Mast Kalandar

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Wed, 20 Nov 2002

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A response to Ashis Nandy's article on "Anti-Secularism".

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First of all let me summarise Mr. Nandy's writing in a slightly less
verbose fashion.

Mr. Nandy argues that secularists (or "pseudo"-secularists according
to some) are on the backfoot in South Asia. The intellectual elite who
subscribe to this agenda are unable to understand the mindless
violence that the masses release in the pursuit of their religious
beliefs. The secularist ideologues are unable to convince the mass of
people in the region that the secular aproach is the correct
one. Mr. Nandy then uses this to argue that this ideology is existing
in a void and hence we must avoid it! He says the time for this
ideology is over and something else must replace it---something more
rooted in the past and in the history of this multicultural region.(1)

Unfortunately, at the risk of sounding elitist one is forced to assert
that reasoning and sane minds have ever been in a minority; and at
some moments like now, a vanishing minority. Perhaps once in a while
one among them is able to transcend the barrier and "reach the
people"; or perhaps it is the other way around. Mr. Nandy may be
right in saying that his approach (if followed) will lead one or more
individuals to such enlightened charisma. It is clear that arguing in
a sane and reasonable way *alone* has never succeeded in convincing
the majority of people.

The vast majority of people today are stupid and petty. It is even
more so in the current context when it has become possible for those
in control of mass media and the education system to "fool all the
people all the time". It is even more so when the majority of people
have no longer any avenue for being creative---even creative in the
sense of growing food, cooking it, building things etc. "If you
don't/can't use it you lose it". No one has learnt to reap profits
from this better than those who govern and control the developed
world. With a large increase in the amount of "leisure" time in the
lives of many in the developed world we have not seen any spurt of
creative activity there; instead we see a mass of people glued to
their multi-media devices, buying and consuming more. If people were
"intrinsically" good, reasoning and creative, then this is surely a
big contradiction to digest.

If Mr. Nandy feels that there is some way of reaching the mass of
people and getting them to find and create their own solutions, more
speed to him. Meanwhile, the people he criticises must react to the
communal virus that is rotting the core of South Asia. The biggest
activity in this must be to convince the people who govern (who are
also a small minority) that their path is wrong; that education and
the mass media must be used as tools to unleash the creative power of
people rather than the destructive one. They must carry out small
scale "experiments" to show how this leads to more happiness all
around. They have no way of generating or handling a "mass movement".
The intelligentsia or middle class urban elite or what-have-you (of
which Mr. Nandy is definitely a part) have no means of reaching the
masses except via those who govern---until the next Messiah that is.


(1) If "secularism" as a solution is to be declared dead after only 50
years then how dead must we declare those multicultural traditions
which Mr. Nandy claims still exist? In fact, the "sense of community"
has been replaced in South Asia by the "communal sense" for a long
long time; first me and my family, then my caste/community, then my
village and so on. At each boundary the outside can be be given the
short-shrift at the expense of the inside. This lack of real community
sense is surely at the base of our inability of solve our problems.
We have been truly "communal" in this sense for many centuries and it
may take us many centuries more to truly liberate ourselves from this
"communal" aspect.


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