The debate whether India is tolerant can be pushed deep owing to its complexity. On paper India scores well on the secular graph. The communal politics and the different shades of un-cooperative federalism cost the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) Bihar elections after putting the recency factor against themselves. Though the communal disharmony bangs horribly with Modi at top, it is to be made clear that Indian constitution itself is secularly bankrupt indeed on ground.
Getting to the base, let’s move to the definition of ‘Secular’ as envisaged in our constitution. Art. 25-28 defines ‘Secular Sate’ as the state which observes an attitude of neutrality and impartiality towards all religions. It directs us on the matters of man-man relations, not man-god relations. But, the contemporary situation in India is way away from this definition.
Simple observations, when a Muslim Vice-president has to bow down like hindus on Rajghat or a person of the same community is refrained from aspiring the candidature of prime ministership, are enough to prove it. India has not yet seen a Muslim as head executive since independence. Still India is secular.
Constitution of India has allowed us to profess and practise our religious obligations and practices. However, the ultimate essence doesn’t lay there. We are to practise our religion and at the same time watch out if we are hurting the religious sentiments of people of other community. OK if I am eating beef at my home or trafficking it to parts far off mysteriously without informing the people who don’t eat or traffic it, why is it they watch me privately eating what my religion has allowed me to do so and haunt me. Isn’t the constitution turning ambiguous here? that is not secular anyway, but ‘sickular’.
Although the Constitution pledges for equal opportunities for people of India in employment, the morsel of unequal treatment of muslims and Sikhs in special cadres doesn’t get down the throat. There are so many un-discernible disparities in the way people of different communities are treated. Frankly speaking, Hindus are preferred for higher and elite posts (possibly for kindling the hope of seeing India as a Hindu-rashtra).Muslims aren’t allowed to grow the beard in secular Indian army but Sikhs can. Muslims have to change to vegetarian style in the army mess as the plausibility of getting halal is meagre. Historically speaking, when India became independent in 1947, Kashmiri military personnel who were predominantly hindus were absorbed in the national army of India and those of Hyderabad (predominantly muslims) were sacked. This trust-deficit set the roots of communalism in India.
The intelligence agencies of India will not even think of recruiting a Muslim. Since its establishment in 1969, RAW has not seen any Muslim officer during the four and a half decade of its history. When the then PM of India Manmohan Singh called for a meeting to increase the role of minorities in agencies like Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), he was terrified of the repercussions of tinkering with the policy. Still India is secular.
The secular state necessities there be no intervention of government in religion and vice-versa. But when Modi came in, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) supremo Mohan Bhagwat started forcing his ideology on the govt. Doordarshan and AIR was opened for him to openly discuss about the Hindutva. In a secular country like India, is it fair to make a leader of any religious outfit to speak on the national television? Well, it could make some sense if the other day the leader of Jamaat e Islami speaks, followed by a Christian and a Sikh religious heads. India allows only a hindu religious leader to spread his philosophy because it is secular!
Secularism has indirect manifestations as well. If anyone is trying to blot the secular fabric, the government needs to take the action. The following silence would mean the approval of a non-secular act. A Pramukh Pracharak of RSS says secularism is irrelevant to India, thereby contradicting the very preamble of the constitution but the secular India doesn’t make a hullabullo only because this intellectually starved man is a hindu and a representative of RSS. Still India is secular.
The Muslims in India, despite their extreme loyalty, have to prove it hard again and again. Sania Mirza had to weep her loyalty out and Shahrukh had to scream to show to secular India that he is a patriotic Indian. When the writers protest against the shaky secularism, it is sided away calling it a political conspiracy against BJP. Had it been so, they would’ve done it way back during the Vajbayee regime.
The tilt of Indian philosophy and governance is towards Hinduism. Not surprisingly, the national anthem, national song and national everything has some element or the other praising Hinduism. We do every official work in English but our national language is Hindi to satiate the collective conscience of the majority. I am in no way against any religion. Neither I am professing Islam or any other non-hindu religion but the unequal treatment of hindus and non-hindus in a secular state is a matter of discomfort.
It is about time we draw the boundaries between the religion and state. Making the state an authority to decide on the common public interests and keeping the religion to individual and community interests is the key to communal harmony. A uniform civil code supplemented with a narrow personal law code can do wonders unless the latter is made a bit flexible not compromising the essence of the concerned religion.
By Aarif Quadir
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