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Secularism in India

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SECULARISM IN INDIA : CONCEPT & PRACTICE Dr. Shriram Yerankar Associate Professor & Head, Deptt. of Political Science, Jijamata College, Buldana (M.S.)
Historical Background : The concept of secularism as we take it to mean today had originated in the 13th century Europe. But we can trace the philosophical concept of secularism in the writings of Kautilya, a thinker of ancient India, who lived in the 3rd century B.C. The history of Indian secularism the protest movements in the 5th century B.C. The three main protest movements were by the Charvaks, Buddhism and Jainism. All three of them rejected the authority of the Vedas and any importance of belief in a deity. It can thus be seen that the ancient thought had a profound impact on the development of the theory of secularism over the centuries. Writers differ about the origin of the concept of secularism as to whether it had its roots in the eastern or the western thought. D. E Smith says, “The Secular State is, in origin, a western not an Asian Conception. This is not to deny the obvious fact the certain elements of the ‘secular state – have a long tradition in Asia.’ The term “Secularism” was first used by the British writer George Holyoake in 1851. Although the term was new, the general notions of free thought on which it was based had existed throughout history. Holyoake invented the term “Secularism” to described his views of promoting a social order separate from religion, without actively dismissing or criticizing religious belief. An agnostic himself, Holyoke argued that, “Secularism is not an argument against Christianity, it is one independent of it. It does not question the pretensions of Christanity, it advances others. Secularism does not say there is no light or guidance elsewhere, but maintains that there is light and guidance in secular truth, whose conditions and sanctions exist independently, and act forever. Secular knowledge is manifestly that kind of knowledge which is founded in this life, which relates to the conduct of this life, conducts of the welfare of this life, and is capable of being tested by the experience of this life. Secularism as modern concept was born in Britain. It was Holyoake, for the first time, who used the term ‘Secularism’ and its systematic formulation was done by him. For a proper understanding of the term ‘Secularism’ it is necessary to understand the meaning of the terms like ‘Secular’, ‘Secularist’, ‘Secularity’, ‘Secularization’, ‘Secular Society’ and ‘Secular State’.

Secular : The term ‘Secular’ is derived from the Latin word ‘Saeculum’ which originally meant a span of time or age, and by implication, the present age or ‘temporal world’. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the term ‘Secular’ means ‘Non-spiritual’, having no concern with the religious or spiritual matter… anything which is distinct, opposed to, or not connected with the religion or ecclesiastical things, temporal as opposed to spiritual or ecclesiastical. The Oxford Encyclopedia English Dictionary, defined ‘Secular’ means concerned with the affairs or this world not spiritual or religious belief, not bound by a religious rule.’ In its most universal usage in social sciences the terms refer to worldly, the civil or the non-religious as distinguished from the spiritual and ecclesiastical. The secular is that which is not dedicated to religious ends and uses. The chambers dictionary defines ‘Secular’ means, ‘not concerned with religion, pertaining to the present world, or to things not spiritual. Thus ‘Secular’ means ‘worldly’ related to activities connected with present life only. The term ‘Secular’ indicates a State of being not connected with and separated from religion.

Secularist : Encyclopedia of Social Science defines the term ‘Secularist’ as one who theoretically rejects every form of worship religious and faith and influence, derived from the present life and one who believes that education and other civil matters should be managed without introducing any of the religious elements. Secularist means a man who believes in secular ideas or one who advocates secularism. A secularist in education has no supernatural or religious aims, no religious biased curriculum. Similarly, ‘Secularist attitude’ is that attitude which tends progressively to isolate religion from the more significant areas of common life.

Secularity : According to New English Dictionary, Secularity means absence of connection with religion. Secularity means quality or state of being secular.

Secularization : Secularization means ‘act or process of secularizing, the condition of being secularized. It is also a process of decline in religious activities, beliefs, ways of thinking and institution.’ M. N. Sriniwas provides an excellent working definition of secularization. He says, “the term ‘secularization’ implies that what was previously regarded as religious as now ceasing to be such, and it also implies a process of differentiation which results in the various aspects of society, economic, political, legal and moral, becoming increasingly discrete in relation to each other. The term ‘Secularization’ is, therefore, used to describe ‘the conversion of an ecclesiastical or religious institution or its property to secular possession and use and by extension, to shift the authority, basis or emphasis from the religious to the secular. A society is secularized as religion comes to play a less and less dominant role.

Secular Society : The term ‘Secular Society’ means a society which recognizes the secular values, and in which more importance is given to material or temporal affairs of life. In studies of religion, modern western societies are generally recognized as secular. This is due to the near complete freedom of religion, and the lack of authority of religious leaders over political decisions. Positive Ideals behind the secular society are: 1) Deep respect for individuals and the small groups of which they are a part. 2) Equality of all people. 3) Breaking down of the barriers of class & caste.

Secular State : When secularism is actively applied to all important affairs of state, we call it a ‘Secular State’. There are two main models of the secular state, one the Holyoake model and the Bradlaughian model. The Holyoake type of secular state has a place for religion although there is the separation of the state and the church. But the Bradlaughian type of secular states has no place for religion or rather it is hostile to religion, such model has found with the communist countries. According to D. E. Smith, ‘A secular state is a state which guarantees individual and corporate freedom of religion, deals with individual as a citizen irrespective of his religion, is not constitutionally connected to a particular religion nor does it seeks either to promote or interfere with religion.’ A secular state is a concept of secularism, whereby a state or country purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor non-religion. A secular state also claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion, and claims to avoid particular religion/non-religion over other religion/non-religion. Most often it has no state religion or equivalent.

It can be said that following are the basis of Secular State : i) It does not establish, organize or endow any religion for state. ii) It extends full religious freedom to its citizens. iii) It treats all its citizens as equal before law irrespective of their religious faith. iv) It does not discriminate any citizens in the matter of employment on the ground of religion. v) Secular state is not guided by any religious dogmas. Howerver, the idea of secular state does not mean that the state cannot interfere in the religious activities. Sate has a right to interfere in religious activities if there is a breach of national security and integrity of nation. Secular states become secular either upon establishment of the state or upon secularization of the state (e.g. France). Movements for ‘laicite’ in france and for the separation of church and state in the United States began the evolution of the present secular states. Not all legally secular states are completely secular in practice. In france for example, many Christian holy days are official holidays for the public administration. In India, the government gives subsidy in airfare for Muslims to visit Mecca or Kumbh Melas for Hindus and many religious holidays.

Meaning of Secularism : ‘Secularism’ too, like democracy has come to mean different things to different people. Political leaders no less than scholars have used it in different contradictory ways. The word ‘Secularism’ was coined by George Jacob Holyoake (1817-1906) in the middle of the nineteenth century from the latin word ‘Seculum’ meaning ‘this present age. He used the terms secularism in the context of a social and ethical system based on the following principles : 1. Primary emphasis on the material and cultural improvement of human beings. 2. Concern for this age or world and its improvement and 3. An independent rational morality which does not base itself on faith in divine commandment. While Holyoake’s ‘Secularism’ is accommodative of religion, Joseph Bradlaugh, his contemporary, believed in secularism which totally rejects religion and make science its deity. He considered that secularism was bound to contest theistic belief and that human progress through material means was impossible so long as ‘religion’ and superstitions exercise a powerful influence on human life. He maintained that either of the two, secularism or religion should survive. Therefore, a secular state on the Holyoakean model, has a place for religion, has no religion of its own, maintains equidistance from, and strict neutrality towards all religions. It separates religion from the affairs of the state. While a secular state on the Bradlaughian model on the other hand, is agnostic and actively hostile to religion in all its forms and banishes it from its own affairs as well as from the private, personal life of its people. This model has found favour with the communist countries and the Holyoakean model has come to be adopted, with numerous variations in India and in the western countries. In the Encyclopaedia Britannica, secularism is defined as ‘non-spiritual having no concern with religious or spiritual matter.’ The Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, describes it as a ‘movement internationally ethical, negatively religious, with political and philosophical antecedents.’ According to Eric S. Waterhouse ‘secularism is an ideology which provides a theory of life and conduct as against one provided by religion.’ According to G. G. Hackman, ‘Secularism signifies the kind of life that is lived in complete indifference to god and to religious values.’ The same view has been put with grater force by J. C. Bennet. He said that secularism is life organized apart from god, as though god did not exist. While going through these definitions, we can as well conclude that there is a close relationship between secularism and rationalism. Rationalism is defined as the ‘mental habit of using reason for the destruction of religious life.’ According to M. N. Srinivas, rationalism is the essential element of secularism.

Indian Secularism : There is no agreed and precise meaning of secularism in India. It is true that here secularism is neither entirely Indian in essence nor western in Temper. It is the admixture of certain aspects of Indian tradition and the western notion of secular state. The Indian conception of secularism requires that there shall be no state religion and that the state shall treat all religions equally i.e. ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhav’. There are three ingredients of Gandhiji’s Secularism. 1. Religion should be the personal affair of the individual. 2. The State should have no religion. 3. All religions should enjoy equal status in the society. Gandhiji believed in ‘Sarva-dharma-samanta’, i.e. having equal regard for all faiths and creeds. It is this view of secularism which finds expression in our constitution. Its ethos is neither irreligious nor anti-religious. It is by and large religious in characters. According to Pt. Nehru, ‘Secularism was not only a political doctrine but a social one of revolutionary character which embraced all religions and communities in India. Nehru’s secularism was a revolt against theological and metaphysical absolutes and universals. He said, “Essentially I am interested in this world, in this life, not in some other world or a future life.” Therefore we can say that Nehru’s scientific secularism was less dogmatic. According to Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, “Secularism does not mean irreligion. It means we respect all faiths and religions. Our state does not identify itself with any particular religion.” In the words of Dr. Ambedkar, ‘Secular state does not mean that we shall not take into consideration the religious sentiments of people. All that a secular state means is that this Parliament shall not be competent to impose any particular religion upon the rest of the people. Abdul Kalam Azad said, ‘India is a democratic secular state where every citizen whether he is a Hindu, Muslim or Sikh has equal rights and privileges.’ He further said that, “The essence of a secular and democratic state is freedom of opportunity for the individual without regard to race, religion, caste or community.’ Moin Shakir supports the view that secularism means not a separation between state and religion but giving equal respect to all religions. The discussion in the constituent Assembly throws light on the nature of Indian Secularism. Prof. K. T. Shah (on 3rd Dec. 1948) said with regard to secularism, ‘State in India being secular shall have no concern with any religion, creed or profesion of faith and shall observe an attitude of absolute neutrality in all matters relating to the religion of any class of its citizens or other persons in the union.’ He emphasized that state should be neutral in the matters of religion of any community. According to K. M. Munshi, ‘A secular State is not a Godless State. It is not a state which refuses to take notice of religious beliefs in this country.” Shri Ananthasayanam Ayyangar stated, “We are pledged to make the state a secular one. ‘Secular’ does not mean that we do not believe in any religion and that we have nothing to do with it in our day-to-day life. It only means that the state cannot aid one religion or give preference to one religion as against another. Therefore, it is obliged to be absolutely secular in character.” Thus there was a general consensus during the Constituent Assembly debates on the following points: 1. Secularism or secular state does not mean a rejection of religion. 2. A secular state is one which does not discriminate between the citizen on the basis of religion and, 3. The concept of secular state requires the separation of the spheres of authority of religion and state. In the original text of the constitution the word ‘secular’ was not mentioned. It was inserted in the Preamble of our constitution by the 42nd Constitution Amendment Act 1976. But it does not mean that Indian Constitution was not secular. There were provisions in the constitutions, which supported the secular fabric of Indian constitution.

Supreme Court and Secularism : The Supreme Court of India, which is regarded as the guardian of Constitution in India, had explained the concept of secularism and the secular character of the Indian Constitution throughout its important judgments. 1. Explaining the secular character of the Indian Constitution it said in St. Xavier’s College Vs. State of Gujrat (AIR 1974 SC 1389) that ‘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 matter of the State and ensure that no one shall be discriminated against on the ground of religion. 2. In Kesavananda Bharati V. State of Kerala [(1973) 4SCC225], the Constitutional Bench of the Hon’ble supreme court reiterated that secularism was a part of the basic structure of the constitution. 3. The supreme court throwing light on the Indian nature of secularism in the S. R. Bommai Case (AIR 1994 SC 1918) that the, “Allah” of Muslims is the same as the ‘God’ of Christians and ‘Ishwara’ of the Hindus. It also says that it is a ‘Mistaken Notion’ that secularism means respect for no religion. Religion, it says it is a matter of personal belief and mode of worship. It seemed to have rejected the western concept of secularism based on separation of the Church and the State.

Practice of Secularism : There is obvious difference between secularism practiced in India and elsewhere. The western model of secularism means that religion and politics are separate from each other. In other words, polity does not enter in religious affairs and religion in political affairs. However, Indian society being a mixture of religious, is always prone to dominance and conflicts. Moreover, the issues such as casteism is particularly of religious origin. Religions and castes increased their influence on political parties. As a result, politicio-religio-regional chauvinism is becoming more common in contemporary Indian politics. All political parties subscribe the ideal of secularism but their acts expose the hypocracy. The secularism practiced by all the political parties is out of expediency and a deceptive one. Every political party in its election manifesto vows secularism and the best way to slander an opposition party is to call it ‘communal’ or pseudo-secular. The Hindu nationalist claim that the Indian National Congress and the associated communist party of India are pseudo-secular. Their claim is that leftists in India are not truly secular since they appease minority communities at the expense of the interests of the Hindu Community, and often at odds with modern ideas of secularism. Thus ‘secular’ has become a word for political mud-slinging at each other. Thus, practicing the Indian brand of secularism in the last 60 years, failed to produce communal harmony and trust. Power-hungry politicians, for over 60 years, have abused secularism to the hilt. Their commitment to secularism and secular values is only skin-deep.

Conclusion : The concept of secularism in India emerged in the context of religious pluralism, as against religious authoritarianism in the west. Unlike Europe, secularism in India arose not in the process of conflict between state and church, but as an attempt to unite the followers of different religious faith. Secularism in Indian context can not mean an anti-religious attitude or even an attitude of indifference towards religion on the part of the state. It means state neutrality to religion or equal protection for all religions. For, India’s identity as a nation and democracy, largely rest on a correct understanding and practice of secularism by State, Political parties and the masses. Liberhan Commission which investigated the Babri Masjid Incident has recommended that religion be delinked from politics and that Politicians must not garner votes preaching religion or caste. The foremost task before the secularist in India today is to prevent the rise and spread of religious fundamentalism-whether of saffron type or of Islamic type.


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...word ‘Codex’ which means a book. Therefore, the term ‘Civil Code’ is read in conjunction with the adjective ‘Uniform’ it connotes a code which shall be uniformly applicable to all citizens irrespective of their religion, race, sex, caste and creed. Uniform Civil Code, therefore, generally refers to that part of law which deals with family affairs of an individual and denotes uniform law for all citizens, irrespective of his/her religion, caste or tribe.  UNIFORM CIVIL CODE AND INDIAN CONSTITUTION Article 44 of the Constitution of India requires the state to secure for the citizens of India a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India. India is a unique blend and merger of codified personal laws of Hindus, Christians, Parsis and to some extent of laws of Muslims. However, there exists no uniform family related law in a single statutory book for all Indians which are universally acceptable to all religious communities who co-exist in India. The constitution, by virtue of Article 44, is very clear that unless a uniform civil code is followed, integration cannot be imbibed. However, the fact is that it is only a “directives principle” laid down in the constitution and as Article 37 of the Constitution itself makes clear, the directive principles “shall not be enforceable by any court”. Nevertheless, they are “fundamental...

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The Legitimacy of Islam in Pakistan

...incomplete. It currently lacks details, examples, and proper in-text referencing. Pakistan: A Nation for Muslims… or Not? by Asma Zarouni Introduction The popular view regarding the Pakistan-India conflict – that carries on to date – is that it was a religious conflict. The Pakistani version proclaims that Muslims in India had been subject to persecution and bias, and the claim to an independent nation lied in this persecution. This is a story that masses of Pakistanis have believed and the essential reason that masses of Pakistanis tend to rigorously indulge in an anti-India sentiment. Although, this version of the conflict might serve well to inspire patriotism amongst Pakistanis, this version does inspire a lot of questions. If Pakistan was a nation made for Muslims, why has its constitution since its independence been based upon secularism? Why is it that an exceeding population of Muslims chose not to migrate to Pakistan during the conflict? Why is it that a nation created on the notion of common religion remains divided through various other issues? Amidst such blaring questions, the only answer that seems likely is that Pakistan was a nation that was not made for Muslims. In other words, it might be said that in 1947, the call for Partition of Greater India into Pakistan and India was not one that came from the majority of people but only a select few elitist. This paper aims to argue the aforementioned proposition with historical evidence and logical analysis.......

Words: 3884 - Pages: 16