India as a Secular State– A Facade?

The Forty-Second Amendment Act to the Constitution added the word ‘secular’ to our preamble, thereby declaring India to be a secular state. A secular state can neither compel its citizens to adopt a particular religion, nor can it give preferential treatment to the followers of a particular religion. All religions are upheld equally and there is no ‘state religion’.

The word ‘secularism’, while not initially written in the Constitution by its authors explicitly, was later on seen as a requirement by many, owing to India’s vast diversity and a variety of communal conflicts. The makers of the Constitution might have considered it an implied objective in the nation’s progress, however the various events which soon transpired in the brief years before its inclusion in the Constitution, made it clear that the Indian polity required a written agenda. As indicated in the book, Working a Democratic Constitution- The Indian Experience, (written by Granville Austin, published by Oxford University Press), Jawaharlal Nehru was then, one of the prime supporters of secularism who wrote of the necessity to build unity against what he termed as ‘disintegrating forces and destructive activities… communalism, provincialism, and casteism’. As quoted by Rajendra Prasad during an address to a Madras audience, “Provincial feeling, caste feeling, linguistic feeling should all be made subservient to the feeling of the country.”

The forty-second amendment came in the light of national emergency declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She linked it with the  addition of the words ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ in the preamble, stating that communal riots were of an anti-national nature.

Secularism seemed to be a great solution for India; a country with an influx of religions, communities and caste. It made matters easier for the government to state its impartiality towards any specific religion while boasting of a neutral environment for every religion to cultivate in its own fashion. Hereby arises this question. Did the official recognition of India as a secular state, truly make it secular or was it merely a tool for the government to escape involvement in the growing communalism of a diverse nation unable to resolve differences and peacefully coexist? True, India is a country with several religions which are coexisting rather well in comparison to the extent of the prevalent diversity. However, the communal violence and regional disparity cannot be neglected from being taken into account, especially if one considers the shockingly appalling and brutal nature of such incidents.

A major instance of such communal violence is the violent dismantling of the Islamic Babri Masjid mosque in the northern Indian city of Ayodhya, in December 1992. It is definitely not the first instance of a Hindu-Muslim rift, however it certainly is one among the many religious acts of violence in our ‘secular’ India. The secularism of our nation seems to be confined to the government and while painting a picture of the nation at the international level. This could be seen in the immediate aftermath of the event where, as is mentioned in The Wheel of Law- India’s Secularism in Comparative Constitutional Context (written by Gary Jeffrey Jacobsohn), the Central Government dismissed the elected governments of three states, many of whose members had supported the activities of the Hindu nationalist perpetrators of the deed. These dismissals were subsequently appealed in the Indian Supreme Court, which upheld the actions of the center while also discoursing at length on the subject of secularism and the Constitution. The destruction of the mosque by an organized mob of religious fanatics posed more than a threat to communal peace and stability; it also threatened to sabotage the Constitution’s long-term vision of a truly secular society. Furthermore, the events of the Babri Masjid weren’t  just confined to Ayodhya but they also sparked off violence in Bombay, leading to the 1993 bomb blasts in the city, making the period of 1992-93 the most affected by communal violence .

Abiding by ‘neutral and just verdicts in every case’ as the motto of the judiciary and the union, it is a requisite to question whether communalism and related hatred and violence can truly be put to an end just by the idea of a secular state. Extremists continue to prevail and the consequences of such aggression is deeply unsettling if the level of destruction and simultaneous brainwashing that happens to the masses involved, is taken into consideration. And this is only one case amidst the several instances of riots that have taken place all over our nation over the decades and still continue to take place in our present day. A poll conducted by the Times of India saw a 17% rise in communal violence in 2015 with 751 incidents recorded across the nation as opposed to 644 in 2014.

It is understood that differences are bound to arise in a vastly diverse country as India, which is home to several religions. However, differences of such intense nature have now become commonplace and one begins to wonder about the nature of India’s secularism. Secularism, while written down by the nation’s leaders, seems to not have penetrated the depths of the system in terms of its true meaning. While it was intended to bring about a peaceful co-existence among various religions and a sense of acceptance to all, there still exists inter-communal strife. If anything, secularism is only seeing a rapid rise of communal violence, not to mention the disparity in emerging laws, however unintentional.

In conclusion, it seems only fair to ask if India truly is as secular as it is deemed to be. Does the communal violence overpower the nature of a secular state? Is secularism then, just a method of ease for the government to put on a neutral and impartial front while letting the problems manifest as required? We need to ponder whether it would be more beneficial for the government to be less neutral and take better action that will result in not just empty words and description, but a state whose citizens act the part and be more secular than communal.

Picture Courtesy- New Indian Express

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