We have as people of India, solemnly resolved to constitute India into a secular republic, among many other things. This comes not from me, but from the Preamble of our Constitution. I for one do not agree with branding our nation a secular republic. India as a majority knows is a diverse country. Apart from being diverse, it is highly socially fragmented on various levels. One of those is religion.
Residing within this nation are people of myriad religions. The notion of secularism comes from a European context, and evolved in the same. Here, the State and the Church were to be kept in complete separation. There was to be no overlapping between the two. Religion after the Protestant Revolution and the coming of Secularism was to be a private affair confined to the personal sphere of each individual. The circumstances for the rise of Secularism are relevant to Europe. Having said that, aping the exact same concept in other parts of the world is not only chained with ideological constraints but also not very logical considering how the background of these nations may differ greatly. When it comes to India, the concept of secularism is rather tricky.
The British had divided our history into three phases: Hindu, Muslim and Modern. Despite being ruled by Hindu kings in ancient times and Muslim kings in the medieval era, it was seen by many historians based on the writings of travellers that religion was not imposed on the subjects. Religious doctrine did guide the functioning of the state to an extent but practitioners of other religions were not faced with the burden of imposition of the ruler’s religion on them. This is not to say that there was no form of religious discrimination, there were taxes levied based on religion, but on a general level, it was unfair to brand these periods as Hindu or Muslim. Modern and Secular are rather inseparable terms for Capitalist Europe, the British manner of classification of our periods thus was rather ethnocentric in nature. Coming to modern day India or even the world, the total displacement of religion has not really been successful, even in modern day Turkey, where the state made incessant attempts to secularize public life, there has not been much triumph. Fundamentalism is a very real phenomenon and it has emerged in the context of Modern society. It is the want for strict theological adherence and it surfaces as a response against Modernist theology of Secularism. I do not mean to be completely dismissive of secularism as a context, but does this not make its very purpose a little counter productive? Fundamentalism in religion is something that plagues Indian society on a very serious scale.
The prime advocate of Secularism in India, Jawaharlal Nehru had said that economic issues were far more important than religious ones and when these came to the fore, the issues of religion and caste would vanish. However, the Indian experience with religious disturbance and violence has shown how no matter how serious an issue may be regarding poverty, very often, it is intensified by religion. It must be kept in mind that these reorientations to religion being the demarcating line between people are conducted in a context, by people. They do not happen in isolation. There are individuals and groups that keep these differences alive and play on the various insecurities of people. The mere aping of European secularism in not an option for India, it never was- the anonymity of religious affiliation in a nation like India produces major insecurities and disturbances.
Aabha Sharma is a student of Political Science at University of Hyderabad. She falls into the category of the quintessential laid back, pleasant Hyderabadi 😛 Writing releases her expression in a way nothing else can. To MISquote Rene Descartes, I write, therefore I am.
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