Is secularism at threat in Indian Democracy?

Lilly humtsoe
St. Joseph's College, Jakhama Assistant Professor Dept. of Political Science  

Independent India is one of the largest states in the world. This vast population is made up of people professing different religion like Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Christianity, Buddhism, etc. India being the largest democratic country in the world, adopted secularism as one of its core principle in the constitution.  

In India, the term secularism implies equal treatment of all the religion by the state. India wants her citizens to practise any religion they like without any government interference and this noble decision of the Indian government is proclaimed in the 42nd Amendment, 1976. The preamble reads as, “we the people of India, having solemnly resolve to constitute India into sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic,” etc. Some of the series of articles in the constitution which underline the idea of secularism in India are Article 14 to 16, Article 19, 21, Article 25- 30 etc. These precepts show that our law does not discriminate between citizens on ground of religion. This is a great advance and one of the most precious legacies of our freedom struggle and one of the best results of the spread of modern, liberal democratic ideas in India.  

Secularism is no doubt the ideal principle in a democratic country but in practise it is not so easy to follow. In India, the reality is quite disappointing. The majority community as also the minorities are totally disillusioned with the working of secularism in India. Some of the issues which raise serious doubts about how secular India is, to name few: (a) non-separation of politics from religion (b) continued widespread communalism and communal violence in several parts of the country which lead to many deaths (c) banning of cow slaughter leading to curtailment of freedom of persons to eat and restricting their freedom to carry on any profession and trade, etc.  

Communalism has been one of the biggest threats to Indian secularism. Religious intolerance and communal riots are on the rise today and it has challenged not only the democratic credentials of the Indian polity but a great threat to the unity and integrity of the nation. Communalism is not a phenomena confined to only one community, the followers of all religious denominations have been susceptible to its influence. Yet, the organisational advancement, social reach, political and ideological influence that Hindu communalism achieved during the recent years are so extensive that it could succeed the government. Of late, the attack towards minority religious groups is not only confined to the Muslims but also to the Christians too. Every now and then, India witnesses sustained periods of gruesome communal violence and violates human rights that question the very secular fabric of the country and its history of peaceful co-existence.  

Certain Political parties in India use religion and caste factors for the promotion of their political interest despite a ban on the communal electorates and use of religion for soliciting votes. The various political parties and groups have frequently made use of communal factor to get into power thus undermining the secular value of the country. During election, many political parties completely forget the ideal of secularism and woo the votes on communal and caste lines. 

In this regard, both the minorities as well as majority communities are equally to be blamed. Many leaders lack in true commitment to secularisation of Indian society and in developing rational and scientific temper. This failure of leadership has thwarted the progressive separation of religion and politics in India.  

Today there is a huge confusion between ‘Hindu’ and ‘India’. Many ceremonies and public rituals are perceived by Hindus as cultural and nationalistic expression but to the non-Hindus, these are manifestation of Hindu culture. Such rituals are performed even in state functions and therefore, create unnecessary misgivings about the neutrality of the state. Of late, an attempt has been made by few sections of Indian society to equate Hindu cultural symbols as national culture. This is possibly the expression of what has been called the ‘Hindu backlash’, which is believed to be the consequence of the rise in Muslim and Hindu fundamentalism. Such action destroys the credibility of the secular character of the state and question democracy.  

In a secular state, religion is expected to be a purely personal and private affair and the state is not expected to interfere in the life of the individual. But sadly, today there are incidents where an individual cannot even enjoy a beef meat just because the Hindus considered cow as a sacred animal. The most recent incident was the lynching to death of Muslim man in Dadri, UP by a Hindu mob because he was suspected of having beef in his home. Violence around consumption of meat need not even have a communal angle. Food habits cannot be dictated because it is essentially a part of one’s own culture. States like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, MP, Delhi, Maharashtra, U.P, Karnataka etc. has banned cow slaughter but, the basic question is, whether a total ban on slaughter of cow is justified on any ground at all except that of religious sentiments of Hindus. Most importantly, such a ban is not in keeping with secularism and democracy.  

In recent times, serious questions are being raised about India’s secularism. No society can be at peace and can prosper, if one-fourth of the population feels neglected, deprived and unwanted. If we want a Secular Society, we have to stop identifying oneself by religion, caste, or language and start thinking ourselves as equal citizens of one nation both in theory and practice. This involve mutual obligation between the state and the citizens.  A great deal remains to be done if secularism is to become a way of life in Indian democracy.