what is secularism in india & overview

Introduction to India secularism

A power struggle is an important marker in our history. But with the passage time, it became evident that it is more and more between ethnic or religious groups both within, across nation-state. In India, religion can function as significant system of knowledge, identity, politics within a productive form of secularism.

secularism in india

Secularism was given by George Holyoake in the mid-nineteenth century.  He believed that human enlightenment will be followed by a rational form of religious knowledge and experience and will not be crumbled by former division. Gandhi’s ideas are also mirrored by this understanding as he believed “truth is god”. He believed that individual’s own religion is the trust for each irrespective of where it stands on the others calibration of philosophical or social comparison.

In India, as modernization is taking hold religion is not losing significance but there is are the definition of secularism which denotes that religion and secularism are not binary but dialectically interconnected.  It led to the emergence of religious-secular. Against the Karl Marx prediction, that the future would be a world without religion, India’s situation certainly different.

After the partition of India in 1947 Secularism became a political slogan to restrain the expansion of Hindu nationalism. It was believed due to religious conflict or propagation the social harmony is jeopardized and intolerance became the overpowering norm. modern thinker believed that religion should be separated from the state. But Gandhi and other influential leader rejected that idea as religion is exceptionally influential in social, cultural and political order. In India people still, attach their identity to religion dominantly. After independence, secularism was highly important and contended principle. So in 1960, constitution changed India into a secular and democratic state. Secular was introduced in permeable in 1976 by the 42nd Amendment in 1976(the constitution 42nd amendment act 1976, Government of India).

Some difference in culture and religion was vanishing but the preexisting conflict was still visible. It resulted in mixed social and political transmutation. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the religious conflicts emerged. The Hindu ideology followers took advantage of it. The process of “Othering” which is important for identity was used to other the Muslim minority by propagating that they are a threat to “Hindutva”. Bharitya Janta party emerged as a propagator of Hindutva ideology in 1999-2000. For first-time state power was used against minority-the Muslims but against predicted belief, they failed as they lost the next parliamentary elections. The Othering by Hindutva was rejected by people.

The idea of secularism which means equal treatment of all religion by the state was retained by this election. It means impartial acceptance and non-interference by government in the matter of religion. In India, there is nine recognized religion named as Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism and the Baha’i faith with a population of approximately 1.3 billion people. These people are following a different religion and practicing different religious rites. Any citizen of Indian can practice any religion without any government interference.

After the amendment of 1960, India as a secular and democratic state, the state was free from any religious obligation and can plan any ideal way to achieve social harmony, the well-being of people irrespective of caste, creed, and religion. The Indian constitution promotes, ‘goodwill towards all religion’, sarvadharmasambhava’ and neutrality towards religious affiliations ‘dharma nirpekshat’.

During independence struggle, India was divided into colonies so to unite against the colonial power, the idea of secularism was introduced. Later as explained above India became a secular state in 1960. It helped in embracing the different ethnic identities and maintaining common citizenship despite the pluralities within a democratic nation-state. Nehru advocated the secular ideal in the constitution. He believed being secular is important indeed but we shouldn’t see it as a big effort which has done for someone but it is necessary for the peaceful existence of all humans and religion in India. Religion was not excluded from public life but distanced from state. He promoted the application of science and technology for the elimination of ignorance, ill-health, and poverty.

There few meta-themes in secularism

  1. Unity in Diversity: it means the government would maintain distance from religion, but not violate people’s fundamental right in the act. It would recognize people’s diversity in terms of religion and take that into consideration.
  2. Tolerance and pluralism: an individual can follow any religion without any obligation from the state. Secular means pluralism, religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence of multiple religion. In case of a threat to an individual and collective religious practice, the government should protect them. it should not come in between social and political interaction.
  3. Respect all religion and do not interfere: respecting other religion while practicing own’s religion. No religion is superior or inferior to one other. You can belong to any religion, ideology but still if you respect other religion and take consideration of other’s sentiments you can be secular.
  4. Equal representation: secularism connotes “equal” representation of all social, religious groups and their interactions. It doesn’t mean being indifferent but be sensitive to other religion and its follower without giving it any hierarchical order.
  5. Take care of emotions and sentiments: disrespecting any religion should be acceptable legally and morally. Mocking and ridiculing any religion create an environment of tension and unrest which can be disastrous for masses.

We are still struggling with acceptance all religion. Riots because of misunderstanding or rumor are a questionable situation when we claim to respect all religion. Are religion merely existing or peaceful co-existing? We need to think about it and should try to locate the problem.

There is much threat faced by secularism in India. India is still a developing country. Limited resources, unequal distribution of wealth, unavailability of basic facilities such as health facilities, food, housing, and employment have created unrest in people. Specifically, minorities who are left feeling insecure in their heart due to earlier riots and religiously influenced violent incidents is unable to digest uneven economic development. Concealing of religious groups through ethnics lines is practiced.

Political parties primarily address communities through religious propaganda. They systematically put leader and workers belonging to a religion in the region where that specific religion’s follower are in majority. They reinforced to attach their identity to a community, religion, ethnicity. Government is still pressured on the basis of religion, ethnicity, language. It is hard to attain stable secularism in this situation. So to support minority religion-state may give some reservation and benefit to bring equity in the society.

It is important that the right of individual to freedom of religion is always balanced by the right to be free. It is important to consider the non-believers too. There should be a balance between two. They should not be separated on the basis of atheist beliefs.

Despite all effort, there is some problem arise in establishing secularism. In 1984, the state has failed to act appropriately in the genocidal attack on the Sikh minority. In 1992, the government was a bystander when Babri Masjid was demolished. In 2002, about 2000 Muslims were killed in massive riots against the minority in Gujarat. The riots happened because of the death of Hindus when a train compartment was set on fire by a crowd of Muslims at Godhra station. Instead of waiting for legal authorities to take action, the Hindu right initiated a programme of brutal vigilante justice. The state’s inability to prevent communal riots and the role of state officials in fomenting communalism has created confusion and fear.

Ashis Nandy argued that secularism provide us with an impoverished public sphere devoid of any substantive system of meaning. So the entry of religious identities into public sphere have diminished religion, which is related to the political pursuit. The secular public sphere is actually filled with impaired and curtailed personalities and religious zealots using religion for their own narrow partisan ends and societies are left with few substantive resources which can enrich individual or collective lives, which can mediate relationships between religious communities, and which can control pure politics.

T.N Madan stated, “I believe that in the prevailing circumstances secularism in South Asia as a generally shared credo of life is impossible, as a basis for state action impracticable, and as a blueprint for the foreseeable future impotent”(1998). He stated three reasons for this belief. First, the majority of people living in the region are an active advocate of some religious faith. Second, Buddhism and Islam have declared a state religion. Third, secularism is incompetent of countering religious fundamentalism.

However,  these critiques of secularism have been challenged.  Achin Vanaik stated that “Ashis Nandy and T.N Madan support a form of religious communitarianism which celebrates the traditional idea of embedded self, rather than the modern idea of the free, equal, individual self”. While considering these arguments we have to keep in mind that secularism has a different meaning for India.

Rajiv Bhargava gave “Contextual Secularism” which implies principled or non-sectarian distance or non-absolutist decision between state and religion. It combines substantive values and procedures, without any commitment to the priority of either. It is enshrined in the constitution, enjoins the state to excludes the religion for some purpose. It is guided by non-sectarian principles which are consistent with a set of values constitutive of a life of equal dignity for all.

Secularism allows recognization of heterogeneity and plurality. As India has different religious beliefs, language groups, and divergent social practices.