As a student of sociology, I come across a number of articles and papers on secularism and secularization but I am least interested in these terms from a political point of view. These terms are mostly used in a political sense and all other interpretations and meanings are either ignored or neglected. Secularism and secularization have very strong and meaningful connotations in sociology. From a sociological point of view, these terms are very handy and useful in bridging the gap between two different religious communities especially in the environment of communalism and fundamentalism.
The Indian definition of secularism is different (rather quite opposite) from the European and Western models of secularism. In Europe and the West, secularism is counted as a transition from traditional way of life to modern way of thought and polity. However, in the present Indian scenario, secularism is a way to bypass modern robotic, materialistic, communal and fundamental values and instincts which lead to religious conflicts. Secularism cannot be fostered and promoted by fiery and emotional political speeches neither can it be promoted by writing books and articles. It can only be promoted through practice and commitment, what so ever may be the conditions. India has a very rich heritage and has produced several personalities who have been living embodiments of the idea. Every time one of these personalities sets for their journey of heavenly cosmos, the loss is very heavy to bear.
The present piece is being written to pay tribute and adieu, not to any saint or any politician who boasts of being secular only in political speeches, but to an extremely humble human being who lived his whole life by this idea. A teacher by profession Prof. Gautam Gaynendera, a great sociologist besides being a noble human being never preached about secularism but practiced it religiously and thus always set an example for his companions and colleagues. His sad demise is not only a great loss for mankind but has also left a void which can be filled by none.
I first met Gautam Sir (as his students and colleagues popularly called him) in 2008 when Kashmir was politically very charged over the Amarnath Land Row. The agitation in Kashmir was smocked in communal colors by the national media. There was growing suspicion and hatred towards Kashmiris all over the country, even in Jammu which a part of the same state as Kashmir.It was during this time that I was thrown out of a bus while travelling and all my money was stolen from me in Jammu. I first met Gautam Sir who would be my guide for the next year as I pursued my M.Phil degree during these troubling times. Expecting to be treated with the same hatred and disgust that I was treated with everywhere, I was quite surprised to be treated not like a Kashmiri or a Muslim but like a long lost son. When people all around me were full of anger and hatred and no one, not even my own brethren who were already enrolled in the University, would offer me accommodation, the great Prof. Gautam sir came my rescue. Those days he used to be the chief warden and he offered me accommodation in the hostel despite not being enrolled in the university yet. This is not the only time and I certainly wasnt the only one he had helped in troubled times. There had been many similar students before me and there certainly would be many more after me. Gautam sir would constantly talk to the parents of Kashmiri students and assure them that their loved ones were safe and secure under his watch. He also offered money to countless Kashmiri students when months of strike brought the whole valley to a standstill.
Gautam sir was always calm and composed. I had never seen even a sliver of anger cross his face until the day he saw me outside the department with a broken plastered arm. He immediately rushed over, his face full of concern and asked, Tumharey bazoo ko kya howa Hai? Tum nai mujay phone kyun nahin kiya? Mai gadimai hospital lay jata (What happened to your arm? Why didnt you call me? I would have accompanied you to the hospital). He then handed me his address along with his personal contact number and said, Agar Raat ko bhi kabhi koi problem ho, mujhay phone karna, agar phone na milay tou direct ghar aana, kabhibhi (Even if you have an emergency during the night, call me and if I am not available on the phone, you should directly visit my home any time).
Throughout the year I observed a lot of people wishing to do their PhD research under him. Some of these people even had recommendation letters from other professors. When our M.Phil exams finished, Gautam sir called me to his room and asked if I was interested in pursuing my PhD under his supervision. All I had to do was submit the admission form. My joy knew no bonds. After our M.Phil results came out, I luckily got admission in JMI, a prestigious institution of India. When I shared this news with Gautam Sir, he was genuinely happy and congratulated me with all his heart. He remained in constant touch during my PhD even when I had very little time to call him back. His death came as a shock and left me in great pain. I miss him every single day. His life is an example of what being secular actually means and there will never ever be a more genuine and compassionate soul that walked on this earth. He was a living embodiment of the idea of secularism.
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