The English word ‘secular’ means ‘non-ecclesiastical’ and secularism is more a negative concept than a positive one. However, in the Indian context the term ‘secular’ has been interpreted to mean maintenance of equality and co-existence of all the religions.
The government of free India adopted an approach which was not opposition to religion but the removal of religion from public affairs, the separation of State from all faiths, the insistence on religion as a private matter for the individual with no bearing on civil rights and duties. This approach was not only a part of the “modern outlook” but also “the most practical approach.”
In fact, the state sponsored project of secular pedagogy for the nation was to be elaborated systematically in the domain for education and mass media involving the intelligentsia.
If not completely eradicated, at least, the ride of ‘communalism’ was expected to recede and be margin zed with the forging ahead for the combined onslaught of secular ideological indoctrination and industrialization. But it was easy to proclaim a theory in which there was prior separation between ‘religion’ and ‘state politics’ than to affect it.
The kind of cultural issues that emerged and coincided with the establishment of the independent nation state clearly showed that the relationship between Hindu cultural nationalism, political nationalism and the sphere of state politics was a complex one. Some of theses issues were; the construction of the temple at Samantha, abolition of cow slaughter, Hindi as national language and the Hindu Code Bill which, inadvertently, further underlined the idea of Hindus being separate community despite their internal differentiation.
Secular historiography has failed to note the important fact that for considerable sections of Indians and the Indian National Congress, 1947 meant not only a moment of political independence but also, to put it in the words of a scholar, the foremost cultural ideologue of Hindu Nationalism, and the end of “a thousand years of slavery”.
For them, it was also moment of celebrating the cultural pride and glory of the Hindu. But there were others in the Congress, especially Jawaharlal Nehru and his follows, who were in serious disagreement with such attitudes, and considered it a manifestation of ‘medievalism’ and ‘communalism.’
At the time of the independence struggle, many people were committed to the task of modernizing and reforming religious practices in this country. But what do we see now? Instead of reform, we see conscious effort to bring back the old rituals and wild ideas in all the religions.
The socio-economic backwardness of the vast sections of our people, both Hindus and Muslims, has always been a fertile ground for superstition, obscurantism, fanaticism and communal hatred. The obscurantist and conservative leaders on both sides do not want any progress and uplift of the masses so that they may continue to exploit them in all possible ways. This phenomenon has also contributed to a very great extent towards the growth and development of communalism in India.
The west culprit in this regard is perhaps what is known as fundamentalism. The fundamentalists want to restrict the thoughts and practices of the whole community to what they consider to be the basic or original tenets of their religion.
This leads to dogmas and superstitions. They refuse to move with the times and see new truth in new light. They are against science and scientific temper. They ware wholly irrational in their approach and revivalist in their outlook. In short, the fundamentalists believe in maintaining the existing social order, if not in going back to the dark ages of the past, in perpetuating the backwardness of the masses, in suppression of women in general – and all these in the name of saving the religion.
The fund, generalists make religion a prisoner of dogmas, superstitions and obscurantism and do not allow religion to find full expression as a force of liberation of the human mind and spirit.
The fundamentals with their obscurantist attitude do not allow the Muslims, especially those at the bottom rugs, to come up in life. In the post-independence period, Indian Muslims have been over-zealously safeguarding their separate identity, rights and privileges as Muslims and are reluctant to join the national mainstream. Man Muslims still harbor a fear in their minds about Hindus domination and threat to their community, and are afraid for coming out of their isolation.
In the meantime, Hindu fundamentalists are inciting the gullible amongst the Hindus to rise against the establishment by making them believe that in a country where the Hindus are in a majority, they are being treated d as class citizens.
While the Central government has divided the Hindus as those belonging to the upper and lower castes – in the south, particularly in Tamil Nadu, the Dravidian parties have been dividing the people as Dravidians and Aryans – and successfully created a rift between the Brahmins and the non-Brahmins.
There has been an appreciable rise in communal temperature during the last few years. And it culminated n the demolition of the historic Babri Masjid – to which no Muslim anywhere in the world would be really reconciled, followed by large-scale rioting, where again the main sufferers have been Muslims. On top, in certain quarters threats are being muttered against mosques in Varanasi and Mathura.
The BJP, VHP, RSS and the Bajrang Dal may have their good reasons for reviving the glories for Hinduism or making India a Hindu state. But the harsh fact is that their activities are exacerbating communal tensions. If one community strives for a major aggrandized identity it cannot but provoke the others to do the same-more so when resorted to by organizations for the majority community.
Hindus enjoy such overwhelming majority in numbers that they run absolutely non risk of being threatened. As Nehru aptly said, “The responsibility for communal can become terribly counter-productive though their perpetrators may gloat over the performance.
After independence, all the political parties have exploited religion and caste in order to win elections. Some had done this overtly. If we analyze the choice of candidates by different parties and the propaganda methods and tactics used in the different elections, we can clearly see the major role played by religious calculations.
Unfortunately, the spectrum of Indian politics which shunned communalism in it has been gradually disappearing. It is not only in corruption and the growing nexus between politicians, bureaucracy and goonda mafia elements that the general degeneration of Indian politics has been finding expression. It also expressed itself in a soft approach towards Hindu, Muslim or Sikh communalism.
Communalism is properly described as politics structured around communal ideology. Communal parties, such as the Muslim League, the Akali parties and the BJP have been extending their sphere of influence.
On the other hand, the congress (I) and the Janata Dal, as also the Telugu Demas, Assam Gana Parishad.DMK and AIADMK appear to have followed an opportunist policy towards communalism in recent years and, have not, in any are interested in whipping up communal passions while the secular-opportunist parties tend to vacillate and retreat in the face of communal onslaught.
This violence, Both vacillations and retreat were clearly visible in Punjab during 1981-1986 in the face of virulent communalism and terrorism and regarding the demolition for the Babri Masjid in Ajodhya on Dec. 6, 1992. Moreover, most of India’s secular intelligentsia also joined retreat.
Event empress is gully of fanning communal sentiments. With an eyes to increasing their circulation, many newspapers tried to out-do their rivals by taking fundamentalist stand and thereby stoking communal tension.
Similarly, competition among the big officials, industrialists, entrepreneur’s smugglers, rich men, vested interests, religious fundamentalists is an important factor in provoking communal clashes. This is a dangerous situation.
If secularism fails there will be no India. Can anybody assert that Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Sikkim, nag land, and Mizoram will continue to exist in a non-secular India? And, who can say that without secularism the extremist activities prevailing in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir would boot spread throughout the country, if secularism were buried. India as we know it today would cease to exist.
Therefore, it is essential that secularism should be maintained at any cost.
Besides, banning all communal organizations, the present situation demands the launching of a social and cultural movement which could effectively counter the growing threat from communal forces. Among other things, education curricula at the different levels must be completely freed from religious influence so as to inculcate among students the scientific outlook and temper.
The process of change has to start from the top and if need be the Constitution should be amended to provide for the needful. State machinery should be freed from religious rituals. Official visits to places of worship of any religion, by VIPs, the President, vice President, Prime Minister, other Ministers, MPs and MLAs, and public servants should be prohibited. They can visit as a citizen of the country without any official sanction.
Political propaganda against the BJP alone is not sufficient to keep the majority for the Hindus secular. Just as we say that the minorities should be protected by the majority community, the minority leaders should also be ready to make some changes in their style of functioning and approach in order to keep the Hindu majority as their protectors and friends. All the just rights of the minorities should be protected.
At the same time, the belief, that one would be a good friend of the minorities only if one blindly believes all that is being said in the name of the minorities should be corrected. Just as we oppose the Hindu communalism we should stiffly oppose the demands and actions in the name of the minorities that may adversely affect national sentiment, unity and religious amity.
Political parries alone cannot maintain secularism to India. Religious leaders should also work to do so. At the time of independence struggle, fresh attempts should be made to bring about social reform with in all the religious groups. Will survive only if religious friendship and religious tolerance are allowed to grow we should think about ways and means of developing a religious friendship movement beyond political and caste and creed consideration.
Along with the religious friendship movement and elaborate socio-cultural reawakening movement is also essential in this country.
If the country is to survive, secularism must be reasserted. Our political patties should be ready to stall, at least temporarily, their attempts to defeat each other in elections by all means. India can survive as a country only if we launch a movement, on a war footing, to bolster unity and uphold secular values.