Did you notice – more Indians are now talking about the value of secularism or raising concerns about the dangers it faces in India. Actor Aamir Khan said recently that his wife, anxious about the safety of her child in India, had even asked him if they should think of moving out of India. In a way he seemed to echo concerns voiced earlier by a few literary award winners and scientists in the country about what they termed ‘intolerance’ in India – including intolerance to secularism.
Hindus form about 80% of India’s population, the rest made up of Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians or Parsis. If anyone in the country says he values secularism, what does it mean? It means that person appreciates that India, with a vast Hindu majority, freely allows others practising their religion in India, even more than it does for Hindus. Those who like Indian brand of secularism are mostly not Hindus or not serious believers. That is understandable since they directly benefit from India being secular that way, or it accords with their belief or unbelief. Indian secularism is also unique. Nowhere in the world can you find a country like India where law and government grants citizens of minority religions – when the majority is as high as 80% - special status and privileges, i.e., more than equal importance. A Muslim in India, for example, should feel more privileged and protected than if he were living in a neighbouring Muslim majority nation. Full credit to India and its people.
Non-Hindus in India would be satisfied, and happy too, over how the Hindu majority country treats them socially and politically – leave alone any aberrations that have to be addressed. It is fair that they should wish that a Hindu living in every other country enjoys similar religious and social freedom, equality and protection, if not the privileges, that they have in India. What does anyone convey when he argues that India is a secular country and hence all non-Hindus should feel equal with Hindus? He means that secularism is a great virtue for a country to follow. Then, at the same time, if he fails to come down on other countries which do not practise the Indian brand of secularism and which make Hindus, a minority in those countries, live a subdued second-class life, he would be plainly dishonest. If he is also a non-Hindu living in India and basking in its secularism, he would be ungrateful too. Anyone can see this is not a criticism or an abuse, but is natural human feeling with most Hindus in India who wish non-Hindus well.
Now back to Aamir Khan. Aamir talking about going out of India along with his family should evoke no concerned reaction from those staying back. First, I am not sure if those thoughts are serious at all, and it is good if they are not. Then there are lakhs of Indians who have done it in their lives over decades because, thanks to inept governments, they see no way of making a living or prospering or getting the best out of themselves in the land of their birth, while Aamir has been lucky he could do it to the brim in India. As a nation, we suffer a deep loss year after year by driving out talented Indians to other countries. This should be more worrying for Indians than Aamir Khan’s statement which had doubtful intent, which he has also later clarified for a happy filmy ending.
India’s concern for its citizens should travel beyond western nations attracting educated Indians. Unemployment and low wages within India have taken out lakhs of other Indians, skilled and unskilled, to Gulf countries to work hard in difficult conditions to secure a better future for their families back home. We do not seem to feel for them who are forced out of their country to keep body and soul together.
Last month a 55-year old lady from Tamil Nadu who was working as a housemaid in a Saudi home returned to India sobbing. Shortly before she came back her right arm had to be amputated in a Saudi hospital, seemingly as a result of a fall when she was fleeing from her oppressive workplace. That passed off as a news item in India without stirring the conscience of our rulers, or even of fellow-Indians here, over the widespread poverty in our land which sends Indians out of their homeland to sweat out and suffer.
A few months ago when strife was brewing in Yemen with rebel forces taking control, Indians who had been there on work were hurriedly rescued by air and sea by an alert Indian government. Not many pitied them for having to go to Yemen to earn a living and risk their lives. Aamir is lucky he had some sympathizers, for a mere statement that his wife asked him if they should move out of India.
Wherever Indians live abroad in huge numbers, affluent in the West or average-earners in the Gulf – with no one ruing they had to move out of India – Aamir Khan and many like him in Indian film world may visit them, appearing on ticketed stage shows. They may also screen their Indian language movies in those countries and push up revenues. Full thanks to India and its people - who live in India or have moved out of India.
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Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2015
Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2015