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Humanism, Religion, Secularism and Hinduism

 

‘Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion. So be kind, be    compassionate.’

                                                                                                                                           The xiv, Dalai Lama

 ‘Nip Fundamentalism in the bud itself’.

Introduction – The word Humanism is linked with the civil society of the whole world, ideology of Secularism originated in West and Hinduism in India. The ultimate purpose of all the three, Secularism, Humanism or Hinduism is the same. Their role is complimentary not comparative or opposite to each other. All the three aims at no-discrimination or no distinction between people on the basis of religion. They seek development of physical, spiritual and intellectual nature of human to the higher possible point. They lay stress on human efforts to achieve material benefits within the framework of law and moral and intellectual values. Opposite to it communalism pushes people to have towards blind faith in their respective religions and advises them even to take extreme steps, if it becomes necessary.

Religion – Greatest religion in this world is that of Humanism, which embraces the whole world and all human beings living in this world. All religions teach brotherhood and harmony.   but all ways eventually led to one – the God of all Humans. Paths prescribed by different religions may be different. But objective is the same. Therefore, mutual respect for all religions must be promoted.

HumanismHuman values are social and ethical norms, which are common to all cultures, religions and societies. According to George Jacob Holyoake secularism is concerned purely on considerations on Humanism. “Secularism is that which seeks development of the physical, moral and intellectual nature of man to the higher possible point, as immediate duty of life” irrespective of religion and it, “selects as its methods of procedure the promotion of human improvement by material means proposes those positive agreements as the common bond of union of all who would regulate life by reason and enable it by service.”(Quoted from Kulkarni, Indian Democracy, pp 55-56)

Secularism – There is an impression that ….. the terms “Democratic” and “Secular” are alien ….. prior to 1950, Indian rulers did not know the concepts of Democracy and Secularism, and these were the gifts of the West to India.” It was during Medieval period, as a result of prolonged religious conflict over supremacy between the Church and the state, the expression ‘Secular’ found a place in English Dictionary. Secular formula separated completely the functions of State and the Church.

The meaning of the word ‘Secularism in itself is quite vague. There is contradiction in the perception and practice of the concept of secularism. The dictionary meaning of secular is “worldly”. According to Webster dictionary, “Secularism means a system of beliefs, which rejects all forms of religious faith and worship”, or “the view that public education and other matters of civil policy should be conducted without the introduction of a religious element”.

Mr Kulkarni also says that, “In Britain and America, these words originated about four or five hundred years ago. They were the result of political and religious struggles in those countries. Even today, there is no uniformity to the interpretation of these two words, either in the Western countries or in India. Broadly, democracy signifies the form and structure of governance and secularism signifies the way of governance.” (Indian Democracy, p 42)

Technically, America can be called a secular state, but neither UK, where there is an officially established church, the Church of England, nor Scandinavian countries having Lutheran churches, nor Italy believing in Roman Catholicism can be called secular.

  • Secularism is relatively a recent word foreign origin. Its origin of lies in the West. It is an outcome of Renaissance movement of medieval period. Secular formula was evolved after a long conflict between Church and the State over power and supremacy. Concept of secularism was evolved.
  • The Peace of Westphalia’ in 1648 separated completely the functions of the State and the Church. According to it the State was responsible to provide good governance and well-being of society. It has nothing to do with religion. Religion was assigned to take care of spiritual interest of the people.
  • ‘According to Dictionary of Politics “A secular State is one which has no official ties to any religious movement”.
  • The concept of secularism is associated with George Jacob Holyoake, a British social reformer. According to him, Secularism, “selects as its methods of procedure the promotion of human improvement by material means and purposes those positive agreements as the common bond of union to all who would regulate life by reason and enable by service. (Quoted from Kulkarni, Indian Democracy, p.56)
  • According to D.E Smith, a great scholar, a secular state as “a state which guarantees individual and corporate freedom or religion, deals with the individual as a citizen irrespective of his religion, is not constitutionally connected to a particular religion nor does it seeks either to promote or interfere with it.”
  • On 12 October 1947, in a Press Conference in N. Delhi Pt. Nehru said that ‘some people think that the secular state means something opposed to religion. That obviously not correct’. Minoo Masani, a political leader stated that secularism can be practiced only in non-communist countries.

In nutshell, secularism is against the extreme stand for material benefits as well as possessing against blind faith in religion for human development. This is exactly what Hinduism has been teaching since long. When asked ‘whether India is a secular state, Smith replied, “My answer is a qualified ‘Yes’.”

Hinduism – India has been a land of many religions, all religions have flourished without any hindrance here  since times immemorial, in-spite of  majority of its people being Hindus. Their religion Hinduism or its caste-system is not an obstacle to secularism. Tolerance is most evident in the field of religion.

Hindu faith in an all pervading omnipresent god, multiplicity of god and goddesses as representing some portion of the infinite aspect of the Supreme Being, inspires it to accommodate people of all faiths.  Hinduism concedes validity to all the religions and does not lay down strictures against any faith or reject any religion or its god as false.  That is why, all the twelve major religions of the world are present and flourishing in India without much hindrance.

Hinduism has adopted the path of assimilation.  It does not believe in conversion or imposing its beliefs, practices and customs on others. Hindu religion has neither repulsed any trend vehemently, nor allowed others to sweep its own established culture off the roots.As far as Hinduism is concerned, since ages, there has always been religious tolerance, religious cooperation and freedom of religious practices. The spirit of secularism is imbibed in Indian traditions itself. Every person has a right to have faith in any religion, be it Hinduism, Islam, Sikh or Christianity. It has firm belief in ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhav principle’, ‘Live and let others live’, ‘Universal oneness’ and ‘Vasudhaiv Kutambkam’.

In January, Kumbh Mela is organized every year at Allahabad, (in Northern India). It is one of the world’s largest religio-cultural gathering. About 12 million people coming together for a sacred ‘dip’ in the Holy Ganges and to be together with the Saints and Swamies of India. There is no evidence of discrimination of any kind.

Tolerance is not confined to religion alone.  It is seen everywhere in the Indian way of life.  Indians believe in ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ – The whole world is one family.  Truth, Ahimsa, peace and non-aggression are the hallmark of Indian culture.  Hinduism has never tried to liquidate or absorb new groups artificially into its main stream. Rather it gave them opportunity to come under one umbrella, to preserve their own culture, style of living and traditions, as also an atmosphere to flourish in their own way. While other races and their systems have converted people belonging to other faiths into their own faith, imposing on them their own value system, caste-system has absorbed other groups as whole into itself without annihilating their originality, internal order, customs or language.

The assimilation of various groups be it racial, immigrants, locals, tribal, professionals or other groups under Hinduism has been done through caste system, by assigning each new group a separate caste identity. The culture of each identity, coming into its fold, has been carefully nurtured and preserved. It has absorbed the good points of other cultures also, which has enriched the composite culture of India. More than anywhere else in the world, it holds a multitude of thoughts, processes them and practices them. There has been co-existence of varied belief, pattern and thought due to inter-mixing and cultural mingling. 

Hindu Culture/Hinduism – The ethos of Hinduism has always been secular. Since ages, India has always been known for its secular outlook.

  • India has a Hindu majority population irrespective of who ruled the country. Still it has always remained a multi-religious society. It is a historical fact that for centuries, people believing in different faiths/religions are living together in different parts of India.
  • There had always been social and cultural intermingling. Nobody has ever doubted the secular character of India except in the political circle. The religion of majority Indian people, i.e. for its underlying principles of religious tolerance, religious cooperation and freedom of religious freedom.
  • Hindu philosophy believes that God is one and approach to seek Him are many. (ekma sat ivap’sbahuQaa vadint).
  • The spirit of tolerance and firm belief in the principle, ‘Live and let live’ has always been ethos of Hinduism. Tolerance is most evident in the field of religion. Hindu faith in an all pervading omnipresent god, multiplicity of god and goddesses as representing some portion of the infinite aspect of the Supreme Being, inspires it to accommodate people of all faiths.
  • According to Swami Vivekanand, Hindu culture/Indian concept of religion does not differentiate between religious communities. It honours all the faiths equally and gives them equal opportunities to flourish. Every citizen has full freedom to follow the religion or religious practices of his/her choice.
  • Tolerance is not confined to religion alone. It is seen everywhere in the Indian way of life. Indians believe in ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ – The whole world is one family. There has been a culture of ‘Vasudaiv Kutumbkam’ (whole world is a family), ‘live and let others live’ and ‘Sarva Dharam Sambhava’.
  • Earlier many foreign invaders merged with the Hindus. And for the first time in Indian history, during medieval period, Hinduism was confronted with an alien faith, which kept itself aloof and derived its strength not only from political dominance, but also from gradually increasing number of its followers. It was militant in character. In the zeal of their hatred, they destroyed temples, images and other religious symbols of Hindus. (The cultural heritage of India, published by Ramakrishna Mission Institute of culture, Kolkata). Still Hindus and Muslims have lived together for more than seven hundred years, though in watertight compartment. And ultimately, their hatred led India to be divided into two separate states – Hindustan and Pakistan.
  • According to Gandhiji religion is purely a personal affair. “”The state has nothing to do with it. The state should look-after secular welfare but not your or mine religion.”State has nothing to do with it. He says, “State should undoubtedly be secular. Everyone living in it should be entitled to profess his religion without hindrance, as long as citizen obeyed the common laws of the land. “My reverence for all other faiths is the same as for my own”…
  • John Fischer mentions,  Even during Bengal famine, an extreme situation – when necessity knows no laws, people did not take law in their own hands, nor was there any violence. No grocery stall, no rice warehouse, none of the wealthy clubs or restaurants were ever threatened by a hungry mob… They just died with docility, which to most Americans is the most shocking thing about India.’ (John Fischer, India’s insoluble Hunger – 1947, pp 7-8)
  • Basic Hindu philosophy and its religious values do not require to call India a Hindu State. In the same way, India does not require a label of ‘secularism’.
  • Hinduism emphasizes the universality of spiritual values, which could be attained by a variety of ways.
  • It preaches the importance of equanimity in all adverse circumstances. After Independence, national leaders like Gandhiji, Pt. Nehru, Sardar Patel, Dr. Radhakrishnan told the people again and again about this basic characteristics of Hindu culture.
  • Truth, Ahimsa, peace and non-aggression are the hallmark of
  • Because of its tolerant ethos, many times in the past especially during Muslim and British rule, Hindus had become the targets of religious intolerance. In large numbers, they had been converted into other faiths. Many Hindus resented and raised their voice against conversions. They accepted all kinds of oppression and exploitation without much protest, while such situations would have led to bloody revolutions elsewhere in the world.
  • Finding themselves weak and helpless during a very prolonged domination of Muslim and British rule, they turned introverts. To preserve their Hindu identity, they started following rigidly and blindly religious practices. And became the victim of superstitions and many social evils.
  • One of the reason why, when the Constitution of India was approved in 1949, it did not included the word ‘Secular’ in its Preamble along with the words, “Sovereign, Democratic, and Republic”. The 42nd Amendment Act of 1976 incorporated the words “Socialist and Secular”, more as a political strategy. During 44th Amendment Act in 1978, the term “secular” was defined as, “In the Preamble of this Constitution, the expression ‘Republic’ as qualified by the expression ‘Secular’ means a republic in which there is an equal treatment for all religions.” (The definition could not be adopted because of inadequate support in the Rajya Sabha.)
  • Even today, the people are tolerating the corruption, scams, scandals and criminal activities developed in political sphere, as well as inefficiency seeped deeply in administration without much protest. Administration is one such area, where tolerance is harmful, as it not only hinders the development, but also pushes the nation backwards.

Present position – Quite often, it is said that people of Hindu society are basically so tolerant that they endure injustice and unfairness, until they are pushed right to the wall. But at present, blindly following of the dictates of fake religious Gurus by illiterate and ignorant masses and fiery speeches of short-sighted politicians for electoral gains, has increased the rift between different communities and has adversely affected communal harmony. They are the people, who forget the salient features of Hinduism and spread venom against each other through their irresponsible utterances now and than.

Salient features of Hinduism – Following are some special features of Hinduism –

  • Hinduism has never tried to liquidate or absorb new groups artificially into its main stream or destroy other sects. It does not believe in conversion or imposing its beliefs, practices and customs on others. While other races and their systems have forcibly converted people belonging to other faiths into their own faith, imposing on them their own value system, Hindu religion has neither repulsed any trend vehemently, nor allowed others to sweep its own established culture off the roots. Liberal attitude of Hinduism towards other Religions is one of the reasons of happening a large number conversions in India.
  • Hinduism took thousands of years to develop. Starting with the arrival of Aryans hereditary kinship and tribal groups in India in waves and later on, of numerous social groups from different parts of the world, at different point of time, their association/mixing up with indigenous people (popularly known as Hindus) and their desire to come under one umbrella played an important role in developing the concept of Hinduism.
  • Hinduism had absorbed other social groups as whole into itself without annihilating their originality, internal order, customs or language. The assimilation of different new groups under Hinduism, be it racial, immigrants, locals, tribal, professionals or any other, had been done through caste system It has assigned each new group a separate caste identity, thus gave it opportunity not only to come under one umbrella, preserve its own culture, style of living and traditions, and also provided it an atmosphere to flourish in their own way. In its long process of assimilation, its caste-system has played an important role to develop such an atmosphere, where different identities can co-exist, generally in harmony and sometimes in rift.
  • Hinduism always believed in religious tolerance. Dr. Radha Krishnan says Hindu philosophy always taught God is One, but Paths to seek Him are many. Hinduism concedes validity to all the religions and does not lay down strictures against any faith or reject any religion or its god as false. The culture of other faiths/religions present in India, has always been carefully nurtured and preserved. That is why, all the twelve major religions of the world are present and flourishing in India without hindrance since ages.
  • When in 1947 India was divided into Hindustan and Pakistan, Pakistan chose to be an Islamic state, but India did not choose any particular religion, as ‘State Religion’. Many people say that in Pakistan, Hindus are treated as second hand citizens. But India has never considered it necessary to declare itself a Hindu State. India has always been known as a Hindu State/Hindustan, not officially, but by virtue of its geographical position (people living beyond Indus River) Hindu majority people residing here, irrespective of who ruled the country.
  • Origin of Hinduism can neither be found in one single authoritative text, nor can it be attributed to one single founder. It evolved in a natural way over thousands of years. The experiences and deep thinking of many learned sages and intellectuals belonging to different sections of society at different points of time have contributed to evolve this system. It is a very old and indigenous system, conceptualized, developed and practiced exclusively in India.
  • After partition also, Hindustan welcomed everybody who chose to live in India at that time. In India everybody has fundamental rights, or can occupy important positions. There had been three Muslim President of India – President Zakir Hussain, President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad and President Abdul Kalm Azaad.

Wonderful fusion of different faiths/cultures in India – The process of assimilation and fusion of different cultures has been a continuous process of the India civilization. India especially presents a unique picture of composite culture, which grew out of intermixing of people of different cultures, belonging to different identities. For centuries, Hindus, Muslims, Christian and followers of other religions lived together. There has been social and cultural assimilation. However there has always been some hindrance in bringing religious and political assimilation. Underneath there has been mutual suspicion between Hindus and Muslims since approximately 7th-8th centuries onwards – Hindus being the majority community in India and Muslims first being invaders and then the rulers.

By living side by side  for centuries, people belonging to different faiths have contributed a lot to each other. They have absorbed the good points of each-other’s cultures, which has enriched the composite culture of India. More than anywhere else in the world, it holds a multitude of thoughts, processes them and practices them. There has been co-existence of varied belief, pattern and thought due to inter-mixing and cultural mingling.

The impact of different religious communities on Indian culture is as follows:

Vedic Hindu Culture- Vedic Hindu Culture is one of the oldest living cultures in the world. The word ‘Vedic’ is derived from the word ‘Vid’ meaning ‘Knowledge’ and signifies’ ‘knowledge par excellence’.  The Vedic culture came into being due to intermixing of the culture of Aryan invaders, who came to India in waves, with the culture of indigenous tribal people of India during 2nd century BC to 650 AD.

The origin of the Vedic culture cannot be traced in any single founder; neither can it be confined in one single authoritative text.  Its sacred knowledge has been handed down from time immemorial, earlier by verbal transmission and later on, in written form by the ancestor to succeeding generations. It has not prescribed final absolutes. It is a constant search for more knowledge.

The Rishis and Munies have always held that Vedas are not the end of quest for knowledge. It is a non-ending process. This is what the Indian culture is. Vedic belief system later on became increasingly ritualistic, susceptible to misinterpretations which supported certain power structure.

It is identified with the whole of India. To foreigners, it represents the ancient culture in its eternity.  It mainly originated and flourished in northern parts of India and later on spread throughout India.  The strength of Vedic culture is proved by the facts:

       despite of centuries of foreign rule over 75% of Indian population remains Hindu.

       Had Hinduism become obsolete, it would have given place to other religions and cultures.

       Value-system of Hinduism has influenced almost all other religions found in India.

Buddhism and Jainism – Both the religions were offshoot of the later Vedic culture, but with certain basic differences. These religions influence the thought, moral and life style of Indian people. Buddhism attracted equally the elite as well as the lower strata of Hindu society.  The main contribution of Buddhism to Indian culture is an attempt to draw the attention of people towards the harsher effects of the caste system, sympathetic attitude towards lesser human beings and system of organized education.  Major contribution of Jainism is the principle of non-violence.

Dravidian culture – After the sudden disappearance of Indus valley culture, of which the most characteristic feature was its town planning, Dravidian culture with its advanced social system, industry and trade made a mark, in the South.

Islamic culture– After the tenth century, under Muslim rule, Islamic culture influenced the Indian culture substantially. Its influence could be seen in the rejection of elaborate rituals and caste pretensions. It preached a simple path of faith, devotion, brotherly love and fellowship.

Sufi tradition and Bhakti movement – With the growing political strength of Muslims, the need for mutual understanding and communal harmony gave rise to Sufi tradition of Islam and Bhakti movement of Hindus. Bhakti movement questioned notions of  casteism/communalism etc. Both these emphasized the need for mutual appreciation, tolerance and goodwill.  Like Buddhism, Islam also provided an alternative to people, wishing to opt out the caste system.

Western/British Culture– Eighteenth century onwards, the British culture influenced the Indian culture substantially, especially that of elite and intellectuals. Access to modern education, Western literature and philosophy gave Indians the understanding of liberal and humanitarian ideas of the West. It produced many great leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji, Ferozeshah Mehta, Gokhale, Gandhi, Jinnah, Ambedkar, Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Moti Lal Nehru, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose, Patel and many more. The efforts of missionaries, reformers and educationists influenced the thinking of the masses. Missionaries converted many people from the lower strata to Christianity. British systems gave India political and administrative unity. Institutions like Parliament, bureaucracy, and concepts like rule of law, unified nationality, a common currency, a common Judiciary are some of the contributions of the British.  They gave a new economic structure based on industrialization.  The British also gave impetus to social progress and brought many reforms.  The British influence on Indian minds was as discussed below: –

  • Some people welcomed rationality and other good features of Modern English culture, but wished to remain firmly rooted to the Indian Culture. They organised people and made them aware of social evils like Sati, Polygamy, child marriage, untouchablity and many superstitions prevalent at that time. They advised the people to eradicate the same without foreign intervention. Emphasis was laid on education and science.  Brahma Semaj, founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy in 1928, inspired the people of Bengal, UP, Punjab, Madras and other provinces, to form similar organizations and interpret religion rationally.
  • Some people were so influenced by the alien culture, that they developed a complex about the primitiveness of Indian society. With the help of British rulers, Christian missionaries and religious minded Westerners like William Webberforce or Charles Grant tried to Christianize such people.
  • Some reformists tried to revive their own rich ancient culture and prevent the masses from being swayed away by the glamour and materialism of alien culture. Araya Samaj (1875 onwards) founded by Swami Dayanand, asserted the superiority of Hindu Vedic culture. It gave the call for ‘Back to Vedas’, as Vedas were to them the source of all knowledge and truth. Swami Vivekanand founded the Rama Krishna Mission to reveal to the world Indian Philosophy and culture.

Cultural Synthesis – As India passed through various phases in the past, each and every group left its influence on its culture, which came down to the present generation in an unbroken chain of succession, with some modifications and adaptations.

  • A major cultural synthesis took place during 6th and 10th century, between Vedic Hindu culture, Buddhism and Dravidian culture.
  • Another assimilation was seen after the 10th century, when the thinking of Arabs, Turks and Afghan, mainly guided by reason, influenced Indian thought. Sufi and Bhakti movements are examples of this. These two sects taught the people to love and respect all human beings irrespective of caste or creed. These sects also brought changes in the nature of mutual understanding, communal amity and accommodation.
  • Once again, during the period between 18th to 20th centuries, a major cultural synthesis took place with modernization and industrialization ushered in by the British.
  • All the sects present in India, whether foreign or indigenous, have been influenced greatly by Hindu thinking, practices and systems.

The wonderful fusion of different sects have contributed to the cultural richness of India.  Such flexibility is not seen in the West.  When Christianity broke away from Judaism, it departed totally from the common cultural traditions.  Therefore, it is very difficult for the Western world to understand and appreciate Indian culture fully.

In modern world, no society or nation can exist as a homogeneous cultural monolith. The presence of people following different faiths has led to many controversies. Tense situation arises when instigated by rogue elements in the society. They spread their own biases amongst innocent people. They somehow manage to escape from the  clutches of law for violating the law of the nation. It is a behavioural problem. Authorities quite often fail to identify the miscreants.

In recent past, all over the world, the greed of power and controlling the destiny of masses, intolerance in the sphere of politics and religion is continuously increasing. Along with ‘Secularism’, ‘socialism’ and ‘reservations’, the word ‘tolerance’ has also become the most misused word in the country. No one can imagine how some politicians and ‘messiahs’ of different faiths twist the words and polarize the society.

Some Indian intellectuals think that the terms ‘Democracy’ and ‘Secular’ were alien and are the gift of the Western world to India. In Britain and America, these words originated about four or five hundred years ago. They were the result of political and religious struggles in those countries. Even till today there is no uniformity to the interpretation of these two words, either in the Western countries or in India. Broadly, democracy signifies the form and structure of governance and secularism signifies the way of governance.” (P 42, (Indian Democracy, S.K. Kulkarni, Indus Source Books, Published in 2017)

Most of the politicians and political parties have been entangled in ideological debates on the above mentioned abstract issues rather than tackling its attention on real issues, solution of  which can lead any nation and its society towards sustainable development of the nation, and peaceful  and harmonious living of all in any nation or society.

It has been seen before Assembly or general elections that politicians belonging to national or regional political parties –big or small- give a call to all secular forces to join hands and fight against communal forces together. Most of these self-proclaimed ‘Messiahs of Secularism’ hardly understand in-depth, the true meaning, when and how did the word ‘Secularism’ came into existence, purpose of these ideologies or try to understand how to apply secularism positively in real political arena. They do not even know much about Hinduism or ethos of Indian culture, which believes that each person living here irrespective of which religion he belong to, gets equal treatment. Question arises do they themselves possess a secular outlook? It has been seen that mostly they use it as a political gimmick to divide people into watertight compartments on communal lines and to garner votes. For it, they adopt the path of appeasement to woo the voters.

Winding up

  • Thirty years after Independence, the word ‘Secular’ has been prefixed to ‘Republic’ in the Preamble of the constitution by 42nd Amendment, though nobody has ever doubted the secular character of India.
  • It is a historical fact that for centuries, people believing in different faiths/religions lived together in different parts of India. There had always been social and cultural intermingling. Different sects have contributed a lot enriching each other‘s, as well as the culture of India as a whole. But in political arena there has always been an atmosphere of mutual suspicion between different communities. During freedom struggle, many national leaders and reformers tried their best to create an atmosphere of harmony, but without much success. Intolerance for each-other has grown to such an extent that India was partitioned into two – Hindustan and Pakistan. Even 70 years after independence, the feeling of mutual suspicion is seen now and then in acts of terrorism and other violent activity across the border.
  • The ultimate purpose of Secularism, Hinduism or Humanism is the same. If ‘secularism is interpreted in a positive way, it becomes clear that it has been the sine qua non of Hindu religion. Hinduism believes in ‘oneness of human society’. There should be a harmonious atmosphere, so that everybody, belonging to any community, could live in peace and respect each other’s perceptions and beliefs.

 

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January 2, 2018 - Posted by | Social and political values and systems | ,

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