Secularism in India | Evaluation

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19/05/17 Politics Reference this

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The term “secularism” has its origin in Europe. This term was first used during the end of the Thirty years war (Europe) in the year 1648.During that period secularism merely meant transfer of church properties to the king or the state. “Secularism” played a major role in the French revolution and later this term formulated by George Holyoake from England to refer to the various rationalist movements under him in the year1851. Through this term he analysed his views of promoting social order without the domination of any culture or religious beliefs. Hence secularism can be defined as process by which “sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols”. [1] In west, secularism is referred to as “separation of church from the state”. Many religious leaders, journalists, politicians firmly believe that west is secular but however minorities are dominated by religion. The secularization thesis clearly states that in the west Christianity is declining, the number of people going to church have reduced considerably .At the same time secularism is also prevalent in the public forum like schools, universities, different institutions and also work place. The discussions are completely based on secular basis. Secularism in the west is a complete exception to the global trend. But however this too is subjected to a few exceptions like Africa, Latin America and also in the south East, Christianity is a dominated religion and culture. In few regions of Africa, middle east and Asia, Islam is taking a powerful shape. In the west secular policy was very strong among the Jews. The founder of “Zionism” , Theodor Herzl and other founders of political Zionism were strong secularists.

The most important principle stated by George Holyoake is:

Secularism is a name given to a series of principles of positivism intended for the guidance of those who find theology indefinite or inadequate or deem it unreliable. [2] This clearly states that there is a wide path between secular principles and theology.

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In the 19th century the concept of secularism gave rise to a number of other different ideas like nationalism, feminism, socialism etc. Nationalism was a very strong secular force implying that in many nations religion played a subordinate role.

However in India, secularism is a different concept as compared to the west. The framers of the Indian Constitution did not follow the western principles. In India the features of a secular state are:

All people have the equal freedom of conscience and religion.

There is no discrimination on the grounds of religion.

There are no communal electorates

The state has the power to regulate any activity (economic, social) that is concerned with religion.

Untouchability has been declared illegal by article 17.

Every religious denomination has the right to establish institutions for promoting religious knowledge and charity.

No citizen will be discriminated on grounds of religion in employment matters under state and admission in educational institutions.

State revenue cannot be used to promote any kind of religious activity.

Hence secularism was added to the Indian constitution by the 42nd amendment of 1976 to preserve the rich heritage culture of India. The preamble clearly states that ” We the people of India having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Secular Democratic Republic” [3] . The purpose of adding the word ‘secular’ to our constitution was established in the case M.P Gopalakrishna nair vs state of kerela [4] . This was done to promote national unity and universal brotherhood. Secularism according to the court was prevention of establishing a state religion or formation of a atheist society. The Hindi word of secularism is dharmanirapekshata which means ‘indifference towards all religion’. However the state is against the religious social evils like sati, female infanticide, polygamy, child marriage etc.

HISTORY OF SECULARISM

In India secularism was founded in 5th century B.C, when the Jains,Buddhists and charavakas rejected the power and authority of the Vedas and idols and considered it as a false belief. Religion has always been an important aspect of peoples life because India is not a monoreligious country. India s old hindu scriptures like the Upanishads also emphasise on secular principles. According to the people it was impossible to separate religion from their social life. This mindset began to change when the East India Company established their power and control in India. The British instituted different laws for Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Christians and Sikhs. This laid foundation for the divide and rule policy. Different religious sects began to establish religious institutions and places of worship giving priority to a particular religion. Previously rulers like satavahnas, guptas, moghuls and kushanas paid equal respect to all religion.

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In the pre independence and post independence era there had been a consistent increase in the concept of secularism. Leaders like mahatma Gandhi who practiced religion in politics found it necessary to separate the two to prevent inequality between the mass. Jawaharlal Nehru also supported secularism ,he failed to establish the uniform civil code due to religious and political pressure. B.P Jeevan Reddy in S.R Bommai viewed secularism as a positive concept as it treats all religion equally and it is strongly connected to liberty and social justice. [5] According to justice P.B sawant secularism is a “creed of universal brotherhood and humanism” [6] . J.S verma observed through the case M. Ismail faruqui ” the concept of secularism is one facet of the right of equality woven as the central golden thread in the fabric depicting the pattern of the scheme in our constitution” [7] .

DIFFERENT SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENTS ON SECULARISM

Supreme courts first recognition of secularism was in case sardar taheruddin seydna sahib v state of Bombay [8] . This case broadly explained the articles 25 and 26 of the Indian constitution and also specified that the secular nature of the India is the strong base of the constitution. Also in keshavnanda bharti v state of kerela [9] the 13 judge bench decided that secularism was the basic law of the land and it is unamendable. A land mark judgement in secularism is in the case of S.R Bommai v Union Of India [10] .It had important implications on the cente-state relations.The nine judge bench decided that secularism in India is based on religious tolerance.It also stated that any state government which adopted any unsecular means would be subjected to dismissal.The court dismissed BJP led state governments of Himachal Pradesh , Meghalaya, Madhya Pradesh , rajasthan and uttar Pradesh.

IS INDIA ACTUALLY SECULAR?

Although the constitution of India clearly states that India is a secular state it is becoming increasingly difficult to follow and maintain the principles of secularism. Hence this research article will analyse the various sectors where India has failed to uphold its secular structure.

The most important challenge of Indian secularism is the growing power of the Hindus. Earlier also the country had strong ties with Hinduism which lead to the suppression of other religions. India is thus represented as a Hindu state . The discrimination can be analysed on various grounds like constitutional, religious,legislative and employment oppurtunities.

To begin with article 290 A [11] of the Indian constitution clearly states that a sum of forty six lakhs and fifty thousand rupees and a sum of thirteen lakhs and fifty thousand rupees respectively, are paid every year out of the kerela and tamil nadu consolidated fund to the Dewaswom funds for the maintenance of hindu shrines. This is a clear discrimination of the of the constitutional provision which states that “state revenue cannot be used to maintain religious institutions”. Secondly the Indian government pays a sum of 413 crores a year for the haj journeys of muslims to Saudi Arabia. Andhra Pradesh pays a sum of rs 2 crore for the journey of Christians to Bethlehem. Secondly article 25 [12] states that freedom of religion to all but article 25(2) states that ” social welfare and reform throwing open of Hindu religious institution of public character to all classes and sections of hindus”. The constitution does not define a hindu but it clearly states a hindu is a follower of buddhism, Jainism and and Sikhism. This classification is done for the purpose of temple entry. Hence this is clearly against the principles of secularism. Thirdly the Hindu marriage act of 1955 was a clear attempt to bring the Sikhs , jains and Buddhists under the fold of Hinduism and it clearly states that a hindu is a person who is not a sikh , muslim or parsi. Every year a population cencus is conducted in the tribal areas to determine the majority of the hindu population. Even in the legislative sphere there has been outright discrimination of secularism. In the year 1982 when a large number of dalits had converted to islam due to the oppression of the upper caste hindus, Indira Gandhi found this situation as the threat to national security. In article 25 (1) [13] of the Indian constitution it is clearly stated that all people will be allowed to practice and profess any religion of their choice. But in the year 1954, the congress government in Madhya Pradesh along with seven other states legislatures of anrunachal Pradesh , gujrat , himachal Pradesh,orrissa, rajasthan and Tripura passed laws restricting conversions from Hinduism to any other religion while allowing all conversions to Hinduism. This was done to increase and maintain the domination of hindus in the country. Even in the babri masjid demolition case which was initiated by the congress government and hindu activists to build a ram temple by destroying the masjid led to communal violence and riots between thousands of Hindus and Muslims. But Muslim victims had outnumbered the Hindu victims. The police failed to protect the Muslims and were very harsh and violent in dispersing them. The violent Hindu movement spread turmoil throughout the country putting an official end to secularism and declaring India as a Hindu state. During this period the governments of Maharashtra and uttar Pradesh sent funds to rebuild somnath temple which was officially inaugurated by Dr. Rajendra Prasad.

Also in the education sphere there has been outright and violent discrimination. Article 16 (2) states that there will be no discrimination on the basis of religion for granting employment opportunities to the people. However the presidential orders of 1950 and 1956 provides benefit only to the schedule caste and tribes belonging to Hinduism , Jainism or Sikhism but not to muslim and Christians. If any person changed their religion after obtaining the job , then he / she also had to forfeit the job and other benefits that were given in course of employment. After the year 1947 the hindu army was adopted as the Indian army leaving 20000 muslims jobless. While a sikh has all the right to become an army general and occupy any post ,muslims are not given any such preferences. They are generally given the lower post . A hindu temple before the army cantonment clearly provides a picture that non hindus are not a part of our defence. The other instances proving India is a unsecular country are the ban on cow slaughter that left thousands of butchers jobless and poor people deprived of their basic nutrition. Cows are considered religious by the hindu upper caste society but not by the muslims or Christians. Most of the government ceremonies begin with hindu rituals like lighting the lamp etc. All functions of the central and state ministry begin with saraswati vardana. The inauguration of all government buildings throughout the nation and in other nations begin with a hindu puja clearly stating that india is a hindu state. N.T Ramarao the chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh did not object to spend government funds for maintaining the images of venkateshwara even though it is clearly stated in our constitution that funds of the government cannot be used for maintaining any religious institution or idol. School children of various states like Maharashtra and Gujrat are forced to perform surya namaskar. Most of the text books emphasise on Hinduism. The large stone image of Vishnu in front of the IGP headquarters in Bangalore clearly moves against the policy of a secular state. Till 1980 all india radio programmes began with hindu lyrics like vande ma taram , vandana etc. Aligarh university , one of the oldest university in India have an annual budget of rs 245 crore that is granted by the government. Only hahal meat is served in the campus and there is no place for hindu religious ceremonies. A muslim man is allowed to practice polygamy while a hindu man is not until he converts to islam.

Other instances of discrimination :

In west Bengal a man named shaik azizur rehman runs a shop with the name of Rajib Mallick because reavling his original identity would lead to alot of discrimination on the basis of religion.

Before going for fishing hasina khatoon takes off her arm band embossed with allah and puts vermillion to maintain a hindu appearance among the customers. [14] Hence all these illustrations clearly state that India is not a secular country and it is slowly becoming mono religious.

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