Subverting the idea of secularsim
India is secular Constitutionally but not politically and socially as the space for ideas, religiosity and equal treatment for all citizens has been negated by pseudo secularists
From the days of Ashoka till the advent of Islam in 12th century, Indian religions co-existed in Indian subcontinent. There was no discrimination based on religion and the State granted citizenship to each individual regardless of whethe some one’s religion was Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism or any other. With the onset of Mughal rule another religion was introduce which was a non-Indian religion. The colonial era saw the emergence of another non-Indian religion Christianity. All religions co-existed and India was known world over as multi- ethnic, multi-culture, multi-race, multi-religion and multi-language nation with no Principal religion unlike her counterparts in the West. Hence, much before India became a political identity after independence it had evolved into a pluralistic society. Till the early twentieth century, Indians still lived together cutting across religious groupings. The bonding forces were culture, language and tradition. A Hindu Khatri in Bahawalpur in West Punjab had more in common in language, food habits, culture and outlook with a Muslim land lord of same area than his counterpart in Hoshiarpur or any other area in East Punjab. It is the British who set in motion the process of gradual erosion of these shared traditions in their lust for ruling India through divide-and-rule.
The partition of Indian subcontinent in August 1947 on the basis of religion and the aftermath of that resulting in terrifying outbreak of sectarian violence leading to unexpected and unprecedented mutual genocide as well as greatest migrations in human history resulted in polarisation. The divide was so painful and severe that many believed that it was impossible for the followers of two religions to live together peacefully. But India true to its tradition of Sarva Dharma Sambhav decided to retain her identity as a land of diversities. It welcomed those Muslims who decided against migrating to Pakistan and those who decided to stay back believed in the idea of India. Maulana Azad’s idea of India was “Wholesomeness”, in which there was no compromise of the ‘cultural or religious’ identity of an Indian whether he was a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jain or Christian according to Prof Anwar Moazzam, an expert on comparative religion.
Our founding fathers took cognisance of an existential reality, a plural society with diverse cultures. Accordingly, they gave us a Constitution that stood for equality of all religions. They refrained from referring to the term ‘secularism’ in the Constitution because real ‘secularism’ is an alien concept. Real secularism means that state and religion cannot occupy the same space, customarily referred to as ‘separation of church and state.’ Since India never had a Principal Religion, this concept of secularism did not suit us. Indian concept of secularism as envisioned by our founding fathers was more akin to ‘Pluralism’, a political philosophy that recognises diversity and propagates peaceful co-existence of different religion, lifestyle and outlook. It differs from Western Secularism which advocates separation of state and religion (Dharma Nirpekshta). Secularism is the central thought of Indian State, without it, it was almost impossible to sustain as One Nation, because the kind of diversity India has, cannot be found anywhere else. Our Freedom fighters had this conviction since long.
India is a religious country. Religion forms an important part of day to day life of majority of Indians practising different religions. In view of the prevailing diversity, the founding fathers also thought that secularism will also act as a binding force for Indian nationalism. Such a type of secularism (Sarva Dharma Sambhav) has a greater edge than separation of religion from politics (Dharma Nirpekshta). It enables the Government to extend support to the minorities and prevent domination of majority religion. The lofty ideals enshrined in the Constitution failed to be applied on the ground by the executive and political class because they took for guaranteed the majority and started appeasing the minorities albeit under the garb of providing a sense of security to them. A number of articles were enshrined in the Constitution with the aim of promoting equality among all religions and bring about the integration of diverse elements of Indian society. Neutrality to all religious groups as envisaged in the Constitution did not find favour with the political class which was entrusted the responsibility of fulfilling the lofty ideals of the Constitution. Religion in India continues to exert its political authority in matters of personal law. While all Hindus are governed by a Uniform Civil Code, any attempt to demand the same for all Indians is opposed by the Muslims as a threat to their religious personal laws and is supported by a section of the political class in the name of secularism. Author Taslima Nasreen sees Indian secularists as pseudo-secularist, accusing them of being biased towards Muslims saying, “Most secular people are pro-Muslims and anti-Hindu. They protest against the acts of Hindu fundamentalists and defend the heinous acts of Muslim fundamentalists. It is unfortunate that pseudo-secularists are exploiting the minorities for electoral politics by treating them as a vote bank. In order to win their confidence, they resort to ‘politics of appeasement’.”
Subsequent events have proved beyond doubt that these political leaders were not interested in the welfare of the minorities, but only interested in their vote. Such type of pseudo-secularism led to disenchantment among the majority religion and promoted “Intolerance”. Net result is that neither the majority nor the minorities feel satisfied defeating the very concept of Sarv Dharma Sambhav. The idea of India as envisioned by our founding fathers felt threatened from pseudo-seculars.
Unfortunately, after Independence Nehruvian secularism became the benchmark of the “politics of appeasement” and was gladly adopted by the Leftists and Socialists. The redline was crossed when some of them even batted for religion based reservations for the minorities. Another glaring example of Nehruvian secularism is the application of parliament-based, non-religious uniform civil code passed in mid-1950s to Hindus (including Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and Parsees). While, the antiquated Indian Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act-1937 still continues to be applicable to the Muslims in India. Christians and Jews also enjoy religion based personal laws.The Supreme Court ruling in Shah Bano case and the subsequent enactment of a new law by Rajiv Gandhi Government under pressure from the Muslim clergy, men and the Personal Law Board is another example of pseudo-secularism. This politics of appeasement has not only disturbed the social fabric of our great nation by encouraging religious conversions but also encouraged spread of Wahhabism, separatism, terrorismand radicalisation. The pseudo-secular idea of India has done great harm to the country’s integration and identity as a land of diversities. India is secular constitutionally but not politically and socially as the idea of secularism has been subverted by the pseudo-seculars.
Our population of 1.3 billion comprises of over 4635 communities, 78% of whom are not only linguistic and cultural but social categories. Religious minorities constitute 19.4% of the total. Our forefathers dreamt of a secular democratic India. India will remain secular as long as ‘we the people of India’ are determined to honour the will of our forefathers. We all, particularly political class, have to do our bit to strengthen the secular credentials of our great nation. Pseudo-secularism has generally been rejected by the people cutting across religious groupings. But still the pseudo-seculars refuse to yield and cling to the concept as the only hope of their political survival leading to increased polarisation and hostility. Without a uniform civil code applicable across the board, Indian concept of secularism cannot succeed.
“Religion impinges on every human right in the civil law- whether it is birth, death, marriage, divorce — the religions have laws on all these, and so making India secular necessarily means demarcating religion out of our social institutions. Secularising India has to begin with a uniform civil code that ensures equal rights to all citizens without exceptions,” according to Romilla Thapar, an eminent historian. The time is ripe for all Indians irrespective of caste, colour or creed to join hands to defeat those forces who are using religion for political ends, at the cost of welfare of people and national image. The “politics of performance” need to replace the “politics of appeasement,” for us to be recognised as truly secular.
(The author is a Jammu based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst.)
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