Definition of Secularism

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A Global Perspective

Every time there is a communal riot or bomb blasts the self appointed guardians of Secularism rush to how say it is in danger. If it not saved there would be a civil war in India of the type that she has never been witnessed before. Intrigued by such statements, articles I asked a number of friends the meaning of Secularism. Further as I evolved into a global citizen I posed the same question to others. Surprisingly got very confused answers. Some said it meant separation of government & religion, church & state while others said it meant all religions are same in the eyes of the Government. Dissatisfied with these replies I set out to find its theoretical meaning and actual practices worldwide. The article is divided into two parts. Secularism in India, West, Muslim worlds and Analysis. It ends with attributes of a secular state. I have quoted extensively from the book ‘Secularism Revisited by R.A. Jahagirdar’.

Was the word Secular always part of the preamble of our constitution?
The Preamble of the Constitution as passed in 1950 read, ‘WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political.
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.
EQUALITY of status and opportunity, and to promote among all;
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of the Nation”

The words SOCIALIST & SECULAR were added by the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976 i.e. by then PM Smt Indira Gandhi. However, the word Secular was not defined.
An attempt was made to define the word Secularism vide constitutional amendment 44. Quote page 929 of Indian Constitutional Law by M P Jain “CA42 had introduced into the preamble of the Constitution the terms ‘secular’ & ‘socialist’ without however defining or explaining the significance of these terms. CB45 sought to define these terms. ‘Secular Republic’ was defined to mean a ‘republic’ in which there is equal respect for all religions. This definition clause did not appear in CA44. The reason for this: the Janata Government had a large majority in the Lok Sabha but it was in a minority in the Rajya Sabha. While the Lok Sabha passed CB45 as a whole, a few clauses had to be omitted there from in the Rajya Sabha which were voted down by the Congress Party”.

Now what does the word Secular Mean?
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED Vol IX 1978) states that Secularism is the doctrine that morality should be based solely on regard to the well being of mankind in the present life to the exclusion of all considerations drawn from belief in God or in a future state.
Said Dr Radhakrishnan, former philosopher – scholar President of India, in his book ‘Recovery of Faith’ page 184. ‘When India is said to be a secular state, it does not mean that we reject the reality of the unseen spirit or the relevance of religion to life or that we exalt irreligion. It does not mean that secularism itself becomes a positive religion or that State assumes divine prerogatives. We hold that not one religion should be given preferential status’.
Donald E. Smith, Professor of Political Science in Pennsylvania University provided what he regarded as a working definition of a secular state. This was in his book India as a Secular State. “The secular State is a State which guarantees individual and corporate freedom of religion, deals with the individual as a citizen irrespective of his religion, is not constitutionally connected to a particular religion, nor does it seek to promote or interfere with religion”.

2.The Supreme Court judgment on the Ayodhya Acquisition Act, 1993, has some thoughts on the subject. Referred to All India Reporter, 1995, S.C. 1-1376. Quote excerpts -

• Pg 627, M C Setalwad in Patel Memorial Lectures – 1985 referring to the Indian concept of Secularism stated thus: “The coming of the partition emphasizes the great importance of secularism, Notwithstanding the partition, a large Muslim minority, constituting a tenth of the population of India, continued to be citizens of India. In the circumstances, a secular constitution of independent India, under which all religions could enjoy equal freedom and all citizens equal rights, and which could weld together into one nation the different religious communities, became inevitable”. To become one nation all its citizens need to be subject to the same set of laws which is not the case in India.
• Page 630 quote Ahmadi J: “ Notwithstanding the fact that the words Socialist and Secular were added in the Preamble of the Constitution in 1976 by the 42nd amendment, the concept of secularism was very much embedded in our constitutional philosophy. The term ‘Secular’ has advisedly not been defined presumably because it is a very elastic term not capable of a precise definition and perhaps best left undefined. By this amendment what was implicit was made explicit”. When a concept as important as Secularism is not defined it is subject to misinterpretation & abuse.

United States
- The word secular is not to be found in the Constitution of U.S.A. But the doctrine is embodied in it. Section 3 of the Constitution drafted by the Philadelphia Convention was ratified in 1789 reads ‘The Senators and Representatives before mentioned and all executives and judicial officers, both of the U.S. and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this constitution, but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States’. The key words here are ‘no religious tests’ shall be required to hold an office. In India amongst the first things that its people see is the religion and caste of a person.

England - Here there is a close alliance between the Church and State. The Church became independent of the Pope in the 16th century and is the official Church of England. The monarch is the head of state (equivalent to the Indian President) and head of Church. Though there is religious freedom, the Church of England has a special status inasmuch as the monarch of England must join in communion with the Church of England. Saying that the Queen is the head of State and Church is like saying that the President of India is the head of say the VHP. Not possible in India because Hinduism is not an organized religion like Christianity.

Germany - The word Secular means that Government and Religion are two separate things and must be kept separate. The State has to deal with people irrespective of their faith or religion. All Laws are same for every citizen, either minority citizen of majority one. There are no special laws for special interests of minorities/majority. 200 years ago in Germany the Church owned all the land. To the Germans secularism meant take away all land from the church and hand it over to local administration.

In Germany every Christian pays income tax to the Church of up to 9%. If one is not a Christian, he can disclose it and this amount will not be charged. Even a Christian can decide not to pay this amount but then he has small social problems like no priest of any church will arrange his marriage in any church. Plus he will have trouble to get his children admitted into some Kinder Garden schools run by Church. That is why most Christians prefer to pay the tax.

In India a Hindu party BJP is called a communal/fascists one. The strongest political parties are called Christian Democrats and Social Christians without anyone calling them extremists.
A number of institutions are financed from state taxes (even if one is not a member of the Church and does not pay the Church-tax). Some examples are religious classes at the public schools, education of priests and theologians including universities and church owned, pastoral care at public institution such as military, police, prisons, hospitals etc.
Can any of us fathom what would happen if every Hindu were to pay income tax to Hindu organizations like the Ramakrishna Mission or VHP! For one there would have been millions of Hindu schools, temples & hospitals across the country.

Turkey - How did Kamal Pasha secularize Turkey in 1920’s? He encouraged the wearing of European dress, all monasteries and religious houses were confiscated by the State, Muslim religious schools were abolished and State non-religious schools were started, Shariat Law was replaced by Swiss Civil Code, the Italian Penal Code and German Commercial Code, Polygamy was abolished, A society for defence of women’s rights was established, purdah was abolished and women were persuaded to enter various professions, Latin script replaced Arabian script and Turkish language was purged of Arabic and Persian words.
Two points. One Secularization of Turkey essentially meant taking it closer to the Western model. Two the ban on religious schools and replacement of the Shariat Law meant it separated state from religion. The others like women’s rights – purdah are not linked to secularism but were essential to get society rid of the way Islam treats women.
Now compare Turkish secularism with the Indian one. Religious schools, purdah and polygamy exist. The Shariat Law exists to the extent it suits the Muslims.

Arab World – the entire Middle East allows little or no freedom to religions other than Islam. How many Hindu temples do Saudi Arabia or the U.A.E. have?

Southeast Asia – inspite of being Muslim majority countries, Malaysia & Indonesia, due to centuries old Indian influence respect diversity and allow freedom to followers of religions other than Islam. For e.g. Diwali is a national holiday in Malaysia, an image of Lord Ganesha is imprinted some of Indonesian notes, their national emblem is Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu.

Analysis – If secularism can be taken to mean separation of State from Religion then:

• The words used by Dr Radhakrishnan above are ‘no one religion should be given preferential status’. In India Muslims are given grants for undertaking the Haj, Christians for constructing churches. Giving grants to the poor, economically backward is fine but using religion, as a basis for doling out grants is an outright communal action. If followers of all religions are to be treated equally must not we have a Uniform Civil Code (not a Hindu Civil Code) as enshrined in article 44 of the Constitution.
• Donald E. Smith referred to above has in his definition of secularism said “The secular State is a State which is not constitutionally connected to a particular religion, nor does it seek to promote or interfere with religion”. Recently the Maharashtra government passed an Ordinance for taking over the management of the Shirdi Sai Baba temple trust. Why must the government be involved in managing Hindu temples only?
• Quote Sandhya Jain from an article ‘Nationalization of Hindu Temple’ in the Pioneer, October 7,2003. These numbers relate to Karnataka state. “In 2000, the temples generated a revenue of Rs. 69.96 crores, but received only Rs. 13.75 crores for maintenance. The madrasa-Haj subsidy rose to Rs. 35 crores. In 2002, the State received Rs. 72 crores as revenue, returned Rs. 10 crores for temple maintenance, and granted Rs. 50 crores for madrasas and Rs. 10 crores for churches.
• In neighboring Andhra Pradesh, the State Government withdrew a demand for Rs. 36 crores from the Sri Venkateshwara Temple at Tirupati in July after a public furore and litigation in the High Court. There is, however, a move to take away temple lands and distribute them among poorer sections in the name of social justice. Around three thousand acres of temple lands have been identified for takeover. Yet, government sources themselves admit that nearly 80 percent of the State’s temples have no income other than that received from the vested lands. Thus, once the lands are seized, many temples may fail to conduct daily puja. What is more, the Andhra Government has failed to pay Rs. 28 crores compensation towards temple lands previously acquired for building bus terminals, police stations, and other public utilities”. End quote.
• Friend’s article 27 of the Indian Constitution clearly states that ‘no person shall be compelled to pay any taxes for the promotion of any religion’. When the Hindus give donation to temples they are unknowingly contributing towards promotion of madrassa education & churches. Such contributions can be construed to be a voluntary tax.
• By virtue of payment of a tax to the Church has not Germany mixed up state with religion. Is not called a communal state?
• The same logic applies to our former rulers. By virtue of being Head of the Protestant Church & State the Queen of England heads a communal state.

True secularism i.e. separation of religion and state is not practiced by anyone. To my mind it is politics plain & simple. Some attributes of a Secular State are –

• Equality of all citizens meaning a Uniform Civil Code.
• Economic / social status not religion to be a basis of government aid.
• No State Aid to institutions that impart religious education.
• Followers of every religion are allowed to manage their religious & charitable institutions with no state control. However, they will need to operate within a broad framework of rules such that their wealth is used for public benefit and national interests / security.
• No Polygamy shall be allowed; one man one wife is the rule for all.
• Followers of every religion are to follow family planning as excessive population is what is pulling India down.
• Every citizen can freely practice his religion but fraudulent conversions are banned.
• Freedom of speech & expression allowed with adequate safeguards though.
• Sentiment of majority community towards the cow and against its slaughter was incorporated in articles 48 and is honored.