Law · Politics · Public Policy · Strategy

The Survival of Secularism in India

The recently held elections elicited a great furor of argumentation, the amplitude of which shook the crockery in our living rooms every evening at nine o’ clock. The upside of this bobbery was that there were issues that emerged of importance that led some of us to think about the changing landscape of Indian politics and the fundamentals that will either compromise or manifest themselves differently from before.

One such fundamental is that of secularism, which gains weightage because of its presence in the preamble of our constitution through a special amendment made nearly 38 years ago. A simple implication drawn from the amendment is that India’s stance on its religious standing as a state was unclear for a period of twenty nine years. However, during the reign of Indira Gandhi, India’s pot of multi religions was on paper stirred further and there emerged this messiah of a word titled ‘secularism’. The clever bit of it all remained that our nation twirled the word to our appropriation and we were able to define a secular state differently from how they did it in the west.

From one perspective, my perspective, India could be going through a tiny mid life crisis over its 38 year old journey as a secular country as today she is governed by right-wingers who promise to uphold the value of secularism. According to our Prime minister “secularism runs in our blood”, even our history text books at one point suggested that India was an extremely secular state in the reign of emperors like Akbar, however  surprisingly these claims are grievously contradicted by the trajectory of events that have shaped today’s India.

The progress made through technology and the economy, has never managed to camouflage the issues that disintegrate India moment by moment. Needless to mention the Babri Masjid demolition, the 1984 Sikh riots, the Godra riots, they are all events in history that pronounce a defeat of secularism. Hence, the fear of separation stands upright, gawking at our faces pugnaciously. The problem is one of grave importance as it is not just a debate about no unified state religion versus the state having a religion; it is about what dictates India’s unified beliefs, if there exist any. The question really is, can we survive as a secular state?

These questions resound because the past and the present governments have always kept mum on the relationship between religion and politics even though they have evidently never existed without each other. The constitution has some key articles like article 25, but then it’s all rosy in theory and non-existent in practice. The mechanism of reservation to protect religious minorities, the status of being a secular state, declaring holidays on festivals of all religions, adopting the garb of the region that you visit; does not prove the problem to be quixotic. The issue is that India cannot define its type of fundamentalism. We remain the nation that failed at gambling the saffron, the white and bottle green on the roulette called the Ashok chakra and ended up living with it all. Our actions have out beaten our ideologies and symbolisms and hence this vexation arises in the struggle to understand what we really stand up for.

The problem is that even though the claim of religious neutrality exists in our constitution, it does not exist in our system and so the condition of the state remains the same in spite of the change in rulers. The solution is, we could continue to survive on hypocritical fundamentals or we could build on other facets of the world that seem to affect us more than the repercussions of religious differences.

About the Author

priyam picturePriyam Mathur is a philosophy graduate, living in and out of Delhi and Mumbai. Her current focus is to build a ground of reconciliation for herself, modern politics and concepts in philosophy. The things that most interest her include existentialism, Indian myths, food and music. She is currently pursuing her internship with Alexis Centre for Public Policy and International Relations.

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