Understanding secularism

An op-ed in The Hindu, on Ashis Nandy, on an interpretation of secularism in our daily lives.

After some fieldwork in Kochi, Mr. Nandy discovered that its communal harmony was not a result of the belief in secularism amongst its residents. Far from it, as most seemed quite unaware of its definition or content. Nearly every Hindu he met “lovingly nurtured” the usual nasty stereotypes about Muslims and vice versa, and people of all faiths heartily detested others of a different faith. What then explained the harmony of the town?

Mr. Nandy’s explanation was typical: their tolerance for other faiths came not from an ingestion of Nehruvian secularism (or what Mr. Nandy has often called Indian modernity) but rather from their own lives as practising believers. As Hindus, Muslims and Christians, each of them entertained stereotypes of the other; but as believers, each of them also understood and respected why and how the other could be religious in their own way. It was this tolerance emanating from religious belief that Mr. Nandy considered India’s salvation, not the thin and aseptic secularism of the faithless that her western moderns professed


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