Light of Truth

Valson Thampu

Prime Minister Modi has announced the advent of New India. Its colour, contour and culture are left, for the time being, to the speculation, especially of the naïve. His speech at the bhoomipooja of Ram Temple construction in Ayodhya contained enough indications as to where were are headed. In the days ahead, the minority-majority relationship is sure to acquire an urgency and intensity it didn’t have till now.
The position of religious and racial minorities within a mainstream has always been a problematic one. The plight of the Jews for centuries in Europe is probably the best illustration of this. To give just one indication of how serious the problem is, it suffices to state that England expelled all Jews from its territory in the late 13th century and did not allow them back into the country till the time of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). So, when Shakespeare’s play Merchant of Venice, satirising Jewish avarice, was staged there wasn’t a single Jew in the audience. Yet Jew-baiting had a powerful appeal at that time.
Historically, all majority communities have perceived minorities as ‘foreign bodies,’ arbitrarily lodged in their midst. The resentment towards such entities varies according to diverse factors; but the feeling of resentment never quite disappears. Jean-Paul Sartre in Anti-Semite and Jew (1946) offers an insight particularly invaluable to us. He identifies four typical characters in this historical drama: the Anti-Semite, the democrat, the inauthentic Jew, the authentic Jew. It is the inauthentic Jew who creates the Anti-Semite, or the Jew-hater. The Anti-Semite, then re-creates and caricatures the image of the Jews as a whole. The root of the problem, according to Sartre, lies in the inauthentic Jew. But the inauthentic Jew–or, the Jew who is a scandal to the race, without bothering himself about it-remains, for far too long, unmindful of the harm he is causing to the community as a whole. He enjoys respect and trust in his community.
Hannah Arendt echoed this insight, though in a different tone and context in her thought-provoking work, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). The daring thinker she was, she pointed out that the spiritual decline of the Jews contributed to an extent to the unthinkable tragedy that befell them under Hitler. Herself a Jew, she was convinced that, but for this it would not have been as easy as it turned out to be for Hitler to convince a whole nation regarding the repugnance the Jews merited. Her views evoked ferocious reactions from the Jewish community, coming, as they did, in the heels of the Holocaust. It is not easy, for any community, to acknowledge responsibility even marginally for one’s own tragedy. When consequences are horrendous, the tendency to disown responsibility and embrace pure victimhood becomes irresistible. But it is an exercise in futility; for the unnameable has happened. Wisdom lies in learning from the macabre faces of history, so that its tragic patterns and potentialities may not be repeated.
Hilaire Belloc in The Jews (1922) examines the possible outcomes of the minority-majority interface. It is significant to note that, unlike Sartre and Arendt, Belloc was writing even as the Holocaust was in the offing. His words proved prophetic. They are particularly relevant to us, for that very reason. The minority-majority impasse, he argues, can be resolved only in one of the following ways. (a) The extermination of the minority community, (b) its expulsion from the country, (c) the total isolation of the community from the majority community, and (d) by creating a healthy model of relationship between the two blocks in which both sides play a positive and sensible role. This is, arguably, a delicate and precarious balance, and it has to be maintained with great foresight and practical wisdom. The onus for this rests, unfair as it might seem, more on the minorities. It is their need, first and foremost.
As regards the Christian community in India, the time has come for some clear thinking based on historical facts and insights. One absolute certainty is this: no matter what strategies of adjustment and appeasement are adopted, the offence of one’s identity as a religious community will remain. It is historically naïve to hope that the offence in the eyes of the majority community can be washed away with some conciliatory gestures, including the willingness to pander to majority interests.
For a religious minority community to negotiate and preserve a well-defined space for itself in the mainstream, it is necessary that it commands respect in the national context and, further, that its leaders show sagacity and statesmanship in the process. This is a spiritual task. It cannot be managed with worldly tactics for the reason that the more a unique religious community begins to bank exclusively on worldly strategies, the less it commands respect, because it squanders its authenticity in the process. The spiritual purity and vitality of a community are its best defence. Those who squander or compromise the essence of a spiritual tradition for whatever reasons are the counterparts of Sartre’s ‘inauthentic Jews’ who give birth to Anti-Semites. Wisdom lies in recognizing the malady in one’s own midst and remedying it; for that is within one’s control. This self-correction may seem unpalatable to some. They will play hide and seek with history and find their place, in due course, in the jaws of it.

Leave a Comment