Home articles Challenge of majoritarianism to Indian society

Challenge of majoritarianism to Indian society

INDIA is the birthplace of a number of major global religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism,Sikhism, etc. Unlike Abrahamic monotheistic religions, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam, most of the Indian religions are theoretically pluralistic. The Jewish law categorically warns the Jews to refrain from polytheism. In the Hebrew Bible the sovereignty of Yahweh as the only God is the key pillar of a chosen community of Israel. Some Christians have argued that religious pluralism is an invalid or self-contradictory concept. Other Christians have held that there can be truth in other faiths and traditions. Protestants hold that only believers who believe in certain fundamental doctrines know the true pathway to salvation. However, the Age of Enlightenment in Europe served to transform public attitudes towards religion after the French Revolution (civil and political rights, freedom of thoughts, separation of Church and State, etc.), which paved the way for religious pluralism.
The acceptability of religious pluralism within Muslims remains a topic of debate, because in the Holy Quran and Hadiths, Muslims have been given varying guidelines regarding their interaction and dealing with the non-Muslims according to the ground and temporal realities. In several Surahs, Quran asks Muslims not to yield to the vain desires of unbelievers, while some other Quranic verses have been interpreted to imply pluralism. Islam allows Muslim men to marry Jew or Christian women which implies that co-existence of the followers of different faiths under one roof is not an issue in Islam. The Muslim Sufi saints (mystics) such as Rumi, Ghazali, etc., devoted their lives to spread the message of peace, tolerance, pluralism and love for all. The views of Sufis have inspired a large number of scholars belonging to other religions. Rumi served as a uniting figure for people of different faiths and his followers include Muslims, Christians and Jews. Even today, Rumi’s popularity and his message of peace and harmony transcends religious and geographical boundaries.
Hinduism is considered naturally pluralistic. A well-known Vedic hymn says: “Truth is one, though the sages know it variously”. The Hindu religion has no theological difficulties in accepting degrees of truth in other religions. It emphasizes that everyone worships the same God, whether one knows it or not. The earliest reference to Buddhist views on religious pluralism is found in the Edicts of Emperor Ashoka: “All religions should reside everywhere, for all of them desire self-control and purity of heart”. The principle of relative pluralism is one of the basic principles of Jainism. In this view, the truth or the reality is perceived differently from different points of view, and no single point of view is the complete truth. Sikh Gurus (religious leaders) propagated the message of “many paths” leading to the one God and ultimate salvation for all souls who tread on the path of righteousness. Sikhs are told to accept all leading faiths as possible means of attaining spiritual enlightenment, provided the faithful study, ponder and practise the teachings of their prophets and leaders.
Majoritarianism is a political philosophy that asserts that a majority (categorized by religion or some other basis) of the population is entitled to primacy in society, and has the right to make decisions that affect the society. The rise of Hindu Majoritarianism during the first quarter of 20th century, besides transforming Indian society from a religiously and culturally pluralist to exclusivist, paved the way for the partition of India. Gino Battaglia, a UK-based researcher, in an article titled; “Neo-Hindu Fundamentalism Challenging the Secular and Pluralistic Indian State”, has pointed out that while reacting to the rise of Hindu Majoritarianism, leftist leaders of All India Congress, like Nehru, “thought that modernity would overcome religion-based Majoritarianism, which is a remnant of the past. They were confident that a political culture based on pluralism and tolerance would become the foundations of the new society. This is exactly what Hindu Majoritarianists object to i.e. building the national identity without Hinduism or against Hinduism. They assert that Hinduism, the religion of Indian religious majority, is the basis of the Indian civilization. The Hindu ethos is the soul of the nation”.
A large number of anti-Hindu Majoritarianism Indian Hindus have risked their lives to reintroduce India as a pluralistic society. Thinkers and political activists like Arundhati Roy, Aroon Purie, Mani Shankar Aiyar, etc., are fighting a brave war against religious Majoritarianists like Narendra Modi and other the exponents of Majoritarianism, that uses religion as a justification for atrocities against cultural and religious minorities such as Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Buddhists. Hindu Majoritarianists believe in the racial and cultural superiority of Hindu majority, and claim to represent all other Hindus. Majoritarianists use political power, gained by them by exploiting anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan sentiments of the overwhelming Hindus majority, to oppress minorities and to subvert Indian secular democracy. The moderate Hindus think that besides defacing both Hindu religion and India as a pluralistic society, Majoritarianism poses a grave threat to both democracy and the existence of India.
Religious tolerance is as much an essential prerequisite for the survival of Pakistan as for India or any other country. Being fully aware of the significance of inter-faith harmony for the survival of Pakistan as a democratic state, Quaid-i-Azam guaranteed that the followers of different faiths would be equal citizens of Pakistan. He assured the nation; “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State”.
— The writer, a retired Brig, is professional educationist based in Islamabad.