In a recent column in this magazine (Abhor Singularity, May 31), my friend Kuldip Nayar has lamented my rejection of secularism and loss of faith in the plural traditions of South Asia. Nayar, whom I have given company in many battles—including some he would call secular—has got me entirely wrong. Actually, my criticism of secularism is an aggressive reaffirmation of these proto-Gandhian traditions and a search for post-secular forms of politics more in touch with the needs of a democratic polity in South Asia.
The concept of secularism emerged in a Europe torn by inter-religious strife, warfare and pogroms, when the resources for tolerance within traditions were depleted and looked exhausted. This has not happened in India, not even probably in most of South Asia. In India, a huge majority of riots—indeed nearly all of them—take place in the cities. Even the few that take place in villages begin almost always in the cities. Perhaps then it’s no surprise that in the last 50 years, less than 4 per cent of all riot victims in India have died in villages—where nearly 75 per cent of Indians stay; more than 96 per cent have died in cities, where 25 per cent of Indians stay. To go to an Indian village to teach tolerance through secularism is a form of obscene arrogance to which I do not want to be a party.