Secularism can mean different things to different people, as Jaya Padmanabhan intimated in her editorial (“The Audacity of My Secularism,” India Currents, June 2016). In particular, the American concept of secularism is quite different from the Indian version.
American (Western) secularism is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations.” However, Indian secularism is (informally) defined as “equal respect for or equal acceptance and treatment of all religions.”
Although both these definitions of secularism entail equality of all religions, an “equal acceptance of all religions” is very different from an “equal rejection of all religions.” A concrete example of this difference is the fact that while the secular government of India supports a separate religion-based civil code for each major religion, the secular government of United States supports only a single (non-religious) civil code for everybody.
Another facet of Western secularism is highlighted by the Oxford dictionary which defines it as “the principle of separation of the state from religious institutions.” A noteworthy point of this definition is that Western secularism is viewed primarily as an attribute of the state rather than an individual. However, Indian concept of secularism is frequently applied to the individual as well.
But how practicable is individual secularism? Is it reasonable, for instance, to expect a devout individual who firmly believes in monotheism to view a polytheistic religion with the same regard? Can a woman who believes that a particular religion is strongly biased against women’s rights truly respect it? Can a vegetarian Jain really appreciate the tradition of animal sacrifices on Bakr-Eid? Probably not. Perhaps most people aren’t really secular by the Indian definition of secularism. Even most atheists aren’t because they are wont to reject many religious beliefs.
Indeed, secularism as a personal creed may be too idealistic. A more practical creed may be pluralism in which people learn to tolerate, accommodate, and even celebrate the huge diversity of religions, cultures, and languages in their lives. How-ever, unlike secularism, pluralism does not require that people view or regard all religions (or cultures or languages) as being equal.
Vijay Gupta, Cupertino, CA
I loved reading the editorial (“Audacity of My Securalism,” India Currents, June 2016). I read it a day late. I read it the day after I finished my creative writing class through the continuing study program at Stanford. The night we graduated we were at the professor’s house for wine and dinner. There were a few of us who lingered after dinner. We talked about our favorite movies and our goals in writing. Then the question arose: “Which books did you read as teenagers?” Before, I could speak, the professor asked, “You read the Bhaga-vad Gita or something else?” My reply was “D.H Lawrence.” Then I also added, Yes, I went to Chinmaya Mission to take a few classes and read the Gita in English along with a friend. I wish I could’ve said in front of the group that I grew up as a secular humanist with the Gita, Koran and the Bible. That my grandmother invited the nuns from across our house to drink cocoa and sample some sweets, even when it wasn’t Diwali or Christmas.
Earlier in the quarter, one guy wrote about a fictional exotic half-Indian and half-Vietnamese character who ran away from her parents because they were Hindus. It was a story workshop and I could have said or written my suggestions but I didn’t do anything.
Recently, a WSJ front page article referred to Hindus as “a devout people, believing in millions of gods and numerous saints.” The story was about Indian soldiers in a hostile mountainous terrain believing in the spirit of a dead soldier.
Will you please write more about secularism as a well-rooted belief for some people from India? Nobody writes enough about it.
Vaishali Kirpekar, CA
Jaya Padmanabhan, following her father’s methodology, adopted a religious amalgam fashioned as “secular atheism,” a convenient approach to staying high and dry, above the fray. Anecdotes and instances are a-plenty to show the flexible format of secularism. It has a fit-all models structure.
During the mid–twentieth century, the Soviet Union, the largest land mass under one government, and China, the largest population under one government decided to abolish God as an entity, but failed. In-stead, they created two substitutes, Vladimir Lenin and Chairman Mao respectively.
Swami Chinmayananda, the founder of the Chinmaya mission worldwide, occasionally used a catchy lead sentence in his discourses: “Why do we need a God? Don’t we have enough troubles already? How appropriate!
Recruiting Minorities to Defeat Trump
Sarita Sarvate is, normally, an intelligent analyst and frequently writes with a clear conscience and a sense of purpose. Not so her “The United States of Minorities” (India Currents, June 2016) where she makes an about-face and then starts a campaign to enlist all minorities to rally behind Hillary Clinton and defeat Donald Trump. The irony is Sarvate herself does not think Hillary is a perfectly suitable candidate.
Right from the outset Sarvate heaped strong—and uncalled for—abusive words on Trump such as ignoramus, racist, fascist, misogynist, white supremacist, narcissist, psychopath and bully. Sadly, she doesn’t like a candidate who calls a spade a spade, who is not following the disastrous “politically correct” policy, who wants to strengthen national defense against terrorists and potential terrorists and who does want to stop the unabated flow of illegal immigrants from across the southern borders and other unfriendly countries, and who is not beholden to the establishment, Wall Street biggies and lobbyists.
Comparing Trump to Hitler is, prob-ably, the depth of wayward and malicious thinking I never expected from a balanced writer like Sarvate. However, she is entitled to her opinion and can defend Hillary also as a feminist (what a role model for women who kept defending her philandering husband just because she could enjoy all the privileges given to the First Lady at tax-payer’s expense!)
Some writers don’t care if Hillary violated rules and compromised national security with her e-mail scandal, was inept at handling radical Islamic attacks in Benghazi (Libya) resulting in the deaths of the American ambassador and others, and also was an equal participant in the flow of multi-million dollar foreign donations to Clinton Foundation with dubious deals and disbursement. The whole Hillary baggage is too large, additionally saddled with millions earned via speeches at big business meetings—the copies of which she refuses to make public.
Hillary Clinton’s personal behavior, demeanor, and contempt for uniformed people (Secret Service, military and the police) are amply illustrated in the book the First Family Detail by Ronald Kessler. A whole chapter is about Hillary starting with the words “If Joe Biden is inconsiderate with Secret Service agents, Hillary Clinton can make Richard Nixon look like Mahatma Gandhi. When in public, Hillary smiles and acts graciously. As soon as the cameras are gone, her angry personality, nastiness and imperiousness become evident.” There are dozens of examples in the book of what Hillary really is.
Talking about Mahatma Gandhi, I will only remind Sarvate and the Indian American community of how the Democratic presidential virtual nominee had demeaned the hardworking Indian community with her racist words about the great leader. She had said, though many years back, at a fund-raiser: “He [Gandhi] ran a gas station down in St. Louis. No, he was a great leader of the twentieth century.” That “sick joke” berated the big hardworking Indian community. That was a classic case of hurtful stereotypes that perpetuates ignorance and cause harm to the Indian—or any other—community.
Sarita Sarvate could have done much better by enumerating the good qualities, merits, and competences, if any, of the candidate she rather reluctantly supports for The White House. God save the Country!
Yatindra Bhatnagar, Tujunga, CA
The Prosaic Task of Earning a Living
Kalpana Mohan’s essay about her son’s graduation and future plans was wonder-fully put (“Not a Techwallah,” India Currents, June 2016). If her son Parthiv (or our kids or us even!) can answer the fol-lowing three questions, we have no need to be a “wallah” of any kind.
i) Do I know how to generate revenue/money/income—it could be done in a mil-lion ways, the “wallah” path being only one such. If I was dropped into the middle of a new country, with very little capital, could I sustain myself—build a business? do a trade? provide a service?
ii) Do I know how to stay healthy—that is, do I have the knowledge to eat the right foods, exercise at the right level, and have the ability to keep myself healthy in varying circumstances? That is, even if I were to fall sick, do I have the where-withal to heal myself, without being overly dependent (ideally, not at all) on the establishment (since you may find yourself in a place where there is none), and the “establishment” often doesn’t equip one to be healthy (one only needs to witness the sickness rate, the healthcare spending, and the large “establishment” in this great nation of ours, the United States)
iii) Do I know how to feed myself—and I mean literally—that is, do I know enough about growing fruits and vegetables to be able to actually grow my own, so that I could be completely self-dependent if it came to that?
That’s it! All the rest doesn’t matter—cushy jobs in Silicon Valley (or anywhere else), attendant capital, and attendant trap-pings. Those who have answered these in the affirmative have liberated themselves from being a “wallah” (a “non-wallah” in the making!).
Vishal Sharma, facebook