SMOKING’S CORNER: INDIA’S DESCENT INTO FASCISM – Newspaper
Last week, a young Muslim woman was harassed by a mob of Hindutva nationalists for wearing a burqa.
The incident happened at a school in the Indian state of Karnataka. Most supporters of Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist government cheered. But opponents of the government have described the act as a violation of India’s constitution, which describes India as a “secular nation”, in which the religious rights of its citizens are protected.
Moderates weren’t thrilled with the incident, but some thought there was nothing unconstitutional about educational institutions banning the hijab. They claimed this was in line with “hijab bans” in public institutions in France which, like India, is a secular democracy.
It was perhaps such statements that prompted Pakistani scholar Ali Usman Qasmi to state: “It is not about India aspiring to become a cheap copy of French secularism, but about its transformation into a dangerous variant of European fascism.”
Qasmi was pointing to a misunderstanding that many of Prime Minister Modi’s middle class supporters seem to carry. While the most radical Hindu nationalists make no apologies for their blatant aversion to secularism, Muslims, Christians and “Western modernity”, one often encounters “modern” middle-class Hindus who are convinced that restrictions imposed by the current Indian government on the cultural practices of India’s Muslim citizens, is a true manifestation of secularism. They like to give the example of France.
“Moderate” middle-class supporters of India’s hijab ban increasingly seek an equivalence with French secularism. India’s ban is nothing of the sort. And India is heading down the same road that Pakistan took decades ago
Such notions are a somewhat delusional defense of something that is much closer to fascism than secularism. In 2004, when France banned the display of religious symbols and clothing in public schools, the ban covered students of all religions or not, not just Muslims. Secularism in Europe and the United States is quite similar. But his nature is more ardent in France.
French secularism is often referred to as laïcité. However, like secularism in all developed European countries, secularism also guarantees the free exercise of worship, as long as it remains confined to the private sphere and outside the political realm. It’s not anti-religious. In fact, no secularism is.
Hearing a modern/moderate Hindu Indian explain the anti-Muslim disposition of the Modi regime as something akin to French secularism, is quite entertaining on so many levels. This means that he considers Indian secularism as underdeveloped, or that it should be replaced by a “true secularism”, preferably French.
Ironically, does this also mean that a quasi-theocratic Hindu nationalist regime is the best expression of genuine secularism? French secularism is one of the strongest ramparts against the exercise of religion in the political domain. So how on earth is a ruling political party unashamed of its desire to turn India into a Hindu rashtra [nation] an Indian variant of secularism?
According to Indian political scientist Neera Chandhoke, “the challenge to secularism has not come from personal faith or religion, but from religious groups struggling for power”. So, Modi’s “secular” apologists who attempt to explain India’s hijab ban as a kind of secularism, are in fact defending a theocratic force that is locked in a battle for political power against the tenets of Indian secularism. and secularism in general.
The Hindu nationalist mob that harassed the burqa-clad woman in Karnataka transformed her from a non-Hindu citizen of India with rights into a demonized religious ‘other’.
But by banning religious symbols and clothing in public, doesn’t secularism consider the whole idea of religion as an “other”? Not enough. It sees religion as part of society, but one that should exist in the private sphere, or only in places of worship.
Secularism does not distinguish between religions in this context. He does not aspire to erase non-Christians to enact a Christian theocracy. His insistence on strictly keeping religion a private matter is rooted in a history in which many long wars have been fought in Europe based on religion. These wars caused widespread economic, political and social devastation.
This was one of the main reasons for the emergence of secularism in Europe. Secularism is considered a somewhat more vigorous current. Its earliest roots date back to the French Revolution of the 18th century, when the two main centers of power, the monarchy and the Church, were brought together. They were seen as an exploitative and authoritarian set by the early French middle classes and the masses.
The French Revolution is therefore radically anticlerical. It produced an anti-religionism as dogmatic as the Church it had overthrown. But it caused the revolution to eat its own children.
In 1905, a law was passed in France which officially declared it a secular country. The law was drafted keeping in mind the destruction caused by a politicized Church as well as by radical anti-religionism. Secularism therefore offers the freedom to practice religion as long as this freedom is exercised in private and is not transformed into a political tool. What is the place of the hijab ban in India? Nowhere.
The Indian ban emerged from an attempt to impose the hegemony of a majority religion at the expense of other religions. There’s nothing secular about it. The ban was used as a tool to intimidate a hated ‘other’. India is becoming what Pakistan has become, even if the latter has never declared itself secular.
But Pakistan’s founders’ idea of Islam, and that adopted earlier by the state, had relegated the theocratic dimensions of Islam to the private sphere, and brought the modern nationalist variant of the faith to the public sphere. .
This variant began to be challenged by other variants of Islam that were more theocratic in nature. It was a struggle for political dominance. The 1973 Constitution attempted to strike a balance between the two. But the document was quickly mobbed by those who wanted to wipe out not only non-Muslim minorities, but also minority Islamic sects, to turn the country into a one-sect theocracy.
This was more or less achieved through controversial constitutional amendments, short-sighted state and government policies, and mob violence. The state and the governments are henceforth obliged to retain the equation of the single sect.
The disconcerting truth is that after strangely helping supporters of the one-sectarian nation undermine, harass and demonize non-Muslim and sectarian “others”, the state itself has become increasingly vulnerable to the threat of to be mobbed by those he had previously helped. .
Today, he does not know how to solve this problem. India too is heading in a similar direction.
Posted in Dawn, EOS, February 20, 2022