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India’s secular character has been lurking with danger from religion because religion rewards its followers with a joyful afterlife. Not just secularism, even the feeling of Nationalism has become its prey. Religion has been able to not just divide the people but has also filled their hearts with so much abhorrence that they have taken up arms against one another. The feeling of majoritarianism in the religious majority has started to shatter the building built by our forefathers as well as Constitution makers. Yet, the judiciary has saved the two from being washed away. Not just the judiciary, even the people themselves have stood up for the call of nationalism time and again. The feeling of nationalism has its roots strengthened. “The fact remains that secularism is inherent in the Indian system, in the Indian ethos and culture. India cannot be anything but secular.”
Majoritarianism as a concept was propounded by 18th-century European philosophers to alert people to the subliminal dangers of even a seemingly honourable system like democracy. In simple terms, it is a general tendency of the majority community to suppress the minority community. The majority could be categorized by religion, language and most importantly social class.
It is necessary to refer, now, a new word has emerged in the political scene – Religious Majoritarianism. Religious majoritarianism is the primacy of the dominant religion and possesses all rights to make decisions that affect the society deeply. It was prevalent even during pre-independent times.
Since time immemorial attacking one another for the sake of one’s religion has been prevalent. Religion somehow infuses a kind of indomitable spirit of belongingness. The era of Islamic invasions is the perfect example of this. There are cases galore; from the repeated destruction of the Somnath temple or earlier the massacre of Buddhists at Nalanda or the pogroms of the Mughals. Many historians have labelled these periods as the ‘bloodiest in the history of mankind’(1).
On the other hand, Nationalism is a quality in a person by virtue of which he loves his country. This quality is more than a mere sentiment. This can inspire a person to do heroic deeds in the moment of crisis. When Mahatma Gandhi gave the clarion call to the people of the country, they rose from their narrow bounds of distinctions, based on caste, religion and creed and participated in the freedom struggle. Nationalism is, therefore, the noblest virtue because this unites the people of a country against a common enemy. A true leader would not be content with making speeches on social reform movements but would move to act. He fights against vested interests and vicious social evils.
In modern times, nationalism has shrunk. People are made to believe that their own nation alone is superior. And unfortunately, Indians have forgotten the words of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, “I do not want that our loyalty as Indians should be in the slightest way affected by any competitive loyalty whether that loyalty arises out of our religion, or out of our culture or out of our language. I want all people to be Indians first, Indian last and nothing else but Indian.” But, alas the sight of the Man behind the Constitution has been immersed along with his ashes.
Indian as an identity of the people of India is the last one on the long list of various identities of man. First, they are concerned about their religion, then about their culture, further about their language and also about their regional boundaries and then lastly come to their nationality. This cycle should have been reversed. And this current cycle makes futile all the sacrifices of the freedom fighters like Mangal Pandey, Bhagat Singh, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and many more.
The political mobilization of the minority groups for different kinds of concessions led to Hindu resurgence described as Hindu backlash. Demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, the various communal riots in India, the 1984 massacre of the Sikhs, 1992 Mumbai riots, the Godhra carnage and subsequent riots in 2002 revealed the serious weakness and susceptibility of India’s commitments towards democracy and the Nation has become vulnerable to unprecedented violence in recent times. Well as in gruesome, inhumane, uncivilized and merciless communal riots in the hands of unscrupulous and callous politicians, the noble sentiment of nationalism has degenerated into a clock for passions and prejudices. The political walls of jingoism have become stronger than ever before.
“Its necessacity in life is must and very much felt
No one can claim purity on the ground of religious supremacy.”
These instances hint towards a ‘saffronized’ picture of the Hindutva ideology. Sanforization of the country has now started seeing people through the glass of their religion, particularly Hindu or not-Hindu. This has not just led to communal disturbances but has also lowered the value of the Indian Constitution which provides for many safeguards to the minorities. The majority needs to understand that cohabitation with the minority groups is necessary for the functioning of an ideal state. And even the minority needs to understand this.
The growing influences of communalism, casteism, linguistic chauvinism and other such diverse tendencies are threatening the integrity of the nation. We need to emerge from narrow differences that separate us and build a strong nation, like one envisaged by our forefathers.
Over the course of seventy-two years of India’s freedom and seventy years of the Indian citizens ‘adopting, enacting and giving to themselves the Constitution’ such narrow ideologies haven’t hampered the peaceful co-existence of majorities and minorities together, though with its own share of ups and downs. Simply, religious majoritarianism has not always dominated the indomitable spirit of nationalism. There have been many safeguards provided to the minorities to help them grow. This attitude of the constitution makers has made India the only country in the world to be the home of completely different religious communities, peacefully!
The concept of secularism is implicit in the Preamble of the Constitution which declares the resolve of the people to secure to all its citizens “liberty of … belief, faith and worship.” The Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976, has inserted the word “Secular” in the Preamble. The SC has explained the secular character of the state. The SC said, “There is no mysticism in the secular character of the State. Secularism is neither anti-God nor pro-God, it treats alike the devout, the antagonistic and the atheist. It eliminates God from the matters of the State and ensures that no one shall be discriminated against on the ground of religion.”(2)
In S.R. Bommai v Union of India(3), a nine-judge Bench of the Apex Court observed that secularism is the basic feature of the constitution and it is not anti-God. In the Indian context, secularism has a positive content. Our Constitution embodies the positive concept of secularism and has not accepted the American doctrine of secularism, i.e., the concept of erecting “a wall of separation between Religion and State.” The concept of positive secularism separates spiritualism with individual faith.
In Aruna Roy v Union of India(4), His lordship quoted Gandhi who said “the real meaning of secularism is Sarva Dharama Sambhav meaning equal treatment and respect for all religions. But we have misunderstood the meaning of secularism as Sarva Dharama Abhav meaning negation of all religions.”
Our constitution has given paramount importance to secularism Articles 25 to 30 which provide for the freedom of religion and protection of cultural and educational rights of the minorities. Article 16 (2) states that “ no citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, or any of them, be ineligible for,… any office under the state.” The Directive Principles also provide for equality for all.
The constitution ensures equal freedom to all religions. At the same time, it is declared that the religion of a person has nothing to do in the matters relating to the social and economic welfare of the people, which matters can be regulated or restricted by the state, by law(5).
The policy to divide and rule followed by the British with the intention of prolonging their rule in India was one reason of intolerance among Indians. The British regarded the emergence of nationalism transcending religious barriers as a threat to their hegemony. The national moment also inadvertently acquired a Hindu tinge because Gandhi Ji emphasized the need of Ram Rajya and Bal Gangadhar revived the Hindu festivals. The creation of the Muslim league and the blatant efforts by the British to create and widen the rift between the Hindus and Muslims ultimately led to the partition of the country. An educationist Monis Raza stated ‘Pakistan is an Islamic theocratic state; India signifies Hindu theocracy, Muslim theocracy, Christian theocracy and all the crisis put together.’ The statement itself shows the radiant picture of India’s rich diversity.
A few cannot demolish the citadel of communal harmony that is rooted in Indian ethos, culture and history. Bharat Mata advocates tolerance, social justice, economic welfare and equality among all the citizens. Undisputedly it would help us to create a harmonious nation as envisaged by the framers of the Constitution.
According to Emile Durkheim “Religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices related to a sacred thing which unite into one single moral community.” Religions unite people and make them happy by providing them common festivals and rituals and give meaning to their worldly affairs as well as guide their actions. Religion guides and restraints people from indulging in a wrong or unethical activities. Religion is a source of recreation by giving people festivals like Diwali, Eid and Christmas, when people meet each other and enjoy healthy meals, celebrate and socialize. The Indian concept of secularism is based on Sarva Dharma Samabhava, i.e., an equal statue for all religions. It means that India is not anti-religious or irreligious and that the state in India is not hostile to any religion. To Ambedkar secularism meant that the state would not impose any particular religion upon its citizens. Gandhi Ji advocated the same view.
Yet today, the emergence of religion or caste based politics has led to the emergence of fractured verdicts by the electorate. Every political party exploits the issue of religion or casteism prevalent in our society. They try to appease the Dalit class and minority communities. Lack of ideology, credibility and accountability of the politicians has made an average voter unaware of the in-differences between different political parties which have sacrificed their ideologies in their quest for power.
And, irrespective of all these divisions along religious lines, ‘we the people of India’ have lived up to the belief as well as the ideology of Dr. Ambedkar. Irrespective of the existence of these narrow lines of division, we as Indians are ‘Indians first, Indians last and nothing else but Indians.’
A proof of the feeling of nationalism was witnessed during Anna Hazare’s five-day fast unto death for the Jan Lokpal Bill. People across the country showed support to this ex-army man, whom the media termed as “Second Gandhi”. 2011 witnessed this mass upsurge against the evil of Corruption in India. The fight against corruption staged at Jantar Mantar wasn’t a one-man show! People from different walks of life showed support to Anna. Religion, caste, creed, social class everyone alike was affected by this evil of corruption, and Anna was the man who came with a ray of hope in the dark clouds of corruption. This was the reason people came out of the comforts of their homes in support of Anna and his movement. The year, 2011 witnessed the spirit of Nationalism at its peak, without any barriers of religion or whatsoever. During the course of the movement, people recognized themselves with only one identity: INDIAN.
Further, the Indian judiciary gave a landmark judgment on 22 August 2017 by declaring the triple talaq(6), a form of Islamic divorce, as unconstitutional. A triple talaq is a form of divorce wherein any Muslim man has the liberty to legally divorce his wife by stating the word talaq (Arabic for “divorce”) three times in oral, written, or more recently, electronic form. This practice was being indecisively used by Muslim men and Muslim women were being exploited by this practice. This practice had raised issues of justice, gender equality, human rights and secularism. So, putting an end to the miseries of Muslim women, the Supreme Court in Shayara Bano v Union of India and others, deemed the practice as felonious. This judgment came as an eye-opener for those who had started believing in the illusion of an unconstitutional India. The judgment answered the unanswered question that, Yes, India is still a ‘secular democratic republic.’
What the people of India fail to notice is that all such divisions have been made by the political aristocracy, people of India are still united. A proof to this was the opening up of the temple doors in Kerala for Muslims to pray and open their fasts on Eid amidst the floods in the state(7).
The need of the hour for the development of positive secularism in India based on humanism and scientific approach with the secularization of education. A secular mind has to be developed to evolve a secular state. The progress of the country can be achieved in India if all the religions live in perfect harmony. Eradication of poverty, illiteracy and feudal values would be essential for secularism. The fact cannot be denied that the adoption of a scientific attitude towards life also helps us to become secular. As Freud rightly said as the influence of science grows on man, the influence of religion declines. The expansion of modern education also reinforces the values of secularism.
The religious leaders must realize their responsibility in the larger interest of the integrity of the nation, not towards diversification on a communal and religious basis and work in that perspective, and create such social conditions those minorities do not more require any special protection.
In a secular constitutional democracy, there should be no scope for majoritarian hegemony or minority appeasement. Religion and religious practices should be a matter of private practice. The state ought to maintain equidistant from all religions and their practices. A divided India cannot maintain its sovereignty and take economic and social strides. The Indian state ought to practice constitutional values and morality, treat everyone equally and afford opportunities for progress. There is no other way.
By – Meha
B.A. LL.B (H) Panjab University, Chandigarh
1) Will Durant
(2) St. Xavier’s College v State of Gujarat AIR 1974 SC 1389
(3) AIR 1994 SC 1918
(4) AIR 2002 SC 3176
(5) clause (2) of Ar. 25. Santosh Kumar v Secretary, Ministry of H.R.D., AIR 1995 SC 293
(6) Shayara Bano v Union of India and others AIR 2017
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