Strengthen secularism, save the republic
- The High Court of Karnataka has not been able to settle the hijab issue. The judgment of the High Court is very technical.
- The court has dismissed a plea of a violation of fundamental rights by merely stating that there was no proper pleading.
Political dimension will fester
Political dimension of the hijab issue will continue to trouble Indian society for a long time.
- The sudden eruption of this issue reflects an insidious intolerance that is quite uncharacteristic of the majority religious community.
- As a matter of fact, Hindu and Sikh women in northern India cover their heads on all important occasions such as a marriage, a funeral, religious ceremonies, etc.
- It is a measure of the transformation that has taken place in Indian society that a piece of cloth is enough to serve as a provocation for people to come out onto the street and fight against each other.
- In such an environment of intolerance, the claims of traditional tolerance, pluralism and catholicity seem like a bad joke.
A moral framework
India does have such a past where people from other parts of the world were welcomed with open arms and allowed to live here in peace and amity for millennia.
- Buddhism: Tolerance of other faiths and compassion became an integral part of Indian traditions because of Buddha.
- He gave the moral framework within which to shape our exchanges with other fellow human beings.
- Equality, justice and fraternity are as much a part of the great Buddhist tradition as of the modern European Renaissance.
- The transformation which is being brought about today is clearly outside that moral framework.
- Constitution of India: It adopted a moral framework for the governance of India.
- It provides for freedom of religion and conscience on the one hand and secularism for the governance of the country on the other.
- Indian leaders: leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru and B.R. Ambedkar were there to give shape to the ideas of a modern nation, rooted essentially in the moral traditions of Buddhism and assimilating the egalitarian impulses of the modern world.
- Many argue that secularism in India means that the state has equal respect for all religions.
- This mistaken emphasis leads rulers to attend religious ceremonies
- This is more political grandstanding than any genuine demonstration of faith.
The essence of India’s secularism is that the state has no religion. This is clear from Articles 27 and 28 of the Constitution. In Indira Nehru Gandhi vs Shri Raj Narain & Anr, the Supreme Court of India had reaffirmed this principle. The Court said: “the state shall have no religion of its own”.
|Empowers the state to regulate secular activities associated with religious practice.
|No tax can be levied for promoting any particular religion.
|No religious instruction shall be given in any educational institutions wholly maintained out of state funds. No educational institution recognised or aided by the state shall compel any person to attend religious classes or worship therein.
|Prohibits any kind of discrimination on the ground of religion.
Above all, freedom of religion is made subject to other fundamental rights, apart from the reasonable restrictions on the grounds of public order, morality and health. Thus, the freedom of religion under the Constitution does not enjoy the same status as other secular rights such as equality before the law, non-discrimination, right to life and liberty, etc.
Why India needs to be secular
Theocracy will ensure the disintegration of the country.
- India is a multi-religious country where the largest minority is around 200 million.
- The Government of India had notified as many as six minority religions in the country.
- So, a theocratic state with the majority religion as the state religion is an unworkable proposition.
- Complex structure: Another crucial factor that makes a theocratic state impossible in India is the complex, inegalitarian, hierarchical and oppressive social structure of the majority religion.
- There would be no equality: Since a theocratic state is based on religious texts, in the Indian context, it would mean a state which would deny equality before the law and equal protection of law to the subaltern class and discriminate against them on the basis of caste, it will be inherently unstable.
- This may lead to perennial conflicts and the eventual disintegration of society.
Therefore, India, as a nation, can survive only as a secular state where the state has no religion and does not promote any religion. Secularism was chosen as the foundational principle of the republic to keep the nation united. Enlightened citizens should realise that if secularism is jettisoned, the hard-won national unity will be in peril. It is the patriotic duty of every citizen to strengthen secularism and thus save the republic.
Prelims take away
- Fundamental Rights
- Freedom of Religion
- Comparison on Indian secularism with that of other countries
Q. Secularism in India is to be understood at the three levels of the individual, society and the State, which are complementary to each other. Comment.