Short essay on Secularism in India

India is a Socialist, Secular Democratic Republic pledged to secure all its citizens justice, liberty and equality, and to promote among the all fraternity, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of nation. This is stated in the Preamble of the Constitution itself. Actually, while the word "secularism" is rather vague, and was introduced by 42nd Amendment in 1976. Articles 25 to 30 of the Constitution relating the freedom of religion and freedom to manage religious affairs are more specific. They contain the clear directive that "no religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of State funds".

There is also the further provision in Article 28(3) that no person attending any educational institution recognized by the State or receiving aid out of State funds shall be required to take part in any religious instruction that may be imparted in such institution, or to attend religious worship that may be conducted in such institution or in premises attached thereto, unless such person or, if such person is a minor, his guardian, has given his consent thereto.

Thus, complete religious freedom, with the absence of any compulsion whatsoever in religious matters, does the supreme law of the and, legally guarntee India is, therefore, rightly described as a secular country in which the State has no religion, nor does it seek to promote or discourage any religion or religious belief. It is obvious that the Government and people of India are secular, that is, there is no official religion. That is the legal position. The State stands committed to a policy of non-interference in religious matters. Religion is a matter of personal beliefs and convictions.

The goal of One World is still far, far away, but since independence the Government of this country has undeniably kept itself aloof from religious controversies, not taking any side and taking all possible measures to ensure to every citizen full religious freedom in accordance with enlightened opinion all the world over, except in the Islamic countries where the tenets of Islam are enforced by law and the whole polity is declared as Islamic, not secular in any sense. In fact, Islam, like most other religions, regards secularism as a dangerous challenge.

But how far are we, the people and secular in thought, word and deed? When we look around us and examine the working of various non-government institutions, the various political parties, especially national parties, which are supposed to have thrown their membership open to all communities, we find that the spirit of secularism is being flouted day after day. We are not completely secular in our approach and attitudes. There are cases where admissions to educational institutions are decided on a basis that is anything but secular.

If we review closely the working of our political parties, we shall find that candidates for elections are often chosen on communal considerations—Hindu candidates for constituencies having a predominantly Hindu electorate, Muslim candidates for areas where the majority of the voters are Muslims, and so on.

There are exceptions here and there but, by and large, the observation made above is well founded. The voting in elections is often on communal lines; Hindus voting for Hindu candidates, Muslims for Muslim candidates and Sikhs for Sikh contestants. Political parties are not formed on a religious basis, but how is it that there are some distinctly communal parties in this secular country?

Again, how is it that in selection of Ministers of various ranks, adequate representation is generally assured to members of various communities and even castes? There are "vote banks" in the rural areas where the caste factor plays a dominant role in determining the decisions of the village Sarpanches and leaders of the various clans, (and even sub- castes) in directing their followers to exercise their franchise for a particular candidate. Jats and non-Jats, Brahmins and non-Brahmins, Scheduled Castes and non-Scheduled Castes —these considerations, undeniably sectarian and narrow, determine their actions.

In an ideal, well-established, modern polity, religion should have no connection whatever with politics. But is that really so in India today? Why do communal riots take place with such disconcerting frequency wherever members of both communities live in parts of the same city or town? Why are there so much destruction, ruthless killings and callous indifference to the plight of people of another community?

Outbursts of communal frenzy are totally incompatible with true secularism, and every well-educated community should have no narrow considerations of religion and caste in worldly matters. And yet, there are tensions, strains, fears of the impact of liberalization on a particular religion, the inward hostility and suspicion towards other religions, and the lack of tolerance. All these point to a state of affairs where genuine secularism has taken a back seat.