Moderating Secularism

We, the people of India, through acceptance of our constitution have solemnly agreed to build an India for all the citizens and promised equality for all irrespective of the religion, caste, creed or gender. We have to uphold and promote the spirit of secularism through our actions and our thoughts. However, increasing cases of intolerance in the name of religion, caste and creed are marring the principle on which the Indian identity is based—Unity in Diversity.

Western vs Indian concept of secularism

Secularism, in its original form refers to a world not abiding by a religious order. In the western context, secularism implies—freedom of choosing your religion, equality in front of law irrespective of the religious background and non- interference of state in religious matters. The laws are the same for all citizens. In this regard, Indian secularism is a little different. Our religion is not separate from the state. We can’t distinguish between citizens on the basis of religion but state is not the supreme authority in matters of personal law such as marriage or education. For instance, in the case of education, there’s no uniform syllabus across schools run by govt. or the religious outfits and it is not even mandatory for students to undergo designated courses which are essential for skill development.

Two nation theory and separate electorates

Secularism was considered an important principle in India because the partition had made it seem like the sub-continent would be polarized into a Muslim and a Hindu state. This separation was fuelled initially by the colonialists who, through divisive politics, encouraged formation of separate electorates for minorities. Through a stimulating the sentiment of insecurity in the minority community the Britishers made sure that provision of separate electorates are seen as a safeguard they are providing to the masses who would otherwise be quashed in spirit by the ambitious Congress dreams of forming a central government.

Nehru’s Idea of Secularism

After independence and partition, India was going through a difficult time trying to establish its place in the world order. A part of that was establishing the fact that unlike our neighbour, Pakistan, India’s philosophy is not bound to any particular sect/ religion. Nehru gave the maximum contribution to this through relentless efforts of maintaining secularism in the democratic framework. He would implore his fellow cabinet leaders to constantly dissociate from religious identities and did not wish for the government funds to be allocated to any such activities. He wanted to safeguard the diversity of the nation and not patronize any major or minor community.

Indian hypocrisy and secularism

While Indians love to put up a front of being tolerant towards all sects, we have deep seated insecurities as far as inter- mixing with people from different religious groups is concerned. Case in point, there is a strong resistance from the Hindus and Muslims towards the concept of marriages across the two religions. There are cases of political parties taking the mantle to “protect” girls of their community from boys of another community and then there is added harping about “Indian Culture”. People from different backgrounds have lived in this country for centuries so there is obviously nothing anti Indian about a mixing of communities.

So much has the insecurity grown over the past years that politicians can easily manoeuvre the mind- set to distract people from their real problems (like unemployment, lack of education or healthcare and poverty) and reap votes by pitting one religion against other. Indian hypocrisy should end. We need to uncompromisingly admit the secular values and move past the issues that divide us.

Perpetual confusion of state vs church

The religious tolerance that we claim is not what secularism is about. We decide to be secular when and if it suits us. Our moderate acceptance of the ethos of our constitution are only giving rise to sporadic outburst and fundamentalism. This kind of secularism is only to avoid accountability. The kind of ‘social engineering’ which tends to divide the mob on the basis of religious identities for vote bank politics is what has led the Preamble of the Constitution to become a collection of empty promises that the governments (former and present) have been too weak to uphold. Secularism can’t be both a clutch and a whip for one person to fulfil their own agenda. As loud the Indian masses scream when they are wronged they need to make sure that dignity of each individual is maintained by keeping religion separate from governance.

 

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