Why 'secularism' is not an Indian concept

  • The  concept of secularism was imported into India by the British. It was  a strategic tool to suppress and deny India’s quest for  independence by repeatedly asking the Indian National Congress that  was predominantly Hindu, to address the concerns of the minorities,  says Sanjeev Nayyar

Narendra  Modi rattled the Congress by accusing it of hiding its inability to  govern under the burkha of secularism. This statement has once again brought the issue of  secularism into national focus.

Every  leader claims to be secular. No one is asking, however, what is the  meaning of the word secular?

This  article seeks to provoke thought by giving the origin of the word  secular and benchmarks, briefly, it with other countries worldwide.

The  founders of the Constitution deemed it appropriate to use the concept  of secularism without spelling out its meaning. The word ‘secular’  was made part of the preamble of the Indian Constitution during the  Emergency (1975-77). However, the word was left undefined.

During  the Emergency, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi made the word  ‘secular’ part of the preamble of the Constitution but did not  define it. When the Janata Party came to power in 1977 an attempt was  made to define ‘secular republic’ to mean a ‘republic’ in  which there is equal respect for all religions’. The Janata  government had a majority in the Lok Sabha but was in a minority in  the Rajya Sabha where it was voted down by the Congress.

'In  Sanatan Dharma the need for turning secular never arose'

The  Supreme Court judgment on the Ayodhya Acquisition Act, 1993, has some  thoughts on the subject, excerpts. Former Chief Justice A M Ahmadi  said: “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”.

Secularism  has come to mean that the government has a right to take over, manage  Hindu temples and in some cases donations made in temples go to the  state treasury but this is not applicable to Muslim and Christian  places of worship! Or appoint non-Hindus to oversee sacred shrines  and events like the Kumbh Mela!

Next  question: is the word secular native to India?

The  concept of secularism originated in Europe where the church,  controlled education/ property etc, became so powerful that even the  king felt oppressed. So secularism meant separation of the church and  state with intent to curb the influence and power of the church.

The  situation in India was different. Sanatan Dharma or Hinduism, as it  is erroneously called, was neither governed by a monolith  organisation like the church nor did it own property and control the  state. Thus, the need for turning secular never arose.

The  concept of an all powerful central organisation, like the church,  goes against the very grain of Sanatan Dharma.

Thus,  as a concept secularism is as alien to India as a three-piece suit is  to Lalu Prasad Yadav and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief M  Karunanidhi.

Oh:  but then how did secularism enter India?

'The  word secular does not exist in the Muslim world'

The  concept of secularism imported into India by the British. It was a  strategic tool to suppress and deny India’s quest for independence  by repeatedly asking the Indian National Congress that was  predominantly Hindu, to address the concerns of the minorities  (Muslims).

Ok:  but how does secularism operate in other parts of the world?

When  Barack Obama took oath of office (first term) as President of the  United States of America, he kept one hand on the Holy Bible.

Can  you visualise the furore if A B Vaypayee had taken oath as prime  minister keeping his hand on the Bhagavad Gita? All of Macaulay’s  children and the secularists would have taken to the streets and  asked him to apologise for insulting the Indian Constitution.

In  England the queen is head of state and the church.

Since  being head of state is the equivalent of the India President it is  like saying that President Pranab Mukherjee is head of the Vishwa  Hindu Parishad.

Christians  in Germany and some other European nations pay a tax on their income  to the church. This is akin to Hindus paying a tax to the  Shankaracharya or the sadhu akhadas,  the sant  samaj!

Yet  the secular credentials of these countries are never questioned!  This, however, does not prevent them from giving India sermons on  secularism.

The  word secular does not exist in the Muslim world. The condition of  non-Muslims in those countries is well known and does not merit  comment.

Moreover,  there would be discrimination even if you are Muslim but belong to a  sect i.e. a minority in that country for e.g. Shias and Ahmediyas in  Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. Secularism enters the Muslim discourse in  countries where they are in a minority.

'Sanatan  Dharama is about Vishwadharma'

What  these countries and secularists forget that long before secularism  entered popular discourse, the followers of dharma (read as Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs; the Indian Constitution  includes all Indic dharmic traditions as Hindus for the purpose of personal law) gave refuge to  those who were persecuted in other countries. For e.g. Parsis, Jews  and a body of Christian immigrants from Persia and Mesopotamia, who  presumably fled from a severe persecution by Sapor II which began in  343 AD in Persia.

Further  the Christian and Muslim worlds fail to realise that Sanatan Dharama  is about Vishwadharma, the essential unity of creation, the oneness  principle, and the compassionate universe! And is unlike  Christianity/Islam where there is one prophet, only one way.

NaMo’s  use of the word burkha has made this dress become newspaper headlines. It would be  interesting to know what Dr Balasaheb Ambedkar had to say about burkha.  Excerpts from the book ‘Thoughts  on Pakistan’  written in 1941.

Purdah is responsible for social segregation of Hindus from Muslims, which  is the bane of public life in India. This argument may fear  farfetched and one is inclined to attribute this segregation to the  unsociability of the Hindus rather than to purdah among the Muslims. But the Hindus are right when they say that it is  not possible to establish social contact between Hindus and Muslims  because such contact can only mean contact between women from one  side and men from the other.”

“Purdah is found amongst a section of the Hindus in certain parts of the  country. But the point of distinction is that among the Muslims, purdah has religious sanctity which it has not with the Hindus”.

Read  more excerpts from Click Here

It would help to have a healthy and unbiased debate on secularism.

Sanjeev  Nayyar was educated as Macaulay’s child, now turned desi and is founder of www.esamskriti.com

First published in Click Here to View

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