Pseudo-Secularism

Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

SECULAR PRINCIPLES-I

The definition of secularism implies acceptance of both materialism and utilitarianism of the English philosophers Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism suggests that the pursuits of happiness should be the goal of all human actions. According to Bentham, ’’what is good is pleasure or happiness, therefore one state of affairs is better than another, if it involves a greater balance of pleasure over pain”. John Stuart Mill said; “Pleasure is the only thing desired; therefore pleasure is the only thing desirable”.
Secularism is also against the directive principle of the Indian Constitution which suggests the Indian nation should try to achieve the “socialistic pattern of society” based on the fundamental values of the Indian culture. Socialism suggests human actions should be to enhance social benefits, individuals are less important. Sri Aurobindo has explained that principal contradiction of human life is that between the individual and society.

Material values

The essence of human development demands that the individual should harmonise his life with the life of the social aggregate. Swami Vivekananda had the dream about India where, “just distribution of material values will be achieved, equality of the rights of all members of society to ownership of property established and caste differences obliterated”.

Although since 1985 every Indian prime minister has tried to implement the capitalist system in the name of economic reforms, that particular clause in the directive principle is still there in the Constitution. Thus, secularism based on materialism and the Constitution based on socialism are incompatible and by putting secularism in the Constitution explicitly in 1976 during the Emergency rule, the then the President of India Fakiruddin Ali Ahmed went against the directive principles of the Constitution and essence of Indian culture itself.

In India, secularism is defined as religious neutrality, which is translated as dharma nirapekhsa. This translation itself is wrong. Dharma does not mean a specific doctrinaire religion, but a set of universal principles, which any human should observe. The reason Swami Vivekananda has declared Hinduism as the universal religion is that dharma of Hinduism can be cultivated by a person of any religion, not necessarily a Hindu. If a person wants to be neutral from dharma, one would cease to be a human. The intended meaning of dharma nirapekhsa is either complete separation of the government from any religion or equal treatment of all religions.
However, the India government is not “religious neutral” at all in any sense of the term. The government does not treat all religions equally either. Equality before law, prohibition of discrimination on the ground of religion and equality of opportunity in public employment or for holding any public office are there in theory in the Indian Constitution but a series of amendments make those inoperative.

Article 28(1) lays down that no religious instruction should be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of the state funds. However, Article 28(3) permits a state-recognised or a state-aided school to give religious instruction or to hold religious worship provided no student is compelled to attend the religious instruction or the worship. In India, states fund religious schools where religious instructions are compulsory.

Iftar parties

Religious schools receive generous grants. Purely religious education in madrasas are considered equivalent to standard secular education. Hindus were expelled from Kashmir by Muslims. Buddhists were expelled from both Nagaland and parts of Arunachal Pradesh by the tribal Christians. Efforts are going on in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala to have positive discriminations for Muslims. Indira Gandhi started the practice of giving Iftar parties for Muslims during Ramadan. Now political leaders compete against each other to throw lavish parties at national and state capitals. Zakir Hussein has established a mosque inside the presidential palace. Similarly, there is a mosque in the vicinity of Kolkata airport. The India government cannot take any actions against the illegal Muslim immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh due to the fear of antagonising the Muslims politicians. Religious groups like Muslim League and Akali Dal, and various Maulanas and Muftis are elected to high positions in the government.

Thus, in no sense India has religious neutrality in the affairs of the government. A few countries like the USA, France, Turkey are officially declared secular, but a closer examination may reveal that these countries are not that religious neutral either. In the United States, the constitution explicitly calls for the separation of church and state. However, the overwhelmingly Christian population allows some lapses in this policy: for example, money bears the words “In God we trust”, and the Pledge of Allegiance includes the phrase “under God”. There are traces of non-secular legal systems in the states of the US. In the South Carolina Constitution, Protestantism is specifically noted as their state religion, and even election of clergy as part of a state election process. The Pennsylvania constitution advocates religious work for building human virtues.
In England, there is a close alliance between the Church and the state. The Church of England became independent of the Pope in the 16th century and is the official Church of England. The monarch of England is the head of the Church. Though there is religious freedom in England, the Church of England has a special status inasmuch as the monarch of England must join in communion with the Church of England. A Catholic or anyone who marries a Catholic cannot be the monarch of England. It is probable that a Catholic may not even be Lord Chancellor. The Established Church in Scotland is the Presbyterian Church and the general assembly of that church is the supreme legislative and judicial body. Higher levels of priests are automatically members of the upper house of the British parliament and thus, take part in the legislative process.

Equal treatment

At the same time, there are laws providing equal treatment for all people. The Employment Equality Regulations 2003 and the Race Relations Act 1976 provide the basis for non-discrimination on the ground of race, religion, or colour. Thus, the British legal system and the government, although officially religious, is non-discriminatory whereas India, an officially secular state, practices discriminations.

Although, the USSR theoretically was a socialist atheist state, in reality religions were never banned or banished. The government used to employ priests from the three approved religions, Christianity, Islam, and Busshism and pay their salaries and pensions along with all other facilities. It has publicly funded religious training institutions for priests, and used to maintain the religious places of worship along with monasteries. Priests were not allowed to propagate or interfere with the government. Religious people could not apply for high positions in the government or can be teachers or academics in the university. In Russia today, these three religions are officially patronised as well, but Orthodox Christianity has the supreme position. Just like the USSR, Russia pays for salaries of priests, maintains places of worships, and builds new churches. There is no restriction on people practising religion.

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