Secularism means separation of religion from political, economic, social and cultural aspects of life and religion being treated as a purely personal matter. It emphasizes dissociation of the state from religion and full freedom to all religions and tolerance of all religions. It also stands for equal opportunities for followers of all religions and no discrimination on grounds of religion.
Historical Context of Secularism in India
Secular traditions are very deep rooted in the history of India. Indian culture is based on the blending of various spiritual traditions and social movements. In ancient India, the Sanatan Dharma (Hinduism) was basically allowed to develop as a holistic religion by welcoming different spiritual traditions and trying to integrate them into a common mainstream. Even after the advent of Jainism, Buddhism and later Islam and Christianity on the Indian soil, the quest for religious toleration and co-existence of different faiths continued. In medieval India, the Sufi and Bhakti Movements bonded the people of various communities together with love and peace. The leading lights of these movements were Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, Baba Farid, Sant Kabir Das, Guru Nanak Dev, Saint Tukaram and Mira Bai, etc.
The spirit of secularism was strengthened and enriched through the Indian Freedom Movement too, though the British have pursued the policy of divide and rule. However, Indian Freedom Movement was characterised by secular tradition and ethos right from the start. Gandhiji’s secularism was based on a commitment to the brotherhood of religious communities based on their respect for and pursuit of truth, whereas, JL Nehru’s secularism was based on a commitment to scientific humanism tinged with a progressive view of historical change.
Philosophy of Indian Secularism
The term ‘secularism’ is like to the Vedic concept of ‘Dharma Nirapekshata’ i.e. the indifference of state to religion. The model of secularism adopted by the western societies is based on the complete separation of religion and state (i.e. separation of church and the state). Indian philosophy of secularism is related to ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhava’ (literally it means that destination of the paths followed by all religions is the same, though the paths themselves may be different) which means equal respect to all religions.
This concept, embraced and promoted by personalities like Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi is called Positive secularism’ that reflects the dominant ethos of Indian culture India does not have an official state religion. However, different personal laws on matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, alimony varies with an individual’s religion. Indian secularism is not an end in itself but a means to address religious plurality and seeks to achieve peaceful co-existence of different religions
Secularism and Indian Constitution
There is a clear incorporation of all the basic principles of secularism into various prerisions of Constitution. The term ‘Secular’ was added to the Preamble by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1976 (India is a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic) it emphasises the fact that constitutionally, India is secular country which has no state religion. And that the state shall recognise an accept all religions and not favour or patronise any particular religion.
While, Article 14 grants equality before the law and equal protection of the laws to all. Article 15 enlarges the concept of secularism to the widest possible extent by prohibiting discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Article 25 provides ‘Freedom of Conscience, that is, all persons are equally entitle to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion. As per Article 26, every religious group or individual has the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes and to manage its own affairs in matters of religion. Article 51A ie. Fundamental Duties obliges all the citizens to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhoo and to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.
Threats to Indian Secularism
While the Indian Constitution declares the state being absolutely neutral to all religion, our society is steeped in religion. Mingling of religion and politics that is mobilisation of votes on grounds of primordial identities like religion, caste and ethnicity, have put Indian secularism in danger. Communal politics operates through communalisation of social space, by spreading myths and stereotypes against minorities, through attack on rational values and by practicing a divisive ideological propaganda and politics. Politicisation of any one religious group leads to the competitive politicisation of other groups, thereby resulting in inter-religiou conflict.
One of the manifestations of communalism is communal riots. In recent past also, communalism has proved to be a great threat to the secular fabric of Indian polity. Rise of Hindu Nationalism in recent years have resulted into mob lynching on mere suspicion of slaughtering cows and consuming beef. In addition with this forced closure of slaughterhouses, campaigns against love jihad’, reconversion or ghar-wapsi (Muslims being forced to convert to Hinduism), etc, reinforces communal tendencies in society. Islamic fundamentalism or revivalism pushes for
establishing Islamic state based on Sharia Law which directly comes into conflict with conceptions of the secular and democratic state. In recent years, there have been stray incidences of muslim youth being inspired and radicalised by groups like ISIS which is very unfortunate for both India and the world.
In a pluralistic society, the best approach to nurture secularism is to expand religious freedom rather than strictly practicing state neutrality. It is incumbent om us to ensure value-education that makes the younger generation understand and appreciate not only its own religious traditions but also those of the other religions in the country.
There is also a need to identify a common framework or a shared set of values which allows the diverse groups to live together. The prerequisites to implement the social reform initiative like Uniform Civil Code are to create a conducive environment and forging socio-political consensus.
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