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Secularism of India

India is the land of many religions, languages and customs. Many philosophers are born here. Many religions started here. Modern India is the result of a division based on religious lines. The partition was succeeded by one of the worst human tragedies in world history. Mass migration and communal violence left millions dead. It also made scars in the minds of the people and even after half a century the wound are not healed.

Religion and spirituality are very important for the Indians. From the history we can see that the successful rulers of the past understand the importance of tolerance among different sects and communities with different faith and customs.

Emperor Ashoka (273 BC-232 BC) had been ruled a large centralized empire that ran from present day Afghanistan to Mysore in South India. Diverse communities, regions, cultures and sects inhabited in his empire had differences of opinion expressed in direct and antagonistic ways amongst the various religious sects. Ashoka must have realized the harm that these sectarian conflicts would produce. From his policy of Dhamma published through series of rock and pillars are evidence of his beliefs and practices. Ashoka himself practiced Hinduism at the beginning then converted to Budhism but his personal faith didn’t interfere with the affairs of the kingdom. Ashoka believed that all religions shared a common, positive essence, encouraged tolerance and understanding of other religions. Inscription on the 7th rock says, "All religions should reside everywhere, for all of them desire self-control and purity of heart." Inscription on 1st rock says, “Here (in my domain) no living beings are to be slaughtered or offered in sacrifice." Inscription on the 12th rock says, "Contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. Beloved-of-the-Gods desire that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions."

Mughal Empire was roughly coeval with that of the Safavid Empire in Iran and the Ottoman Empire based in Turkey but majority of its subjects were non-Muslims. Jalaluddin Akbar (1542 A.D. – 1605 A.D.) devised his policies and politics was more accommodating than those of the Safavids or Ottomans. With it his network of marriage led alliances, his giving top military and administrative posts to Hindus, or having artists in his courts of all hues, abolition of Jizya (a tax imposed on non-believers in Muslim states) and switching from the (Islamic) lunar to the (Hindu) solar calendar showed a pragmatic streak and a determination to adapt to the Indian environment. Akbar propounded Din-e-illahi, a new set of beliefs, drawing on elements from the mystical strains in both Islam and Hinduism and deeply influenced by Zoroastrianism. And Akbar did not try to impose Din-eillahi as a state religion.

The founding fathers of Indian Constitution makers clearly stated, “that nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the state from making any law regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice.”(Article 25 (2) (a) constitution). Through 42nd amendment to the Constitution in 1976, the preamble clearly stated:” We the people of India having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Secular Democratic Republic”. Yet the political parties who oppose the secular principle and who support the practice of Secularism dare not interpret in proper perspective.

Dr Radhakrishnan (President of India 1962 – 1967) defined secularism as equal respect to all religions and never should be considered as irreligious. Political parties in power follow this definition and take advantage of the situation to their advantage.
Mahatma Gandhi always practiced religion in politics through prayers realized in the last days of his life the need for separation of religion from politics, especially the state. He followed the principle of equal respect to all religions. He also emphasized the separation of religion so that it can be practiced only at personal level. Jawaharlal Nehru as first prime minister of India always stood for secularism. But he could not take it to the logical end due to pressures from political and religious lobbies. He even failed to bring uniform civil code in the country.

Today, India is following its own peculiar secularism. Government office bearers exhibit their faith publicly at the cost of government funds. The government officially declares holidays to all religious festivals. Temples, Masjid and churches are allowed in the premises of government offices. During office hours the prayers are allowed. Persons bring their own individual Guru’s pictures, images into the offices. Government officially patronage the pilgrimages, provide all facilities and extend financial concessions. Government lands are allotted to religious purposes.
Each religion took advantage of the weakness of political parties and gained much to benefit in several ways. Religious establishments became powerful institutions with huge amounts accumulated. All religions get exemptions from taxes. There is no accountability either for the illegal money or business affairs conducted in the name spiritual activity.

India should practice real secularism which means separation of State and religion in all matters. Religion is faith based and hence confine to individual belief related to god and supernatural spirituality. In the matters of state the law should be equal to all irrespective of religion. There should be no exemptions to the principle that all are equal before law. Nobody including religious persons should be kept above law under any circumstance and all citizen of the country should follow the same civil and criminal laws. Religious practices of untouchbility, castes, child marriages, polygamy, divorce rules, burning of wife when husband dies, oppression of minorities, discrimination against women, child labor should not be tolerated and there should be no exemption to those who practice them.

In the field of education, scientific method should be inculcated from primary level. Religious instruction should not be included in texts and curriculum since that belongs to faith and belief. Rights of minorities so far as religion is concerned should be confined to personal level. The religious minority should have all the rights the majority religion followers have and religious minority should not have no rights the majority religion followers have. Today at least in some states of the union religious minorities can setup schools and appoint teachers as they wish and government pays the employees. If the minorities enjoy the benefits in the expense of majority in the name of secularism today should not be allowed.

In addition to setting up educational institutions, some religious minorities enjoy special benefits from the governments like job reservations, subsidies and grants. Some minority groups enjoy reservation and quotas in Government jobs. Religious minority can keep the income from their holy sites and spent it as they wishes, but for the majority religion the money goes to the government. Religious minority groups getting grants for their religious work and visiting holy sites. A country were half of the people are hungry is doing it!!!

In India Religion encroached into politics and public life. There is a perception that religious belief system shows the moral life of the people. Religious morality should not be confused with values and ethics. So the faith in a religion should not be confused with human rights, human values and human morals. Political parties are associating with religious groups and sects. Selections of candidates are done based on religion and caste. Political parties trying to please the religious minorities and secure their votes. Is it secularism?

Secular practices with human dignity, human values and human morality will alone bring bright future for India. The country should have a common law which is applicable to all citizens, no exceptions. There should be no privileges based on religion or faith.