Secularism: Where are we heading?

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Ovais Iqbal Khan

Religious tolerance is a millennia old ethos of the Indian culture. If we hark back to the past we can see that this diverse land has produced charismatic personalities like Ashoka and Akbar. In one of his edicts Ashoka pleaded for tolerance of different religious sects and he succeeded to a greater extent. Similarly the Mughal-Rajput alliance during Akbar’s reign was an epitome of Hindu-Muslim unity. Rajputs were given higher ranks in his administration and he even married Rajput princesses, who were permitted to conduct Hindu rites in the harem. The Sufi and Bhakti movements also played an exemplary role in fostering the bonds between Hindus and Muslims in the medieval period. But as the time went by this social fabric began to dismantle. We have seen how Hindus and Muslims were at daggers drawn during the partition of the subcontinent. The gruesome violence that followed the partition displaced over 14 million people along religious lines, creating overwhelming refugee crisis in the newly constituted dominions. Around 1 million people died. Although British India was partitioned on religious lines, independent India still consisted of 38 million adherents of Islam and 8.3 million Christians. The makers of modern India had to appease such an extensive minority and they thought of governing India on secular lines, although the word secular wasn’t mentioned in the original constitution.
Indians have a habit of blindly imitating the west and bring sui-generic ideas to our country. Just like the import of cricket, football and English language, leaders like M.K Gandhi and P.T Nehru wanted India to follow western model of secularism i:e separation of state from religion. Nehru said that religion should be relegated to the private sphere and shouldn’t interfere in an individual’s public life. They wanted state neutrality and a wall of separation between individual and the state. At the same time S.Radhakrishna presented a different model of secularism. It stated that no single religion should be given preferential treatment otherwise all religions can have a free play in the constitutional law. India adopted Radhakrishna’s model of secularism.
Secularism in India is often perceived as anti majoritarian and pro minority. It is believed that majority community is more sympathetic towards Muslim and Christian minorities. But beneath this veneer lie the gross distortions. We can identify many spheres in which the Indian state places Hinduism in the upper spheres of the ladder vis-a-vis other religions. The minorities have been constitutionally, legislatively as well as culturally discriminated. Art25(2) of the Indian constitution calls for providing social welfare and reform ,and throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of public character to all classes and sections of Hindus. It defines Hindus as the followers of Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism ,and Hindu is construed accordingly. Isn’t this the preferential treatment to a particular religion? Why does our country place Hinduism in a privileged position? Why is it concerned about the social welfare of the Hindus only? Isn’t this the discrimination? In 1955 the Indian parliament passed Hindu marriage act which applies to Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs also. Aren’t these religions jeopardized? Isn’t this an attempt to assimilate their religions to the Hindu fold? In the decennial census anyone who is not Christian, Muslim or Parsi is enumerated as Hindu in order to inflate religious majority. Moreover our constitution provides for funds under article 290(A) for the upkeep of Hindu temples. The beneficiaries of Schedule Caste (SC) are only Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists and not the Muslims and Christians. In many states of India cow slaughter is banned. Cow may be sacred to Brahmins but not to Muslims, Dalits and Christians. In India a bearded Sikh can become a brigadier, CEO, captain etc but a Muslim is permitted only after shaving his beard. Indian state can damage Golden Temple (Amritsar),and neutralize Jarnail Singh and Sikh associates in the operation Blue star(1984) ,it can damage charari Sharief shrine in Kashmir to kill militants but it couldn’t protect Babri masjid in Ayodhya (1992) from Hindu mobs . The perpetrators of violence in Ayodhya are roaming freely and not brought to justice. The irony is that the criminals are occupying prestigious positions. According to the recent analysis 186 Indian parliamentarians are facing criminal cases. This is the matter to ponder over. Textbooks of History and social studies are replete with gross distortions in which Muslims are described as foreigners, villains and their period as dark age in the Indian history.
A non partisan American think tank, The Pew research center has placed India at the fourth rank in terms of religious violence. All this results in the expansion of a new phenomenon called religious ideology or communalism which advocates hardening of community boundaries along religious lines.
Religions are meant to elevate human consciousness and promote spiritual well-being but unfortunately religions are being misused by vested groups. Since the state has very little moral authority, it can’t be expected to play well the role of moral arbiter of secular values.
(The Author is doing honours Political Science and can be reached at [email protected])