Higgledy-piggledy: The plight of secularism in India

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By Yajush Gupta

“If I were a dictator, religion and state would be separate. I swear by my      religion. I will die for it. But it is my personal affair. The state has nothing to do  with it. The state would look after your secular welfare, health,  communications, foreign relations, currency and so on, but not your or my   religion. That is everybody’s personal concern!” -Mahatma Gandhi

6 months ago, When prime minister Narendra Modi ,visited Dublin to address the Indian diaspora, he was moved with the way the Irish kids recited Sanskrit shlokas in the event.

‘He mocked Indian secularist, by stating that it would have raised questions had this been done back in India’

‘Few months ago, home Minister Rajnath Singh at the parliament remarked that secularism is the “most misused” term in India

Certainly not the first time, secularist has been challenged. Indian secularism is comprehensively different from the idea of secularism in West. There are intrinsically two viewpoints of Secularism. One is the western viewpoint of Secularism, other is Indian viewpoint. Both these notions of Secularism emerged out of the respective historical disposition and necessities of the two societies.

Defining it

The western viewpoint of secularism refrains the state itself from getting involved in any sort of religious affairs. Typically it means that the legislation would not consider religion as a criteria for making laws. In a secular nation there is one is no division of religion. All religions are treated equally under the “uniform civil law.” . Precisely it means one uniform codified law for all people.This unified civil law prevails over all personal laws. Secularism is to follow one’s own religion within the boundaries of not disturbing other religions and respecting them. The western secularism involves state neutrality in religious matters as they have one religion followed by all citizens . So authorities being impartial is sufficient and no action is required on the part of the authorities to maintain religious harmony.

In Indian context the authorities as a neutral establishment in religious matters is practically pointless, because of our multi-religious society .Since independence these laws are well preserved . Well, mainly because things have marginally changed. We have adapted to our multi-religious society accepting all the terms and conditions . It’s a constitutional compulsion upon the state and fundamental duty of the citizens to bring amity between various religions. So, Indian secularism has to be perceived within its own limitations compared to the western secularism.

The Irony

Although,Indian secularism does treat all religions equally,It is remains to be bias towards other religion. Moreover, the government fails to enforce any uniform codified law common for all. These laws are distinguished from public law and cover marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption and alimony. Indian Secularism deals not only with religious freedom of individuals but also to safeguard the religious freedom of minority communities.That being said, the Indian constitution grants all religious minorities,the rights to establish,administer and maintain their own educational institutions, which may even receive financial aid from the state. The term pseudo-secular used derogatorily to manifest policies bias towards the minority community. It implies to those who claim to be secular but are actually not so.

‘Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1930, though he supported a uniform civil code’

‘In September 2003, in an interactive session in PGI Chandigarh, then President APJ Abdul Kalam supported the need of Uniform Civil Code, keeping in view the population of the country’

  • The term first recorded use of the term “pseudo-secularism” was in the book Philosophy and Action of the R.S.S. for the Hind Swaraj, by Anthony Elenjimittam.
  • The Government of India pays to go on the Hajj Pilgrimage for Muslims.The subsidy amount extended was Rs.836.56 crores in 2012 Rs. 680.03 crores in 2013. In 2014, it was Rs. 533 crores.
  • The infamous Shah Bano case,the controversial case of alimony and maintenance, where in which Shah Bano, a 62-year-old Muslim from madhya pradesh was divorced by her husband in 1978 but even after winning the case at the Supreme court of India was subsequently denied alimony because the Indian Parliament reversed the judgement under pressure of so called secularists, the Congress (then dominant political party).

The Seed

The very idea of equality for all and safeguarding the minority communities is itself contradicting.One of the main factors of stemming religious prejudice in our country. Religious prejudice means that one religion, is the “one, true religion”. Dirty and vote bank politics has made the matters worse.There is always a feeling of insecurity amongst all, the minority community doesn’t want the “special case” tag to be hampered, while the majority community wants to defend it’s status-quo at all costs. And the truth is that the minority has become so defensive, threatened and intolerant ,that they always have there guards up, which makes any amends to the current scenario more grinding.

Further the  educational system which has encouraged the people to think in terms of individual interest and not collective, has also failed to inculcate true secular notion in the young minds and promote feeling of oneness among them.

Secularism doesn’t mean offering inducement to minorities but unfortunately it is what has become as of today. It has come to intended suppression of the majority and bending over backwards to favor India’s largest and aggressive minority. Indian secularism has survived till today, because of the tolerance of the majority community and well, this is what we have been taught since ages.To tolerate. laws that govern the peoples of India, and also because Indian state is based on ‘fairness‘ or ‘equality‘ well,at least on papers.The laws that were made decades ago considering the India’s Cold-blooded partition history. But we have moved on big time since then.

The Verdict

A uniform civil code will help India develop into a truly modern state and create a favorable healthy environment where all citizens are treated equally.This will ensure social interaction, as well as eliminate some of the discriminatory practices against women.Post independence, it was hoped that this step would be taken. But unfortunately till now no progress has been made in the advancement of one uniform Civil Code.

Today its adoption appears to be even more back-breaking and worth considering than it was at the time when the Constitution was framed. Moreover, classification on the basis of economic status, rather than religious whereby underprivileged and more importantly poor sections of society can have access to special economic aid packages, will prove to be much more fruitful. People must realize that the reason of Indian secularism may just be a result of partition and we need to look ahead and prove that various religions can indeed co-exist, without the need of any assistance from the jurisdiction.

After all , we are one ‘Incredible Nation’ with birthplace of some of the world’s major religions namely Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

Report prepared by Yajush Gupta, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @yajush_gupta 

  • Annesha Das Gupta

    Secularism, does it really exist? Can very well be framed as an existential question. And that is why we have to keep in mind theory and reality are two contradictory forces.
    It is being said here that Western nations can manage being secularism easily. Well, it makes be laugh. Perhaps the alarming phenomenon of Islamophobia is being forgotten. Yes, more amendments is needed of the policies and rigorous reviews should be done.
    And please don’t quote ideologies of RSS.
    I thought we are debating Secularism here, right?

    • Yajush Gupta

      Let us assume, you are hosting guests at your place and one day, you suspect they might turn out to be a menace to your home and yourself. Will you not be ‘Phobic’ , keeping in mind the fact that, you live in a civilized and an instructed society. It’s human to protect yourself and be threatened if your instincts shrieks danger .
      More over,This article is more than a debate or some comparison with the western ideology. It’s about the messy and confused state of the word secularism, as part of the 42nd amendment of the Indian constitution.

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  • Annesha Das Gupta

    Secularism, does it really exist? Can very well be framed as an existential question. And that is why we have to keep in mind theory and reality are two contradictory forces.
    It is being said here that Western nations can manage being secularism easily. Well, it makes be laugh. Perhaps the alarming phenomenon of Islamophobia is being forgotten. Yes, more amendments is needed of the policies and rigorous reviews should be done.
    And please don’t quote ideologies of RSS.
    I thought we are debating Secularism here, right?

    • Yajush Gupta

      Let us assume, you are hosting guests at your place and one day, you suspect they might turn out to be a menace to your home and yourself. Will you not be ‘Phobic’ , keeping in mind the fact that, you live in a civilized and an instructed society. It’s human to protect yourself and be threatened if your instincts shrieks danger .
      More over,This article is more than a debate or some comparison with the western ideology. It’s about the messy and confused state of the word secularism, as part of the 42nd amendment of the Indian constitution.