In his article SECULARISM, COLONIALISM AND THE INDIAN INTELLECTUALS, Jacob de Roover says:
“the history of the idea of secularism and … the deep roots it has in the religious doctrine of the Christian West. Next, I will analyse the role it has played in the colonial domination over the subcontinent and its intellectuals. The idea of secularism has been one of the backbones of the colonial educational project, which approached
India as a backward society in need of conversion to modern western values. The Indian secularists are today sustaining the colonial stance towards their own culture and society. They presuppose that the modern value of secularism or toleration is the superior way of organising a plural society. Given this assumption, they easily come to the conclusion that India should adopt this value like all other modern nation-states; the secularists take as a presupposition what they actually have to prove: the superiority of the modern value of secularism. The consequences are dramatic. Alternatives to secularism e.g., the “traditional” ways of living together as they have developed on the subcontinent are not even taken seriously as solutions to the predicament of pluralism in twenty-first-century
India. Thus, secularism limits the options of the Indian intellectuals to two equally flawed positions: either one continues the colonialism of the last three centuries through a dogmatic adherence to “modern secular values;” or one fights this stance on its own terms by becoming an “anti-modern”, “anti-western” or even “anti-scientific” fanatic.”
It is an interesting article. It can be accessed at: http://www.india-forum.com/authors/31/Jacob-De-Roover
I want to ask this question to Roover’s thesis: I think Roover is hasty in characterising secularism in
India as rooted in colonial rule. Descent is here taken as continuous phenomena. I think it is important to assume (for I don’t have empirical data with me now) that ideas though derived don’t remain unchanged across their origins and adoption as well as across temporal and spatial plane. I believe it so not because change is a supreme value or some such thing but because ideas don’t travel on their own; it is people who adopt them and I would like to believe that people have enough sense to impart to borrowed ideas local hues where necessary and making the copy not a mirror image but a new alloy. Hence to set out with the belief that secularism is derived from the colonial past and that it is steeped in religious doctrines of Christianity need not lead us to identify the problem of this concept in
The tangled question of the alternatives to secularism is a genuine one. Let us not pretend that it is not so, or that there is no need for alternatives. But Roover’s critique has a few loopholes in its premises. When he says that “secularism limits the options of the Indian intellectuals to two equally flawed positions: either one continues the colonialism of the last three centuries through a dogmatic adherence to “modern secular values;” or one fights this stance on its own terms by becoming an “anti-modern”, “anti-western” or even “anti-scientific” fanatic” he is already assuming a singular character to the understanding and practice of secularism in India over the years. This to me poses a problem because it means that people (not one or the other intellectual) imitate blindly. It undermines the agency of people and their intelligence in accepting and assessing an idea, as well as the possible mingling / interaction of such an idea with the various local practices of pluralism. If we attend to the various discourses of secularism we may notice not only the Christian and colonial provenance but also certain local notions of pluralism / cross-cultural co-habitation embedded in them. It is not sufficient to attend to only the academic and political discourses in this respect but one should also look at other areas such as art, literature, rural co-operative movements, anti-caste discourses etc. Now my hunch is that secularism has been variously configured whether or not traces of its origins in religious doctrines of Christian west can be found in it.