Secularism: India

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.


Court judgements

Commemorative coins are not anti-secular: HC

January 12, 2018: The Times of India

The Delhi high court dismissed a plea seeking withdrawal of commemorative coins having religious symbols embossed on them. Citing that issuing of such coins “does not dent the country’s secular fabric” and that “secularism does not bar issuance of coins to commemorate any event,” the HC dismissed a PIL by Nafis Qazi and Abu Sayeed In 2010, the government brought into circulation a five-rupee coin to mark 1,000 years of Brihadeeswara Temple in Thanjavur . In 2013, the RBI brought out another five-rupee coin with the figure of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board embossed on it. The PIL cited this act as “anti-secular”, claiming that these symbols undermined the secular character of the Constitution.

Secularism: not aloofness from religion but equal treatment to all/ 2016

Dhananjay Mahapatra, Secularism not aloofness to religion: SC, Oct 28 2016 : The Times of India

It Means Giving Equal Treatment To Every Religion, Says Apex Court

Amid a high-voltage legal debate on curbing use of religion to seek votes, the Supreme Court asked on Thursday whether secularism meant complete separation of politics from religion and said it would attempt to give a pragmatic interpretation of the law dealing with using religion and caste to promote hatred during elections.

“It will be difficult to accept as a proposition that a political party should have nothing to do with religion and those who have something to do with it must cease to be political parties. Can a particular political party not say it would assuage the hurt sentiments of a religious group? Will that amount to seeking votes in the name of religion?“ a seven-judge constitution bench of Chief Justice T S Thakur and Justices Madan B Lokur, S A Bobde, Adarsh K Goel, U U Lalit, D Y Chandrachud and L N Rao asked.

“Secularism does not mean aloofness to religion but gi ving equal treatment to every religion. Religion and caste are vital aspects of our public life. Can it be possible to completely separate religion and caste from politics?“ it asked.

The SC bench reserved its verdict on the mode and manner in which a court should try an electoral malpractice committed to seek votes using religion, community , caste or language. The SC is also examining how to deal with a religious leader appealing to people to vote in a particular way .

The court's remark on what constituted secularism came when senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for social activist Teesta Setalvad, argued that the SC should lay down guidelines on what would constitute a permissible speech during elections. When the debate got lively , the CJI-headed bench veered away by declaring that the task before it was not to answer or lay down guidelines on what would be a permissible speech. “We will answer the reference for interpretation of Section 123 as well as the interplay between Sections 98 and 99 of Representation of the People Act and nothing more,“ it said.

Appearing for former MP CM Sunderlal Patwa, senior advocate Shyam Divan laid bare the thin dividing line between religion, language, caste and politics in India. He read out from the constituent charter of Shiromani Akali Dal and Indian Union Muslim League to show that these parties explicitly said their basis was to further the interest of a particular religious group.

Radhakrishnan: Secular Govt. vs Spiritual Culture

S Radhakrishnan, Secular Government Versus Spiritual Culture, Jan 6, 2017: The Times of India

India's cultural history of several thousand years shows that the subtle but strong thread of unity which runs through the infinite multiplicity of her life, was not woven by stress or pressure of power groups but the vision of seers, the vigil of saints, the speculation of philosophers, and the imagination of poets and artists and that these are the only means which can be used to make this national unity wider, stronger and more lasting.

It may appear somewhat strange that our government should be a secular one while our culture is rooted in spiritual values. Secularism here does not mean irreligion or atheism or even stress on material comforts. It proclaims that it lays stress on the universality of spiritual values which may be attained in a variety of ways.

Religion is a transforming experience. It is not a theory of God. It is spiritual consciousness. Belief and conduct, rites and ceremonies, dogmas and authorities are subordinate to the art of Self-discovery and contact with the Divine. When the individual withdraws his soul from all outward events, gathers himself together inwardly , strives with concentration, there breaks upon him an experience, sacred, strange, wondrous, which quickens within him, lays hold on him; becomes his very being. Even those who are the children of science and reason must submit to the fact of spiritual experience which is primary and positive.

We may dispute theologies but we cannot deny facts. The fire of life in its visible burning compels assent, though not the fumbling speculations of smokers sitting around the fire, while realisation is a fact, the theory of reality is an inference. There is a difference between contact with reality and opinion about it, between the mystery of godliness and belief in God. This is the meaning of a secular conception of the state though it is not generally understood.

This view is in consonance with Indian tradition. The seers of the Rig Veda affirm that the real is One while the learned speak of it variously . Ashoka in his Rock Edict XII proclaims: “One who reverences one's own religion and disparages that of another from devotion to one's own religion and to glorify it over all other religions does injure one's own religion most certainly . It is verily concord of religions that is meritorious.“

Centuries later Akbar affirms: “The various religious communities are divine treasures entrusted to us by God. We must love them as such. It should be our firm faith that every religion is blessed by Him. The eternal king showers his favours on all men without distinction.“

This very principle is incorporated in our Constitution which gives full freedom to all to profess and practice their religious beliefs and rites so long as they are not repugnant to our ethical sense. We recognise the common ground on which different religious traditions rest. This common ground belongs by right to all of us as it has its source in the eternal. The universality of fundamental ideas which historical studies and comparative religion demonstrate is the hope of the future. It makes for religious unity and understanding. It makes out that we are all members of the one Invisible Church of God though historically we may belong to this or that particular religious community.(Extract from `The Spirit of Religion'.Courtesy: Hind Pocket Books.)

Bridging diverse religious rituals

M N Kundu, This Avatar Spread Spiritual Secularism, September 3, 2018: The Times of India

The entire world is tremendously disturbed predominantly due to religious intolerance, ignorance, fanaticism, dogmatism and exhibitionism of a misplaced religious superiority complex. Interestingly, Sri Krishna addressed all these problems and established the true spirit of spiritual secularism long ago. Solutions to present problems can neither be found in non-religious atheism nor in any particular religion, but in genuine secularism and spirituality that Krishna promoted.

Amid the sectarian celebration of Janmashtami, we tend to miss the most important point made by Krishna: “Leave aside diverse religious rituals and seek refuge only in the supreme Self.” This indeed is a clarion call to all of humanity, on this occasion, to celebrate synthesis of religions. Krishna never spread any sectarian religious concept; he promoted an all-embracing and all-confirming concept of spirituality beyond religious faiths. Yet he did not discard any religious faith or rituals, confirming that all these invariably reach the supreme Spirit worshipped through various ways and modes through the paths of wisdom, devotion, psychophysical practices and selfless service. That is the message of the Bhagwad Gita.

Aldous Huxley found the clearest and most comprehensive human philosophy in the non-sectarian teachings of the Gita – which are meant not only for Indians but for all of humankind. He found it to be the most systematic spiritual statement of the perennial philosophy ever to have been made. Identically, Christopher Isherwood said in this context, “God’s light dwells in the Self and nowhere else. It shines alike in everything and one can see it with one’s mind steadied.” Any narrow ideology needs to be replaced by a broader ideology. In the Gita, Krishna spread the message of eternal wisdom of unity of soul in diversity.

The genesis of secularism as we understand the term rooted in Gita teachings has been explained by S Radhakrishnan: “When India is said to be a secular state, it does not mean that we reject the reality of an unseen Spirit or the relevance of religion to life or that we exalt irreligion. It does not mean that secularism itself becomes a positive religion or that the state assumes divine prerogatives. We hold that no one religion should be given preferential status. This view of religious impartiality or comprehension and forbearance has a prophetic role to play within national and international life.”

Krishna did not advocate any particular religion. Interestingly, he himself did not belong to the Brahmin class as the synthesis of the whole gamut of human spirituality was to be spread by him. Predominantly, he taught yoga, the art of right action and attainment of equanimity, which paves the way for union with the supreme Self through selfless service, divine wisdom, intense devotion and certain psychological practices.

According to Krishna, there are only two major aspects of religions, Samkhya and Yoga – the path of wisdom of pure awareness and the path of right action in view of the indivisible oneness of existence. Krishna made a synthesis of the two as the progress of consciousness is dialectical.

Right action is inactivity amid action and wisdom is awareness of the flow of happenings or action. Finality lies in surrendering to the Absolute, beyond relative wisdom or action.

Krishna taught us to be truly secular, rising above all religions and becoming intensely spiritual for ultimate realisation.

Tolerance vs. intolerance in Indian law, society

Dhananjay Mahapatra | Who'll draw inviolable thin line between tolerance, intolerance? | Jun 05 2017 : The Times of India (Delhi)

What would you say if we put forth this argument to support a ban on cow slaughter ­ “A cattle which has served human beings is entitled to compassion in its old age when it has ceased to be milch or draught and becomes so-called `useless'. It will be an act of reprehensible ingratitude to condemn a cattle in its old age as useless and send it to a slaughter house taking away the little time from its natural life that it would have lived, forgetting its service for the major part of its life, for which it had remained milch or draught. We have to remember: the weak and meek need more of protection and compassion.“

Or, if we say ­ “slaughtering of healthy cows on BakrI'd is not essential or required for religious purpose of Muslims or in other words it is not a part of religious requirement for a Muslim that a cow must be necessarily sacrificed for earning religious merit on BakrI'd.“

The first quote is from Supreme Court's judgment in Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab delivered by a seven-judge constitution bench on October 26, 2005. And the second quote is from SC judgment in West Bengal vs Ashutosh Lahiri [(1995) 1 SCC 189].

Tolerance is subjective, overtly dependent on an individual's own perception. When “We the People of India“ gave ourselves the Constitution, we got a promise in the Preamble that India will be a “Sovereign Democratic Republic“. Nearly 27 years later and on January 3, 1977, Parliament amended the promise to say India will from now onwards be a “Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic“. Have we, since 1977, or the governments become more socialist or secular than what we, or the governments, were from 1950 to 1977? We were ruled from 1950 to 1977 by the Congress party led by the tallest leaders of our country ­ Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi.

In 1945, Nehru had said: “I am convinced that the future government of free India must be secular in the sense that government will not associate directly with any religious faith but will give freedom to all religious functions.“

The promise in the Preamble was also to secure all its citizens liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. Tolerance plays a crucial role in achieving this goal in a country like India where people follow a mosaic of religions, cultures and customs.

Post-partition, lack of tolerance spiraled after 1961, when the first communal riots took place in Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh, then ruled by K N Katju-led Congress government. More than 200 died. The trigger was death of a Hindu girl, who allegedly committed suicide shortly after eloping with a Muslim boy . Another perspective of the cause was the sexual assault of the girl by a boy . Fathers of the girl and the boy were business rivals. Half a century later, similar incidents continue to spark communal violence.

In March 1968, communal riots in Karimganj, when Assam was ruled by B P Chaliahled Congress government killed nearly 100 persons. The trigger in this case was an argument between teenagers of two major communities over cow, which at present is the hot topic of discussion in the country .

The Nehru government codified Hindu personal law, a wise move to attempt eradicate the ills that had crept into the customary practices of the majority community . But, when it came to codifying Muslim personal law, Nehru had said the “community was not ready“ for it.

When the SC in Shah Bano case in [(1985 SCR (3) 844] ruled that a divorced Muslim woman was entitled to maintenance under Section 125 criminal procedure code, the secular government had succumbed to the pressures of a religious community to move a law to step around the mandate of the judgment.

The public perception that secularism is getting blurred with minority appeasement has dented the spirit of tolerance. And yet one would agree with the SC, which in Bijoe Emmanuel case [1986 SCR (3) 518] said: “We only wish to add: our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our Constitution practices tolerance; let us not dilute it.“

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