Secularism forms the bulwark of modern nations where the state is separated from religion. It is a modern idea that came into existence as product of Scientific Revolution (or the Age of Enlightenment). For centuries that preceded the Age of Enlightenment, our world was cloaked in Dark Ages, where religious thoughts held sway, where minds were closed, where thinking was forbidden, where free thought was heresy. People were hunted down and burnt to a stake on the crime called blasphemy. People were flogged for crimes such as voodoo and witch-craft, impaled to death for embracing another faith, maimed, tortured and killed for expressing opinions on workings of the Universe which are now considered absolute facts.
Secularism is an idea embraced by modern nations to protect its people from such irrational ways of inflicting harm onto others who they consider to be different. The only way one can achieve protection of individuals and their rights is by separating religion and its idiosyncratic blind beliefs from the governing state and its polity. This was the realization that came about during Age of Enlightenment and later enshrined in many constitutions throughout the world.
Secularism is originally defined as ‘no importance to any religion’ making state completely agnostic or apathetic to religion. However, Indians have conveniently defined it as ‘equal important to all religions’ making state sympathetic to religions.
This new definition comes as convenience to all Indians – Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and other religious people. In this definition, religions work as single groups to negotiate with the state to get sops and benefits for their people. Usually those sops and benefits are not universal, and instead have everything to do with satisfying religious egos, which are usually hurt very easily. Most often, they trample on the rights of others, curb individual expression, and curtail our freedoms.
Most Indian Hindus conveniently define Secularism as nothing more than Sanatana Dharma to embrace it, but when the actual definition comes to the forefront, they reject it. In the same way, most Muslims find the second definition convenient when promoting their religious laws to be imposed onto its population, thereby justifying archaic and almost barbaric laws onto its people, but reject it when the actual definition comes to forefront. The same holds true for other religions of India.
So, when it is convenient for everyone, why change the status quo? Why can’t we go live happily ever after redefining it?
The redefinition which provides the apparent comfort zone to everyone is equivalent to allowing people to cross red light at their will. When people are allowed to cross at will each individual who is crossing it welcomes it, but not those who get affected by it. Similarly, when the Indian state embraces Hinduism as its religion, people of other religions get affected by it. Each religion is acting as those individuals who are trying to cross the red light at will. Whenever they get a chance to cross it, they celebrate it as victory. Those who are not able to cross it stand dejected waiting for their next chance. Nobody bothers to think that while someone is jumping the red light there are many accidents happening. People are getting injured and killed. That there are some people are never able to cross this traffic light forever.
The new definition of secularism has replaced the original definition almost completely. According to BJP, a national party which held power at center once and is an aspirant once again, the world secularism should translated to ‘panth nirpeksh’ – being neutral to different religions – rather than the original definition which is ‘dharma nirpeksh’ – being indifferent to religions. They go onto reinterpret the constitution saying that their definition is the right one, and not the original definition.
This particular notion is not only championed by BJP, it is a slogan carried out by all political parties of India, who avowedly embrace religion in their official capacities. In the recently held swearing ceremony of MLAs in Karnataka after the assembly elections, almost every member swore by God. Most members of Parliament, Prime Ministers and Presidents visit religious places on official capacity. Administrators of cities and towns welcome a religious leader as if he holds a constitutional position, using official machine and mechanism to serve him. Most DRDO, ISRO and government agencies carry pictures of Hindu deities and they are prayed to before starting an event. Scientists at ISRO go to Tirupathi to pray before launching rockets into space. Most scientists in India, holding government positions, believe in God, and many of them believe in horoscope, palmistry, astrology and numerology. They resort to these tools when exercising their duties.
India is very religious in nature and its state apparatus is completely hijacked by people of majority religion. The minority religions, instead of fighting for the application of original definition of secularism, try to get their share of the pie by forming their own groups to negotiate a similar status for their own people.
The problems occur when the interests of the religions conflict with interests of the state. In the ongoing Ram Sethu Controversy, a petition was filed against dredging Adam’s Bridge citing Ram Charita Manas and Ramayana as historical documents as evidence, where some parties have contested that Ram existed 1.75 Million years ago before Proto Humans existed on planet Earth, and that Ram build this bridge using monkeys. They have successfully stalled all activities.
In other episodes, a sports players was unnecessarily tormented by legal actions for putting up her feet next to the Indian flag, a very famous painter was forced to move out of the country, his house ransacked, just because he painted some Indian goddesses in nude, an author was forced to move from one city to another for criticizing her religion, and so on.
Indian definition for its secularism spells doom for its future generations. India is consciously trying to lose its enshrined freedoms. A future, where thought police will arrest you for your free thoughts, where a judge will sentence you to death for original opinions is not far away. And one of the first steps towards that is redefining secularism.