How do you define Secularism? Secularism, as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “indifference to, or rejection or exclusion of, religion and religious considerations”. In certain contexts, the word can connote anti-clericalism, atheism, desire to exclude religion from social activities or civic affairs, the banishment of religious symbols from the public sphere, state neutrality toward religion, the separation of religion from state, or disestablishment.
Is India truly a secular state?
As we have seen in the definition of secularism, the word in itself means there should be a clear line of separation between the state and the religion of its subjects. Does India really do that? For generations, thanks to the 42nd Amendment act, we have been fed a wrong definition of secularism. We have been told that India is a secular state because of its special laws to protect the minority. It’s time now that people actually look up to the real meaning of the word used with so much liberty and understand that India is not a secular state. India never was a secular state. India is a tolerant state.
India is a tolerant state because India is a Hindu state. The Hindu nature of the Indian society has made it into a tolerant state. For a nation like India which is inherently pluralistic, which is not religious in the sense of Abrahamic religions, which never had a centralized “Church” and which welcomes diversity, secularism is a farce and a joke of the highest order. We need to have a system which is wholly indigenous, rooted in our civilizational ethos, grows out of our natural diversity and does not carry colonial Euro-centric and Christian theological biases.
The 42nd Amendment Act of 1976 was introduced by the then PM of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi, during the controversial times of the Emergency. Regarded as one of the most controversial amendments in Indian history, the amendment was a way by the dynast to increase the power of her office. Apart from an attempt to reduce the power of the Supreme Court and High Courts to pronounce upon the constitutional validity of laws and attacking India’s federalism by transferring enormous powers from the Office of a Chief Minister to the Office of the Prime Minister, it also amended the Preamble and changed the description of India from “sovereign democratic republic” to a “sovereign, socialist secular democratic republic”.
Why were the words socialist and secular added to the preamble? We will discuss socialism sometime later. Today, let us focus solely on secularism.
Article 14 of the Indian Constitution empowers the concept of Equality before the law, The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Article 15 (1) and (2) prohibit the state from discriminating against any citizen on the ground of any religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them. These articles provide that there shall be no restriction on any person on any of the above bases to access and use the public places such as shops, restaurants, hotels, places of public entertainment etc. or use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public.
When the Indian constitution already had the provisions to prevent any kind of discrimination on any grounds, was it really necessary to add secularism to the Preamble?
Let us roll back to 1969. Until now the Indian National Congress had the complete support of the Indian people because of their contribution to the Indian Independence struggle. But things were changing slowly. After the Nehru-Liaqat pack, people like Dr Shyama Prasad Mookherjee left the government and started anti-Congress campaigns. The economy was on a downhill and the Congress was slowly losing the support of Indian people.
On 12 November 1969, the Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi was expelled from the Congress party for violating the party discipline. The party finally split with Indira Gandhi setting up a rival organization, which came to be known as Congress (R).
The split can in some ways be seen as a left-wing/right-wing division. Indira wanted to use a populist agenda in order to mobilize popular support for the party. The regional party elites, who formed the INC(O), stood for a more right-wing agenda and distrusted Soviet help.
With this split, it was clear that Indian politics will never remain the same. If it was already not enough, Indira Gandhi decided to declare an emergency. A chaotic situation was awaiting the country. People were slaughtered. Anyone speaking against the government was put behind bars. The people’s favourite Indira Gandhi started losing her support. This is where the amendment act came into the picture. Secularism came in as a tool to start the politics of appeasement. A tool that has been inherited in the same form till date. The addition in the Preamble was never about following the real definition of secularism of separation of religion and state. It was just the opposite. It was a way of giving minorities an advantage over the majority communities. It paved the way for special provisions and laws for the minority community of the country while neglecting the demands and needs of the majority. This amendment of the constitution was the stepping stone for the communal tensions that we witness today. How can India be a secular state when there is not even a Uniform Civil Code? How can a state be called secular yet have the presence of multiple religious laws for its citizens? How can we call India a secular state when a subsidy is given for Haj yatra and not for Tirth Yatra? How can we call India secular when a fruit vendor is arrested for naming his stall as ‘Hindu fruit’ but Halal verification for products is completely normal? Their reason why things like this are happening in the country is that we are a tolerant nation. We are a nation that has lived its life with the virtues of Hinduism since ages. India’s beauty is in India’s pluralism. Pluralism is defined as the freedom of communities to practice their own beliefs as long as they are headquartered in India, respect India’s national integrity, engage in meaningful debate with each other and not attempt to proselytize to convert others. This is possible in India only because of its Hindu nature. India should work towards a solution based on Dharmic norms where the sustainability of natural order becomes very important. For example, one faith cannot encourage its followers to kill or convert others through fraudulent means. Suppose Hinduism and Islam are to co-exist in this model, then there should be mutual respect between then, and those injunctions in Islam which encourage believers to kill infidels must either be expunged through reforms or should be given suitable non-lethal symbolic interpretations. Dharmic pluralism rather than secularism is, therefore, India’s way forward. And Dharmic Pluralism is only possible when we as a country come together and accept the fact that we indeed are a Hindu Nation.