Indian secularism and humanism are not vain words nor abstract ideals its citizens should make painstaking efforts to achieve. Secularism and humanism are deeply embedded in the hearts and psyche of its people in Bharat itself and wherever people of Indian origin have settled across the world.
Indian secularism has its roots in Sanatana Dharma commonly called Hinduism which holds its truths as being universal, and hence, naturally acknowledges the different paths taken and efforts made by other peoples in different parts of the world to strive to understand these truths by setting up other systems of thoughts and beliefs for their countrymen.
Its humanism stems from the pacifism bred by its millennia-old unique vast philosophy, its profound knowledge of the human body, mind and soul, the mysticism of One in All and All in One, and hence, its view of the world as one family.
These blessings profoundly shape the nature of Indians, and they naturally come up despite periods of heated debates on sensitive issues, tension and violent conflicts. Lately, some extremist outfits tried to curb free speech coming from young Dalits; they were equally held responsible for the murder of a few rationalists, and the much controversial beef ban during a Jain festival led a group of thugs to vent their anger on an innocent man who was lynched to death. No society is immune from such elements.
A few writers raised their voices in protest, handed back their Sahitya Akademy Award; English-medium newspapers cried foul, and a few multi-millionaire film stars seized the opportunity to make grand style announcements of their discontent and threatened to leave India for good.
All these right-thinking people did not deem it right to vent their anger when bomb blasts blew up dozens of Indians in retaliation after every execution of terrorists, nor do they stage public protests over Kashmiri pandits who have been chased away from Kashmir or any other tragedy befalling the majoritarian community. In a typical western style secularism, their hearts bleed only for minorities.
This sort of biased stance has been prevailing among the elites, intellectuals, opinion makers in mainstream press in Europe until lately. France is reaping the bitter fruits of the self-proclaimed righteousness brandished by its most outspoken influential members of the elite who misled the people into refusing to face the reality which characterizes sections of its population hailing from migration. The on-going local elections in France shows a big chunk of its people taking solace in the arms of the far-right wing party in the given context.
In India, Sri Narendra Modi is the kind of Prime Minister the country should have had right after Independence. In his grand vision of taking India to greater heights, boosting its economy by touring the world in the quest for direct investment, modernizing infrastructure, uplifting the masses from exclusion, tackling basic needs issues such as sanitation across the country and consolidating patriotism with a dose of nationalism, he is the embodiment of the Shakti of India, a strong leader and a hard worker whose driving force is his love for his country and its civilizational ethos which he endeavours to assert and highlight.
Having remained for decades a ‘Wounded Civilization’, which V.S. Naipaul described in his first book on India, at this point of its history when its security is threatened by belligerent neighbours, India needed a leader who strengthens patriotism, heals past wounds and unites the country through its ethics and culture.
So in a vast subcontinent with a demography of more than a billion people hailing from a diversity of ethnic groups and speaking more than fifty languages, the assertion of predominant civilizational ethos in various forms is bound to lead to conflict which sometimes ends up in hapless crimes. What can we expect? India is not the UK or Mauritius. Another comparable country with a huge population is China. But China is almost homogenous with the predominant Han ethnic group representing more than ninety per cent of its population, with a uniform language imposed on all regions to the detriment of local languages, with religions banned for decades under Communism, and an imported western ideology forced down on the people.
Notwithstanding all the odds and challenges, Indian secularism and humanism are expressed spontaneously by its people in times of crisis and disasters. The Chennai floods are such an example of humanity and generosity when irrespective of creed, ethnicity, colour, religion and social status, people extended help to one another, shelter was provided to the needy and food was shared.
A Muslim NGO comprising mostly young men cleaned up the flooded mosques and took the same care to meticulously clean up the neighbouring temples. In such actions, fellow countrymen let themselves be guided by what is best in them, by the light of love and compassion that enlightens their heart and soul. It all boils down to what we want in life and what guides our actions.
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Frowning at the dark fumes emitted by exhaust pipes of buses on the road more than a week ago while driving on the motorway to the south, our mind just flashed with the picture of our President and Minister for the Environment attending the Paris Summit centering on the increasingly alarming state of global climate change. It just seems that basic measures to solve daily cases of pollution locally are not on the agenda. Certain ill-maintained buses poison the atmosphere on a daily basis. New ones are brought to the same state of dilapidation in no time, for lack of good maintenance and proper roads, according to some sources.
The car-culture is so widespread that a lot of people were hell-bent on taking their private cars to travel to the capital to watch Port-Louis by Light. Global environmental issue is not everybody’s cup of tea; they probably view it as something plaguing other places. Parking was chaotic. Had there been more passengers in the buses, the bus companies would have put more buses on the roads till midnight. So we had to wait till midnight to get a bus back home. Radios announcing buses till midnight got it wrong.
Unsurprisingly, Light or not, lack of communication and inefficiency are likely to mar any not-too-well-organized event. Judging from the stench that fills up the air in every corner and the nuisance-value of marsans anbulans, it just seems that the brains at the Municipality suffer from a lack of exposure to Light in the offices. You still feel you are walking in the capital of a Third World country while you stroll around watching video mapping technology offering a show of light and sounds. Mostly buildings and places dating back to the colonial era were lighted up, which explains the enthusiasm and presence of some people who, otherwise, never mingle with common people in the streets. To some extent, it was a festival which shed light mostly on their forefathers’ achievements.
Mauritius needs other theatres which should not necessarily mimic European architectural style and should take into account other cultural aspirations. Before starting any new building, of course, there should be sufficient local production in drama, plays and music.
* Published in print edition on 11 December 2015