making the blasphemous statement that God should be retired. It should be remembered that Holyoake published 'The Trial of Theism' in 1858. It is also recognised that his coining of the word ‘secularism’ was an attempt to give atheism some respectability. In March 1870 there was between Holyoake and Bradlaugh a debate on the proposition that “(t)he principles of secularism do not include atheism” Holyoake in support of the proposition canvassed that “… the secularist concerns himself with this world without denying or discussing any other world, either the origin of this, or the existence of that”. 

Bradlaugh, on the other hand, held “that the logical consequence of secularism is the denial, the absolute denial of Providence”. In short, Holyoake said that ignoring God was enough; Bradlaugh insisted that God should be banished. This minor difference between them did not affect their common conviction that secularism demanded complete separation of the Church from the State and the abolition of all privileges granted to religious organisations.

Wall of Separation

The theory of separation of the Church from the State had been earlier, in December 1791, incorporated in the U.S. Constitution by the First Amendment which stated that “Congress shall value no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free existence thereof; …”. Two theories were originally competing regarding the true meaning of this amendment. One theory was that the amendment bans the preferential treatment of any particular religion or sect by the State. The other theory was contained in the famous letter which Thomas Jefferson wrote to a group of Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut, in 1802 wherein he opined that the purpose of the First Amendment was to build ‘a wall of separation between Church and State’. Seventy-seven years later i.e. in 1879, Chief Justice Waite, while giving the unanimous opinion of the Court, characterised this statement by Jefferson as “almost an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment”.

The U.S. Supreme Court has from time to time wrestled with this question but the long line of decisions till today have consistently taken the view that State-aided schools cannot allow the school time to be utilised for anything connected to religion, even non-denominational religion, nor can such schools permit their premises even outside the school time, to be used for any religious purposes. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever forms they adopt to teach or practice religion.

I cannot resist the temptation of recalling one opinion of the Supreme Court viz. Engel v. Vitale which held that even optional prayers in aided schools were unconstitutional. The majority opinion was delivered by Justice Hugo Black who was a devout Baptist and Sunday School preacher. He was denounced as a Communist and an atheist. It was the wise counsel of the then President of U.S., John Kennedy, that the Americans should accept the decision which was a “welcome reminder to every American family that we can pray a good deal more at home and attend our Churches with a good deal more fidelity and we can make the true meaning of prayer more important in the lives of all our children”.

Incidentally, Justice Black was, in his younger days, a member of Ku Klux Klan and anti-Black. As a judge of the Supreme Court, he was a strong de-segregationist. Carl Sagan has pointed out that as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, Black wore white robes and intimidated the blacks; as a judge of the Supreme Court he wore black robes and intimidated the whites.

Multi-religious Society

America, a secular State in concept and practice, was founded by Pilgrim Fathers. Immigrants, who have poured into this country for over two centuries, have been intensely religious people. Even today there are probably more religious societies, groups, sects – incorporated or not – in America than in any other country. 

American society is not secular though the State is. The world’s first fundamentalist movement was born in this country. It is for this reason, namely the existence of so many denominations of religion, amounting to plurality of religions, that it was thought to have a wall of separation between the Church and the State. This would, the Constitution-makers realised, prevent the dominance of any one particular denomination and secondly would prevent any one denomination members, if in power, from meddling into the affairs of another denomination. The American example demonstrates that in a multi-religious society it is not only necessary but also possible to build a secular State. This holds a valuable lesson to India.

Prior to the Revolution in 1789, France was a Catholic country, having a Catholic monarch, with the Roman Catholic Church as the Official Church and the Roman Catholic religion as the official religion. The Church commanded power, prestige and pelf. The Church controlled the educational system including the schools and enforced the civil law which was the religion-made law. This situation could be described as that when the State was in the Church and not the Church in the State.
M. Jean Banbarot, an authority on French laicite, the French equivalent of secularism, has, in an illuminating contribution to 'Secularism And Its Critics', traced the development of secularism in France through three stages over a period of two centuries. The French Republic has ultimately evolved into a wholly secular republic. Today the Church is in the State and not the State in the Church. The educational system has been completely freed from the thralldom of the Church – “in the French republican school, one does not learn to believe but to reason”.

Remember, France was the most religious nation in the world, but by a cultural revolution was transformed into the most secular State. Today it is impossible to know the religious composition of the French society because census does not ask for nor records the religious affiliations of the French citizens.


Turkey was the centre of the Ottoman Empire and the seat of Caliphate – the supreme religious and secular head of Musalmans all over the world. The religion was Islam, the most difficult religion confronting secularism. After Mustafa Kamal came into power he dethroned the Sultan and abolished the Caliphate much to the chagrin of the leaders of the Indian Muslims. A rigorous secularism was introduced by making it an offence to wear a fez cap (a symbol of Islam), abolishing all monasteries and religious houses and confiscating their properties, closing Muslim religious schools and starting State non-religious schools, replacing Shariat law by Swiss Civil Code, Italian Penal Code and German Commercial Code, abolishing polygamy and opening the professions to women who were prohibited from wearing purdah. Ataturk, the Father of Turks, with the submissive collaboration of the Turkish National Assembly, established a secular State and created a secular society which have survived till today though facing some challenge from Islamic revivalism.

The justification for the review of the evolution of secular States in the three countries made above is the need to emphasize the fact that in all these countries there were deeply religious societies. Yet secular States with obvious benefits have been established in these countries. Whether secularism is desirable in a multi-religious society like India is another matter. But it is incorrect to say that in India where there are many religions, predominantly only two – Hindu and Muslim –, a secular State cannot be established.

It would, I think, be appropriate at this stage to dispose of the views of two eminent scholars on secularism. The former President of India, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, should not, with great respect, have been expected to pronounce authoritatively on secularism. However, in the discourse on secularism in India, some participants have quoted a passage from his "Recovery of Faith'. I would refrain from reproducing in extenso Dr. Radhakrishnan’s view of secularism. For the present purpose the following extract is enough to inform ourselves his views on the subject:
"No group of citizens shall arrogate to itself rights and privileges which it denies to others. No person should suffer any form of disability or discrimination because of his religion but all alike should be free to share to the fullest degree in the common life. This is the basic principle involved in the separation of Church and State. The religious impartiality of the Indian State is not to be confused with secularism or atheism. Secularism as has been defined is in accordance with the ancient religious traditions of India". (emphasis provided). 
At best this means that in secular society everyone should be free to practice his or her religion. In my opinion, this is of very little use in the discussion on secular State.

Colour of Secularism

Justice P.B. Gajendragadkar, who, as the Chief Justice of India, had inaugurated the seminar on Secularism organised by the Indian Law Institute in New Delhi, delivered Kashinath Trimbak Telang Endowment Lectures in February 1970 when he was the Vice-Chancellor of University of Bombay. The subject of the lectures was 'Secularism and the Constitution of India'. Gajendragadkar has in those lectures reviewed the development of secularism in Europe, America and Turkey and has also noticed the meaning of secularism as unfolded by Encyclopaedia Britannica and Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. After doing this he has proceeded to state as follows:

"The word ‘secular’, like the word ‘religious’, is amongst the richest of all words in its range of meaning. It is full of subtle shades which involve internal contradictions, and of these contradictions the conventional dictionary meaning can scarcely give a correct view.”

This, with great respect, is hardly the correct way to approach the subject and unfortunately this view has coloured much of the later discussion that took place in India.

‘Oh, water, what is your colour?’
‘The colour of whatever you mix me in!’

The meaning of secularism, it is believed, has emerged with sufficient clarity from the survey of historical development made earlier herein. The next question is whether India, as unfolded by the Constitution, is a secular State. What did the Constitution-makers intend it to be? The Constitution, till the 42nd Amendment in 1976, did not contain the word ‘secular’ except incidentally in Article 25(2)(b). Prof. K.T. Shah was the only member who made a valiant effort to get a provision regarding the secular character of India included in the Constitution. The following amendment, moved as Amendment No.366, was defeated on 3rd December 1948. 

"The State in India being secular shall have no concern with any religion, creed or profession of faith; and shall observe an attitude of absolute neutrality in all matters relating to the religion of any class of its citizens or other persons in the Union.”

To be sure, neither this amendment nor the speech which Prof. Shah made in support of the amendment would have brought about a situation of “a wall of separation between the State and the Church”. But it would have put a brake upon the State functionaries freely using the State finance and the machinery for pilgrimages and other religious activities. Prof. Shah’s amendment would have also prevented the State media, especially radio and television, from broadcasting bhajans, prayers, religious discourses etc. 


The trend of speeches of some of the members on related subjects did not show a full and proper understanding of the need to define secularism or in fact an understanding of secularism. The following extract from the speech of Pandit Laxmi Kanth Maitra on 6th December 1948 can be said to reflect the consensus of the members:

By (a) secular State, as I understand it, is meant that the State is not going to make any discrimination whatsoever on the ground of religion or community against any person professing any particular form of religious faith. This means in essence that no particular religion in the State will receive any State patronage whatsoever.

The non-discriminatory character of a secular State is undoubtedly imprinted on the Constitution. There is freedom of religion – the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion. Every religious denomination has been given the fundamental right to establish and maintain its own institutions and to manage its own affairs in matters of religion (Art.25).

There are a couple of provisions, which, it is easily seen, do not prevent the utilisation of funds belonging to the State for non-secular purpose. Article 27 stipulates that no person shall be compelled to pay any taxes, the proceeds of which are specifically appropriated in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion. Does this prevent appropriation from the general revenue for such purposes? It is the application of funds from the general revenue that is making possible the broadcasting of devotional songs and Kirtans and telecasting unabashedly of religious programmes. It is the application of funds from the general revenue that facilitated the 300th Anniversary of Khalsa on which Rs.300 crores are reported to have been spent. Can you legally prevent the reconstruction of Babri Masjid or construction of Ram Temple at Ayodhya with the aid of Government funds? Article 28(1) says: “No religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of State funds” [Emphasis mine]

Note that the ban applies only to institutions wholly maintained out of State funds and not to institutions recognised by the State or receiving aid out of State funds. It is well known that almost every private educational institution in India is run to a great extent on funds provided by the State or State agencies. The mischief that would be occasioned by this provision was recognised by Prof. K.T. Shah who unsuccessfully sought to get the words “wholly maintained” substituted by “wholly or partly”.

These provisions have been noted by Luthera in his book. He has also pointed out that the State in India can get entangled in the management of religious affairs and institutions. For these and other reasons and in the light of the connotation the word ‘secular’ has acquired historically and legally, Luthera has argued that India is not a secular State.

The Somnath Episode

An early challenge to the theory and practice of secularism in India was provided by the episode involving the reconstruction of Somnath Temple in Gujarat. As is well known to students of Indian history, Somnath temple was destroyed in AD 1025 by Mohmed Gazri and the Shivalinga was broken into pieces. Since then the Hindu sentiment had been strongly agitated and reconstruction of the temple and the installation of a new consecrated lingam had been strongly desired by believing Hindus.

After India attained independence in 1947, moves were initiated towards the reconstruction of the temple. K.M. Munshi, in his 'Pilgrimage to Freedom' recalls that Sardar Patel, as Deputy Prime Minister, pledged the Government of India to the reconstruction of the historical temple and that the Cabinet, presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru, decided to reconstruct the temple at Government cost. But Gandhiji advised Sardar Patel not to have the temple constructed and suggested that sufficient money should be collected from the people for this purpose. This advice was accepted and a committee for overseeing the project was appointed under the chairmanship of K.M. Munshi. The decision of the Government, therefore, became irrelevant. 

What followed is important. The Constitution of India came into force in January 1950 and in December of the same year Sardar Patel passed away. Munshi invited President Rajendra Prasad to perform the ceremony of the installation of the deity and requested him to accept the invitation only if he was sure of fulfilling the promise. This was because Munshi suspected that Jawaharlal Nehru might jeopardise the President's commitment. However, the President Prasad stood by his commitment and performed the installation function on 11th May 1951.

It seems Jawaharlal Nehru did not take well the association of Munshi with the work of the restoration of Somnath temple. For, Munshi says :

At the end of a Cabinet meeting Jawahar called me and said 'I don't like your trying to restore Somanath. It is Hindu revivalism. 

This Cabinet meeting was of 23rd April 1951 because in a letter which Munshi wrote on 24th April 1951, he recalls "Yesterday you referred to 'Hindu revivalism'...". This letter sets out the history of the restoration work with which, as the letter sets out, the States Ministry was closely associated. 

This episode gives rise to some important questions. Was the Government of India justified in resolving to undertake the restoration work of a temple (though as a result of Gandhi's suggestion the money was not provided by the Government)?

If such a decision was taken in a Cabinet meeting over which the Prime Minister presided, was he justified in protesting to the President about the latter's participation in the function and in chiding Munshi for associating with a work of Hindu revivalism? It is true that the Prime Minister's protest and rebuke occurred after the 'secular Constitution' came into force but no Government could have disassociated with the implementation of a decision taken by it.

These questions have been rendered irrelevant by the conduct of the later Prime Ministers (not excluding Jawaharlal's daughter) and the Presidents travelling at State expense to religious places and for religious functions.

M.N. Roy had already commented on this phenomenon in his article in 'The Radical Humanist' of 14th May 1950 as follows:
What is necessary is not facile profession of secularism, but a movement for the popularisation of cultural values. The process of secularisation, assuming that it is desired by the Government, cannot be promoted by legislation or executive orders. But men at the helm of affairs could help, if they did not willingly swim with the contrary current, as they do as a rule. The President of the Republic, Governors and Ministers of the States and the lesser are frequently taking leading parts in public religious ceremonies. This demonstrative religiosity is entirely different from religion as a part of one's private life.
Warming up to his theme, Roy pointed out :
The President of the USA or the Prime Minister of the British Labour Government may go to the Church on Sundays and try to lead their personal lives and conduct the affairs of the State according to Christian morality. But their daily lives, either as private citizens or a Statesmen, do not bear the faintest stamp of religious ritualism.
No wonder that even the agnostic Jawaharlal could not prevent the birth of Independent India as an astrologically auspicious time.

Is India a Secular State?

A very comprehensive study of the Constitution of India and also of the social and cultural conditions in India with a view to determining whether 'India is a secular State' has been made by Prof. D.E. Smith in India as a Secular State noticed earlier. It has been rightly regarded as a pioneering study on the subject. Contrary to popular understanding, Prof. Smith does not assert that India is a secular State. To the question whether India is a secular State, his answer is a qualified ‘Yes’. The reason why he does not answer in the negative is that he poses the question, in this author’s opinion, wrongly, as: What is the meaning of the term ‘secular State’ in the Indian context? There were several features of the Constitution which were strongly suggestive of secularism. The prevalent cultural indicators were supportive of secularism.

On page 40 of his book, he formulated his famous table enumerating five characteristics of the three religions - Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam - which indicated whether they were favourable to the secular State. Of five factors, four were positive in the case of Hinduism and Buddhism while four were negative in the case of Islam - which meant that the possibility of an Islamic society becoming secular is practically nil.

However, Prof. Smith did not fail to notice that the forces of Hindu communalism were biding their time and thought it was not unlikely that the future would bring circumstances more congenial to their growth. He was cautious not to dismiss the possibility of a future Hindu State, but felt that on the basis of evidence then existing the possibility did not appear a strong one. His ultimate verdict: the secular State has more than an even chance of survival in India.

Degrees of Secularism

I believe that Prof. Smith is in error in holding that India is a secular State, to a degree. There cannot be degrees of secularism - at least in such a way that quantitative difference results in qualitative one. The provisions in the Constitution have been examined earlier here which are capable of producing secular practices. On the other hand, they have created and are creating a situation of non-secular and anti-secular ethos. Luthera is more correct on this question.

This is so despite what is stated in some of the judgments of the Supreme Court of India. Recently the Supreme Court had an opportunity of examining whether dismissals of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Governments in some States and imposition of the President's rule under Article 356 of the Constitution on the ground "that a situation has arisen in which the government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution ..." was right or not. This was consequent to the demolition of what was known as Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, by the BJP volunteers and other members of the Sangha Parivar. The BJP was in power in Uttar Pradesh. It should be recalled that the BJP had contested the election and had come into power on the basis of a Manifesto, which contained the following:

BJP firmly believes that the construction of Shri Ram Mandir at Janmasthan is a symbol of the indication of our cultural heritage and national self-respect. For BJP it is purely a national issue and it will not allow any vested interest to give it a sectarian and communal colour. Hence Party is committed to build Shri Ram Mandir at Janmasthan by relocating superimposed Babri structure with due respect." [ Emphasis mine ]

The emphasised words were used to indicate the BJP stand that the structure was not a mosque at all and it was built upon a site where Ram Mandir (temple) originally existed.

It must be mentioned straightaway that in S.R. Bommai the Judges did not examine the concept of secularism in the light of the theory of separation of Church and State but dubbed as secular the situation existing in the context of the Constitutional provisions such as Articles 25, 26, 29, 30, 44 etc. Sawant, J., who delivered the leading judgment, after examining the Articles mentioned above and some more, said:

These provisions by implication prohibit establishment of a theocratic State and prevent the State either identifying itself with or favouring any particular religion or religious sect or denomination. The State is enjoined to accord equal treatment to all religions and religious sects and denominations.

Basic Structure

Some other judges delivering separate but concurring judgments went further. K. Ramaswamy, J., for example, opined:

Secularism is, therefore, part of the fundamental law and basic structure of the Indian Political System to secure to all its people socio-economic needs essential for man's excellence with material and moral prosperity and political justice.

After examining the relevant Articles, Jeeven Reddy, J. (for himself and on behalf of S.C. Agarwal, J., said:

Secularism is thus more than a passive attitude of religious tolerance. It is a positive concept of equal treatment of all religions.

More eloquently, though not accurately, he proceeded to say:

In short, in the affairs of the State (in its widest connotation) religion is irrelevant; it is strictly a personal affair. In this sense and in this behalf our Constitution is broadly in Agreement with the U.S. Constitution, the First Amendment whereof declares that 'Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...' (generally referred to as the "establishment clause"). Perhaps, this is an echo of the doctrine of separation of Church and State; may be it is the modern political thought which seeks to separate religion from the State - it matters very little.

Even better: "In this view of the matter, it is absolutely erroneous to say that secularism is a 'vacuous word' or 'a Phantom concept'."

It is at this stage necessary to examine the judgment of the Supreme Court in Dr. Ramesh Yashwant Prabhoo v. Prabhakar Kashinath Kunte and others (hereafter Prabhoo's case). This was a judgment of a bench of three judges (not the Constitutional Bench) which by this judgment disposed of two appeals from the judgments in election petitions of Bombay High Court. The question before the Court was whether the prohibition of an appeal by a candidate to vote for him on the ground of his religion [Section 123)(3) of the Representation of the People Act] was violative of the fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. Such a prohibition would be permissible if it amounted to a reasonable restriction under Clause (2) of Article 19. 

This question was answered in the affirmative so emphatically that the secularists' joy knew no bounds. A restriction can be said to be reasonable if it is on the ground of, among other things, "public order, decency or morality". In paragraphs 28 and 29 of the judgment, the judges held that seeking votes at an election on the ground of the candidate's religion in a secular State is against the norms of decency and propriety of the society. Proceeding further, the judges said, in paragraph 30, that in the context of the abolition of separate electorates based upon religion and secularism being the creed in the Constitution scheme, appeal on the ground of the candidate's religion was inconsistent with decency and propriety of societal norms. 

On the facts, the judges found that appeal made by the candidate was of the prohibited kind. This should have been enough for the disposal of the appeal. But the judges, on being invited to do so or otherwise, launched into a discussion of Hinduism and Hindutva and proceeded to say that mere references to Hinduism or Hindutva are not proscribed. What is surprising, to say the least, is the interpretation of Hindutva in paragraph 39 of the judgment. The judges opined:

"Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and it is not to be equated with, or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism."

This opinion is sought to be based upon a passage in Indian Muslims - The Need for A Positive Outlook (1999) by Maulana Waliduddin Khan, a liberal Muslim Scholar. The passage has been extracted out of context and in fact has been scribed by the Maulana as the view of the Hindutvavadis. That is not definitely the opinion of the Maulana.

What is surprising is the learned judges' failure to notice the meaning of Hindutva as propounded by the Hindutvavadis beginning from Savarkar, who in fact coined the word exploited by Lal Krishna Advani and his party as reflected in the Manifestos of the BJP. This part of the judgment has received widespread criticism and has opened an unwarranted controversy which will have to be laid to rest soon by a larger bench of the Supreme Court as soon as possible.

Major Religions

Prof. T.N. Madan is a prolific writer on secularism - having written books and several articles on the subject. For the purposes of this essay I will make a reference to his contribution 'Secularism in Its Place' to a collection of essays Secularism and Its Critics. Madan is of the view that secularism is a late Christian idea and it is not indigenous to the religious cultures of India. He argues that the demand for removal of religion from public life is predicated on the view that religion is irrational. He believes that "in the prevailing circumstances secularism in South Asia as a generally shared credo of life is impossible, as a basis for State action impracticable, and as a blueprint for the foreseeable future impotent. He makes what he calls an excursus into South Asia's major religion "to make the point that the search for secular elements in the cultural traditions of this region is a futile exercise for it is not these but an ideology of secularism is absent and is resisted".

He takes full note of the Muslims' resistance to the reform of family law, Shah Bano case, the Hindutvavadis' agitation for the demolition of Babri Mosque in Ayodhya and Sikh and Hindu fundamentalists facing each other in Punjab and the killing of innocents by Sikh terrorists - even in the context of secularisation in everyday life. Then he takes to following judgment which I would regard as astounding:

But surely these phenomena are only apparently contradictory, for in truth it is the marginalisation of religious faith, which is what secularisation is, that permits the perversion of religion. There are no fundamentalists or revivalists in traditional society. [Emphasis mine]

In the end Madan rejects secularism as a western modern idea unsuited to the pious society of India and stresses the need for some form of modern secularism in the Indian cultural context.

I will also briefly dispose of the view of another writer, Aashis Nandy, who too has written extensively on the subject. Nandy, in his contribution 'The Politics of Secularism and The Recovery of Religious Toleration', canvasses the thesis of the cultural inappropriateness of secularism on grounds that the public/private distinction lying at the heart of modern secularism makes no sense to the faithful.

Let me at this stage state that rejection of secularism on the ground that it is a western concept is perverse nationalism. You may, on this ground, reject, as some in this country do, modern medicine. Democracy, equality, liberty, which were wholly unknown to Indian and Asian societies - can we legitimately reject them? USA was a highly religious society when the wall of separation was built; Catholic Church practically ruled the French society which was also intensely religious; Turkey was the heart of Islamic world. All these countries have accepted secularism as the foundation of their States.

Religion In Its Place

I do not expect that a socio-political revolution of the type that took place in France will take place in India; imposition of secularism, as was done in Turkey, is not desirable in India, nor is it possible even with a dictatorship which itself will not be accepted by the Indians. If a secular State is desirable in a multi-religious country that is India, it can be done and done easily by amending the Constitution to separate religion from all State activities and activities on behalf of State. To be sure a Secular State cannot build a secular society but a secular State can be established even in a non-secular society. This will put religion in its place where it belongs - the hearts and the homes of the individuals. Why talk of putting secularism in its place as Madan has done!

In the concluding Chapter entitled 'What is Secularism For?' in Secularism And Its Critics, Rajeev Bhargav has discussed the desirability of secularism in a modern State and has analysed the implications of secularism looked at from different points of view. He appreciatively enumerates the arguments for the separation of religion and State broadly on the following grounds. First, religious and political institutions must be separated from one another because both are powerful institutions that command peoples unqualified allegiance. Secondly, secularism is required in order to ensure equality so that no person by virtue of being a member of one institution should be guaranteed membership in another institution. "Separation is required in order to ensure a subtle and complex equalitarian system". Thirdly, democracy requires that there be no concentration of power in any one institution. "Separation is required to curb political and religious absolutism". Finally secularism will inculcate the value of fully transparent life.

Religion is a storehouse of superstition and falsehood. A life free of illusion is a life without religion. If this is generally true, then it must be true of our political life. Our polity must be governed by true and self-evident principles, not by false and obscure dogmas. It follows that religion and politics must be separated.

Two more practical arguments are also valid. At least in a multi-religious society, the State cannot be entrusted with any functions derived from or dependent upon a religion or religions. The State, after all, is a coercive machinery and there should not be coercion in matters of faith.

Ultimate ideals and religious ideals are not only irrelevant to but are obstructive of, ordinary secular life in this world. Bhargava quotes Charles Taylor, who has described ordinary life as the life spent in the production and the reproduction of life as distinct from life spent in the pursuit of some ultimate ideals. Ordinary life is not restricted as mentioned by Charles Taylor.

Pursuit of Happiness

Ordinary life is the secular life in this world. Its legitimate end is the pursuit of happiness (not pleasure) - in family life, in learning, in arts, in music, in health. How is a religious teaching useful in pursuit of happiness? Bhargava puts it at a slightly lower level. "To sum up, ordinary life requires that an acceptable minimum standard of human interaction exists and it is barbaric to fall below it."

There is not much dissent on the need for having a secular State. 'We are all secularists'. However like Mesopotamia, secularism means different things to different people. One of these meanings is 'Sarva Dharma Samabhav' which can be translated as equal regard for all religions. Before proceeding to examine this concept I wish to recall that by 42nd Amendment of the Constitution in 1976 the word 'secular' was inserted in the Preamble to say that India would be a secular, among other things, Republic. What was meant by secular was not mentioned; Article 366 dealing with Definitions was not even remembered. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the 42nd Constitution Amendment Bill explained that the purpose of inserting the word 'secular' was "to spell out expressly" the high ideal of secularism - which meant that what was implied in the Constitution was to be made explicit. That part of the 45th Constitution Amendment Bill (1978) which sought to define the word secularism as equal regard for all religions (Sarva Dharma Samabhav) was passed by the Lok Sabha but was rejected by the Rajya Sabha. An argument is, therefore, available that the concept of Sarva Dharma Samabhav has been rejected by the Parliament in its constituent capacity.

Dr. Amartya Sen, in his essay, 'Secularism and Its Discontents' to "Unravelling The Nation", calls himself an unreformed secularist and proceeds to propound the theory of symmetric treatment to all religions. This, according to him, is warranted by the provisions of the Indian Constitution. His conclusion in his own words was that :

It is hard to escape the need to see India as an integrally pluralist society and to accept the necessity of symmetric treatment and secular policies as crucial parts of that recognition.

Another Worldview

Prof. M.P. Rege, a great analytical philosopher of India, had, in his editorial in the New Quest had canvassed the view that the concept of secularism in India could have three meanings;
  • the recognition that the State is secular and that religious communities are ready to reformulate their values, norms and practices;
  • the acceptance of Sarva Dharma Samabhav i.e. the attitude of equal respect for all religions as a social and also as a religious value;
  • the acceptance of the worldview which claims to be based on scientific knowledge and rational morality.
Prof. Rege considers the third view as the one having an aggressive element because it denies any place to the transcendent. Prof. Rege argues that secularism is no more than one member of a family of worldviews, relations between which need to be based on the principle of Sarva Dharma Samabhav.

Prof. M.S. Gore, a former Director of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bombay, has criticised Prof. Rege's view by pointing out that regard for any religion is not consistent with the concept of secularism, that a life must be guided by reason and a life guided by reason must take into account the material as well as the non-material needs of human personality, that the shared values and norms for a life in this world often run counter to the explicit norms of religion and that theistic and transcendental belief systems have often tended to be intolerant of each other. Prof. Gore rightly suggests that "even secularism of the agnostic variety need accept the right of another individual to have his own belief system; this is not the same thing as respecting that belief system itself." Despite the platitudes of politicians and others there is in reality no respect among the adherents of one religion for the religion of others.

Prof. H.Y. Siddiqui has accurately stated that instead of demanding a rational state of mind "the Indian concept of secularism demands acceptance of the values of other religions while permitting the individual to believe in the values of his own religion".

His conclusion, in the following words, is unexceptionable:

The Indian concept of secularism therefore still is full of contradictions and therefore is unable to provide a clear unambiguous guideline either to the individual or to the State. As a consequence, the religious values continue to dominate the day to day affairs and in the process generate tension because of plurality of religious views.

The debate has taken place over too long a period and will continue ad nauseum unless one returns to the anchor concept of secularism mentioned in the beginning of this essay. Let the religions be followed by those who want to follow. But do nothing that may make the religions flourish. Enlarge the space of secularism, which is at present shrinking. So done, India, for the anti-secularists, can at worst be a bowl of salad and not of stew.

A Secular State – No Less, No More

Rajiv Gandhi Institute For Contemporary Studies, New Delhi, had organised, in January-February 1994, a meeting in New Delhi in which papers by eminent intellectuals from different countries were presented and have been published in a book entitled Religion and Politics Today. Among those papers was one titled Integration and the Phenomenon of Religious Communalism/ Fundamentalism in South Asia by Dr. Rasheeduddin Khan, the then Director of the Indian Institute of Federal Studies, Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi. Let me quote a paragraph from it :

The secular character of the State is exhibited when it remains distant from, distinct from, religion-dominated politics. A secular State, in the pursuit of State activities, governmental obligations and administrative duties, should exhibit a capacity to show respectful indifference to religions and indeed keep vigilant distance from the politics of religious communalism.

It would be edifying to end this discourse with a reminder in the words of Dr. Rasheeduddin Khan from the same paper:

The modern Indian State is an association of citizens equal and free, irrespective of caste, colour, sex, language, region, climate or status. The State in India is not a federation of religions, nor an aggregation of religious communities. The citizens of India, in law and by the Constitution, are members of a common unified national polity. A modern State is based on a Constitution - the fundamental, secular, manmade law of the land. Therefore the State should act as a State and a secular State as a secular State, no less and no more. [Emphasis is mine].


Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More