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Lesson 8

Secularism in India

Topics Covered: Is India Secular? Relationship Between The State and Religion in
Ancient India, Redefining Secularism, 'Internal Reasoning' and the Secular Ideal, Secularism
and India's integrity, Secularist-separatist nexus, The Sikh reaction, Distortion of Secularism,
Secularism - myth & reality, Future of secularism in India, Example: Conflict and co-
existence in our age’

To analyse on the how far Secular ideas are practiced in current Indian political
To understand the present status and to make an estimation on the future of

Is India Secular?
By separating the state from the church and advocating tolerance for other faiths, the West is
accredited for gifting secularism to the world. The fact is that what it introduced is pseudo
secularism while Indian ethos is of true secularism.
Religions such as Christianity and Islam are monotheistic in as much as those who do not
profess them are regarded as non-believers. Indian ethos is of henotheism, that is, oneness of
various manifestations of a supreme super-consciousness. It thus totally accepts, not merely
tolerates other faiths.

Krishna says in Gita that he comes again and again whenever injustice becomes unbearable.
Thus in the Hindu psyche, Christ, Mohammad and such other great souls, all are manifestations
of god. Self-seeking priesthood however fostered social ills, and subjugation and religious
intolerance by invaders created a backlash of intolerance in some sections of the Hindu society.
All these distortions have got frozen in time and space because of subjugation of the human
spirit first under colonial rule, and now under abusive "colonial self-rule".
As and when empowerment is restored to local entities, the society will get reconnected with its
glorious past. This is what Gandhiji believed and advocated.

Relationship Between The State and Religion in Ancient India

As in the West, the idea of separation of the Church from the state has also existed in India
since ancient times. Hindu traditions lend strong support to the idea that the functions of the
priest and king are to be separated. According to the 'divinely ordained' caste system, the
priestly function belonged to the Brahmins while the rulership vested with the Kshatriyas. The
Brahmin priest was expected to advise the king, but could not himself rule as per the caste
In ancient India it was the king's duty to promote dharma. Now the term dharma has a wide
connotation involving law, duty, morality and religion. Thus dharma did not just connote
administration it also had ecclesiastical overtones. The king was expected to encourage piety
and virtue and also aid religious institutions. Government was not based on a theocracy and
considerable impartiality was practiced in the treatment accorded to various sects - irrespective
of the sect to which a king belonged. However, the religious overtones of regal policy were
very pronounced. The ancient Hindu State, like today's Indian State, was tolerant towards all
religions, was equidistant from all religions and also generally gave equal promotion to all
religions. But despite all this it could not be called secular as it was not a non-religious state
and the promotion of dharma tied it down to ecclesiastical pursuits, which cannot go into the
making of a secular state as per the Dictionary meaning of the term.
In promoting dharma the state in ancient India built temples, granted them large endowments,
and exercised strict supervision over their affairs. As the Hindu kings were tolerant towards all
creeds and frequently aided them all, the foundations of religious tolerance which is one of the
bases of secularism could be said to be indigenous to India. In addition a clear-cut distinction
was made in ancient Indian polity between the functions of the priest and the king.
There was an intimate relationship between the Brahmin clergy and the Kshatriya nobility. The
Brahmin, Purohita (royal chaplain) occupied a prominent position at the court of a Hindu king.
The purohita also wielded considerable influence over the king through his rule as the King's
Guru (spiritual preceptor).
In the Gautama Dharmasutra (circa 500 B.C.) It is stated that even the King's authority could
not touch the Brahmins, since they are representatives of God on earth, and the king's
prosperity depended on divine blessings which only the Brahmins can invoke. In other texts the
king is warned that if he fails to employ a qualified Brahmin priest, his oblations would not be
acceptable to the Gods. Even the success of a king was said to depend on his bowing three
times before the Brahman Purohita at his coronation, and thus accepting a subordinate position.
The king traditionally was portrayed as a protector of cows and Brahmins.
Bitter curses are pronounced in the Dharmashastras, against rulers who confiscate the cows of
Brahmins. "But the Brahminical order never developed the kind of tight-knit organisation
which would enable it to enjoy an effective political role comparable to that of the church in
medieval Europe. Furthermore, the divinely ordained social system had clearly given the
function of governance to the Kshatriyas.

The general environment of religious liberty and the official tradition of religious tolerance
which prevailed in ancient India, represents one important commonality with the secular state
in India today. The ancient Hindu state never sought to impose a particular creed upon the
people. In the words of Donald Smith various schools of thought propounded the doctrines of
agnosticism, atheism and materialism. Jainism, Buddhism and later Judaism, Christianity,
Zoroastrianism, and Islam were permitted to propagate their teachings, build their places of
worship, and establish their respective ways of life. The struggle for freedom of conscience in
Europe and America, stretching over many centuries, has no counterpart in Indian History.
From the earliest days this right seems never to have been denied

As the famed historian Max Weber put it: "It is an undoubted fact that in India, religions and
philosophical thinkers were able to enjoy perfect, nearly absolute freedom for a long period.
The freedom of thought in ancient India was so considerable as to find no parallel in the west
before the most recent age."

Redefining Secularism

Religion is the science of ethics. It cannot be jettisoned and then society expected to be ethical.
We need to redefine secularism. First, it should mean total acceptance, not mere tolerance, of
other faiths. Secondly, being a social issue, religion should be, along with all other social
issues, in exclusive local jurisdictions. The national and state governments should have no
jurisdiction over the administration of religions. Finally, at the grassroots level, where there is a
confluence of community and governance, grassroots assemblies may decide how religions
may be practiced and education in them imparted. Social discords, if any, should be dealt with
and settled within the local level, first by the sub city or sub district, and finally the city or
district government.

'Internal Reasoning' and the Secular Ideal

The liberal secular state in India is quite unique. It has been involved in the process of
reforming religion, especially Hinduism. In addition to the usual liberal-secular reasons, the
Indian state has, in a unique way, invoked religious reasons to support the liberal reform of
aspects of Hinduism. My questions are: 1) Is it justified for a liberal secular state to be involved
in the reform of religion? 2) What is the value of the offering, by the state, of religious reasons
for reforms especially in a context like India’s? Based on my previous research, I believe that
the option of adducing religious reasons in addition to justification based on public reason may
help consolidate an overlapping consensus on (imperative) liberal-secular principles, especially
in multi-religious polities like India where religion is constitutive of personal identity. I classify
this option as internal reasoning. In my paper I wish to further explore the option of internal
reasoning and examine its value in societies with a nascent liberal public political culture.
Insofar as liberal secular norms are viewed as ‘impositions’ on groups with illiberal
worldviews, does internal reasoning present liberals with a normatively desirable way of
engaging/reasoning with illiberal others? If religious reasons do have value in such societies, is
it merely strategic or are there moral considerations too? One of the primary ways by which I
will explore the option of internal reasoning in this paper is by analyzing some judgments of
the Supreme Court of India – especially those that have invoked scriptural injunctions to justify
the reform of religion by the state. My analysis will draw on the conceptual resources of
contemporary liberalism. Also, and importantly, I believe that just as theory may enable
addressing the aforementioned questions, engaging with the constitutional politics of India will
enrich the discussion on the role of internal reasoning. Indeed, debates in contemporary liberal
philosophy have much to gain from the experience of polities like India, which, in the
background of incommensurable but coexisting worldviews, are seeking to realize liberal
ideals. Such cross-references can only assist in a genuine search for trans-cultural ideals. The
above project fits into the larger plan for my doctoral thesis in which I wish to examine the
conceptual basis for secularism in India. The Indian model of secularism does not fall neatly
into the mode of strict separation of religion and politics. The idea is to look at how the Indian
case may provide us with the possibility of conceiving and upholding the secular ideal in a
manner that is different from, and perhaps an alternative to, the mode of strict separation that is
generally assumed to be only way to realize the commitment to secularism.

Secularism and India's integrity

Separatism and anti-Hinduism

In the present context, the link between history-writing and actual politics is extra-ordinarily
strong. Witness the crucial role of the Aryan invasions theory in the secularist and casteist/
Ambedkarist ideologies, as earlier in the missionary and colonial ideologies. In fact, I can not
think of any situation in world history where history-writing was so intertwined with both long-
term political philosophy and short-term political equations. This is partly because an unusually
large chunk of India's history is fundamentally under debate, either because it has not yet been
mapped (so many unknowns may be decided on overnight once the Indus script is conclusively
deciphered), or because it has been questioned for ideological reasons even while well-
established (like the denial of Islam's utterly destructive role). Nowhere else can so much be
read into history according to one's ideological compulsions, because nowhere else is so much
history so undecided and disputed.

This link between the two, history and politics, works in both directions. Secularism as a
political philosophy is intellectually dependent upon the secularist version of history.
Conversely, once secularism as the official state ideology is fully discredited, secularist history-
writing cannot survive for long. Now in fact, Nehruvian secularism as a political philosophy
has effectively lost its credibility. It has proven worthless as a national motivating force and as
a moral framework, judging by the many forms of corruption at every level. It has proven
unable to create a secular national unity (Bharatiyatva, Indian-ness).

Secularists go on lambasting the Ram devotees that with their Janmabhoomi demand they
cannot expect the minorities to remain in India, that they are driving the minorities to
separatism. This contention unfortunately draws an objective outsider's attention to the fact that
these minority separatisms are already there. There are Muslim, Sikh, Communist and Christian
separatist movements who carry on an armed struggle against the Indian secular republic. The
Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu has, after the Chinese invasion in 1962, decided to limit
itself to demands within the Constitution, and to drop its separatism ; however, with the DMK
talking of the need to go back to the roots, and depending on the outcome for the Tamils in Sri
Lanka, it might reassert its separatist tendencies. It is significant that it was Annadurai, the least
anti-Hindu among the Dravidian leaders (he supported the RSS in putting up the Vivekananda
Rock Memorial, against the Christians) who called off the separatist programme.

There are also Dalit fringe groups who demand a separate Dalitastan or Achootistan. Some of
these groups are militantly atheist (like the Dravidian movement), some are Christian-or
Muslim-leaning, some profess Buddhism of the Ambedkarite variety. The one thing that all
these separatist movements without exception have in common at the ideological level, is their
hatred of Hinduism. Every separatist movement in India is an anti-Hindu movement.
In fact, as I write this, the papers report on pamphlets being spread among the tribals in Gujarat,
demanding for a separate tribal state Bhilistan, as well as for five more tribal states in other
parts of India. And what is the punch line in the pamphlet? Exactly: "We are not Hindus". Of
course, the number of tribals rallied behind this demand may not exceed a handful, but the
point that separatism in India invariably implies anti-Hinduism is certainly corroborated.

The Hindus may profess secularism as much as they want : for their enemies they are still too
Hindu. And their enemies will try to separate from them from the very day they feel strong
enough to do it, in order to create a Pakistan, Khalistan etc. Secularism, which is purely a
negative ideology, which merely divorces one of the strongest motivating forces in an
individual's life from public life, is proving incapable of overcoming these separatisms.

I am not saying that all minorities ipso facto harbour separatist tendencies and will invariably
launch a separatist movement if strategically given a chance. The Parsis or the Jains are not
going to start their own Khalistan agitation, I am sure. The ordinary members of the Christian
community, everywhere where it is living mixed with other communities (i.e. except in parts of
the Northeast), have a constructive attitude and are, as far as I can see, increasingly being
absorbed into the mainstream. Among the Sikhs too, the separatist movement can still not
claim a majority of the community as supporters of the Khalistan cause. And among the
Muslims, it is only in Kashmir that they massively support separation from India. I have to
agree with the remark of some secularist, that the Muslims who stayed behind in India in 1947,
in a sense "voted for India with their feet". All I am saying is that those who are bent on
creating a separate communal state, will want to do so regardless of whether the Hindus call
themselves Hindu or secular.

Therefore, V.P. Singh missed the point when he declared on Doordarshan (with an explicitness
that bordered on incitement) that, if the Hindus claimed the Ram Janmabhoomi, there was no
ground for stopping the Sikhs from demanding Khalistan, and other such separatist demands.
The separatists have not waited until the Hindu mobilization for Ram Janmabhoomi to start
their anti- India movement; nor will they call it off if the Hindus call off the Janmabhoomi

Secularist-separatist nexus

The nexus between the anti-Janmabhoomi demand and anti- Hindu separatism has been worked
out more closely by Tavleen Singh (Journalist: India Today) in her article ‘Apocalypse Soon’.
Let us take a close look at her analysis and prediction:
She starts out by mentioning the opinion, fairly common in Pakistan, that India should be
partitioned once more, and a big chunk of the North given to the India Muslims. Since
Ayodhya, she thinks that this prospect has acquired a grim chance of materialization. After all,
the VHP Hindus have become so fanatical that they think : "We will have to get rid of these
Muslims. They must be kicked out and sent to Pakistan, after all it was made for them." So, on
the Hindu side, we have strong words.
On the Muslim side, according to Tavleen Singh, the radicalization has already gone a big step
further. Just a week before, the Muslim Personal Law Board has issued a religious sanction to
fight, if necessary, for the Babri Masjid. "All God-fearing Muslims will consider it their
religious duty to participate in the new jihad. This would lead automatically to the
internationalizing of the dispute... If the mosque is knocked down, [not only Pakistan but] many
an oil-fat Arab country would be only too willing to come to the defense of the faith."

What is our secularist commentator implying? That India should let its policy on Ayodhya be
sidetracked at the Muslim countries' gunpoint? Politically, it is a concession (i.e. a reward and
an encouragement) to threats of coercion and aggression, if the Ayodhya or Kashmir policies
are made dependent on the assent of mujahedin either inside India or in the Muslim countries.
Strategically however, it is very useful and timely, that an unsuspected secularist points to the
danger of jihad. While Hindus would be politically justified in ignoring such undemocratic and
terrorist threats, in terms of strategy they should think twice before provoking a reaction for
which they are not prepared.

When the Shilanyas ceremony took place, thirty-five Muslim countries have protested. At that
time, there was no call for jihad. If we add pan-Islamic solidarity to the call for jihad, then India
is in for some serious trouble. However, at the time of writing, no Islamic country has voiced
any threat against India. So far it is only the secularists who have tried to intimidate the Ram
Mandir campaigners with threats of international Muslim retaliation.

As part of the same effort, they have also been accusing the Ram activists of endangering the
safety of the Hindus in Muslim countries. This effectively means that, in the secularists'
perception, those minority Hindus are really hostages, and the secularists are supporting the
anti-Janmabhoomi demands of the hostage-takers, the Muslim majorities in Pakistan, Bangla
Desh, Malaysia. "Be good, otherwise something very unpleasant will happen", so the
secularists say, repeating the canonical line of hostage-takers.

Even if those countries with Hindu minorities are Islamic republics, they still have laws against
looting, arson, temple- destruction, and rape and slaughter of citizens even if these belong to
the minorities. Moreover, India has treaties with Pakistan (inherited also by its partial successor
state Bangla Desh) concerning the safety of the minorities. As for actual jihad from Muslim
countries against India, there are international treaties (as well Nehru's famous "five principles
of peaceful co- existence", accepted by the Non-Aligned Movement to which many Muslim
countries belong) prescribing respect for a nation's sovereignty, and guaranteeing non-
interference in internal affairs, and non-aggression. All these safeguards against aggression on
Hindus and India are a juridical reality.

However, in the present discourse, our secularists have exchanged these realities belonging to
the level of Right, for the logic of brute Power. They choose to treat the situation not in
juridical but in strategic terms. Maybe they are right. But then it implies that "the friendship
with the Arab countries that Nehru so wisely built", which in the spring of 1990 had seemed to
hold out against Pakistan's attempt to rally support for its claim on Kashmir, is not resistant
even to the Ayodhya affair, i.e. the relocation of one non-mosque. What kind of friendship is
this, where a sovereign act can get punished with jihad ? To say the least, this is not a tribute to
Nehru's international legacy by his otherwise devout followers.

This jihad will also (if not primarily) come from inside India : “Even on a domestic level, there
are likely to be serious problems. So far, we have been spared Muslim terrorist groups, at least
outside Kashmir, but for how long ? Once Muslims feel that the state is not going to protect
them and they are on their own, it is only a question of time before they start doing what the
Sikhs were doing in Punjab. As it is, when we visit a town after a communal riot, people say : if
the police wasn't there, we could take the Hindus on."

The Sikh reaction

In Amritsar, she talked to a lot of Sikh militant leaders, who almost all of them brought up the
Ayodhya issue. Incidentally, anti-fanatical Sikhs who would get killed if they went near
Tavleen's militant friends, merely because they call terrorists by their proper name. In
November 1990, the Sikh terrorists had issued orders to the press, one of these being that no
negative terms like terrorist can be applied to them. Most secularists in the press are not
affected by the death threats issued to journalists who don't fall in line, because they already
use the terrorist-friendly (or at least neutral) language. So, the militants told her that "they felt
now that the struggle for Khalistan was entirely justified because if the minorities in India
could not even be ensured protection for their places of worship then Indian secularism is
nothing but a lie". This statement calls for some serious comment.

As the Chinese philosopher Confucius has pointed out, we can only begin to set the world in
order, if we call things by their proper names. This whole Ayodhya problem would not have
existed if secularist politicians and intellectuals had called the disputed building a non- mosque
and an effective Hindu temple. Because that is what it is: a building containing idols is by
definition not a mosque, and a building not used for namaz is in effect not a mosque. But a
building where Hindus come to worship idols, is called a temple or Mandir.

Distortion of Secularism
In Western countries secularism means a state that is neutral as regards religion, not affording
any positive or negative weight to religion in affairs of the state or the law. In India secularism
has come to mean granting special government benefits to religious minorities and penalizing
the religious majority, including offering salaries to Mullahs and maintaining Islamic personal
law, but taxing Hindu temples. Secular India bans books in the name of religion and does other
actions of a religious state, as long as the religions upheld are not the majority religion of the

This has resulted in a state that caters to and is dominated by religious influences rather than is
truly secular. In fact secularism in India means that all religions are catered to but Hinduism,
the majority religion. Representation is given according to minority religious identities, rather
than banishing religious identity from secular politics. This keeps those of the majority religion
suppressed and the religious ethos of the country outside of the political sphere, which only
gives more ground for adharma to flourish. This is not to say that India should become a
religious state. Classical India never had any theological states. A truly secular government
should not cater to any religious dogma, but it must uphold Dharma and support the indigenous
culture of the land, which in India has predominantly Hindu roots.
This requires removing special favors to religious minorities and stopping penalizing the
religious majority. It requires revoking all personal religious laws for a uniform civil code. In
addition it requires more strictly regulating the action of missionaries, who, well funded by
foreign money, still prey upon the poor of India in their thirst for conversions.

Secularism - myth & reality

Any country which has a constitution bereft of state religion is considered to be free of
fundamentalism, they are suppose to treat their citizen at par and on merit irrespective of caste, colour,
creed or religion. At the same time any country where there is a state religion in the normal parlance it
is considered to be a fundamentalist state. But history has got a different story to tell, which all the
states conveniently avoid to admit.

Fundamentalism was born the day the first man was born and he owed allegiance to God, his
children’s and posterity cannot be and are not much different from what their ancestors have been.
Religions have spread all over the world and there are the Christians, the Jews, the Islamists, the
Hindus and the Buddhists guiding the destinies of man. By and large the rulers are bereft of
fundamentalism except a few Arab country’s, Israel and Pakistan, but this is a myth, the reality is
something else, let us examine the case of biggest democracy of the world, I mean India, according to
their constitution of which Bharat is a secular state with Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis are all
equal according to the constitution, but Hindus are more equal than the others, even in Hindus there
are further sub-divisions of Brahmin, Kshatriyas, Waish and Sudras. The Brahmins are on the top most
rung of the ladder in their social order. Next are the Kshatriyas who are suppose to be the fighters to
guard the frontiers of the state, the third are the Waish - The Clerks, the Bureaucrats to abide by the
instructions issued to them from time to time. Last are the Sudaras - the menials, none of these castes
mentioned above inter marry, there are places in India where the Sudaras cannot draw water from the
same well from where the other higher caste Hindus draw, if this is the social order enjoined in the
Hindu religion then what is the point where secularism plays an effective roll in the affairs of the
government and the state.

Newspapers in India are full of reports of riots, killings and murder of non-Hindus, but India is still a
secular state simply because its constitution professes it to be. Mahatma Gandhi, the great Hindu
leader rose to be the father of the Indian nation consisting of Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Parsis and
Buddhists, it was in the third decade of twentieth century, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar the leader of 90 million
Schedule caste Hindus got fed up with the social order perpetuated by high caste Hindus threatened to
convert to Islam. Mahatma Gandhi got scared about the future of the Hindus in India. So he decided to
undertake a fast unto death on this issue, a compromise was reached and then started the Harijan
movement and the word Harijan was coined for the Sudaras and a residence was prepared in Harijans
colony for Mahatma Gandhi.

The government have reserved a certain percentage of vacancies in the government services for the
schedule caste but this reservation is not there for other minorities mainly the Musalmans, who have
been and still are an eyesore in the eyes of the Hindus right from the day of Mohammed Bin Qasim,
when the first Musalman landed on the shores of India. Even then India is a secular state by their
professed statement but not in practice. India can never be a secular state as Turkey is because it is
only Islam, which teaches, and it is Islam, alone which proclaims musawat - Equality and Fraternity.
Things do not end here; the story goes much farther than this and has got international repercussions.

America needs a friend in the third world to replace Iran and India is readily available with all its
professions and practices. The diehard fundamentalism in India is being easily ignored by the United
States and the other developed countries simply because its constitution says that it is a secular state. A
Musalman can be the President of India on political expediency but surely he has got no place in the
services. The secular India is carrying out a genocide of Kashmiri Muslims in blatant violation of
human rights, yet the world conscience is not pricked by the anti-secularistic activities of India, this is
the difference between the myth and reality.

Religion has always been a common bond between man and man beyond the territorial limits of the
nation state. This vital factor has always come into play in the international politics whether it is East
Timor or Kashmir. Every person who professes a religion is a fundamentalist inspite of the articles in
their constitution, whether it is an American constitution or an Indian constitution. Pakistan has been
truthful and bold to admit that we are an Islamic state and that is so and that will be so and that will
remain so in the hearts of the people of Pakistan and every Musalman whatever may be the
constitutional professions and the super powers’ requirements.

By and large the Heads of States in G-7 and Group of 77 and Christians, the United Nations
Organization are secular in character but fundamentalist in practice, the glaring example is of East
Timor, East Timor in Indonesia wanted to be independent of the control of Jakarta, so they were
allowed to be so, but the same analogy is not applicable to Kashmir as according to the greatest
Christian of the world President Bill Clinton of the United States, the two situations are not identical
while they are identical by any tenets of norms, justice and fair play. The Americans and the United
Nations, eat the humble pie on Kashmir and when it comes to Iraq a Muslim state the American forces
are let lose for bombardment. Some secular states like Russia and China have disagreed with UN and
the United States over the Baghdad issue. But the world conscience does not brand these Christian
states as fundamentalist even though they are diehard fundamentalists.

Israel is an ideological state and they have nothing to hide so far as their fundamentalism is concerned
but at the same time they are being ably supported by the biggest secular state. The Americans, so
much so a bridge of supplies was made from Washington to Tel Aviv during the Yom Kipper war. The
greatest democracy of the world and that too secular which has no state religion in the United States of
America, their entire administration and the Armed Forces are full of Christians and Christians alone.
Secularism is all right in theory but when practiced by individuals, who profess some religion,
secularism dies its own death. No one is secular even in the professed secular states as no state in the
non-aligned movement is non-aligned. India is reported to have moved for the expulsion of Pakistan
from the non-aligned movement, on the contrary it should be India which should be expelled from the
non-aligned movement by just not following the advise of Americans on Kashmir for holding
dialogue. India cannot claim to be a non-aligned state.

In the African states and even in Australia the sons of the soil may have all the rights under Secular
State but the practice is abhorrent when it comes to brass tacks. There must be some compatibility
between practice and profession.
Future of secularism in India
THE question of future of secularism in India is very important particularly at this juncture. The
fundamentalist forces are raising their heads in India as in other countries of the world. No
religion is exception to this. There are many reasons for this. In India Hindu fundamentalism has
become much more aggressive than say Muslim fundamentalism. Secularism today is in much
greater danger than ever before due to Hindutva militancy.

Secularism is highly necessary if India has to survive as a nation. But apart from survival of
Indian nationalism and Indian unity, secularism is necessary for modern democratic polity. And
this need for secular polity becomes much greater if the country happens to be as diverse and
plural as India. Secularism is a great need for democratic pluralism.

Our leaders and freedom fighters were well aware of need for secular and modern democratic
polity for India. They also knew that India is highly religious country and that secularism in the
sense of hostility or indifference to religion will never be acceptable to people of India.
Secularism was never meant to be indifference to religion by India leaders. It is for this reason
that even most orthodox among Hindus and Muslims accepted it as a viable ideology for Indian
unity and integrity.

The most Orthodox Muslim 'Ulama of Deobandi school preferred secular India to Muslim
homeland or theocratic Pakistan. They outright rejected the idea of Pakistan when mooted by
Jinnah. They denounced two nation theory on the basis of religion. Nehru, though personally
agnostic, but never imposed agnostic or atheistic secularism. He was too much of a democrat to
attempt that. He said in his answer to a query by an Indian student at Oxford University in fifties
that in U.K. state has a religion (Anglican Christianity) but people of England are quite
indifferent to religion but in India state has no religion but people are very religious. Therefore,
in Indian situation secularism means equal protection to all religions.

Nehru was greatly committed, more than anyone else in post-independence India, to the concept
of secularism. He never compromised on this question. He was well aware of the fact that
secularism is a great cementing force for the diverse people of India. He, as an idealist, thought
that with spread of modern scientific and technological education secularism would spread and
find greater and greater acceptability. However, not only it that did not happen that way but
communalism and obscurantism spread with more intensity than secularism.

There are several reasons for this all of which we cannot analyse here. Some of them of course
must be mentioned. Like Nehru very few people were genuinely committed to secularism in the
Congress. Many eminent Congress leaders were opposed to it in their heart of heart. They tried
to sabotage Nehruvian vision in his own lifetime and they became much more active after his
death. Nehru could not pay much attention to educational system in his lifetime. It could not be
reformed. The old textbooks with communal approach introduced during the British period were
never changed. The Congress leaders themselves approved of them. Those who did not, could
not show enough courage to demand essential changes in history textbooks. Thus most of the
Indians grew with subtle or pronounced communal mindset.
In fact the educated were thus more affected with communal virus than the illiterate masses who
never studied in schools and colleges. Similarly urban areas were more affected with communal
virus than rural areas. Formation of Pakistan also greatly affected thinking of educated middle
class Hindus and they looked upon Muslims as responsible for creation of Pakistan. They were
never explained the complex political factors which brought about existence of Pakistan.

Thus the education system did not cultivate secular outlook and conservative political outlook
continued to strengthen communal mindset among the educated middle classes. The Muslim
leaders in independent India, after the death of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Zakir Husain,
could not provide moderate and wise leadership to Muslim masses. They also remained not only
extremely cautious in their approach but never prepared Muslim masses for modern secular
polity in India. They were more insistent on minority rights than on necessity for change.

This attitude was further strengthened among these leaders due to frequent occurrences of
communal riots. The Jabalpur riot of 1961 shook Nehru as much as Indian Muslims to the core.
For the first time they became greatly apprehensive of their security and began to withdraw in
their shell. This further reinforced conservatism and became a hurdle in developing secular
outlook among Muslims. The Jabalpur riots were followed by more intense communal violence
in Ahmedabad in 1969 and Bhivandi-Jalgaon in 1970.

The end of seventies and early eighties witnessed number of; major communal riots in which
hundreds were killed brutally. The RSS propaganda, on the other hand, was bringing more and
more Hindus in the fold of Hindutva. All these developments were sure prescription for
increasingly weakening secular forces in the country.

The decade of eighties saw rise of religious militancy among Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. This
decade also witnessed horrendous communal violence in North India. It was again during this
decade that Khalistan movement c

Faith will always remain an important component of human behaviour and there will always
remain an element of orthodoxy in faith behaviour. Rational faith is certainly not an
impossibility but it tends to be an elitist phenomenon. On the level of masses orthodoxy reigns
rather than rationality, even in advanced societies. Also, economic advancement and reduction in
levels of poverty and illiteracy will ultimately sideline communal bigotry and enhance forces of
secularism. Religious orthodoxy, if not challenged by the other's threats, would not yield to
communalism. There is a Laxman Rekha between religious orthodoxy and communal discourse.

India has stupendous challenges to meet due to its economic backwardness and unemployment,
which sharpen communal struggle. Unemployed and frustrated youth can easily be induces to
think and act communally as he thinks his unemployment is due more to his caste or community
than economic backwardness. Thus chances of secularism will certainly brighten with more
economic progress and reduced levels of unemployment, particularly educated unemployment.

Indian democracy, which is here to stay, is in itself a guaranty for future of secularism. A
pluralist country like India needs secularism like life-blood. India has been pluralist not since
post-modernism but for centuries and no one can wish away its bewildering pluralism and this
pluralism can be sustained only with religiously neutral polity. India has been passing through
very critical phase now but there is nothing to despair. The present communal turmoil is not here
to stay. It would certainly yield to more stable secular polity. ame to the fore on one hand, and
the Shah Banu and Ramjanambhoomi movement; on the other. Mandal commission was
implemented by V.P.Singh towards the end of eighties, which further gave boost to Hindutva
forces. The caste stratification became much more pronounced and led to Hindu militancy
apprehensive of division of Hindu votes.

And in the beginning of nineties Babri Masjid was demolished which pushed Indian secularism
to the brink. It was the greatest disaster and was followed by Bombay riots, which shocked
whole world.

Thus we see Indian secularism has followed a tortuous course all through in the post-
independence period. It is not surprising in a underdeveloped country like India with its immense
poverty, insurmountable levels of unemployment and widespread illiteracy. The BJP, which
came to power using its Hindutva card is not likely to give it up in near future. With every
election it intensifies its Hindutva agenda. The other members of the Sangh Parivar, specially the
Vishva Hindu Parishad, tend to be more irresponsible as it does not have to govern. It assumes
extremist postures and threatens minorities. It is this irresponsible extremism which resulted in
the Gujarat carnage which again shook the world. The BJP Government tends to be buffeted
between the VHP extremism and National Democratic Coalition compulsions. It thus fails to
adopt consistent policies.

In the given political circumstances the future of secularism does not seem to be bright.
However, one should not take short- term view based only on given context. Human beings have
always struggled to transcend their given situation. A purely contextual view tends to be realistic
but also restricted one. A vision, on the other hand, may not always be realistic but has a much
broader sweep. And it is this broader sweep which shapes new realities and these new realities
enables us to shape our future.

Though religion will never cease to be a force in human life secularism will not loose its
relevance either. The modern democratic polity cannot be sustained without the state being
neutral to all religions or equally protective for all religions as Nehru put it. And it is in this sense
that secularism in India will become more and more relevant. It should also be noted that we
should not pose secularism and religious orthodoxy as binary opposites, as some rationalists tend
to do.

Example: Thoughts to ponder on.

‘Secularism is India’s destiny, her people have willed it’

Excerpts from ‘Conflict and co-existence in our age’, Sonia Gandhi’s speech at the Oxford
Centre for Islamic Studies.
Over the past thirteen centuries, Islam has influenced Indian civilisation in its various facets. The
works of Islamic historians like Al-Biruni still remain standard references on our country. The
great achievements of Indian astronomers and mathematicians in the middle of the first
millennium were transmitted by Islamic scholars to the rest of the world.

What would the modern world be without the zero and without the system of numerals-both
Indian inventions that were propagated by Central Asians and Arabs. Indian art and architecture,
literature and poetry, language, music and philosophy, and even textiles and crafts, have all been
enriched by Islam. The eclectic Sufi tradition is an integral part of Indian Islam. The interaction
of Sufism with the Bhakti movement gave rise to several egalitarian and reformist orders. It was
Dara Shikoh’s translation of the Upanishads into Persian that served as the basis of the discovery
of this treasure by the world at large.

India has also had a decisive impact on Islamic thought, and some of the greatest Islamic
philosophers, theologians and poets have hailed from the sub-continent. The practice of Islam
itself in the sub-continent reflects local influences and represents the synthesis with existing
beliefs and values. This also reveals the enormous scope that Islam provides for a variety of
spiritual experiences.

Indian literature extolling our composite culture and heritage is vast. I recall particularly the
seminal contributions of four prominent Indians, Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi,
Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad. Maulana Azad is one of the most erudite scholars of Islam
in modern times. He was among the closest colleagues of Mahatma Gandhi and a front-rank
leader of the Indian Freedom Movement.

In his Presidential address to the plenary session of the Indian National Congress in 1940, he
said: I am a Muslim and profoundly conscious of the fact that I have inherited Islam’s glorious
traditions of the last thirteen hundred years. I am not prepared to lose even a small part of that
legacy.... I am equally proud of the fact that I am an Indian, an essential part of the indivisible
unity of Indian nationhood, a vital factor in its total make-up without which its noble edifice will
remain incomplete.

Students of Indian history are certain to remind you that in Maulana Azad’s own lifetime, many
Muslims in India did not think like him and opted for a separate state of their own. But more
Muslims remained in India than those who chose Pakistan. In recent years some political parties
have been proclaiming that India belongs to the majority community.

But have no doubt. Although their voices are loud and figure prominently in the media, they are
a handful. Secularism is India’s destiny because her people have willed it. The founding fathers
of the Indian nation were men of wisdom and insights. They knew that religion is a vital force in
India that should not be legislated away. Gandhiji, a deeply religious man, said it best: I do not
want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of
all lands to blow about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by
To say this is not to deny the fact that there have been numerous periods in our history when
rulers attempted to spread particular religions with force. But theirs were singularly unproductive
times. The radiant ages of Indian history were those ages when tolerance prevailed. Periods of
economic expansion were also periods of great spiritual achievements. And economic prosperity
and social amity went hand-in-hand-a lesson not without its modern-day relevance.

India is a land of the greatest diversities and infinite varieties. I use the plural advisedly. It is a
country with at least 18 major languages and over 400 important dialects. It is a land that has
given rise to four of the world’s major religions. It is home to the world’s second largest Muslim
population. It welcomed Christianity long before Europe embraced it. India has always offered
refuge to people fleeing from religious persecution whether they be Jews or Zoroastrians. It is a
society with over 4,000 ethnic communities or castes or endogamous groups. India is thus a
multi-religious, multi-linguistic, multi-ethnic and multi-regional civilisation without a parallel.

The record of a relatively young Indian nation-state in managing these bewildering array of
diversities, admittedly amidst trials and tribulations, is one of the remarkable achievements of
contemporary times. One of the defining principles of contemporary India is Unity in Diversity.
But there is something more. India exemplifies a complex Unity through Diversity, a society in
which the celebration of diversity strengthens the bonds of our modern nation. I might add that
India’s diversities are not just numerous. They are also alive and assertive.

It is India’s multi-layered parliamentary democracy that provides the framework within, which
all of our peoples’ voices are heard and their aspirations pursued. Democracy has taken firm root
in India and has proved its resilience time and again. It is an instrument both of representation
and empowerment. Affirmative action embedded deeply into the fabric of our democracy is
giving new hope to the disadvantaged sections of society, not least of which are women.

Tremendous social ferment is taking place throughout the country. This churning does, on
occasions, result in conflict. From the outside, its scale may get magnified, and it may appear
that India is frequently in turmoil. The truth is that, at any given point of time, the vast majority
of our people live in harmony and peace. There is, indeed, something powerful that gives
strength and resilience to our society even as it is subject to varied stresses and strains. And that
something is secularism and democracy-two complementary forms of tolerance as Nobel
Laureate Octavio Paz once put it.

We are meeting against the background of growing international terrorism and the fallout of
what has come to be known as 9/11. What is striking and remarkable is that international terrorist
networks do not seem to have a hold on Indian Muslims. That is entirely because our political
and social framework accommodates plurality in substantial measure. All over the world, an
impression has been created that Islam and terrorism are inseparable. The fact that there are any
number of terrorist organisations whose members subscribe to other religions is conveniently

India has been a continuous victim of cross-border terrorism. Both Hindus and Muslims have
been targeted alike. This is particularly so in our state of Jammu and Kashmir where it is evident
that the terrorists are acting in pursuance of the foreign policy of our neighbour to the west. It
would be wrong to think that religion is their motive. Nevertheless, I should point out that, by the
postures it adopts and the actions it takes, this neighbour provides a ready handle to those who
stoke communal antagonisms within India. There are also religious and political leaders on both
sides who feed on each other’s passions.

Terrorism has no religion. In fact, it is the antithesis of religion, for the essence of all religions is
compassion. A major effort has to be made to enable people to appreciate this truth. Inter-faith
dialogue and communication at various levels and in different forums, has to be sustained, to
help improve mutual understanding. Religious extremism very often is born out of perceived
threats. These threats can be dealt with only through analysis, debate and engagement.

The new challenge that the world will face in this evolving century is decentralised terrorism on
the part of well-organised political and ethnic groups armed with sophisticated weaponry. Their
aim is to create panic amongst the largest numbers of innocent men, women and children.
Humankind must urgently move to deal with this menace caused by zealots who deliberately
misuse religion.

Terror should not be combated with greater terror. Though no end can justify mindless violence,
ultimately the roots of terrorism have to be located in political, social and economic factors.
Prosperity can breed terrorism as much as poverty can. A globalization process that is seen to be
inequitable and destabilizing of cultural moorings can trigger terrorist mindsets. A political
system that is closed and does not fulfill the aspirations of the people can create conditions which
encourage dangerous ideologies.

9/11 was a colossal tragedy and all of us reached out spontaneously to America in that moment
of grief. It is regrettable that the world woke up to the threat of terrorism only after the horrific
events of that day. Terrorism cannot, and should not, be dealt with in a selective and segmented

Now that all of us are aware of the horrendous consequences of international terrorism, and the
threat of weapons of mass destruction, we must sustain a collective campaign against them with
single-minded focus. This campaign should be framed and implemented on a clear understanding
that terrorism is indivisible, international and is perpetrated not only by non-state actors but also
by some governments as an instrument of their state policy.

The approach that says, ‘‘the terrorism I face is of higher priority than the terrorism you face’’ is
illogical, and has dangerous implications for global stability and security. Equally grave is the
cross-border flow of funds through different channels that help support terrorist organisations.

It has become fashionable to talk, of an impending ‘‘clash of civilizations’’. The Indian

experience strongly disproves this approach. The concept of a deep fault line across world
religions and its resulting inevitably in conflict lends itself to mischievous distortions and
misrepresentations, both internationally and within our own societies.

Complex political, social and economic realities cannot be reduced to a simplistic confrontation
between religions.
I would like to say few words about the State of Jammu & Kashmir, where the people voted in
the recent elections fearlessly, in spite of heavy odds. These elections are a decisive watershed,
because they re-establish the vitality and durability of our democracy. The world community
must appreciate the new expectations of the people of Jammu & Kashmir for ending of this spiral
of terrorist inspired violence and killings. Jammu & Kashmir defines India’s secular nationhood.

Of course, it is a special case and that is recognized as such in the Indian Constitution. India has
respected that distinct character. There has, for example, been no attempt made to alter the
demographic character of the state or to stifle its cultural and religious heritage. And Jammu and
Kashmir, it must not be forgotten, is a crucible of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist cultures.

The newly elected coalition government is devoting itself to reducing the alienation of the
people. This, you will appreciate, will take some time. But we are determined to maintain the
momentum of this process. Let me end by once again underscoring that diversities and multiple
identities have defined India for millennia.

But there are clear dangers that they could well be used to divide us. This is the central challenge
confronting the overwhelming number of our people who are wedded to a vision of an India that
is one and many at the same time. That oneness must be reinforced.

As we look back, we can derive some satisfaction that we have put in place a system of ideas and
institutions to ensure that this happens. It is, by no means, smooth sailing. But political
democracy is strong enough, social diversity is valued enough, and economic development is
robust enough to help us navigate ourselves through the storms and tempests that lash every once
in a while threatening to blow us away.

What sustains us is the thought expressed so evocatively in Rock Edict XII of our great Emperor
Asoka, who ruled in the third century BC over a territory that extended well-beyond present-day
India. This edict is in a region of Gujarat and its words resonate even today:

The faiths of all deserve to be honoured for one reason or another. By honouring them one exalts
one’s own faith and at the same time performs a service to the faith of others. By acting
otherwise, one injures one’s own faith and does disservice to that of others.
India is a land of the greatest diversities and infinite varieties.. It is a country with at least 18
major languages and over 400 important dialects. It is a land that has given rise to four of the
world’s major religions. It is home to the world’s second largest Muslim population. It
welcomed Christianity long before Europe embraced it. India has always offered refuge to
people fleeing from religious persecution whether they be Jews or Zoroastrians. It is a society
with over 4,000 ethnic communities or castes or endogamous groups. India is thus a multi-
religious, multi-linguistic, multi-ethnic and multi-regional civilization without a parallel. So
Secularism is the only way out where every religion will get their space to survive and respect
each other.

Discuss the present political scenario with respect to Secularism and its future.
Give some instances where Secular ideals became a farce.