The concept of Secularism was first introduced by the British writer George Holyoake in 1846, and it refers to a system of governance in which Government institutions and practices are separate from religion or religious beliefs. A secular country has no state religion, is officially neutral in matters of religion, neither supporting nor opposing any particular religious beliefs or practices. A secular state also treats all its citizens equally regardless of religion, and does not give preferential treatment for a citizen from a particular religion over other religions.
Is the Indian Government Secular? In every government form, there is a column for “Religion”. Why should a government consider someone’s religion before deciding to hire him or her? If the Indian Government does not consider religion in deciding, why have this column? Since it asks applicants for their religion, can the Indian Government be considered secular? The last thing a secular government should worry about is the religion of any person. Classifying employees on basis of religion is equally unsecular.
The policy of asking religion and caste on all government forms is a legacy of British, who used religion to divide and rule our country. It has been perpetuated by successive Indian governments, cutting across all party lines, for vested interests. The recent surveys into religious break up of Government servants by Sachar Committee is a classical example of involving religion in Governance.
Caste based reservations fly in the face of the professed secularism of the Indian system of Governance. Castes are a part of religion and to base admissions and jobs on castes is one to perpetuate them, and two grossly non secular. Admissions to colleges and schools and jobs should have nothing to do with religion in a secular country, and therefore nothing to do with castes. If you need to uplift people from backwardness or poverty, address them as people and human beings, why divide them on basis of religion?
Amarnath Shrine Board, Vaishno Devi Shrine Boards and other like them are headed by State Governors. Is it correct for any constitutional authority to be involved in upkeep of shrines? Government has no business looking after shrines and if it does, it is not secular. Similarly, government salaries to Shahi Imam and giving subsidy to people going to Haj, is again government involvement in religion and unsecular. The sight of Chief Ministers of States doing Havan, in their official capacities, asking God for rain is uncomfortable unsecular. The concept of looking after all religions is not secularism; keeping the government away from religions is secularism.
Just as the Indian Government is unsecular, so are the Indian Political parties. No party hesitates to use religion to garner votes. All political actions and even the distribution of seats in elections are determined by caste and religion, so how can any party claim to be secular. The very existence of Minority Forums in all political parties involves religion in politics and so is blatantly unsecular. Parties use the bogey of “secularism” to secure votes at the expense of dividing the citizens of this country.
Most of us confuse between secularism, freedom of religion and “Sarva Dharma Sambhav” (all religions are equal). Secularism is what we have talked about above. Freedom of religion is the right to practice ones religion and has nothing to do with secularism. A number of Islamic countries, which are not secular, have freedom of religion. Sarva Dharma Sambhav is a Hindu concept of equality of all religions and can be taken as a part of but not in lieu of Secularism.
At the time of writing our Constitution there was a demand for an article in the Constitution expressly stating that the Indian State has no concern with any religion, creed or profession of faith. It was, however, overruled by a majority who felt that saying that India would follow ‘dharma nirpekshata’ (religious neutrality) would be sufficient. This failure to severe the connection between government and religion, led to the gradual introduction of religion in politics, birth of religious political parties and misuse of governance for attracting votes on basis of religion. The end result of all this has been social and religious strife in this country.
It is high time the Indian Government got out of religion and left it to the people of this country. It is also time politicians of India stopped misusing religion for winning votes and concentrate on issues instead. And perhaps, it is also time to update our history school books to correct the definition of secularism.
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