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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 

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Copyright 2016 NewsGram

  • 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.

  • 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.

Next Story

How telecom has become driver of economic change in India

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The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front.
The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. Wikimedia Commons
  • India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution
  • The sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991
  • India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world

For the most part of human history, the change was glacial in pace. It was quite safe to assume that the world at the time of your death would look pretty much similar to the one at the time of your birth. That is no longer the case, and the pace of change seems to be growing exponentially. Futurist Ray Kurzweil put it succinctly when he wrote in 2001: “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” Since the time of his writing, a lot has changed, especially with the advent of the internet.

India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution. The country’s hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. In fact, according to Reserve Bank of India data, the sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991, growing by over 10 percent. On the other hand, no other sector has had a productivity growth of above five percent during the same period. It is no wonder that it has also been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the Indian economy, growing at over seven percent in the last decade itself.

Also Read: Social Media in India: Understanding The Dynamics of ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’

Such an unprecedented pace of growth has been brought about the precise levels of change that Kurzweil was so enthusiastic about. Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Meanwhile, India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world, which has hit rock bottom after the entry of Reliance Jio. This has ensured access to those even at the bottom of the pyramid.

A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country.
A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. Wikimedia Commons

Even though consumers have come to be accustomed to fast-paced changes within the telecom sector, the entry of Jio altered the face of the industry like never before by changing the very basis of competition. Data became the focal point of competition for an industry that derived over 75 percent of its revenue from voice. It was quite obvious that there would be immediate economic effects due to it. Now that we’re nearing a year of Jio’s paid operations, during which time it has even become profitable, we saw it fit to quantify its socio-economic impact on the country. Three broad takeaways need to be highlighted.

Also Read: Quoting WhatsApp message renders ‘delete’ feature ineffective

First, the most evident effect has been the rise in affordability of calling and data services. Voice services have become practically costless while data prices have dropped from an average of Rs 152 per GB to lower than Rs 10 per GB. Such a drastic reduction in data prices has not only brought the internet within the reach of a larger proportion of the Indian population but has also allowed newer segments of society to use and experience it for the first time. Since the monthly saving of an average internet user came out to be Rs 142 per month (taking a conservative estimate that the consumer is still using 1 GB of data each month) and there are about 350 million mobile internet users in the country (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India data), the yearly financial savings for the entire country comes out to be Rs 60,000 crore.

To put things in perspective, this amount is more than four times the entire GDP of Bhutan. Therefore, mere savings by the consumer on data has been at astonishing proportions.

Today's smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons
Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons

Now, this data has been used for services that have brought to life a thriving app economy within the country. So, the second level of impact has been in the redressal of a variety of consumer needs — ranging from education, health and entertainment to banking. For instance, students in remote areas can now access online courseware and small businesses can access newer markets. Information asymmetry has been considerably reduced.

Third, a rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. These effects arise not merely from the creation of an internet economy, but also due to the synergy effects it generates. Information becomes more accessible and communication a lot easier. Businesses find it easier to operate and access consumers. Labour working in cities has to make less frequent trips home and becomes more productive as a result. Education and health services become available in inaccessible locations. Multiple avenues open up for knowledge and skill enhancement.

Also Read: Facebook to ‘Signal’ news gathering for journos

An econometric analysis for the Indian economy showed that the 15 percent increase in internet penetration due to Jio and the spill-over effects it creates will raise the per capita levels of the country’s GDP by 5.85 percent, provided all else remains constant.

Thus, India’s telecom sector will continue to drive the economy forward, at least in the short run, and hopefully catapult India into 20,000 years of progress within this century, as Kurzweil postulated. The best approach for the state would be to ensure the environment of unfettered competition within the industry. Maybe other sectors of the economy ought to take a leaf out of the telecom growth story. The Indian banking sector comes to mind. However, that is a topic for another day. (IANS)

(Amit Kapoor is Chair, Institute for Competitiveness, India. He can be contacted at Amit. Kapoor@competitiveness.in and tweets @kautiliya. Chirag Yadav, a senior researcher at the institute, has contributed to the article.)