SECULARISM IN INDIA
“I do not expect India of my dreams to develop one religion, i.e., to be wholly Hindu or wholly Christian or wholly Mussalman, but I want it to be wholly tolerant, with its religious working side by side with one another”
On paper India is unquestionably a secular state with secure constitutional guarantees for all citizens. Yet at a social and politicallevel secularism seems an abstraction. There is a serious contradiction between the secular goal of the Indian Constitution and the growing communalism of its polity.
Secularism cannot be defined without relating it to the socio-political context. What is true in the western context may not be necessarily valid in Indian context and vice versa. Secularism in philosophy and politics is religious and scared forms and practices in favour of rational assessment and decision-making. Western dictionaries define “secularism” as the absence of religion, but Indian secularism means a profusion of religions, none of which is privileged by the state. Secularism in India does mean irreligiousness rather it means multi-religiousness.
However Indian society was very different from the European society in its socio-religious structure and could not, therefore, imitate the eastern model of secularism. It had to evolve its own experimental context. Since there was not any struggle against any established religious authority there was no question of resentment against religion. Also, India was rich in pluralistic traditions, and mainly relied on them for developed concept of secularism.
Indian pluralism is best summed up in two maxims; ekam and vipra bahula vadanri (i.e. that which exists in one; sages call it by various names) and sarva dharma sambhava (All religious should be equally respected).
Thus, right from the beginning Indian secularism drew its strength from pluralism. It was the religious community, rather than the religious authority, which mattered in the Indian context of secularism. The saner leaders of both the communities emphasized justice in power – sharing without questioning the religious authority of either community.
In fact, the leaders of minority communities feared domination by the majority community and interference in their religious affairs. The leaders of the majority community, on the other hand, sought to assuage the feelings of minority communities by assuring them that they would be free to follow their own religions. Such leaders were called secular, while those of the majority community who resented unrestricted religious freedom for minorities were called communal. Thus, in India secularism an antireligious attitude did not play a part.
When the concept of the secularism came to be accepted to Indian politics, beginning with later part off the 19th century, and Indian society was deeply religious and people jealously guarded their religious rites as well as religious identities. Even the modern reform movements launched by Raja Rammohan Roy and Sir Syed, both in Hindu and Muslim societies were launched within the framework of respective religions.
The leaders of freedom movement, like Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Azad and other were all believers themselves and adopted the religious idiom to mobilize the Indian masses for the freedom struggle. For Gandhiji, the basis of Hindu Muslim unity was also religion. The political unity, in his view, should also be based on one’s religious duty to unite with other human beings. To strengthen his point he quoted a couple from IqbaTs famous poem Naya Shivala; Mazhab nahin sikhata aapas mein bair rakhana”, meaning, religion does not teach us to bear ill – will towards one another.
Some social scientists in India have argued that the serious threats to social tolerance and diversity in India today come either from an antidemocratic, majori tarian, ethnic nationalism or from a homogenizing and modernizing nation State, and the imposition of alien values of Indian society. Such theorists prefer a state which does claim procedural neutrality and separation of State from religion, but is, instead, guided by an encompassing indigenous culture, although they oppose the interpretations of Indian culture, which are being marketed by right -wing forced today. Minorities could be protected, they argue, by tolerance and modes of coexistence, which have evolved in the society over time rather than by a modernizing nation State with alien values. The State should be prepared to devolve some of its powers and functions on to communities.