The political meaning of secularism is a separation of religion and state, popularly known as separation of the State power and the Church. Secularism is formed and adopted in western countries and America after a long debate, discussion and action of at least 400 years. In the starting, in the seventeenth century, it meant to transfer church properties to State ownership. In western and other countries, churches had a huge amount of land property, thus after a war of thirty years, in 1648, Church lands were handed over to the State. In England, Henry VIII dissolved monasteries, as a secular step. In India, secularism is a much-misunderstood term. It was inserted in the Preamble as a result of the 43 rd Amendment by the Indira Gandhi government. Dr. Krishna opines that there is a need for discussion and debate. Also, it must be adapted to the Indian conditions. Here’s her opinion exclusively in Different Truths.
In our country there always is a problem with the word secularism. For many people, secular is a type of “religion.” Even in the social network sites, in answer to “What is your religion,” some people write, “Secular”!
A section of the people, including politicians, think that praising and appeasing minorities is secularism. In India, are we confused about secularism? We have translated secularism as “dharmanirapekshata” (impartiality to religions). Oxford Dictionary says secular (ism) means, separated from religion!
But how and why the secular word has come to India? Does our constitution declare India as secular? Here comes a twist: the Indian constitution that was tabled on November 26, 1949, and implemented from January 25, 1950, in its Preamble did not write the word ‘secular’: “We the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India in a Sovereign
“We the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India in the Sovereign Democratic Republic and to secure to all its people:
Justice, Social, Economic and Political,
Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship,
Fraternity, assuring the dignity of the Individual,
And Unity of the nation….”
The Preamble was amended on December 18, 1976, (42 nd Amendment) during Emergency in India, when the Indira Gandhi government enacted several changes in the constitution. Through the amendment it was written:
“We the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India in a Sovereign Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic…” i.e. Secular and Socialist words were inserted between sovereign and democratic. And also Unity of the nation “was changed as ‘Unity and Integrity’ of the nation”.
Why was such a change needed in the Preamble? The Preamble clearly writes “Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship”, means liberty of religion was also granted to people. Thus, what made Indira Gandhi government to insert the word “secular”? In response to this, Sardar Swarna Singh Committee said, “…in the light of past experience, such changes are made.”
Contradictorily, USA known as a secular state, does not mention the word “secular” in the Preamble, in 1776, when secularism had no concrete concept, and it is not amended to insert such changes: “We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America”.
In western countries, where the secular concept took birth, it means three things: “Separation of religion and state, freedom of religion and equal citizenship to all citizens regardless of his religion.” The political meaning of secularism is a separation of religion and state, popularly known as separation of the State power and the Church. Secularism is formed and adopted in western countries and America after a long debate, discussion and action of at least 400 years.
In the starting, in the seventeenth century, it meant to transfer church properties to State ownership. In western and other countries, churches had a huge amount of land property, thus after a war of thirty years, in 1648, Church lands were handed over to the State. In England, Henry VIII dissolved monasteries, as a secular step.
The word “secularism” was first used by British writer George Jacob Holyoke, in 1851, to describe a type of social order that is free from religion. With the advancement of time, a secular concept is evolved in Europe and it started to mean reduction of religious influence over government, laws and punishment, institutions, behaviour and all the spheres of human life. The Recent meaning of “secularism” in Western Europe and America is “no religion.” As a part of the freedom of religion nowadays European parents do not take children to Baptise and leave it to the child to select a religion when (s)he turns adult. Thus, in those countries now many people have ‘no religion’ and many churches are also closing every day due to less attendance. Thus, in West, secularism has a long journey. It is still growing up and final meaning may be is yet to come!
But, secularism came to India through a constitutional amendment only and not properly discussed in public and intellectual and other forums. It was just inserted into the Preamble also forced upon us! Obviously, it did not get a proper shape. Indian society and Dharma system of Hinduism is much different than that of the West. Especially Hinduism is described as a culture, not a preached religion, it is Sanatana dharma (eternal righteousness), not an “institution” (as religions are defined by the West). There is no “conversion” in Hinduism; it is hereditary only by the links of gotra. Also, Hinduism is not materialistic if a Guru or Ashram makes wealth, it is criticised by Hindus. So there are many differences between the situation of Europe and its domination by their religion and condition of India and its relation to Hinduism.
Without considering all these facts and truths and not making a proper study of the situation, one fine morning “secular” word was inserted into our constitution! And as a result of half-baked knowledge on “secularism” and the blind following of little understood western idea of secular. Now, it is spreading more hatred for the majorities rather than providing any positive result! The pseudo secular people in India also began to criticise Hinduism.
Secular is not a bad word. But, it is much confused in our country. We should now stop copying the West, with our little knowledge. We must initiate a public debate and discussion on this and develop what secularism is, in the Indian context, something that suits us.
©Dr. Krishna Hota
Photos from the internet.
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Dr. Krishna Hota did her post graduation and Ph.D from Jadavpur University and PG Diploma in Human Rights from IIHR, New Delhi, in Social Development. She is associated with the NGO sector for 22 years. She has authored two books, occasionally write articles for various publications.