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Redefining Secularism

Shiv Visvanathan does some much-needed plain-speaking in these troubled, politically-correct times and deserves to be quoted at length:

What happened in Mumbai, and is still happening, is atrocious. If Muslims are as rabid as Bal Thackeray, or Raj Thackeray, then one must say so. If Muslims insist on speaking exclusively for Muslims and do not recognise Bodo suffering then theirs is an ethnic of narcissism, and not a secular value. Unless Muslims realise that over a million Bodos have been displaced, the displacement of three million Muslims will make little sense. One man’s suffering cannot be the cause of another man’s celebration. This cannot be the secular way or the secular ethic.

In our society, secularism has to be defined differently. It cannot be a battle between religion and science or separation between state and religion. Secularism is the way we respond to strangers. The stranger is the other who defines us.

The first law of secularism should be hospitality. We welcome the other because he is not us. The other is the reminder that we are not complete as truths, that as fragments we need each other. The second law of secularism can be formulated after the Dalai Lama’s comment that George Bush’s behaviour “brings out the Muslim in him”. Similarly, after the Gujarat carnage I can say that Narendra Modi brings out the Muslim in me. It is a way of giving secular space a meaning where we become the other in their moment of suffering.

Yet, our secularism allows for boundary walls...

I am writing this because I am concerned about the fate of democracy. The situation is tense and let’s not forget that Assam is the state with the second largest Muslim population in India. We need to understand that a coercive minoritarianism is as putrid as bully boy majoritarianism.

The Muslim fanatic and the Hindu fundamentalist both threaten democracy and we need open ended democracy that challenges both.

Read on at the Deccan Chronicle: Confessions of a troubled secularist

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