Let us build a Secularism Garden at Ayodhya. Let us build a place of beauty, growth and change, to remind ourselves daily that DEMOCRACY is a journey, a process as well as a destination, that SECULARISM is a journey, a process as well as a destination.
If we can agree that Secularism is a process, then we can understand that all processes involve trial and error. Sometimes we try and we fail. Sometimes we try and we succeed. We failed when we destroyed the Babri Masjid. We failed when we burned to death innocent Hindu women and children and reportedly abducted girls traveling on the Sabarmati Express, ironically named for Gandhiji’s sanctuary of peace by the river of the same name. We failed again when when we torched and stabbed hundreds of inncocent Muslims in Ahmedabad, Halad, Vijaynagar, Navaseshan and other places.
The Prince of Peace would have been saddened by the Godhra events and the multiple retaliations thereafter. He would have been aghast at the deaths of 500 plus and counting. He would have begun a fast. He would have traveled into the riot-torn areas. He would have reawakened our conscience. He would have shamed the perpetrators. He would have comforted the survivors. Perhaps he may have even considered the building of a Secularism Garden at Ayodhya.
Secularism is a constitutional guarantee. Secularism is mentioned in the Preamble, in the very first words of our Constitution. It is a legally binding provision on the elected leaders to uphold the constitutional protection of support for the way in which each Indian chooses to love her or his God. The RSS, BJP and the VHP attacked that constitutional guarantee when they colluded in 1992 to destroy a Muslim place of worship. Every Indian, regardless of religious or political affiliation should have felt threatened by that attack.
Now, all Indians should exercise their constitutionally protected RIGHT TO SECULARISM by throwing out of office every elected official from the Prime Minister on down, who threatens our hard-fought, hard-won, secular society. Similarly, we should reject every unelected person whether he pretends to speak for all Hindus, like Parmahans, or like Bukhari, to speak for all Muslims from Delhi’s Juma Masjid. These rabble-rousers are holding us Indians back from progress towards a fully participatory and progressive civil society. Their agenda of hatred, bias and intolerance is a danger to our secular ideals. Let us celebrate Secularism in the midst of hatred and intolerance of the beliefs of our fellow citizens. Let us see the VHP, the Sangh Parivar and their adherents for who they really are — Hindu Nazis. Let us condemn the Muslim extremists who climbed onto the Sabarmati Express with hate in their hearts and gasoline and lighted torches in their hands. We are their victims, whether we were train passengers on the Sabarmati Express or living in New York or in the Gulf.
Today, I am a victim of anti-secularist hatred and intolerance. And I am fighting back. With Peace and Love as my answer to the murder and mayhem of the past week. I know hundreds of Indians and South Asians who feel this way. We can agree to disagree on many points. But we cannot compromise on the ideal, the goal, the practice of Secularism. More than being an Indian and a Hindu, I am a Secularist.
The Garden of Secularism in Ayodhya. What will it look like? Assuredly, there will be flowers blooming in beauteous profusion, trees, plants, grasses and shrubs. There will be fountains playing. There will be benches for people to sit and reflect on the worthy goal and the difficult path of Secularism. There will be grassy knoll where families can picnic. School children will visit with their families and with their teachers.
What else will there be in the Garden of Secularism at Ayodhya? There will be an Interactive Museum with stirring multimedia presentations, re-living the tumultuous days leading to Independence. Partition was
every Indian’s first test of Secularism. Partition is a wound that we Indians must bear. We cannot carry resentment about it. We will celebrate the fact that we as Indians chose Secularism over narrow and bigoted notions of religious identity in the making of a modern State. The Museum will venerate the architects of Secularism — Gandhi, Maulana Azad, Nehru and others. We will tell the stories of ordinary Indians who championed Secularism by sheltering their terrified Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian neighbors and protecting their places of worship. Those same laughing schoolchildren, now suddenly somber, will make notes as they listen to the audio presentations and watch wide-eyed the videotapes depicting historic and contemporary moments in the struggle for Secularism. Visitors will sign the Guest Book and write their heartfelt thoughts.
The Interactive Museum on the grounds of the Garden of Secularism at Ayodhya will be uncompromisingly and brutally honest. Indians will be reminded that on many occasions they have failed to appreciate and foster Secularism. Free speech, even hate speech are essential processes in the struggle for Secularism, the struggle to create a just and equitable civil society. But physical violence, such as the pogrom against Muslims in Mumbai and now the several incidents at Godhra, Ahmedabad, Danta and others cannot be condoned. Perhaps there will be pictures of the murder of Gandhi, that sweet Prince of Secularism, by a Hindu extremist. There will be a searching critique of the fanatic group that fostered the anti-Muslim hatred of Godse and the contemporary Godses of the Sangh Parivar. There will be montage of the razing of the Babri Masjid as well as the carnage at Godhra and Ahmedabad. Did we think Secularism was going to be easy? Now we know!
Perhaps, as we stroll through the leafy pathways or sit under the tamarind, guava and mango trees or watch the parrots, butterflies and peacocks in the Garden of Secularism, we will learn that Democracy is not an easy endeavor. Perhaps we will learn that Secularism is a road filled with rocks and boulders and that we will have to lift each one and set it aside as we move towards a genuine respect for the beliefs of others. Our South Asian neighbors will learn that India is a place where we will never, never, NEVER (!) give up the struggle for Secularism. We will ensure that the Godhra innocents and the Banaskantha innocents have not died in vain. Perhaps each visitor to the Garden will re-dedicate herself or himself to the ideal of Secularism.
Perhaps each Hindu will seek out a Sikh or Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or Jain friend and try to grasp the complexity of that person’s spiritual quest. Perhaps each Muslim will endeavor to do the same, as will all the others of all the gloriously varied creeds in the mosaic that is India.
Let us defeat the hatemongers who think their religion is superior. Let us support all those Secularists who think that India’s greatness lies in her continuing, unconditional support for the spiritual aspirations of each of her billion plus citizens.
The Garden of Secularism cannot be built by only one group of Indians. It will take the sincere effort of every Indian no matter whether s/he lives in Kanyakumari or Kargil, Abu Dhabi or Ahmedabad, Silicon Valley or Singapore.
Let the Garden of Secularism bloom in Ayodhya through the love and the hard work of each and every one of us.
Write your opinion on this column on our forum ‘column’
New York, NY, USA email@example.com
March 04, 2002