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.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

IS THIS SECULARISM?

Srinivas Bangarbale
India Think Tank
September 14, 2003

The Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary defines the word "secular" (leaving out the pronunciation guide) thus: secular adj. & n. · adj. 1 concerned with the affairs of this world; not spiritual or sacred. 2 (of education etc.) not concerned with religion or religious belief. 3 a not ecclesiastical or monastic. b (of clergy) not bound by a religious rule. 4 occurring once in an age or century. 5 a lasting for or occurring over an indefinitely long time. b Astron. of or designating slow changes in the motion of the sun or planets. · n. a secular priest.  secularly adv. secularism n. secularist n. secularize v.tr. (also -ise). secularization n. secularity n. [ME (in senses 1-3 f. OF seculer) f. L. saecularis f. saeculum generation, age]

My intention is not to prove to the unsuspecting reader that I possess a printed copy of the dictionary or that I read dictionaries for fun! Instead, it is to impress upon the gentle reader that the term "secularism" specifies neutrality with respect to religion, if one were to leave out the astronomical definitions. Many other dictionaries define the term in similar fashion; one sees no need to flog a dead beast.

These days, the question of secularism looms large in the Indian political landscape. Many parties and public figures claim they are "secular" and brand some others as "communal". Many people have associated myriad things with secularism, including the formation of states within the Indian union; religious conversion; historical debates like the Ram Janmabhoomi Temple/ Babri Mosque issue; or, even such esoteric archeological debates as the "Aryan Invasion Theory". Some people have gone to the extent of saying that religious minorities (an oxymoron in a secular polity) need greater protection. In light of all this, I seek answers from the fundamental principles that form the bedrock of the Indian State - the Constitution of India. What does the Constitution have to say about secularism?

Let me warn the unwary that I am no constitutional expert. My educational background is in Computer Science. I am an Enterprise Architect and Management Consultant by profession. However, I will also hasten to add that the Upanishads teach us that one should never shy away from questioning the basic tenets of one's religion or motherland, just because doing so may make someone uncomfortable. No modern state can stay together and prosper by unquestioning acceptance of irrational principles.

The rational reader will be surprised by how the Constitution defines the term "secularism", or more appropriately, does not define it at all. The word "secular" appears in the extant Constitution of India exactly thrice. The first occurrence is in the Preamble. It starts out as, "WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC .". The second occurrence is Article 25 (Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion). Clause 2 states, "(2) Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law- (a) regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice; .". The third occurrence is in Appendix II, which excepts the state of Jammu & Kashmir from being secular!

The entire Constitution has no definition for the term "secularism". Nor does it affirm where one should look for an authoritative interpretation.

Constitutional Schizophrenia #1 - The "secular" Constitution is concerned with religion, religious practice, groups and institutions.
The Constitution incorporates many articles and clauses that deal explicitly with different religions. It refers to religious minorities and institutions.

Question: Why does a "secular" Constitution concern itself with religion, religious practices, groups and institutions?

Constitutional Schizophrenia #2 - All states of the Union are not secular.
In APPENDIX II (RE-STATEMENT, WITH REFERENCE TO THE PRESENT TEXT OF THE CONSTITUTION, OF THE EXCEPTIONS AND MODIFICATIONS SUBJECT TO WHICH THE CONSTITUTION APPLIES TO THE STATE OF JAMMU AND KASHMIR), paragraph 1 states, "(1) THE PREAMBLE. (a) In the first paragraph, omit 'SOCIALIST SECULAR';".

Question: Is one state in India permitted to be exempt from the most fundamental principle that defines what India is, ostensibly because it is a Muslim majority state?

Constitutional Schizophrenia #3 - Equality before law does not apply to Civil Law.
The first Fundamental Right outlined by the Constitution deals with equality before law, which is one of the greatest principles of a modern democratic state. It reads thus: "The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.".

Question: Why does the Civil Code of India explicitly allow persons professing different religions to be administered by different laws with respect to property, marriage, divorce, adoption and inheritance?

Constitutional Schizophrenia #4 - The Constitution explicitly specifies that Hindu (Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist) religious institutions should be thrown open to all sections of Hindus.
Article 25 (Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion) Clause 2(b) states, "2(b) providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus. Explanation I: The wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion. Explanation II: In sub-Clause (b) of clause (2), the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly.".

Question: Untouchability is an unacceptable crime against humanity. However, why does the Constitution assume that only those professing Hinduism (and by extension, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism) practice untouchability and people professing other religions do not? In fact, there exists an overwhelming body of evidence to support the assertion that even people professing Islam or Christianity practice untouchability and casteism. Does this clause in the Constitution mean that people professing religious beliefs other than Hinduism (and related beliefs) are free to practice untouchability?

Constitutional Schizophrenia #5 - The State is in the business of providing religious instruction.
Article 28 (Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions), clauses 1 and 2 state, "(1) No religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of State funds. (2) Nothing in clause (1) shall apply to an educational institution which is administered by the State but has been established under any endowment or trust which requires that religious instruction shall be imparted in such institution.".

Question: Why is the State concerned at all with imparting religious instruction?

Constitutional Schizophrenia #6 - Minorities have special rights to establish and administer educational institutions.
Article 30 (Right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions) states, "(1) All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.".

Question: One understands that no group of people should be discriminated against in the establishment and administration of educational institutions on the basis of religion. In fact, that should be the exact language of the article. Why does the Constitution grant a special right to minorities (if that usage were rational under a secular constitution) to establish educational institutions? Does this also mean that the majority community shall not have the same right?

Constitutional Schizophrenia #7 - The Constitution is concerned with employment at religious or denominational institutions.
Under Article 16 (Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment) Clause 5 states, "(5) Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any law which provides that the incumbent of an office in connection with the affairs of any religious or denominational institution or any member of the governing body thereof shall be a person professing a particular religion or belonging to a particular denomination.".

Question: Why is the Constitution concerned with employment at a religious or denominational institution?

Constitutional Schizophrenia #8 - The Constitution mentions the word Hindu (Sikh, Jaina and Buddhist) several times.
The words "Hindu", "Sikh", "Jain" and "Buddhist" appear in the Constitution several times. There is no mention of any other religion.

Question: Why does the Constitution explicitly identify some religions by name and others not at all?

One is struck by the clumsiness of the Constitution in dealing with religion. One is disappointed that a Constitution that professes secularism is so exceedingly concerned with religion, religious practice and religious institutions. The above samples from the Constitution of India demonstrate how warped secularism has become in the Indian context. If one were to look at laws in force in different states, municipalities and townships, one comes across an overwhelming number on the books (and in practice) that totally contradict the principle of secularism.

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