Saturday, April 19, 2014

The idea of India, a secular, democratic, republic!

My passport is an US passport. And I am an Indian.

When in a taxi or in a gathering, I proudly share my identity as an Indian when asked about my roots.

The part of my roots I am quietly proud of is the openness, syncretism, and vastness with which India accepts many worldviews, fosters spaces of differences, and thrives in the contradictions that are nurtured by these differences. These very contradictions of life, of worldviews, of ways of being come together to form the foundations of a space that is in every being committed to the ideals of diversity.

This diversity of many ways of being that harmoniously live together is the spirit of secularism that is reflective of the India I love, remember, and cherish.

I remember when in the US in the 1990s for my graduate education, and faced with the prospect of being proselytized by evangelicals, the ways in which my conversations would confuse the evangelicals. When I would tell them I believed every bit in the story of Jesus Christ, the light of hope that would flicker in their eyes, would soon be extinguished with my next sentence, "And I believe in Allah, and Krishna, Kali, and Durga."

Such is the story of India I fondly remember and carry in my heart.

It is a story of my grandmother, a Marxist in her heart of hearts, who also celebrated Kali and Allah and Christ. Her spaces of prayer embodied this coming together of many different worldviews and many different ways of being in the world.

To me, when repeating the preamble of the Indian constitution, secularism meant just this. A way of being. A way of celebrating many different ways of being in the world, and in learning to live amid the beauty of these contradictions.

It is this space of being that I find threatened with the fanatic right wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its politically palatable version of the Bharatiya Janatiya Party. The idea of Hinduism on which the Hindu right wants to imagine India is fundamentally oppositional to this essence of Hinduism as a way of embracing many ways of being in the world.

Secularism as a way of celebrating difference is my idea of India! As an ideal, secularism is an invitation to dialogue amid diverse faiths and ways of seeing the world.

Secularism is in the presence of Hindu influences on Islamic rituals and the Islamic influences on Hindu culture across diverse spaces of India.

Increasingly, I find this idea of India to be threatened by an increasingly parochial narrative of a caste-based, privilege-based, Hindu political party sponsored by the large corporate houses and rooted in principles of violence. This vision of a narrowly conceived India frightens me.

I hope I can continue telling my grandmother's story when I share with friends across the globe the story of India, the story of my India!

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