Secularism: The Disappointing Reality Of India

Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic, reads the preamble of the constitution of the world’s largest democracy – India, which is also one of the most diverse nations in the world with culture, languages, geography, and traditions changing within kilometers. With a population exceeding 1.3 billion and having people professing different religions like Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism, the framers of the Indian constitution have dreamt of a different vision than that of today’s harsh reality.

Secularism is one of the core principles of the Indian constitution, in a literal sense demands the equal treatment of all the religions by the State. As the modern liberal democratic ideology stresses, the noble idea of the 42nd Amendment of the Indian Constitution in 1976 has assured the least State interference in one’s right to practice the religion according to his or her choice. But, how far are we free to utilize this right?

Undoubtedly, secularism is an ideal principle of a democratic State. But, the question is, how far have we been able to practice the very same idea of it?

We don’t want to practice what we preach.

The reality of the idea of secularism is quite disenchanting in India. Most people are disillusioned with the way the concept of secularism is put to work. Here, the rulers’ choice of religion tends to influence the State affairs. Politics are seen almost inextricable from the religion from the times known to us, which itself is ironical to the concept of secularism.

In April this year, Pew Research Center analysis of 198 countries ranked India as fourth worst in the world for religious intolerance and trailed only Syria, Nigeria, and Iraq, all places where sectarian violence is widespread.

Lately, in India, the governments have started to curtail one’s choice of what to eat – The Beef Ban. With such a decision, the government has directly and indirectly also curtailed the one’s freedom of profession and trade. Hindus worship cow as a goddess and that has been the sole basis of banning beef by the governments in India. Public opinions say, if there has to be any secular rationale behind such a decision, it should ban all meat products and not just that of cows. Muslims are against pork but that shall never be a basis for banning pork by the government. So, clearly, this ban isn’t kept on the pillars of secularism and democracy. So the question is, why is the government influenced by the majoritarian religious community, the Hindus?

What kind of message is the secular State of India giving to the world by such a decision?

Adding to such decrees, there have been numerous instances where the concept of secularism was kept in confusion.

The State prescribed school textbooks have represented Azaan (Islamic call to worship) as an example of Noise Pollution. Muslims and Christians were beaten to death because they were found to be in a relationship with a Hindu partner. Mob lynching has become so common in India that any kind of deviation from the strict Hindutva ideology is not tolerated. If you transport a cow somewhere, regardless of the reasons, you are at the risk of death by the Gau Rakshaks, the so-called Cattle Guards of the village.

We see national-level political leaders making statements meaning “Hindustan means the Land of Hindus” which have raised the serious concerns in the minds of Non-Hindus. A State government has also proposed the holy book of Hinduism, the Bhagavad-Gita as a textbook for school students. You see the Chief Minister level leaders giving slogans to rape and kill Muslim women giving scope for communal riots. These are examples of a failed leadership and has scorched the progressive demarcation of religion and politics in India. Such actions have also destroyed the credibility of the secular character of the state and questioned the roots of democracy.

Hindu Culture as National Culture – The Confused Equation

Though such religious intolerance has become so high in recent times, religious influence on politics has not been so new to India. Though the concept of secularism demands complete insulation for the State’s functioning from the religious matters, the rulers have never actually kept the religion away from the State affairs. Almost all the State ceremonies in India start with the Lighting of the Lamp which in fact is a Hindu tradition.

Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers keep traveling to the religious shrines in their official capacities and with the funds from the public exchequer. The Chief Minister of a State has recently upon his personal beliefs performed a Chandi Yagam where the whole State machinery was put to work. If kept quoting, there are infinite such examples where the government and religion were inseparable in functioning. This has given a complete misgiving about the religious neutrality of the State and its rulers which is the whole crux of the idea of secularism.

Secular society is a need in a democratic State. To achieve the same, it’s citizens should stop identifying themselves with a particular religion beyond limits. Religion is one’s personal affair and everyone has the right to have their own choice regarding this. So, until the time this personal affair is not rubbed on a national policy, there stands no threat to the idea of secularism in the Great Indian Democracy.

Akhil Ennamsetty

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