Indian Republic: Officially Secular, Unofficially Communal

By Prabhakar Timble
26 January 2013 10:22 IST

As we enter the 63rd year of our secular Republic, this core and the most important constituent of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution seems to be the weakest. Over the years, the government together with the political parties has made secular a dirty word. Though, secularism is the official constitutional ideology, we have made communalism as our unofficial agenda. Though secularism is actually nationalism the attempt to pro-actively promote a secular philosophy and way of life is feeble. On the other hand, secularism is pitted against nationalism and patriotism. Sometimes in hushed tones and many times very eloquently secularism receives the blame for the ills of the Indian society, the tensions in the North-Eastern States, the cross-border terrorism and perceived security threats. By ridiculing secularists and projecting them as cultural ‘bastards’, the voice of the secular forces are sought to be muted.

The recent statement of the Home Minister that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is involved in Hindu terror activities is a reckless argument which cannot be purchased. It is true that this outfit which holds sway over the Hindu mind does not work positively for secularism. Their formulations on cultural nationalism, commitment to uniformity as opposed to respect for diversity, love for astrology and a systematic attempt to rewrite history are dangerous for the Indian republic, democracy and social integration.  However, secularism cannot be reduced to a bra holding the Congress and the coalition political partners. Over the years, secularism is sought to be projected as appeasement of minorities, putting the interests of majority community in jeopardy. The wrongs done in the name of secularism has created the anti-secular image and climate. Secularism does not involve the acceptance of regressive personal laws of the majority or minority. Secularism does not give licence to religion and religious leaders to encroach into the nonreligious aspects of life and affairs of the State and government. Secularism should not come under attack because of irresponsible and communal statements by politicians or Muslim clerics. The answer to Islamic fundamentalism and religions conversions by missionaries does not lie in rejecting secularism. We have failed to communicate that secularism, democracy and freedom are inseparable and in the absence of any one, the other two would just crumble to pieces. Secularism means that the State has no religion and the State will not discriminate any person on the ground of religion. Positively speaking, secularism means the freedom of religion including the freedom to choose religion different from the religion bestowed by birth. Secularism also includes tolerance to all faiths and more particularly the beliefs and customs of minorities as long as these matters do not conflict with the principles enshrined in the Constitution of India. In this context, some special treatment for minorities is inevitable and sustainable in a democratic way of life. Mahatma Gandhi was well aware of the pluralistic character of India and always maintained that it is unpatriotic even to bear in mind a dream of a Hindu Raj. He said “The state should undoubtedly be secular. Everyone living in it should be entitled to profess his religion without let or hindrance, so long as the citizen obeyed the common law of the land. There would be no interference with missionary effort, but no mission would enjoy the patronage of the state”. Nehru espoused modernity, scientific temper and secular outlook. He was a strong critic of communalism, both Hindu and Muslim. For him secularism was not banishing religion but developing an outlook based on science and reason. Secularism for him was an integral part of scientific temper.

There are many reasons for this ideal of secularism to be given a bad label. The partition of the country and the emergence of Pakistan as a Muslim territory was a blow to the secular cause. The stories of violence and murder during partition injected poison to this cause. This was followed by the assassination of Gandhi which also put an indelible black spot on the RSS. Over the years since we celebrated the first Republic Day, the liberals and the secularists in all the communities failed to take the front seats to groom the youth and citizens to the ideal of secularism. As opposed to this, the communal coaching maintained its consistency. The political parties, more particularly, the Congress worked on the fear psychosis of Muslims and this community remained under the influence and hold of their religious leaders, thus making secularization of the community a casualty. This minority community has not seen much notable socio-economic growth as well as numerical growth in participation in democratic institutions. Political parties which could be loosely grouped as Hindu played a planned and steady game to sow seeds of suspicion and doubts on national loyalties of other communities. The demolition of the Babri Masjid and the communal riots in Mumbai and Gujarat did not happen as spur of the moment events. They were meticulously planned and executed in a barbaric manner. Hindus cherish these as moments of pride and celebrate them as victory of nationalism over secularism.

Though we are a Republic, the popular psyche of the Indians or should I say the Bharatiyans is to search and rally behind an individual to clear what they consider as the mess and restore growth, security and justice. This is a pointer to understand that Freedom, Democracy, Nationalism and Secularism are western concepts. The Indian concept is of the heroic king (earlier by descent) and now by election to be enthroned to rule us benevolently. The anniversary of our Republic should remind us to understand that a secularist is a democrat, nationalist and a humanist. It should not happen that upholding secularism should be the sole prerogative of the judiciary and all other constituents unofficially foster communalism. Our State is secular; we will ensure our society is not. This is a matter of shame, not pride. 

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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