Pendulum of Secularism always vibrating


Mahadeep Singh Jamwal

While the concept itself has deep historical roots, the term secularism itself dates only to the 19th century, when it was coined by British reformer George Jacob Holyoake. Andrew James William Copson (Chief Executive of Humanists UK and the President of Humanists International who worked a lot for civil and human rights organizations) in his book ‘Secularism’ relies on the concise definition offered by French scholar Jean Bauberot, who sees three essential components to a secular society: 1. The separation of religious institutions from the institutions of the state. 2. Freedom of conscience for all individuals circumscribed only by the need for public order and the respect of the rights of other individuals and 3. No discrimination by the state against individuals on the basis of their beliefs. While traversing on the Indian horizon, we find in 1948, when the newly independent dominion of India was debating the nature of the Constitution of India, Prof K T Shah, debated to include the word ‘Secular’ in the Constitution. On the inclusion of the term ‘Secular’, Dr. B R Ambedkar said it is against the very grain of democracy to decide in the Constitution what kind of society the people of India should live in. It was agreed on the nature of State adhering to Secular Principles; hence the word ‘Secular’ was dropped from the preamble of the Indian Constitution. Later on we find the insertion of words “Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic” for the words “Sovereign Democratic Republic” and for the words “Unity of the Nation”, the words “Unity and Integrity of the Nation” substituted to the Preamble of the Constitution vide ‘The Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976.’ If we really want a secular society, standing by the Preamble, then we would have to stop identifying ourselves primarily by religion, caste or language, and start thinking of ourselves primarily as equal citizens of one nation, both in theory and in practice. However, given the rise of communal hatred and violence in recent years, it is perhaps fascinating that we look at secularism in terms of inter-community relations. In doing so, we will be able to shift our focus from ‘Secular State’ to something that is much more promising, ‘Secular Society’. Notwithstanding its inspiring history and indubitable uniqueness, we observe, Indian secular pendulum is always vibrating and has not succeeded in bringing various communities together. Un- ethical and religious debates and commentaries on TV Channels by some paranoids and mustering of votes by exploiting the sentiments of people by political hawks on religion and caste base are not less than catalysts to radicalized ideology. There remain strands of history and expressions of culture that are invoked every now and then to pitch one in hostile opposition to the other. For the past some years, India, a multicultural state, is being leveled as a majority state and this ideology has inherited the tensions in these competing visions of Indian nationhood. In the current political climate, it is harder to bridge the widening gap between the communities that is based on created hostility by vested interests towards each other and is an issue that lies outside the ambit of secularism. The set of Judgments in the Bommai case in 1993, ruled that secularism is part of the basic structure of the constitution and cannot be amended, that it is derived from the Hindu principle of tolerance ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhava’ ensuring the equality of religions, that no religion will be at risk in a secular India because the government should not be aligned to religion, and finally that there is an essential connection between secularism and democracy. To a mind boggling question, who is the custodian of the future of Indian secularism and who are responsible to save the idea of a pluralistic and tolerant India from becoming a casualty of narrow sectarian politics? Our traverse takes us to the fractured society that has to decode the underlying lust for power among the tainted political faces that harp on the immaturity of voters, who are not in a position to understand the value and power of their vote. Stringent sanctions required to be imposed on those who promote religious polarization. Although section 123 of the ‘Representation of the People Act of 1951’ forbids politicians from campaigning on religious themes, it is hardly followed by politicians as ECI is a mute spectator and puppet in the hands of ruling dispensations and issues weakly dealt by law enforcement agencies. For these reasons it has been unevenly enforced. This is possible only by those who constitute that society through reasoning and sensitivity as to what is best for society in keeping with generally accepted values of tolerance and social responsibility. The recent barbarian events that have occupied the information vessels speaks that we are at the cusp of one of the most defining moments of secularism, and where we go from here depends on whether we are willing to rise above manufactured animosities and invest in an ethically informed understanding of the other, or embrace sectarian populism. The acceptance of coexistence together with equal status before the law can certainly be a first step. Fissiparous tendencies, whether they belong to Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians or others, are very dangerous and wrong. They belong to petty and backward minds. No one who understands the spirit of the times can think in terms of communalism.
In Conclusion, I can vouch, fissiparous tendencies, whether they belong to Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians or others, are very dangerous and wrong. They belong to petty and backward minds. No one who understands the spirit of the times can think in terms of communalism. The correct notion of secularism means a state that honors all faiths equally and gives them equal opportunities; that as a state it does not allow itself to be attached to one faith or religion. Till then the Pendulum of ‘Secularism’ will always remain ‘Vibrating’.