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Essay on Secularism — A Much Misunderstood Concept

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Queen Mary Tubor was a Catholic and Protestants suffered even draconian punishments. Queen Elizabeth remained unmarried only because she did not want to cause any offence either to the Protestants or to the Catholics by marrying a Prince of this or that religious sect.

The Church of England had a large and dominant role to play in the governance of the country. This hegemony was challenged during the Renaissance period and the Reformation period. It was gradually with the scientific advancement that rational thinking took up the stage and religion took a back seat. This was the start of the secular thinking.

Thereafter religion and State ran in a parallel course, the one not interfering with the other, both working independently in their own field.

In India there was, ever since the ancient times, a tolerance towards all religions as the basic principle of life. ‘Sarvadharma Sambhav’ — had been the basic concept. There were different religions in India — Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and later on with the advent of Muslims on the scene there was Islam too. There never was any organised one church in India which might have controlled the State and all were free to follow their own religions.

There were fanatic rulers among Muslims, of course, who subjected people to forcible conversion, but otherwise, on the whole people freely followed their own religions.

Never was there any period when there would have been any ‘State religion’ in the country. Even Muslim rulers like Akbar tried to found a religion for all ‘Din llahi’ and tried to bring the followers of all faiths on one platform. So the concept of Secularism has been an age-old concept in the Indian psyche.

There were and have been temples, mosques, gurdwaras, and churches— all existing side by side with no interference with one another. Coexistence of different religions has set India apart — apart from all other nations of the world. So long as Muslims coexisted with Hindus or with members of the other sects or religions in India they needed no compulsion to call for any separate Islamic portion for themselves, but with the formation of Pakistan, they preferred to call themselves an Islamic State.

This clearly means that India had ever been and is determined to remain a country where equal status has been provided to all religions. This means that India has not been irreligious or anti-religions or hostile to religion. All religions are allowed to flourish but the State has the role of neutrality in the matter.

Political leaders have differed in their views regarding secularism. To Ambedkar, Secularism meant that the State would not impose any particular religion upon the rest of the people while according to the veteran politician M.V. Kamath, India has to be neither a Godless State, nor anti-religious or irreligious.

It was after the British ruled over India that division of groups based on religion began to raise their ugly heads as one against the other. The British diplomacy needed a weak India in order to establish their over-all sway and the more divided the masses, the weaker would the nation be.

The British judged through their cunning insight that the easiest way to divide the people of India was to divide them on the basis of religion — particularly the two communities — Hindus and Muslims as these two formed the majority of the population and their religious faiths and religious practices stood on diverse footings.

The British took the fullest advantage of this diversity and created situations of conflict between the two. ‘Divide and Rule ‘was the very note of the British diplomacy and they succeeded in this.

Communal harmony to them was an eye sore, particularly when they found in the freedom movement led by Mahatma Gandhi, Hindus and Muslims going hand in hand.

Therefore in their different political moves, they created discrimination by intentionally creating a special reservation for Muslims — a minority community in services and even in legislatures when the Minto- Morley reforms or the Act of 1935 was proposed. They, by their cunning, crafty moves created awareness among Muslims that they were in a minority and they should be granted special protection and special Privileges.

This is how communal division was encouraged and fanned. This sowed the seeds of the creation of Pakistan which was, actually the culmination of the British design and plan and Indians fell a victim to it. There never used to be any communal riots in India prior to the advent of the British and that proves the point how the British diplomacy and policy created this communal divide.

Therefore, when India gained independence and the Constitution of India was framed it had become absolutely necessary morally and politically to declare in the Preamble to the Constitution that — ‘We, the people of India having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign socialist SECULAR Democratic Republic and to secure to all its citizens: Justice, Social, Economic and Political, Liberty of thought, expression,, belief FAITH AND WORSHIP.

This over emphasis on ‘SECULAR’ and liberty of …’.FAITH AND WORSHIP’ had to be incorporated in the Preamble, to ensure the Secular status of our country and to guarantee this to the people. In this way, paramount importance had to be given to Secularism in the constitution.

Articles 25 to 30 of the Constitution provide for the freedom of religion and protection of cultural and educational rights of the minorities. Article 15, provides that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, place of birth, sex, descent.

Articles 25 to 28 clearly define the nature of secular State of India — firstly there shall be no State religion in India, secondly, the State shall neither establish a religion of its own nor confer any special patronage on any particular religion.

The State will not compel any citizen to pay taxes for the promotion or maintenance of any religion or religious denomination (Article 27). No religious instructions shall be provided jn any educational institution wholly maintained out of State funds.

No person attending any educational institution recognised by the State or receiving aid out of State funds shall be required to take part in any religious instruction that may be imparted in such institution or in any premises attached thereto … (Article 28).

This overemphasis on Secularism has had its backlash. The majority Hindu Community was led to feel belittled in the face of this over appeasement of the minorities and it created and gave birth to such organizations as the Siva Sena and the like.

Time and again, in place and out of place the political parties tried to exploit the concept of Secularism to win over the sizeable section of the minority communities — particularly Muslims to gain a political mileage and their votes during elections.

Secularism — a concept of catholicity got confused and misunderstood as standing for non-religion or irreligion and any thing done or conducted by the Hindu majority was dubbed as communalism or fundamentalism. If Dr.Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, visited the Somnath Temple, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister, frowned on it.

The action and faith of Dr. Rajendra Prasad was considered as anti-secular. By becoming the President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad did not cease to remain a Hindu and his right of faith and worship stood questioned.

That way Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of a ‘Ram Rajya’ should also have been dubbed as a Hindu thought.

‘Vande Mataram’ — the inspiring song for freedom fighters — was considered as ‘idol-worship’ — the song which sent up the patriotic fervor during the struggle of freedom came to be regarded as non-secular in the present India; the ‘Saraswati Pujan’ at an educational function stood boycotted as it amounted to idol-worship — Saraswati — the accepted Goddess of learning stood depedastallized even in an educational function.

Secularism, thus, has come up as a highly misunderstood and misconceived principle and precept and deserves a redefinition and reunderstanding. To appease some only to win their votes, should not and cannot take away the solemnity and sanctity of beliefs which have remained age-old and form the basis of faith.

Lokmanya Tilak — none can doubt the tenacity of his ardor for freedom — kindled up the patriotic fervor through mass ‘Ganesh Pujan’ in Maharashtra. When even foreign dignitaries — Prime Ministers and Presidents of the foreign lands — visit the Gurdwaras, or even the ‘Meenakshi’ temples and are offered ‘Saropas’ and ‘Prasads’ and a vermilion mark is put on their foreheads — and they enjoy it, while visiting the ‘Dargah’ of Salim Chistie — what is at all wrong if our political leaders carry on with their religious faith and allow the common man also to do so — secularism should be understood not as ‘no-religion’ but rather should be understood as ‘pro-religion’ with all freedom to all faiths and to all people.

Let the people be inspired and encouraged to celebrate all festivals of all faiths with equal zest and fervor. This would give a real meaning to secularism and instill the real spirit of this principle in the proper manner.