Secularism: The Indian Version
Secularism, a term originated in the late medieval period, is a belief that religion should not be involved with the ordinary social and political activities of a country. Secularism was added in the Indian Constitution through the 42nd amendment making its way to the preamble. Secularism in India is deep-rooted in India. Hinduism, through Vedas and Upanishads, demonstrates the secular nature of India in that era. When the British tried to divide and rule, it also, strengthened secularism in India. However, the communal politics and riots provoked by some to gain political power and immunity seem to threaten secularism in India.
While most of the world argues that secularism is the separation of the state and the religion, the Indian Constitution has a different approach. The Constitution of India does not define the word secular, however, it is a part of the Preamble and Article 25 of the Constitution demonstrates the role of the state which is aligned towards being religiously tolerant.
Article 25 talks about the Right to Freedom of Religion. Article 25(2)(a) states that [religion with not affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law,] regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice. Further Article 6 gives the people the freedom to manage religious affairs subject to public order, morality, and health. Furthermore, the Concurrent List in Schedule 7 provides Central as well as the State government regarding religious institutions, trusts, and charities; for example, providing funds to run religious institutions. Indian laws also provide for personal laws regarding marriage, divorce, etc where the Muslims come under one special law while other religions come under common law. It is thus inferable that there exists State intervention in religious matters.
Compared to the true essence of secularism (which means the absence of government in religious matters and the absence of religion in the government’s affairs) that separates the State from religion, the Indian version of secularism seems flawed. With numerous communities following varied religions, the State has to interfere if a conflict between any of those religions threatens social security and peace in the country. However, is the involvement of the government in all the religions (as inferred from the Concurrent List) necessary? This may cast the most doubt on the foundation of Indian Secularism. At this point, one may argue that secularism is tolerance towards religion and not keeping the State and the religion separate. One may also argue that India is a highly diverse country and hence Indian version of secularism cannot be compared to the original meaning of secularism. Here, I would raise a question, is India truly religiously tolerant? For example, mob lynches attacking Muslims, misuse of social media in provoking anti-secular activities, or religious intolerance. This brings out the disparity between the Constitution and the actual mindset of the people of India.
Another highlight that seems to discard secularism is the concept of Hindu Nationalism or Hindutva which represents the core belief of BJP, the ruling party in India. Hindutva defines India as a culturally Hindu country with a majority of its population following Hinduism. Ideally, Hindu Nationalists view other religions as outcomes of foreign invasions or denationalizing influences. RSS is the best example to demonstrate the ideal Hindu Nationalist beliefs. However, BJP claims that Hindutva is not a religious concept but means cultural nationalism. This defense still undermines its alignment with secularism. It is important to evaluate the meaning of culture and religion. Culture is a body of knowledge that is acquired by people through years of being together in one society, while religion is the belief system directed towards the supreme deity. Well, one must note that culture is influenced by religion and hence, cultural nationalism of BJP is hence Hindu Nationalism. Even the religious tolerance concept would not completely accept Hindu Nationalism.
When one is involved in a situation as sensitive as religious conflict, avoiding personal bias seems a difficult task. On August 5, 2020, PM Narendra Modi lay the foundation stone of the temple for which he and the BJP have campaigned for almost 30 years, a temple on the disputed land of Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir case by demolishing Babri Masjid. On August 5, 2019, the government revoked Article 370 giving autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir to downgrade it to a territory from a state. It also split Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian government also made triple-talaq a crime around the same time last year. It is important to note that these are only recent instances (though some may be plauded for being just) that weaken the foundation of Indian Secularism.
The evidence presented above helps us to contemplate on two things – one, is our foundation of secularism relevant or correct? And two, whether our foundation is correct or relevant or not, are we truly secular, or is it just on paper? If any of these two states that India is not in the right direction as secularism, isn’t it high time we, the youth of India, start to contemplate, make informed decisions and opinions, believe in our opinions, and raise our voice to see the change that helps India prosper while maintaining its diversity – something it is worldwide recognized for?