Are India’s secular ethos threatened?

The secularism found a place in modern nation-states because it was a necessity for nation became essentially a territory comprising her people irrespective of religion. If imposition of one religion on other is observed, social equilibrium may collapse. The founding fathers of the Indian constitution have assiduously incorporated the principles of secularism, although without incorporating the term ‘secularism.’ The freedom and liberty granted under different articles are in line with secularism.

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Secularism refers to indifference to , or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations. In political context, secularism is the principle of separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries. That means, the government should remain neutral on the matters of religion and should not enforce, nor prohibit the free exercise of religion, leaving the religious choice to the liberty of the people. In short, the state would not discriminate with people on the basis of religion.

This secularism found a place in modern nation-states because it was a necessity for nation became essentially a territory comprising her people irrespective of religion. If imposition of one religion on other is observed, social equilibrium may collapse. The founding fathers of the Indian constitution have assiduously incorporated the principles of secularism, although without incorporating the term ‘secularism.’ The freedom and liberty granted under different articles are in line with secularism.

Indian secularism was not only a result of historical circumstances as a British colony but also a necessity. India is a diverse country with people of almost all major religions of the world (needless to mention that 4 religions have their origin on the land). This enormous diversity cannot be straight-jacketed into a homogeneous culture. Perhaps the best way is to celebrate them within a given space.

When Indira Gandhi added the term ‘secularism’ in the Constitution through 42nd amendment in 1976, there was furor among Jan Sangh members, now the BJP. While they have opposed the inclusion of the term in the constitution, they did it subtly. The line of rationale put forward by Jan Sangh and now BJP is that Indian constitution was always secular since its inception. Therefore, the term ‘secularism’ is redundant here.

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That is true. Indian constitution harboured secularism as a principle since its inception. Article 25 guarantees the freedom to worship, profess and propagate one’s religion. But irony is that the party which has always taken pride in Indian secularism are up for burying it for attracting Hindutva vote. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill proposed by the Central Government is in gross violation of the Secular principle of the Constitution. No secular country should ever give citizenship simply on the basis of religion. This is beyond the comprehension of any political theorist, barring a few Hindutva brigades.

If a nation wants to give citizenship to certain persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries, then it should abolish the explicitly named religions. Persecuted minorities should not be conditioned with Hindus or Christian etc. On humanitarian grounds, they deserve shelter irrespective of their religion.

However, this has been intentionally violated by the ruling dispensation. While the Government wants to deport the persecuted minorities of Rohingya who would face nothing but persecution if sent back to Myanmar, the same dispensation wants another section to be welcomed as full-fledged citizens. Is it not discrimination? Should I put it more blatantly: Is this because the Rohingyas are Muslims and the persecuted minorities in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are mostly Hindus?

Is the secular fabric still alive?

These questions are legitimate and nobody can pretend to ignore the gravity of these questions. The Supreme Court of India had in its judgements established that secularism is a basic feature of the constitution and as such cannot be violated even by the amendment because the Constituent Assembly had assiduously enshrined these principles. For any change in the basic structure, once again a Constituent Assemble has to be formed with representatives, discussions, and debates should take place and resolution should be adopted after deliberation. That means for change in basic structure, a similar process has to be followed.

The Supreme Court in Keshavananda Bharti vs State of Kerala case (1973) had declared that there are certain basic features of the constitution, secularism being one of them, cannot be amended applying article 368 of the constitution. In Minerva Mills vs Union of India case (1980), the Supreme Court clearly lays down that the parliament has limited power to amend the constitution. In succeeding S R Bommai case (1994), the Supreme Court had reemphasised secularism as the basic structure of the constitution. Since then Indian justice system is being guided by the judgement.

It is a moment that the honourable court should take cognizance of the threat to the beloved principle of Indian democracy. The honourable court should take cognizance, come forward and exercise its power to shield the constitution. The custodian of our constitution is the last resort that we as common citizens can look forward to.

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The secularism found a place in modern nation-states because it was a necessity for nation became essentially a territory comprising her people irrespective of religion. If imposition of one religion on other is observed, social equilibrium may collapse. The founding fathers of the Indian constitution have assiduously incorporated the principles of secularism, although without incorporating the term ‘secularism.’ The freedom and liberty granted under different articles are in line with secularism.
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The Policy Times
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