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If Javed Akhtar had not rung me to complain about the 'communal' nature of a piece I wrote on Akbar Owaisi in my syndicated column last week, I might have written about something else today. But, because Javed is an old friend, because I respect his opinion and because I think he is exactly the kind of Muslim intellectual who can lead his co-religionists away from the Islamist nonsense that Owaisi vomited out in his speech, I am going to use Javed's charges against me to re-examine what secularism has come to mean in an Indian context.
In my article (you can Google it), I made the point that when Owaisi mocked India's civilisation and her religions, he was reflecting the opinion of an increasingly large number of lower middle class, half-literate Muslims. Javed said that this sounded as if I was labeling an entire community. This was not my intention but I reiterate my assertion that a large number of lower middle class Muslims are being taught a warped idea of Indian history. This makes them believe that India was an area of civilisational darkness until Islam came along and that its idol worshipping religions are worthy only of contempt. It is this that makes men like Akbar Owaisi assert disdainfully that the 'naked statues' in Ajanta are worth less than the Taj Mahal and the Qutab Minar.
Hindus rarely respond to assertions of this kind because Hindutva types are interested only in the Hindu religion and 'secular' Hindus are usually embarrassed to discuss India's ancient past. Either because they know nothing about it or because they believe that there is little about India's ancient history to be proud of other than the discovery of the zero.
Decades of an idea of India overlaid by the Congress version of secularism has cemented this attitude because Congress political leaders believe it is 'communal' to mention a past that was without doubt Hindu. To come back, though, to Owaisi's speech, let me say that I believe he said nothing that warrants a charge of sedition. His speech was ignorant, tasteless and filled with hatred but I have listened to it more than once and did not see in it either sedition or an incitement to violence.