Secularism is India’s talisman

Last Updated : 17 October 2019, 04:57 IST
Last Updated : 17 October 2019, 04:57 IST

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Our Constitution mandates that India is a secular State. We have long cherished the secular fabric of our nation. We believed that every thread counts and no single thread shall be weakened except at the risk of losing the sheen of the whole fabric.But then, what do we mean by a secular State? A secular State claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion and claims to avoid preferential treatment for a citizen from a particular religion over those of other religions.

In short, the State is neutral in matters of religion. The separation of the temporal and the spiritual was a matter long under dispute in different countries of the world. Despite giving themselves a secular image, the vestiges of religious affinity of the State is visible in some form or the other even in certain European countries. In other words, absolute neutrality is hard to find.

Having said that, it must be affirmed that a State having different religions can exist peacefully only if it adopts a neutral stance in respect of all religions. History has shown that religion has the potential to destroy peace and entire nations in its wake. Wars have been fought for the sake of religions because religion is a sensitive and emotive issue that can trigger strong reactions in people. We need to understand the hypersensitivities of people vis-à-vis religion and deal with the issue most sensibly and sensitively.

India is home to almost all the religions of the world. This is an enviable honour and a precarious situation at the same time. To have a tapestry of different religions, cultures and languages is an incredibly splendid possibility. For them all to co-exist peacefully is a dream and surely a lovely one at that. Unity in diversity is not a mere slogan, but a desirable end in itself.

The future of our country depends largely, if not entirely, on our approach to the minority segments of our country. The true test of democracy is the protection of minority rights. Democracy is fundamentally about the centrality of human rights and the inviolability of individual rights and liberties. Every single person should have a voice and has a right to be heard. Any attempt to silence the voice of the minority or the majority militates against the tenets of democracy.

India is a melting pot of myriad cultures and languages, religions and beliefs. It is a cauldron of multiplicities. This can be seen either as being too complex to handle or as magnificent, depending on which prism one is looking through. The cultural diversity of India is mindboggling, but it’s also our distinct and proud heritage.
Our Constitution affirms that we have formed ourselves into a “Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic” and “to secure to all its citizens Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity…”

It’s a sad development that steps are being taken by some governments that go against the spirit of the Constitution. Dividing the country for political gains is the most undesirable and the most dangerous thing to do. This will eventually lead to disastrous consequences. The short-term gains for political parties can mean colossal loss for the country in terms of its overall developmental agenda and its cohesiveness and peace.

We need to read the writing on the wall. The history of many multi-ethnic nations points to one unpleasant truth. Wherever ethnic or religious minorities have been subjugated and their liberties trampled upon, there has been strife, conflicts and wars. The people of such countries have witnessed terrible deprivation and suffered irreparable losses to their economies. Many countries, especially in the developing world, have witnessed long and harrowing ethnic and religious conflicts and wars, resulting in perennial backwardness. It’s a sad fact that the poorer countries are more prone to these situations and they continue to wallow in poverty and ignorance.

We know that inclusivity and mutual accommodation are the hallmarks of a vibrant democracy. We cannot afford to fritter away the gains we have made over a few decades since Independence. We can still grow together as a nation embracing all its complexities and contradictions. We need to have the political will, nay, the political sagacity and maturity, to understand that our destiny lies in communal harmony, religious tolerance and an inclusive socio-economic path of development. We are a nation like no other when it comes to our rich human resources, or abundant natural resources. We have a great future beckoning us, if only we learn to live together in peace and harmony.

Secularism is thus a noble vision, a powerful social construct and a quest that transcends even the contours of nationalism. It’s a matter of humanism, a longing for justice and equity. It requires real statesmanship and a larger vision to understand the sanctity of secularism and the need to preserve it.

(The writer is Director, Little Rock Indian School, Udupi)

Published 16 October 2019, 17:21 IST

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