When the in December 1992, for Prof. Ram Puniyani it was not only a sacred edifice that had crumbled before him, but a part of secular, democratic India as well. The incident galvanised him into making an effort to work towards cohesion among religious groups.
Since that fateful day, the human rights activist has written nine books on communal violence and received a number of awards for his work, including the Indira Gandhi National Integration Award 2006. Prof. Puniyani is currently in Pakistan to share his experiences and discuss how the rights of minorities can be protected.
On Friday, he delivered a lecture at the Area Study Centre for Europe at Karachi University in which he attempted to highlight the lessons that can be gleaned from the secularisation of Europe. Prof. Puniyani started off by lamenting the fact that secularism is often confused with ‘atheism’. “Secularism does not oppose religion, it opposes the clergy, who claim monopoly over knowledge and hence power,” he said. It is this power which allows the elite to suppress and take advantage of vulnerable groups. “Hundreds of ‘god-men’ in India earn million of rupees and could give the country’s big industrialists like Tata and Birla a run for their money. Look at Baba Ramdev – the spiritual leader earns a lot just by wearing saffron clothes.”