Modern Indian intellectuals never weary of directly or indirectly advocating secularism and of playing St. George against its great adversary communalism. The extent to which this antipodality has come to serve as a frame of reference in discussions in present-day India hardly needs any documentation. If it does, it is supplied by such books as Communalism and the Writing of Indian History (New Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1969), and so on.
The purpose of this note is to demonstrate that a lot of the supposed attack on communalism is really tilting at windmills and the applauding of secularism blind adulation of the West. The use of the word communalism distorts the existing reality and the use of the word secularism projects a false idealism.
The realization which corrects both of these errors is the realization that the Indian religious scene has always been distinguished by religious pluralism—and that both the concepts of communalism and secularism involve a negation of this historical and contemporary reality. By interpreting history exclusively in terms of a single community or from the viewpoint of a single community, one distorts it. (It should be noticed that the Marxists are as capable of being communalists in this sense—if they interpret history exclusively from the point of view of one “community,” e.g. the working class. In this context the statement that the only ism Hinduism is really opposed to is fanaticism takes on a new significance.)
Similarly, by overlooking this pluralism or turning a blind eye to it in the name of secularism, one tries to obscure the fact of pluralism through a form of modern idealism. This is as dangerous as communalism, if not more, for while communalism distorts but does not totally ignore the fact of pluralism, secularism advocates an attitude which could easily lead to sweeping pluralism under the red carpet rolled out to greet the forces of modernism.
It would appear that both of these courses must ultimately be self-defeating, the first by trying to demolish pluralism through the dominance of one community and thereby encouraging a contrastive combative communalism and the latter by allowing these forces to continue unabated by pretending that the right kinds of textbooks, speeches and announcements on T.V. and radio are enough.
What is preventing the emergence of the solution is the wrong labeling of the situation—a wrong labeling of the problem as communalism and the solution as secularism.
The situation should be referred to as one of religious pluralism—the answer is the cultivation of interreligious communication. Indian society has always been pluralistic, and, although, occasionally this has led to conflict, by and large the issues have been faced through debate and the evolution of certain latitudinarianism in thought, combined with the acceptance of certain common ethical norms and a certain commonness of spiritual aspiration.
Thus the Government of India should consider seriously the implementation of the following recommendations of the University Education Committee of 1948-1949 which had Dr. S. Radhakrishnan as its Chairman:
(1) That all educational institutions start work with a few minutes for silent meditation;
(2) That in the first year of the Degree course lives of the great religious leaders like Gautama the Buddha, Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, Jesus, Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Mohammad, Kabir, Nanak, Gandhi, be taught;
(3) That in the second year some selections of a universalist character from the scriptures of the world be studied.
(4) That in the third year, the central problems of the philosophy of religion be considered.