Prof. Mathew C. Ninan Director, Little Rock Indian School, Brahmavar
Secularism is a noble vision, a powerful social construct and a quest that transcends even the contours of nationalism. It’s a matter of humanism, a longing for justice and equity. It requires real statesmanship and a larger vision to understand the sanctity of secularism and the need to preserve it for posterity.
Our Constitution mandates that we are a secular state. We have long cherished the secular fabric of our nation. We believed that very thread counts and no single thread shall be weakened except at the risk of losing the sheen of the whole fabric.
But then what do we mean by a secular state? “A secular state claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion, and claims to avoid preferential treatment for a citizen from a particular religion over those of other religions.”
In short, the state is neutral in matters of religion. The separation of the temporal and the spiritual was a matter long under dispute in different countries of the world. In spite of giving a secular image, the vestiges of religious affinity of the state is visible in some form or the other even in certain European countries. In other words, absolute neutrality is hard to find.
Having said that, it must be affirmed that a state having different religions can co-exist peacefully only if they adopt a neutral stance in respect of religions. History has proved that religion has the potential to destroy peace and even nations in its wake.
Wars have been fought for the sake of religions, because religion is a sensitive and emotive issue which can trigger strong reactions in people. We need to understand the hypersensitivities of people vis-à-vis religion and deal with the issue most sensibly and sensitively.
India is home to almost all religions of the world. This is an enviable honor and a precarious situation at once. To have a tapestry of different religions, cultures and languages is an incredibly splendid possibility. For them to live peacefully is a dream and surely a lovely one at that. Unity in diversity is not a mere slogan, but a desirable end in itself.
The future of our country depends largely if not entirely on our approach to the minority segments of our country. The true test of democracy is the protection of minority rights. Democracy is fundamentally about the centrality of human rights and the inviolability of individual rights and liberties. Every single person should have a voice and has a right to be heard. Any attempt to silence the voice of the minority or majority militates against the tenets of democracy.
India is a melting pot of myriad cultures and languages, religions and beliefs. It is a cauldron of multiplicities. This can be seen either as complex or as magnificent, depending on which prism one is looking through. The cultural diversity of India is mind-boggling but it’s also our distinct and proud heritage.
Our constitution affirms that “we have formed ourselves into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity…..”
It’s a sad development that steps are being taken by some governments which go against the spirit of the Constitution. Dividing the country for political gains is the most undesirable and the most dangerous thing to do. This will eventually lead to disastrous consequences. The short-term gains for political parties can mean colossal loss for the country in terms of its over-all developmental agenda and its cohesive and peaceful co-existence.
We need to read the writings on the wall. The history of many multi-ethnic nations points to one unpleasant truth. Wherever ethnic or religious minorities have been subjugated and their liberties trampled upon, there have been strife, conflicts, and even wars. Such countries have witnessed huge deprivation and suffered irreparable losses to their economy. Many countries especially in the third world have witnessed long and harrowing ethnic and religious conflicts and even wars, resulting in perennial backwardness. It’s a sad fact that the poorer countries are more prone to these situations and they continue to wallow in poverty and ignorance.
We know that inclusivity and mutual accommodation are the hallmarks of a vibrant democracy. We can’t afford to fritter away the gains we have made over a few decades since independence. We can still grow together as a nation embracing all its complexities and contradictions. We need to have the political will, nay, the political sagacity and maturity to understand that our destiny lies in communal harmony, religious tolerance and an inclusive socio-economic path of development. We are a nation like no other when it comes to our rich human resources, or abundant natural resources. We do have a great future beckoning us if we learn how to live together in peace and harmony.
(Courtesy – The Deccan Herald dated October 17, 2019)
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