The Secular India

This blog is inscribed by Nikita Anand.

The word ‘religion’ has not been defined in the Indian Constitution. It is a matter of faith or believes in God or in rituals or ceremonies or modes of worship. The preamble of the Indian Constitution aims to provide for a sovereign, socialist, secular democratic republic country. The terms socialist and secular were added after the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976.  Secular means that the state does not have any religion, that is it is neither pro god nor anti-god. India was never a mono-religious country.

However, the one thing that distinguishes India from other counties is its open and wide secularism. It has always tried for all the religions to stay together in harmony. A country which has numerous castes, religions, class etc. requires to be managed in an efficient way so that others may not feel isolated or targeted. Thus, the term ‘secularism’ is akin to the Vedic concept of ‘Dharma Nirapekshata i.e. the indifference of state to religion.

History of Secular India

“There should not be honour of one’s own (religious) sect and condemnation of others without any grounds.”

Ashoka

Ashoka about 2200 years ago patronized and accepted different religions. He provided citizenship to people not on the basis of religion. There was also a tradition of tolerance between religions due to Ashoka and Akbar’s state policies. Ashoka’s edicts clearly spell out a policy of religious tolerance and Akbar used to hold inter-religious dialogue among the followers of different religions and he also followed the policy of tolerance and even withdrew the jizya tax (a poll tax on Hindus) which was an irritant. Thus, both Ashok and Akbar have a place of great significance in the religious life of India.

Dara Shikoh was a scholar of Islam and Hinduism wrote a book ‘Majmau’l Bahray’ which means co-mingling of the two oceans i.e. Hinduism and Islam. He propounded that except language all other factors- teachings or values were same in both the religions.

Hindus and Muslims have had a tussle with each other ever since the Mughals came in. Though there are instances of harmony between the two religions there are many stories of the continuous war between the two. The descendants of Akbar, particularly Aurangzeb, reverted to treating Islam as the primary state religion, destruction of temples, and reimposed religion-based discriminatory jizya taxes.

Reason for widening the religious divide

In India, colonization by the Britishers who claimed to rule us for our benefit but in reality were creating havoc, chaos and intolerance amongst people. They are the reason why India was divided into 3 parts at the time of independence. They very quietly made people like Jinnah believe that Muslims in India are not safe and might even be persecuted by the Hindus and that they can never survive in a Hindu majority country. Many times Britishers even offered them different parts of India before 1947 so as to constitute a separate state for the Muslims i.e. division of Bengal in 1905.

Religion became a useful means of divide and rule for the Britishers. They made no efforts to hide their partiality. The lieutenant Governor of Bengal, Sir Bampflyde Fuller said publicly (later claimed that he had done it in jest) that of his two wives (i.e. Hindus and d Muslims) the Mohammedan was his favorite.

Separate electorates were provided for Muslims through the Indian Councils Act of 1909, a provision which was extended to Sikhs, Indian Christians, Europeans and Anglo-Indians in certain provinces by the Government of India Act, 1919. Public sentiments were aroused to exaggerate the differences amongst Indians, which redounded to the benefit of the Britishers.

When the independence from the Britishers was being discussed, on one side two nation theory i.e. a separate nation for Muslim Pakistan was demanded and on the other side an integrated, diverse country free from colonial rule was demanded. And the Britishers very kindly and without any knowledge of India’s territory cut out three parts of this country and left with everything they could steal from this country. And in the end they claimed to have given us democracy after brutally dividing and looting the golden bird.

In the early years after independence, the country’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the ruling Indian National Congress (or Congress Party) advocated for an Indian brand of secularism designed to hold the country’s disparate communities together under one roof. Indeed, Nehru often pronounced that India’s composite culture was one of its greatest strengths.

Provisions related to secularism in the Constitution

Article 25[1]: Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of the religion. subject to public morality, health all the citizens are entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate their religion. Freedom of conscience means inner freedom to mold his relation with his god in whatever manner he likes.

In the case of S.R Bomani v. Union of India[2], the Supreme Court ruled that secularism is one of the basic feature of the constitution and secularism in India means that a state should not be hostile towards a religion but it should have a neutral stance towards all religions.

Article 26[3]: The section proves freedom to manage religious affairs subject to public morality and health.

In the case it was held that M.P Gopal Krishna Nair v. State of Kerala[4], it was held that Article 26 doesn’t enshrine a new right but protects the existing rights of citizens who have established the institution for religious purposes.

Article 27[5]: The article provides freedom of payment of taxes for the promotion of any particular religion.

In the case of Ram Chandra v. State of West Bengal[6], the Court held that levying fees on pilgrims to a religious fair to meet the expenses in connection with celebration and to safeguard the health of pilgrims is not a violation of Article 27.

Article 28[7]: The Article enshrines the freedom to attend any religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions.

In the case of Aruna Roy V. Union of India[8], the court held that the concept of secularism is not endangered if all the concepts and values of all the religions in the world are studied. Value based education can help in fighting fanaticism, violence, corruption.

Article 15[9]: This article states that no person shall be discriminated against on the basis of caste, religion, sex, place of birth etc.

“No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the state, receiving aids out of the state funds only on the grounds of religion, caste, languages or any of them.”

Article 29

Article 51A[10]: Fundamental Duties obliges all the citizens to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood and to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.

Communal riots in India

In spite of the religious fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution, India has a huge and violent history of religious and communal riots after the independence from the British Raj. Unlike the western secularism, India doesn’t have a wall between religion and state in reality. The politics in our country has always been religion based, using religion and people’s sentiments as a bait to win elections.

1984 Blue Star Operation

In the 1970s, the Sikh had gained autonomy in Punjab and complained about domination of Hindus in the region. The leader of Sikhs Jarnail Singh Bhindrawala were sent to Punjab by the Central Government to gain majority against the Akali dal which they surely did. But the popularity made him demand for a separate nation for Sikhs- Khalistan.

At the time of emergency, Bhindrawala opposed the central government and moved to the golden temple as his new base and demanded a separate country. Under the orders of Indira Gandhi, the Indian army attacked the followers of Bhindranwale with tanks and armoured vehicles. In retaliation Indira Gandhi was murdered by her two Sikh bodyguards.

1990 Massacre Of Kashmiri Pandits

The region of Kashmir has always been a controversial subject in India’s politics. The most inhuman activity ever done in the region was forced fleeing of Kashmiri pandits by Islamic insurgents and JKLF (Jammu and Kashmir liberation front). In 1989 and 1990, a host of highly provocative, communal and threatening slogans, interspersed with martial songs, incited the Muslims to come out on the streets and break the chains of ‘slavery’. These exhortations urged the faithful to give a final push to the Kafir in order to ring in the true Islamic order. These slogans were mixed with precise and unambiguous threats to Pandits. They were presented with three choices Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galive (convert to Islam, leave the place or perish).

1992 Demolition of Babri Masjid

In 1992, about 1,50,000 Karsevaks gathered around the much controversial site in India. The Babri Masjid which is now believed to be the birth place of Lord Rama by the Hindus . It was demolished by the Karsevaks and they were led by many political people such as L.K. Advani. The demolition resulted in riots among Hindus and Muslims for several months resulting in the killing of 2000 people. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in 2019 finally gave closure to the much debated case which was pending for many decades.

The court held that the place where Babri Masjid was formed belonged to Hindus and it is indeed the birthplace of Lord Rama. Also, the Hon’ble Supreme Court awarded a separate land of 5 acre to Sunni Waqf board to rebuild the temple.

2002 Gujarat riots

The burning of Godhra train led to a three day communal violence in the state of Gujarat. In these riots 794 Muslims were killed and 254 Hindus. The members of then elected political parties were blamed for communal killing and were claimed to have not been prosecuted accordingly.

Conclusion

Nayantara Sahgal, had said that “We are unique in the world in that we are enriched by so many cultures, religions. Now they want to squash us into one culture. So it is a dangerous time. We do not want to lose our richness. We do not want to lose anything. All that Islam has brought us, what Christianity has brought us, what Sikhism has brought us, what Hinduism has brought us. Why should we lose all this? We are not all Hindus but we are all Hindustani.”

No religion preaches violence , attacks against other human beings but still fights in the name of religion. The synonym for India is diversity with people from different religions and caste belonging together, but somehow in this political fight common man gets carried away. A person’s religion or belief is a personal thing and it must remain so. The history of India with separating religion and politics has not been by the book but is always hoped that it will be someday and that the political leaders will stop hiding behind the beautiful veil of religion.


[1] Article 25 of The Indian Constitution, 1950

[2] 1994 SC1919

[3] Article 26 of The Indian Constitution, 1950

[4] Appeal (civil)  6675 of 1999

[5] Article 27 of The Indian Constitution, 1950

[6] 1966 Calcutta 164

[7] Article 28 of The Indian Constitution, 1950

[8] Writ Petition (civil) 98 of 2002

[9] Article 15 of The Indian Constitution, 1950

[10] Article 51A of The Indian Constitution, 1950

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *