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"The religious theologies of two major aggressive traditions have brought about destruction to humanity much more than any other one culture or religion."

Swami Dayananda Saraswati
(Excerpted from: "Arsha Vidya Newsletter", November 2003)
There are a number of unique things in our culture. Everything about us is unique. The way we dress is unique. Our music is unique. Nowhere in the world, the music has defined rags. There are many forms of music all over the world, but nowhere are the ascending and descending notes as we have. Our indifference to our riches, of course, is unique!
I have so much to talk about this uniqueness in our culture and today I would like to share with you what we call dharma. The world religions have no concept of dharma. It is startling. I have been attending the World Religious Conferences.
During the middle of December, I will be going to Jerusalem to attend a World Religious Leaders' Conference representing the Hindu religion. The Chief Rabbi of Israel and one or two other Jewish religious leaders, who are the members of this Council and some Muslim leaders are meeting at Jerusalem to find some solution to current problems. Do you think it is possible? I know it is not possible, I know it can never happen, but I cannot give up an attempt to make it possible.
Only Hindu religion can make it possible. Others are all contending forces. The unifying force is only Hindu religion. It is startling. When I sat with all these religious leaders, I asked them, "Can you name a few values that are acceptable to all of us. Before forming the council of wold religions, let us identify some universal values", I asked the leaders in the first meeting. They said, "Let us move to the next item." This is because they cannot identify one thing common to all.
I proposed ahimsa. For us, ahimsa is paramo dharma. It is not that somebody; gives a slap on your right cheek and you show the left one. That is not our ahimsa. That is why they do not follow anything.
One fellow asked me this question, "Swamiji, you say, you are a Sadhu. Who is a Sadhu?" I said, "Sadhu is a saint." "You are a Sadhu?" he asked. "Yes." "Suppose somebody gives you a slap on your right cheek, will you show your left cheek?" Because somewhere it is said that when somebody gives you a slap on the right cheek, you are supposed to show your left cheek. "So, will you accept it?"
Now I have a problem. I am a Sadhu; I have to prove myself to be a Sadhu. If I say 'yes', then he may try to prove whether it is true or not and I will be inviting trouble. If I say 'no', then I am not a Sadhu. This is really a problem.
It is something like this. Somebody asked, "Will you go in front of a fool, or will you walk behind him?' If you go in front, I am the leader. If I walk behind, I am a follower. It is a problem.
This fellow was very clever. I told him, "I won't get the first one. Why should I get the first one on my right cheek? I will behave in such a way I won't attract the first one". That is the answer.
"Allowing people to trample upon our toes is not our concept of ahimsa. For us, this value is universal. We do not follow double standards. We do not have one type of value for Hindus and another type of value for non-Hindus. When hey do not follow the same thing that we have, then we are in trouble. That is what is happening to Hindus. We are in constant trouble because we follow universal values. And they go on trampling and bulldozing our culture wherever it is possible, and this kind of thing has been happening.
When I asked them, "Can you accept ahimsa, not hurting? All of them were silent. There were big Muslim leaders. There were leaders from Jewish tradition; they accepted. Parsi leaders accepted it. So too some other leaders of small groups of people accepted. But the leaders of two aggressive traditions did not accept it. Catholic did not accept, Protestants did not accept, and Muslims did not accept. None of them accepted the universal value of ahimsa. It was startling to me.
Then I tried another thing. "Will you accept mutual respect of religions?" I asked, because we are sitting in a world council, we are sitting at the same table. And they said, "We respect freedom of religion." Think of that. Freedom religion means freedom to destroy me; that is the freedom. "We accept freedom of religion, but not mutual respect of religion." It is because they have to convert. It is because they have to proselytize. It does not recognize other religions because God has given them the mandate. And so too, every denomination of Christianity.
Why I am telling you this is because, for them, there is no universal value called Samanya Dharma. That was startling thing to me. I knew, but I thought that in the Council of World Religions, the leaders who are representatives of their religions would at least concede this mutual respect and ahimsa. They do not. Then, what is it that we are meeting for, I do not know. Mine was a lone pleading voice. Big voice I have got that is all; it was a lonely voice. Nobody else agrees, except a few leaders who themselves are converted people and who want to go back to their native religions. Such people are available here and there.
We have Samanya Dharma. Samanya means samanam, (common) for the entire humanity. You talk to anybody, "Do you want to get hurt?" The reply is, "No." "Do you want to be cheated?" The reply is, "No." "Do you want to be robbed? Do your land to be encroached upon? Do you want to be lied to? And do you want to be exploited when you are in a weak situation?" The answer is always, "No, no, no, no," from everybody. This is not taught by anybody. This is by common sense.
This common sense born structure of value system has got to be there, in as much as human being has got choice. He has got a free will. If you have a free wheel, a lot of speed and a lot of power, you must have a gear and a brake system, correct? Sometimes you have to back up, sometimes you have to turn left; sometimes you have to stop. So, this break system is a must, a gearbox is a must. We have that brake system. We are endowed with the faculty of choice. We need to choose our food. What do you eat, when do you eat, where do you eat. How much do you eat, how often do you eat, how much do you eat? Everything, we have to choose. When there is a choice, I should say yes to something. Therefore, that capacity has to be from within, not from outside. Every individual has got a brake system given by Iswara.
Religious theologies of the two major aggressive traditions have brought about destruction to humanity much more than any other one culture or religion. In fact, even the holocaust in Germany and Poland, is all because of religions. In Goa, millions were destroyed, you do not know. This is much more than the holocaust. Millions were destroyed and we are going to create a museum in this country about the holocaust that we had in Goa and other areas. It was religious genocide. There was total destruction much more than what happened in Europe during Hitler'' rule.
The destruction caused during Aurangazeb's time is never talked about. Now it is all the more important for the Hindu voice to be heard than ever before. The Hindu voice is dharma. The two religious traditions do look upon the world as meant for human consumption. God created the world for man to eat it up. Animals can be eaten. They are meant for eating by human beings. Some are not eaten because the meat is not interesting, that is all - until you develop a taste for it. Nothing is prohibited. Anything that swims, that flies, that crawls, that walks can be eaten. Only that which talks cannot be eaten. That is because of the fear of criminal case.
For us (the Hindus), this jagat is a manifestation of Ishwara. You talk to any villager in this country, "Hey, Arumugam, where is God." He never went to school even for shelter during rains, because there is no school to go for shelter anywhere. We know it first hand. He will look at you up and down. He does not even understand the validity of the question. Where God is, not our question. Our question back is "What is not God?" That is Hindu religion.
God cannot be sitting in one corner in heaven. They say that. Where is He? We look up. Then, I have to ask heaven should be a big place because all of us are going there. If we are all Hindus, we do not go. And all others are going there`, and if all of them end up in heaven, what is His address? It may be a huge planet and at the other end, He may be there. Then, I have to ask for locality. Then, afterwards I should ask for the street, house number, the floor and the apartment number. It must be a big apartment with so many rooms. Another interesting thing is, they say, He is formless. A formless person needs a location! They say the formless God is male!! This also I talked in the World Council of Religious Leaders.
I say this all because you are bombarded every day and you need to know. I do not come and bombard you every day. I do not ask them, "Please give me time so that I can discuss with you about God." They come and ask us. No physics professor goes and knocks at the doors of anybody asking for time so that he can discuss about particles. You should go and ask him what are particles. He does not knock at your doors. This is our tradition. We do not knock at others' doors.
That is why I want to tell you that Dharma for us is universal. It is the same for everybody. Whether you profess this faith or that faith, it should be common for all. I can grant freedom for you to believe whatever you want. I give you the freedom. But at the same time recognize dharma. It is very important.
Everyone is a born consumer. Everybody, as a child, is a consumer and does not contribute anything. As an adult, you are not only a consumer but also a contributor. The Western society is indulging in consumerism. It gives a card. You need not have money, but you buy. And pay through you nose every month, and this is consumerism! This is not our culture. We earn, we save, we cut our coat according to the cloth and we try to slim, not to grow. Therefore, our culture is entirely different. Even economically, they are learning now. The economics of Hindu society are much more precious for the world to learn. Consumerism has brought in problems after problems.
Growth lies in your contribution. This is our culture. You contribute more than what you consume. You are then a grown up person. Gandhiji was a great leader in our country because he tried to contribute more than what he consumed. We worship cows not just because we take its milk etc. Not only that. It consumes simple grass, and afterwards gives life-saving, nourishing milk. And, therefore, we say that is a symbol of our culture. Consume less and give everything. Correct? That is our culture. That is why the cows should not be allowed to be slaughtered. It is a symbol of our culture. We have a sentiment for that. And that inner growth does not happen, sir. You need to be a contributor. You need to grow and you will grow into the status of a contributor only when you do not grumble and come to know about yourself and your culture. You have to look into your culture, for there is so much to learn; there is so much to discover. Our own riches embarrass us.
Be a contributor. In the process, you also grow. And you also help people who need to be cared, and in the process you get cared also. With this appeal, I just thank you all and I thank the Lord that we are able to do all this.
* * *
Swami Dayananda Saraswati
(Courtesy: New Indian Express, June 16, 2003)
The recent Papal contention that there is prohibition of religious freedom in India is an allegation to be taken seriously by the State as well as the Indian people. Addressing the Bishops of India during their ad limina visit to the Vatican, the Pope charged that the "free exercise of the natural right to religious freedom" is prohibited in India. A similar concern was registered in the latest report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which declared India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC).

Both the Vatican and the U.S. Commission have cited the introduction of "anti-conversion" bills in some Indian States as the basis for their conclusions. To those who care to read these bills, however, it is clear that they do show a clear intent to make "the use of force or allurement or fraudulent means" unlawful in conversion activities (Tamil Nadu Ordinance No.9 of 2002). What just-minded person would not applaud a State's efforts to prohibit the use of such means, especially in the sphere of religion? Is it not, then, an embarrassment to those involved in religious conversion activities that the state finds it necessary to issue an ordinance specifically prohibiting these means on their behalf?


Christian Missionaries have always assumed complete freedom to evangelize and convert any non-Christian society. And, history has shown that they have felt entitled to do so by any means. They honestly feel that it is not only their right, but their solemn duty to convert, not just individuals, but entire nations. Their scripture enjoins them, and the current Pope repeatedly reminds them to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Mt.28: 20)." This perception of religious freedom needs an objective examination inasmuch as it engenders deep hurt and attracts bitter opposition from the adherents of other religions.


In my perception there is religious freedom in any country wherein one is free to live one's religious life without being inhibited by State legislation or being subject to organized persecutions from the people of any religious, political, socio-economic or ethnic community. One would think that all those who desire freedom of religion would find this a reasonable and accurate perception. But, this freedom is not adequate for some; it does not include the freedom to evangelize and convert.


I want to be clear about what I mean by 'evangelize and convert'. I do not mean that one should not have the freedom to "manifest one's religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance," as stipulated in Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is an inalienable right, a sacred right, of all human beings that is to be cherished and protected. However, one who considers oneself subject to a religious mandate to convert people of other religions to one's own has a world-view that does not permit religious freedom. His/her inner religious landscape does not have any legitimate place for the practice of religions other than his/her own. Thus, as a person, one does not have the inner space to grant freedom to people to pursue other religions. It is not possible, either religiously or psychologically.


When the practice of one's religion involves evangelizing in order to bring outsiders into one's fold of believers, one is bound to become blind to a certain truth. One cannot, under these circumstances, recognize that one is intruding into the sanctity of the inner religious space of others. The blindness is evident when, in the same address, one can make a passionate appeal for evangelization, and also, for a democracy to support it that has "respect for religious freedom, for this is the right which touches on the individual's most private and sovereign interior freedom" (Address of Pope John Paul II to the New Ambassador of India, 13 December 2002 cited in address to Bishops of India, May 2003). While recognizing an individual's religious freedom as "most private and sovereign," there is, at the same time, an exhortation to invade this private, sacred space. In other words, to trample upon the very freedom one allegedly wishes to preserve. The contradiction reveals obtuseness in the extreme, a double standard, or a form of religious arrogance that is commonly known as fundamentalism.


I have no intention of disparaging any religion here, but rather, to be very clear about certain realities. Integral to a converting religion is conversion. And, a commitment to conversion involves certain unavoidable assumptions. Even when there is no visible attempt to evangelize and convert at a given time and place, the lull is not due to any newly discovered tolerance towards other religions. The underlying assumptions and commitment do not allow for that. The lull is only a strategic wait, biding time for the moment when there is the desired "religious freedom".


Ethnic religions the world over do not now, nor have they ever evangelized. Why? In the minds of the people given to these traditions there is total absence of religious intolerance. The tenets and mores of those traditions have allowed the people who hold them to naturally grant total freedom to others to practice their religion. It is never an issue. But, this unquestioned granting of religious freedom has given the initial thumb-space for the aggressive traditions to evangelize, convert and erase indigenous religions and their cultures from many countries, and even some continents. This is a crucial fact that, if overlooked, can, and has distorted the perception of the situation. It is so important to understand that today; an objection to conversion from any indigenous religious leadership is an urgently necessary and long-overdue assertion, not a violation, of human rights. In all fairness, such an objection could not be further from being a violation of human rights, much less religious fundamentalism.


I know that a Hindu is free from any malice toward any form of religious practice. I also know that there is no religious mandate in the Hindu Dharma to bring other religionists to the Hindu fold. Therefore, a Hindu is fundamentally accommodative in terms of religious pursuits. And, it is common knowledge that, because of this, India has been the historical refuge of the religiously persecuted and disenfranchised. Yet, if a Hindu wants his or her religious privacy respected and not intruded upon, immediately the spectre of "religious freedom" is raised at all possible levels of legal as well as public forums. This extends well beyond our domestic borders and has far-reaching consequences for our quality of life. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom recommends that its Government utilize various tools, such as economic sanctions, to exert pressure on Countries of Particular Concern (CPC), like India, in order to ensure adequate "religious freedom" for their evangelism and conversion programmes. A deeper analysis of the facts reveals that such measures are clearly unjust.

If Pope John Paul II could heed his own words in his recent address to the Bishops of India on their ad limina visit to the Vatican, the interests of peaceful coexistence of religions, and of people of goodwill everywhere would be well served. On that occasion, the Pontiff said to the Bishops of India, "To love the least among us without expecting anything in return is truly to love Christ." In the current climate, this appears to be a tall order for evangelizing religions. Hindus in India, on the other hand, have been accommodating religions of all stripes with extraordinary grace for centuries, and if allowed, will continue to do so for centuries to come. This in no way, however, should be construed as a license for abuses such as those prohibited in the conversion ordinances. Nor could a protest against such abuses be construed, by decent people anywhere, as a violation of any kind of human right.
NOTE: This article is in response to the criticism of Pope John Paul II that appeared in the press. The press news/statement is give below:
Pope criticizes anti-conversion laws in India

Addressing a group of Indian bishops in the Vatican City on the 3rd of June, 03, Pope John Paul II had decried new anti-conversion laws in some Indian States. He had urged the church in India to "courageously" proclaim the gospel.


Pope has said this was not an easy task and these difficulties are exacerbated by the increased activity of a few Hindu fundamentalist groups, which are creating suspicion of the church and other religions.

These difficulties, he says, are exacerbated by the increased activity of a few Hindu fundamentalist groups, which are creating suspicion of the church and other religions.
The Pontiff says the State authorities in some regions had yielded to the pressures of these extremists and had passed unjust conversion laws, prohibiting free exercise of the natural right to religious freedom.
Associated Press

Vatican City, June 3: Pope John Paul II today decried new anti-conversion laws in some Indian states and urged the church in India to "courageously" proclaim the gospel.


"This is not an easy task, especially in areas where people experience animosity, discrimination and even violence because of their religious convictions or tribal affiliation," the Pontiff, who met a group of Indian bishops, said.


"These difficulties are exacerbated by the increased activity of a few Hindu fundamentalist groups which are creating suspicion of the church and other religions," John Paul said.

"Unfortunately, in some regions the state authorities have yielded to the pressures of these extremists and have passed unjust conversion laws, prohibiting free exercise of the natural right to religious freedom, or withdrawing state support for those in the scheduled castes who have chosen to Christianity," the Pontiff said.
* * *
Swami Dayananda Saraswati
(Below are the opening remarks of Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati at the World Religious Congress at New Delhi 2001, Courtesy: Arsha Vidya Newsletter):
Honourable Prime Minister, His Holiness Dalai Lamaji, Sri Venkataraman and friends,

It has been my desire for a long time that there should be an attempt -- an effort -- to preserve the various religious traditions in the world and to see that they are not destroyed. For, you never get these days what you deserve; you always get what you negotiate for.


We have been witnessing in the world attempts to preserve and to save the endangered species in the flora and fauna. Endangered animals are being saved by a program of helping them grow in number. We have in India a Project Tiger in order to save the Indian tigers. Like this, there are many animals that are now multiplying in number because of programs of helping them to grow. There was a bird in Mauritius and it became extinct. The Dodo bird became extinct not by any natural disaster. The human beings ate them up. Now they are 'dead like Dodo'! They are extinct.


We have live cultures, which are highly rooted in their religious traditions and they are endangered. In fact, this is a conference of endangered species. The Dodos could not confer like we do. They are dead like Dodos. We can confer, and therefore, we have come together to find out ways and means to see that the diverse cultures and religious traditions are saved and that those which are almost dead or dying are not allowed to die.


And perhaps, like some attempts being made in Europe, we can bring back the old cultures alive. The Romans in Europe and the various groups that are there in Lithuania want to go back to their original traditions. They were just dubbed as Pagans and totally destroyed. They were called ethnic traditions.


Here in India, we have Vedika Dharma. This dharma has to be preserved. And its preservation implies actual living of the dharma by the people. Nobody can protect dharma in bottles. It has to be protected only by protecting the dharmi, the person who lives that dharma.


This is a momentous conference. It is not taking place a day earlier. People have been thinking along these lines and wondering about what they can do. The religious leaders should look into the theologies and find out ways and means to see that there is no religious sanction for any type of violence.


There are different violence. Physical violence is one thing. The Violence caused to the religious person is something very deep and real. If a person is converted to another religion by a program of proselytization, that person is uprooted from his tradition. The whole family is hurt and the people who witness the whole thing are also hurt. This hurt, according to me, is himsa; it is violence.
Therefore, the religious leaders, who are inspired by their theology that all the people should be brought to the same flock and that nobody should be outside the flock, need to really look into their own scriptures and see whether all of us can live a life in harmony, mutually respecting each other. We generally say 'mutually respecting'. Our Chairman (Sri R. Venkataraman), in his talk said, "equally respecting", which I like better. We should be equally respecting each other.


As a religious person, I do not want to be completely rubbed off by you, and I also do not want to rub you off. I want you to live in harmony with me. I want you to have the freedom to think the way you think, to believe what you believe and to practise according to your belief. But that freedom to believe and practice should not destroy me.


In India, anybody who talks about Hindu religion and the danger that it is facing is dubbed as a fundamentalist. That means that if I do not give you the freedom to destroy me, I am 'a fundamentalist'.

I, therefore, want the delegates to this Conference to look into this concept of freedom of religion once and for all. Let all the secular press here come to know about it. Let us declare to them: "Hey, this is freedom of religion. You are free to practise your religion. You are free to practice your religion. Do not stand on my toes. If you stand on my toes, I will ask you, 'please get off.' "
* * *
Swami Dayananda Saraswati
(Courtesy: New Indian Express, October 21, 2002)
I welcome the promulgation of the ordinance by the Government of Tamil Nadu to ban religious conversions "by use of force or by allurements or by any fraudulent means". This is a long-awaited step -- a step that ensures for the citizens of Tamil Nadu the most basic of human rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by U.N. General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) in December 1948 holds in Article 18 that "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief…" While the article endorses each person's right to change his or her religion, it does not in any way allow for another person to change a given person's religion. On the contrary, a systematic coercive effort to impose one's religion on another "by use of force or by allurements or by any fraudulent means "is a clear violation of this basic human right.


Further, Article 5 of the Bill of Rights states that no one shall be subjected to degrading treatment. No conversion is possible without denigrating the religion and the religious practices of the target person. This denigration hurts the family members and the community of the converted person. He or she has to disown his or her parents and all of their family, denouncing them as wrong, while he or she alone is right. If this does not hurt a person, I wonder what else can cause hurt.


The denigration of one's religion and the humiliation that accompanies the conversion experience are violations of the dignity ensured to every human being. Article 19 grants every person the freedom to hold opinions and matters of belief, no matter how fervently held are only matters of opinion. Article 22 ensures that everyone is entitled to the cultural rights indispensable for his or her dignity. Everyone who is a convert from a non-Christian tradition suffers an irreparable alienation from one's culture and, tragically, from one's own family. The family, in turn, is alienated from the community.


With the conversion experience, come shame, isolation, deep personal conflict and ultimately, the seeds for discord. History testifies to the devastating loss of rich and diverse cultures, gone forever in the aftermath of religious conversion. Article 26 (2) of the Declaration of Human Rights requires that education " shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups." Religious conversion is anathema to this. It promotes discord, intolerance and enmity, and as such, is an act of violence. I again say that conversion is an act of violence because it hurts deeply, not only the members of the family of the converted, but his or her entire community.


The religious person in every individual is the deepest, in as much as he or she is connected to a force beyond the empirical. One is connected to various persons in one's world. The religious in a given person is connected to a force beyond. That is the reason why the hurt of a religious person is deep and when it becomes acute, it explodes into violence. Conversion is not only violence; it does generate violence. The hue and cry made by some of the Christian leadership protesting this ordinance against conversion only show that they want to continue their conversion activities. I appeal to them to think about how conversion affects the converted person. This is the time for the Christian leadership to come forward to point out that the ordinance does not violate, but on the contrary, ensures the right of any person to practice his or her religion.


Further, it does not single out any particular religious group. In fact, it is the responsibility of the leadership of all religions to alloy the fears of the people within their individual fold who have such misgivings. It is not, on the other hand, either responsible or moral for any religious leader to use a distorted interpretation of this ordinance to establish a right to convert. The more such leaders protest, the more they are alienating themselves from the mainstream population who support a religiously plural and just society, committed to the respect and well-being of every one of its members.


India has a long tradition of living in harmony with people of numerous religious beliefs. Hindus did not have any problem whatsoever with the Parsis living in India for centuries. Why? Because they do not cause any hurt by a planned program of conversion. A planned program of evangelization and conversion is a war waged against the native tradition of a country whose people have an openness of heart that is very well known. Their very concept of Iswara allows that kind of accommodation. In fact, the concessions the minorities enjoy in India cannot be seen anywhere in the world. On the other hand, India is the only country where the majority feels oppressed.

I appeal to the political leadership of all other States in India to promulgate similar laws and make sure that all possibilities of religious conflict are avoided, and the tradition of religious harmony in India is maintained. While I congratulate the Government of Tamil Nadu for the promulgation of this ordinance, I request all the religious leaders to refrain from doing anything which causes religious disharmony.
* * *
Swami Dayananda Saraswati
(Courtesy: New Indian Express, August 10, 2003)
"We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic…."
Underlying the current discussion about the institution of a common civil code for India is a serious question: Are we willing to uphold the resolve of our Constitution to shape India into a secular, democratic republic? A secular republic ensures no discriminatory practices on the basis of religion, a welcome assurance to people of all religious and non-religious persuasions. A democracy ensures that the power of governance is vested in the people, all the people. The promise of such a republic is a truly pluralistic society, a harmonious mosaic of diverse religions and cultures in which the security and dignity of each individual is assured. But, conversely, it also ensures no special privileges. In short no double standards.

The integrity and security of any society, whether as small as a family unit or as large as the global community, is deeply threatened by double standards. They offend our innate sense of fairness; they undermine our natural parity of identity wit out fellow human beings, setting individual against individual, community against community, nation against nation. Double standards are the main building blocks of every racist ideology and system. One has to number the human heart to entertain the idea that double standards are acceptable in the human community. This innate understanding of every human being is, however, challenged by the frailties of the human heart. The fact is, there are double standards, in every sector of our life -- and all the strife that they engender.


The question is: Are we going to legislate to indulge our frailties, or are we going to legislate to help us live according to our finer, more noble, and, I would argue, more human tendencies? Our Constitution has clearly chosen the latter. It is heartening to note that the founding fathers of our fledgling democracy have not failed to understand (Article 44) that this includes a common civil code, which we have so far not had the moral courage to implement. Such a code, which implicitly means the abolition of double standards, is a basic and long-overdue element of a society, which aspires to be secular and democratic. There is good reason for the wide appeal -- and success -- of secular, democratic societies.

These ideals conform to the most basic ethical norms. Without wishing to be harsh, those who oppose the implementation of a common civil code are opposed to these norms. These very opposing forces talk of religious freedom and raise the spectre of secularism whenever it is convenient for them. Reservations are understandable if such a code is an innovation of the current government. But it is an existing article of the Constitution; the Constitution needs to be fulfilled. Reservations are also understandable if such a code is to be imposed in a non-democratic structure. But India has chosen democracy. Let the people speak. In a democracy, there is no question of imposition. Reservations are understandable if such a code violates basic ethical norms. But, in fact, it upholds them. If India, with her unparalleled richness of culture is to take her rightful place in the global community, the Indian people must overcome their sectarian impulses and raise their vision to a set of universal norms that befits their heritage. In adopting a common civil code, we have an opportunity to demonstrate that we have the courage to honour our deeper moral understanding and make whatever sacrifices we need to in order to help our Constitution fulfill its promise "to ensure to all its citizens: Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation.
* * *
By Swami Dayananda Saraswati
(New Indian Express, August 24, 2005)

I welcome the recent Supreme Court directive to promote the ultimate aim of democracy in India by discouraging the practice of listing religious groups as ''minority communities.'' The purpose of identifying and listing such groups has been to assure equal status and rights for adherents of all religions, regardless of their number. It is a noble purpose, befitting a true democracy. In India, however, as in any democracy, it is redundant, as this assurance has already been provided for by the Constitution which promises in its Preamble ''to secure to all its citizens: Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, _ex-pression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity.'' The fulfillment of this promise is spelt out in detail in Article 15, which prohibits various and specific kinds of ''discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth.'' India's Constitution is recognised as a model of liberal democracy, but scholars find that it is distinguished from many other democratic constitutions in its provisions for overcoming traditional and social inequalities. The constitutional scholar, Granville Austin, suggests that no other nation's Constitution ''has provided so much impetus toward changing and rebuilding society for the common good.'' In spite of this, a commission was formed by the Government of India in 1992, to safeguard the ''interests of minorities whether based on religion or language.''


In its recent ruling, the Supreme Court has upheld the mandate of the commission to enforce constitutional protection of minorities based on language. But, considering the results of the commission's work for the last 13 years, the court now challenges the classification of minority based on religion. While the Bench has its own judicial and constitutional arguments for questioning this classification, there is an obvious, but seemingly overlooked, reason why such a classification in India has to be reexamined.


The primary purpose for granting minority status, as envisioned by the framers of the commission, is to secure the social benefits promised by the Constitution for a minority group that has inadequate access to resources and privileges. There are some religious groups, however, that are claiming the privileges and benefits of minorities, though they, in fact, have a questionable minority status. While such groups may be a numerical minority in India, at the same time, they enjoy majority status globally. This status is not just in terms of number but, significantly, in terms of economic resources and political leverage. These religious groups wish to tap the resources of a nation, when they have abundant resources available to them from other sources.


The interests of Catholics, for instance, are provided for a governed by a large, wealthy, multi-national organisation based in Rome. Protestants are similarly cared for by the World Council of Churches, headquartered in Geneva. These 2.1 billion Christians comprise one third of the world's population and have access to substantial resources beyond the borders of their nation. They receive help from all over the world, no matter what their country of residence. So it is not legitimate to consider a transnational religion of this size a minority in any country, regardless of their number. If at all we want to protect a religious minority, we should protect the Jews, who number only 14 million and the approximately 200,000 Zoroastrians. They need protection.


In its recent ruling, however, the Bench has rightly questioned the legitimacy of minority classification on the basis of religion. It has determined that such a classification undermines the very purpose of the commission, finding it ''a serious jolt to the secular structure of the constitutional democracy,'' in direct opposition to the commission's goal of preserving secular traditions. Further, classifying minorities on the basis of religion will generate ''feelings of multi-nationalism in various sections of the people.'' And this will hinder the commission's stated task of promoting national integration.


The Bench has, then, ruled in favour of the goal of the commission rather than one of the means it has adopted. If the goal of preserving secular traditions and promoting national unity is still considered worthwhile, and a chosen means is found deficient in or even inimical to achieving that goal, it is appropriate, even wise, to abandon that means. I consider that the Bench has ruled wisely on this issue.

An indispensable pillar of a nation is its national integrity. If a policy or course of action is a potential threat to that integrity, it is in the interest of all citizens, of all sectors, to change course and move in a direction that serves the national interest. And in a democratic nation, the national interest is the interest of each and every individual, for such a nation is not a ''super entity,'' but the collective will and hope of all of citizens. Policies that promote national integrity, promote stability and the promise of peace for all people comprising the nation. National integrity is valued in all countries but all the more so in India, where unity is the hallmark of our long history.
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