The paradox of secularism

Secularism has been a buzzword and watchword in the modern era, especially in post-independence India. All political parties swear by secularism and compete with each other to prove that they are more secular than the others. Secularists and die-hard intellectuals were shot in the arm when Indira Gandhi, by the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act of 1976, amended the preamble of the Constitution by adding the words “secular” with “socialist” to make India a “sovereign state”. , socialist, secular, democratic republic.

Whether it was appropriate or necessary to change the preamble has been the subject of debate among constitutional experts, as the Constitution of India has always been secular. Considering the fact that Part III of the Constitution dealing with “fundamental rights” fully guarantees liberty, equality and liberty; Part IV on “Guiding Principles of State Policy” directs the government to establish a “welfare state” and ensure “social justice”, and the very fact that secularism is indeed part of the “basic structure of the Constitution”, the amendment injects a discordant note into the musically composed Preamble.

Legal luminaries may see in it what is called a orbiter saying in judicial language. The word “secularism” owes its origin to the long struggle waged in Europe to separate the State from the Church, that is, to liberate the State from the influence of the Christian religion. George Holyoake (1817-1906), a British writer, coined the term “secularism” and first used it in 1851 in his book “English Secularism: A Confession of Belief”. Since then, the concept has taken on new meanings and connotations and has been subject to multiple definitions. The most common and acceptable definition of secularism is the separation of religion from civil affairs, education and state affairs.

It has now become an essential and “sacred” principle of state policy emanating from the principles of liberal democracy – freedom, equality, freedom, non-discrimination, non-exploitation, respect, non-violence, tolerance, rationalism and scientific approach. Sir Ernest Barker, one of the greatest political scientists of the 20th century, reproduced the preamble of the Indian Constitution on the first page of his famous book “Principles of Social and Political Theory” saying that the noblest principles of humanity have been enshrined in the Constitution. of India, indicating that it is perhaps the best-written constitution in the world. And secularism was one of those noble principles.

Secularism is also a way of life, a state of mind and an expression of rationality. Secularism is interpreted in two ways: positive secularism and negative secularism. Positive secularism recognizes the presence of all religions and their practices and treats all religions with equal respect without interfering in their affairs, even though many of their practices may violate democratic principles. Negative secularism calls for keeping all religions equidistant with equal contempt and contempt. Negative secularism will not allow any religious consideration to influence public affairs and policy, as religion should be a purely private matter that does not infringe upon individual rights. It therefore reflects the true spirit of secularism and democracy. Professing secularism on the ground in India presents a picture full of paradoxes and contradictions, and more often than not results in the negation of the principles of democracy.

Unfortunately, instead of embracing negative secularism, India has embraced and promoted positive secularism, which has resulted in an exponential proliferation of religious organizations and institutions, religious education and research, and religious propaganda, leaving a considerable regressive effect on society. Electronic media, religious TV channels and social media have further contributed to the religious revival frenzy. Positive secularism has not helped to promote fraternity and peace in society; on the other hand, it has taken the nation in the opposite direction, creating social unrest, intolerance and communal violence. The principle that religion should not be allowed to influence civil affairs, education and the functioning of the state appears to have been overturned, which constitutes a violation of the Constitution. Politics and political parties have been the main culprits for having “killed” the noble principles of secularism.

Political parties and successive governments in power have used secularism as a tool to collect votes and create their own vote banks. It is also used as an instrument, not of social transformation, but of social engineering for electoral purposes. Even communist parties, which have strong, genuine secular credentials, have fallen prey to caste politics and vote banking. A particular paradigm has been created in India, making secularism synonymous with minority identity and minority appeasement. Here, it is important to remove a misconception about the minority question. Who are the minorities in India? The obvious answer would be – it’s mainly Muslims and Christians (the presence of others like the Parsis is minimal). But are Muslims a minority? According to Najma Heptullah, former Minister for Minority Affairs in the Central Cabinet, Muslims are not a minority community in India; they are also a majority community. The basic criterion for qualifying a group of citizens as a minority is that they constitute less than 10% of the total population.

Muslims in India constitute 15% of the total population of 1.38 billion. How can a population of 200 million people be called a minority? In Jammu and Kashmir and a large number of districts spanning several states, Muslims are overwhelmingly in the majority. Therefore, it is inappropriate to call them a minority community. Although they hold a ‘minority’ label, they are nonetheless a ‘dominant minority’ and a dominant force in elections and the formation of governments in several Indian states. Politically, they are as powerful as the majority, if not more. In a secular state like India, the policy of appeasement of minorities is seen as toxic and can have dangerous consequences. Caste, creed and communal politics, electoral engineering, money and muscle power used to win elections strike at the very root of democracy and secularism. Another disturbing phenomenon observed in the medium has been the double standard of lay people and intellectuals who are supposed to be the guardians of conscience.

Without wasting any opportunity to condemn any fundamentalist activity of the majority, they choose to keep total silence on dangerous fundamentalism and unacceptable fanaticism on the part of minorities. The first blow to the principles of secularism came from none other than the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who bowed to pressure from religious leaders to exclude Muslims, Christians and Parsis from BR Ambedkar’s vision of a Code civilian uniform (CCU). Even a Hindu code bill (with a UCC vision) spearheaded by Ambedkar received stiff resistance in parliament and was scuttled by members of Congress. Following Nehru’s backtracking on the issue, Ambedkar, now a broken man, resigned from Nehru’s cabinet in 1951. Subsequently, Nehru succeeded in parliament to pass a watered down Hindu code bill divided into four different laws (1951-56). Secularism received a severe jolt during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure when his government overturned (1986) the landmark Supreme Court verdict (1985) in the Shah Bano case (1978-1985) stripping Muslim women’s right to equality, which was unconstitutional.

India’s secular credentials and image were destroyed in the 1990s when the government of Jammu and Kashmir remained a silent spectator of the mass exodus of Kashmiri pundits from their original homeland, considered the embodiment of secular ideals, due to religious persecution and Islamic terrorism. Secularism is often juxtaposed with religious identity. Again, identity politics revolves primarily around the dominant minority community which is, in all respects, also a majority community. Identity politics based on religion tend to breed sectarianism and separatism. In the name of pluralism, identity politics must not weaken national unity. In a globalized world, the identity represented by clothing, headgear, eating habits, customs and rituals has almost lost its raison d’être and meaning. Religion, caste, creed, color and customs cannot confer true identity on a person. The identity of a person will depend on the quality, profession, character and contribution of the man or woman.

For example, a Tamil Brahmin married to a Muslim colleague can be a Brahmin, Indian (OCI), American, scientist and renowned violinist at the same time. What should be his true identity and that of his family and children? Similarly, a Muslim doctor married to a Hindu colleague working in London can be a doctor, a Bangladeshi, a British citizen, a famous writer and a cricketer all at the same time. What should be the identity of his family and children? Therefore, in today’s world, most people, especially the most educated, have multiple identities and multiple hats to wear. Religious, regional, color and caste identities are rapidly disappearing in favor of professional identities.