Secular or Communal Kerala
If Gujarat is the crucible of Communalism, Kerala is the laboratory for Secularism in India. Kerala model in state economy has busted and no economist will advocate a Kerala model for development now. The other major facet of social life in Kerala viz. Secularism is also under severe strain nowadays and all are eagerly waiting for the final outcome. Left movements are supposed to be the protector and nourisher of Secularism worldwide and Kerala is one of the 'Left Havens' in India. Though West Bengal has been under Left rule for more number of years, the laboratory remains in Kerala because of its higher literacy and better social indices. After all, Secularism has to succeed in a developed & modern society and then only it will become a relevant model for others. For a dispassionate analysis, let us start with the basic assumption that both Secularism and Communalism are valid alternatives of state policy and both are equally good or bad.
From time immemorial there have been friendly migrations and unfriendly onslaughts on the Kerala society, mostly through the sea. In all the major port cities along coastal Kerala, we find remnants of this in the form of a wide demographic mix. Then there have been organized exercises in religious conversion going on unrestrained (sometimes even welcomed) for years. The severe caste inequalities that existed in the native Hindu society only helped the work of missionaries. Emergence of Sree Narayana Guru from one of the backward castes and his strong reaffirmation of the native faith blunted the efforts of organized religions. But for him, the missionaries would have done a clean and almost complete work thanks to their overwhelming financial and political clout especially during the British Raj. Though this is an important historical fact that had far reaching consequences, I am yet to see any historian recording it as a major factor that shaped our present day society.
Much water has flown down the forty four rivers since then. Officially, Kerala is now a state with roughly 55% Hindus, 25% Muslims and 20% Christians. Such figures are highly questionable given the fact that deprived sections of our society, including Adivasis and Scheduled Castes, do not participate properly in any exercise of census. Another point to consider is regarding the definition of these religious categories itself by those who carry out the census. While Christians and Muslims can be better identified by common customs and rituals, Hindu society is nothing but a myriad of castes, sects and tribes. In effect, all those who do not fall into any other religion get classified under Hinduism and its apparent majority status is only a myth at best. Then there is the major dichotomy between those who practice and profess any religion and those who are just born into them. Again we can find the number of unbelievers, non-believers and anti-religionists disproportionately higher in the so-called majority religion. I believe that if we can take a count of the genuine practitioners, the split would be something like 25:22:18. It is with this delicate demographic balance that Kerala is trying to emerge successful in its experiments with Secularism.
All the major communities in Kerala are organized and our vital social service sectors like education and health are 'infested' with institutions belonging to different communal organizations. Here let me correlate between communal organizations and Communalism. All communal organizations are essentially communal and the only logical definition for Communalism is that of organizing & bargaining on the basis of belonging to various communities. In contrast, Secularism as a state policy is not to take cognizance of the community of a citizen for rendering any assistance or while implementing any rule or law. In recent times this was amply exemplified by the way a new French law was implemented in their public schools. They were bold and truthful enough to ban even religious symbols in order to avoid any identification and consequent segregation. Attempts by some of our own intellectuals to take a stand that all communal organizations do not represent Communalism is a highly subjective viewpoint and hence illogical. Similar is the case of involvement of religious men in public activities like agriculture, industry and business. Poojaris, Moulavis, Clergy etc., are meant for activities within the places of worship and the moment they step out into public activities, they are communalizing these fields. Any public movement led by religious men is also communal and denotes Communalism.
Leftist ideologies are essentially atheistic and should be opposed to any form of religion (as a way to reach God). But in a deeply cultural environment like in India this has proved to be impractical. Silence (and helplessness) of party functionaries when immediate family members of almost all the communist stalwarts resort to purely religious rituals immediately after their deaths, talk volumes about the failure of pure communism in Indian context. The stance of other Leftists has always been opportunistic whenever it comes to the question of their association with religious forces. It is this loose conglomeration of Left forces that is backing up Secularism in its critical fight against Communalism in the 'Left Haven' of Kerala. Will Secularism succeed as an acceptable and practical policy of the State? Or will we end up accepting Communalism as the policy and proceed to the extent of accepting the different communal organization as part of the state machinery to implement government programs? If social justice is distribution of common wealth in direct proportion to the population of various communities, perhaps Communalism is a better alternative to usher in a just society. On the other hand, if justice is meant for the meritorious, irrespective of the community, it is Secularism that should guide the government. Let us see wait and see the final outcome of this decisive battle.
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