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Why Christian Concept of Secularism is meaningless in India?

by Jay Shah on Monday, August 30, 2010 at 2:29am

Why Christian Concept of Secularism is meaningless in India?

The very idea of a secular form of government- with priestly authority separated from

the affairs of the state- is relatively a recent development in Europe. But it is a practice

of extremely long standing in India- going back to Vedic times.

Brahmins in India have long been classified as Vaidika and Laukika. Vaidika Brahmins are

those that are engaged in priestly duties, while Laukika Brahmins are those that are

active in the secular professions like medicine, engineering, law, teaching and others.

More importantly, the texts used as guides for religious and secular activities have

always been different. This is not the case in Islam in which the Quran is not only the

prayer book, but also the law book. It is claimed to be the basis for Shariat - or Islamic


We can see this distinction more clearly when we look at Hindu religious texts. Many

devout hindus use the Vishnusahasranama or some other prayer book in the religious

functions. But it has never been Dharmashastra and others authored by sages like

Brihaspati, Manu, Gautama. Kautilya’s Arthshastra was a standard manual on

adminsitration. None of these is considered a religious text, or ever used in religious

ceremonies. We find a clear separation the religious and the secular.

This was even true in vedic times. The vedas and the Brahmanas are religious texts, but

they were never used as law books. The guidelines for legal and adminsitrative duties

were laid down in sutra works likeDharmasutras, Nyayasutras and others. Even among

sutra works, there was separation into Grihya (household) and srauta (sacred).

This was so even in practice as we learn from from ancient literature. The famous vedic

sage Vishwamitra was born into a royal family but wanted to be known as a vedic seer.

He has to give up his kingdom and perform a long penancebefore he could gain

recognition as one. The reverse was also true. In the case of emperor Bharata (son of

Dusyant and Shakuntala) it was the opposite. Finding his owns sons unfit to rule, he

adopted a son of vedi priestly family of Bharadvaja as his heir. It was this Bharadvaja’s
son Vitatha who succeeded Bharat as King. But he was no longer recognized as a sage or


This remained true even in historical times. The famous Madhava seer Jayatirtha (1440-

88) was born into royal Deshpande family. But he had to give up his claim to royalty

before being accepted as the head of the Madhava sect. The message is simple: one

could not be both ruler and priest. Theocracy was out of the question - both in theory

and in practice. It is well know that Gautama Buddha was born into a hindu royal family,

but gave up his claims when he founded his religion. Same is the case with Vardhman

Mahavir, who was also born into a hindu royal family but gave up his kingdom and later

founded Jainism.

Madhavacharya, better known as Vidyaranya inspired the founding of the Vijayanagar

Empire when Hinduism was facing its greatest crisis. Similarly, Ramdas inspired Shivaji.

But neither Vidyaranya nor Ramdas sought any political power.

Contrast this with the record of Ayatollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of Iran.

This record of Hinduism should be compared to the history of Christianity (of medieval

Europe) and Islam, and the ideology that underlies them. Both these religions are also

theocracies. In Islam, Quran is not only the prayer book, it is also the law book. For the

same reason, there is no clear separation between priestly and secular duties as there

has been in Hinduism since time immemorial. The Islamic code of law - the so called

Shariat- is based on the Quran which is also the prayerbook of Islam. Muslim clergy claim

the right to interfere in the affairs of the stae in the name of religious duty.

The same was true of Medieval Christianity. Government as the secular arm of the

church and therefore subject to priestly authority was a claim that was fully broken only

by the disestablishment of religion in Europe following the French Revolution. In the

United States, the First Amedment to the Constitution removed all influence of religion

upon the government.

Seven hundred years ago Pope Boniface VIII has assereted his secular authority in the

following words:

”Both swords, the spiritual and the material (or secular), are in the power of the Church.

The Spiritual is wielded by the Church; the material for the Chruch. The one by the hand
of the priest; the other by the hands of kings and knights at the will and sufferance of

the priest.”

This is a clear statement of how the Church regarded the state as the “secular arm” of

the Church. West broke the power of Church through secularization of the state. In

Islamic countries this has still not happened. For this to happen these countries have to

completely remove the influence of clergy - the mullahs- from the affairs of the state.

Even in India, muslims have not let that happen, organizations like Muslim Personal Law

Board are insisting on separate laws - laws that would be administered by the clergy.

The same phenomenon is raising its head in Britain. Even in United States, there has

been one at least one case of forced marriages of under-age Muslim girls against the law

of the land. Blasphemy law has also been exercised by assassinating an Egyptian scholar

living in Texas for expressing his dissenting views. In India, in the name of “Secularism”

and “religious rights”, muslim religious leaders are demanding the right to function as a

theocratic State with a State administered according to Islamic Law.

The reality is: as with Medieval Christianity, Islam even today regards secular authority

as far more important than the spiritual content. More often than not the Muslim clergy

have no spiritual vision to offer, being simply politicians in religious garb. God is simply

the pretext used to extend and strengthen its power and influence in the temporal

world. This is the characteristic of a theocracy rather than a true spiritual tradition.

The question is what is the source of this theocratic ideology?

The simple answer is Monotheism/Exclusivism is the foundation of Theocracy.