30, Jun 2021 | Justice PB Sawant, Concerned Citizens Tribunal, Gujarat
The preamble of our Constitution begins with the expression ‘We, the People of India’ and states that it is the ‘People’ who have resolved solemnly to constitute India 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;
and to promote among them all,
– FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.
Although the ideal of secularism was added together with that of socialism expressly in the preamble by the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution enacted in January 1977, it was implicit in the ideal of democracy itself, for there cannot be democracy when any section of society is discriminated against on any account – be it caste, religion, race, language, territory, sex etc. Equality in the matter of exercising all democratic rights and the absence of inequality among citizens on any account are the basis of a democratic regime. Secularism is thus the basis of democracy and a non-secular state cannot be democratic. Consequently, communalism, or the practice of discrimination against any individual or group of individuals in any form, in any walk of life is undemocratic and unconstitutional.
‘We, the people of India’ does not further mean ‘We, the Hindus’ much less, ‘We, the upper castes or the upper class’. It means the people of all castes and religions, the rich and the poor, those living in the plains and on the hills, in Kerala as well as in Kashmir and the North-East. The Constitution does not confer special favours on any social group or deny any rights to any group. Further, it is all the people of this country who have accepted the Constitution and pledged themselves to constitute this nation into a democratic, socialist and secular state. Not the Hindus, the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas and the Vaishyas alone.
Social, economic and political justice, the liberty of thought and of expression, belief, faith and worship, the equality of status and of opportunity and the dignity of the individual as declared by the Constitution are to be ensured to all, irrespective of the social group to which they belong. Likewise, the fundamental rights are conferred on all and the directive principles have to be operational for the benefit of each and every individual in the country.
Of particular significance in this connection are the fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 14, 16, 19 to 22 and 25, 26, 27, 29 and 30. Together, they ensure equality before law, equality of opportunity for education and employment, equal civil rights and liberties, equal freedom of conscience and of opportunity for all to profess, practice and propagate one’s faith and religion and also the right to the religious and the linguistic minorities even to run and manage their own educational institutions.
The fundamental duties laid down in Article 51A are further binding on all citizens and none can ignore them. Of particular importance are the duties:
- to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions;
- to uphold and protect the unity and integrity of India;
- to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and sectional diversities;
- to value and preserve our rich heritage and composite culture.
- and to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.
Inspite of the aforesaid express provisions of the Constitution, a section of Indian society continues to believe that the country belongs exclusively to those who profess the religion of the majority, namely, the Hindu religion, and that those belonging to the other religions are aliens in this country. This way of thinking is further sought to be spread, and deepened and perpetuated even by resorting to violence. What is dismaying is that even among the so-called educated sections of society and those belonging to the economically higher strata, many have become a party to this irrational belief and attitude, either due to sheer ignorance, or on account of the mistaken notion of superiority of their religion and of the inferiority of the other faiths, or, due to some acquired prejudices or selfish reasons of their own.
It is therefore necessary to remind this section that Muslims and Christians in this country are as much of Indian origin as are the Hindus. About 95 per cent of the Muslims and 99 per cent of the Christians of today are those who were originally Hindus and had voluntarily embraced their respective religions, even while the rest might have been converted forcibly or under duress. The higher castes and the higher classes embraced these religions to seek pelf, power and position under the regimes of the time, while the lower castes, who formed the vast majority, did so to escape the tyranny and exploitation of the caste system and of the rituals prevalent in Hinduism. Faiths like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism were born as revolts against this very tyranny, inequality and inhumanity.
Recent archaeological finds and other historical data confirm that Indian civilisation and culture began with the Dravidian alias Sindhu civilisation, which was one of the most ancient and advanced civilisations of the world. It is the Dravidians who are the original inhabitants of this land, and not the Aryans who came from the North about 1,500 years after the Dravidian civilisation had already been fully established, and was at the peak of its progress. The Aryans were a semi-nomadic, semi-barbaric and pastoral tribe when they arrived in this land around 1,500 BC. They raided the Dravidians who were traders and agriculturists and who had settled on the banks of the river Sindhu, Harappa and Mohenjodaro being their major centres of settlement. The Aryans raided not once but several times over a period of years, massacred and looted the Dravidians and abducted their female and male children, the former for marriage, the latter to serve in their armies. The peaceful Dravidians, who do not seem to have had any standing armed force, fell an easy prey to the semi-barbaric Aryans and fled mainly to the South.
Later, as happened in the case of some of the other raiders on this land such as Huns and Shaks, the Dravidians and Aryans assimilated with each other. The present Indian population has thus a mixed racial composition. That is why this country has always been looked upon as a land with a composite culture. The massacres, loot, and abductions of the natives were not new to this land, which was always vulnerable to the raiders and the marauders from abroad, for a variety of reasons that need not be gone into here. The point to be noted is that almost all the people of this country today have been inhabitants of this land for centuries. None is an alien and none can claim purity of race. Accidents of history, the exploitative and tyrannical caste system, the selfish and intolerant attitude of the privileged classes, the rise of indigenous rebellious religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, the arrival of religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam from abroad and the embracing of all of them by the natives — all these have contributed equally to the distribution of the inhabitants of this land among various religious communities and sects. This distribution is not a division and is certainly not one between natives and foreigners. Non-Hindus are as Indian as are the Hindus of various castes and sects.
Before the Partition of the subcontinent on religious lines, the total population of this country was about 30 crores, of which about 8.50 crores were Muslims and. It is not necessary to consider here the population of the Christians, Sikhs, the Jains, the Buddhists, the Jews or the Parsees. Today, India has about 84 crore Hindus and 12 crore Muslims. India has the second largest population of Muslims in the world, next only to Indonesia; Both Pakistan and Bangladesh are behind India terms of the size of the Muslim population.
What exactly forms the basis of a nation is certainly a fascinating subject for discussion. But that need not tempt us to digress from the main issue here. Suffice it to say that religion, though a major factor, is neither a necessary nor always a bonding element. History is replete with instances of intra-faith wars between the Hindu kingdoms, the Christian nations and the Muslim states and of violent conflicts between different sects of the same religion. When Hindu kings and Muslim kings fought with each other, their armies had sizeable proportions of Muslims and Hindus respectively, even as commanders and chiefs of their armies. While Hindu India and Hindu Nepal were never one nation, Muslim Bangladesh separated from Muslim Pakistan within a quarter of a century after a bloody war, mainly on the question of language. Besides, the lapse of 55 years after Partition should not allow us to forget that the Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh have the same legacy of the original Dravidian civilisation as have the Hindus, Muslims and others (except Parsees) of this land.
In this connection, it should also not be forgotten that Hindus have never been a united community. The different castes, particularly the higher castes and the lower castes, have been in continual conflict with each other and unfortunate incidents of violent attacks against each other occur frequently even today. Yet, it is a fact that the two-nation theory based on religion came to be propounded and the partition of the country was eventually effected on that basis.
Who were the proponents of the theory?
In 1923, Shri VD Savarkar, then associated with the Hindu Mahasabha and who later became its president, propounded his thesis of Hindu Rashtra (Hindutva). According to this thesis, all Hindus were tied together by the bonds of a common fatherland, ties of blood, a common culture and civilisation, common heroes, common history and, above all, the will to remain united as a nation. Further, according to him, culture was inextricably linked to territory and the membership of the Hindu nation depended upon the acceptance of India both as Fatherland and Holy Land. This excluded Muslims and Christians who look to Mecca and Jerusalem respectively as their Holy Land, although Shri Savarkar did not deny that they looked upon India as their fatherland. In defining Hindu nationality, further, he underlined the importance of Hindutva, a religious, racial and cultural entity in which Hinduism as a religion formed a part of the whole.
The thesis, besides being divisive, is ahistorical and unscientific. The obvious flaws, to state only a few, are that all the original inhabitants of the land have common blood. But if blood is to be distinguished by religions or other social grouping, then there are no common ties of blood on account of the pernicious caste system. Consequently, there is also no common culture and civilisation. The lower castes were hardly ever allowed to play their role in the making of history. Their gods and heroes have also been different. The caste system has always prevented social unity and even interaction and exchange among the Hindus and also among those who carried the caste system with them when they converted into other religions. As regards the heroes of the same castes, Rama and Ravana who are depicted as the enemies of each other by one of the two great epics of the Hindus, namely the Ramayana, they are both worshipped, in the north and the south respectively. According to this thesis, Indians living abroad can no longer look to this country as their Holy Land, while the Buddhists in other countries who look to Bodh Gaya as their Holy Land should be considered aliens in their own countries.
As regards the willingness to live together as a nation, this begs the question. No people desire to be torn away from the soil and the surroundings in which they have been born and grow up unless they are denied the elementary right to live with dignity as human beings. Constant insecurity of life, the denial of equal status and opportunity, discrimination in the social, political, economic and cultural life of the nation and threats to their distinct language, faith, religion or culture alienate sections of society from the mainstream of national life. Every nation has within it more sub-social groups than those based on race, religion, language etc. It is for the major national group, which is in a position to dictate and dominate, to see that no social group is discriminated against in any walk of life on any grounds. No nation is planned. It emerges out of the feeling of togetherness, which is created by common hopes and aspirations, common apprehensions and a common stake in progress and prosperity. Bonds of unity and fraternity are to be built by chords, which have to evolve and grow from within. They cannot grow when sectarian forces attempt to keep the people apart for one reason or another. The responsibility to keep a nation together lies with the majority, by allowing no scope for the generation of any feeling of alienation within any social group; instead, the majority should take all steps to foster the sense of unity and integrity.
Further, while defining the meaning of the word ‘Indian’, Shri Savarkar has obviously and completely ignored the Dravidian civilisation. According to his criteria, India will not be one, but many nations. Incidentally, those like Shri MA Jinnah and others, who promoted and propagated Pakistan, also claimed this factor, among others, on the grounds that there were no common heroes, no common culture, civilisation and history and no common Holy Land.
In a conference held in Lahore in 1940, the Muslim League passed a resolution calling for the formation of a separate state of Pakistan for the first time, although the concept of Pakistan was left vague, with no definite formulation of territorial boundaries. The demand for partition was, of course, based on religion, with Muslim majority territories being grouped together as a nation. Some of the reasons for this demand were the same as those sanctified by the Savarkar thesis, which was mentioned earlier.
During alien colonial rule, communal forces from both the major religious groups, namely, Hindu and Muslim, did not participate in the freedom struggle, and while Muslim communalists welcomed the formation of Pakistan when it was announced, Hindu communalists maintained a strategic silence. However, it was ultimately a Hindu fanatic who, consumed with rage at the partition of the country, assassinated Mahatma Gandhi while holding him responsible for this partition. While riots between the two communities did erupt during the course of the freedom struggle, rocking the country from time to time, Partition triggered off a wave of violence — loot, arson, rape and massacre — unprecedented in the history of the world. The large-scale communal clashes resulted in the loss of no less than five lakh innocent men, women and children on both sides. The bitterness born during the pre-partition riots became venomous after the carnage in the days that immediately followed Partition. However, due to adroit handling of the situation by the leadership of the country at the time, the country soon witnessed the restoration of peace and the gradual harmonisation of relationships between the two communities. Were it not for the wisdom and foresight displayed by the committed and secular statesmen who led the nation then, this amazing feat would indeed have been impossible to perform within such a short time.
However, the riots that took place just before and after Partition, and the carnage that was witnessed then, fed communal forces in both communities and have kept their fires burning until today – always awaiting an opportunity for conflagration. Over the last 55 years, the smallest incidents, whether actual or rumoured, have been used as pretexts by which to fuel riots at one place or another. These years have also witnessed pre-planned and organised attempts by communal forces to disturb age-old peaceful and harmonious relations between the two communities in various places, which had withstood the test of time despite much provocation elsewhere in the country. Vested interests on both sides appear to concentrate on keeping communities divided, and the conflicts and tension between them constantly alive, and to thrive at the cost of the innocent men, women and children of both the communities.
The only persons who have benefited and are benefiting from the communal conflicts are firstly, the priests and the pundits and the mullahs and the maulvis. Not only does their livelihood depend on their respective religion, but their status, power and position are equally sustained by it. The priest of every religious group is an uncrowned king of his followers. His word is law and his preaching is the last word in wisdom. His interpretation of the religious text is final and his pronouncements are the ultimate authority on every subject. He is interested in expanding the empire of his followers and maintaining its identity strictly distinct from the others. Any blurring of distinction between his followers and the others is perceived as harmful to his interests, and he loses no time in raising the alarm of ‘religion in danger’ the moment he apprehends or imagines any intrusion in, or encroachment on, his regime.
Another class of people who have always benefited from communal disharmony is politicians, who look upon followers of their religion as their vote banks. Any harmony between different religious groups is detrimental to their interests. They have, therefore, no interest in bridging the gap between communities, but have, in fact, a positive stake in ensuring that it remains as wide as possible. When they have no issues, policies or programmes to offer the electorate, or when they are not interested in these issues, or when they want to divert people’s attention from the real issues, which they are either unable to solve or the solutions of which are likely to affect their own interests, they resort to the easiest path, namely, an appeal to the religious sentiments of the people to garner votes. This phenomenon is particularly common among politicians who have nothing in common with the people and their problems. Like the priests, they succeed in misguiding their ignorant co-religionists in the wrong direction and towards the wrong goals, which are against the interests of the people themselves. The capital asset of both priests and politicians is the ignorance of the common man, who is caught up in the humdrum of daily life and burdened with its strains. He falls as easy prey to appeals to his religious sentiments, which are manipulated by priest and politician for their selfish purpose. So far, that is how both these groups have succeeded in stoking the flames of communal hatred, bias and prejudice and in triggering violent clashes whenever convenient to them. The blame for such misuse of the ignorance of the masses lies squarely on the responsible sections in society who have so far failed to educate the people on proper lines.
Religious fanaticism among the people also has its source in the constant preaching and actions of communal organisations. Since they are interested in sharpening the differences between religious groups, it is in their interest to make their followers hard-boiled, unreasonable and passionate followers of a manipulated form of the religion concerned, a form which is, in fact, farthest from the actual tenets of the faith. That is why it is a common feature, observed in every religious group, to unite whenever the ‘religion in danger’ slogan is raised. Priests and politicians vie with each other in mobilising people around this slogan, and they persevere in keeping the slogan alive all the time. This fostering of fanaticism is, of course, facilitated by the ignorance and the lack of awareness amongst the people. That is why vested interests have a stake in keeping ignorant as many people as possible and for as long as possible. This is the reason for their insistence on fundamentalist and fanatical notions and on following strictly every word handed down to them by the religious texts, custom and tradition. Any attempt at a scientific inquiry into these texts and traditions is not only frowned upon and resented, but those who attempt it are socially boycotted, persecuted and often even physically eliminated. Fundamentalism and fanaticism thus continue to thrive, inspite of the advances made in science and technology.
Inspite of the clear declaration in the Constitution that this country shall be a secular state, the Hindu communal forces in the country have always preached that the country can only be a Hindu state and has to be governed as such. Those who insist on its secular character have been derisively nicknamed pseudo-secularists by them. To buttress their contention, they argue that while others have been following and supporting policies and measures to appease the minorities, particularly Muslims, they alone preach true secularism by insisting that no special favours be bestowed on the minorities.
It therefore becomes necessary to examine the concept of secularism as is understood and accepted in this country and interpreted by the Supreme Court. The historical context in which the concept of secularism was born and therefore the meaning it bore initially were different from the present context and the usage it has come to acquire today. The conflict between the King and the Church, which was ultimately resolved in favour of the former, formulated the well-known proposition: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God, the things that are God’s.” What this meant was that secular activities are the exclusive prerogative of the government while spiritual activities were the business of the Church, and that one would not interfere with the activities of the other.
Once religion was divorced from the business of state, the state ceased to be identified with any particular religion or its practices, and the religion (Protestant or Catholic in the specific historical context) that the individual king or queen practised varied with the incumbent of the office. Thereafter, the open hostilities against and the harassment and persecutions of those who professed and practised the tenets of a religious order other than that of the ruling king or queen ceased. The persecution of rival religions or sects had also its own unsavoury history as a backdrop to the ultimate affirmation and the triumph of the principle of the observance of secularism in the governance of the state. As a logical corollary, all religions and sects were treated equally with their followers free to profess, practice and propagate their faith.
The undisturbed and unhindered practice of one’s faith later came to be recognised as a part of fundamental human rights — the freedom of conscience and also the right to freedom of speech and expression. Both these rights are basic to any meaningful scheme of democratic rights of the people and one cannot think of any democratic regime without them. A nation which enthrones any particular religion as the religion of the state not only relegates the other religions and religionists to a secondary status, but also negates the basic tenet of democracy in that it denies them the equality of status and of the rights so essential to democracy. It disqualifies itself from being a democratic nation.
There are at present two different modes of practising secularism. In the USA, a leading secular state, the state keeps itself equidistant from all faiths and does not favour even giving grants to educational institutions where religious prayers are recited. On the other hand, the secular practice accepted in this country, which is also endorsed by the interpretation of secularism given by the apex court, is different from the US variety. In India, instead of equal indifference to or equal distant from all religions as in the USA, we follow the principle of equal favours or equal protection to all religions, sects and faiths. Whether a religion is of the majority community or of the minority, is immaterial for the secular state, all religions being treated as equal and no religion or religious practice being adopted by the state in the governance of the country.
We have been following this meaning of secularism in all our state affairs, since the inception of our Constitution. In fact, this was the concept of secularism advocated and promised to all sections of our society during the freedom struggle, and even before Independence, this was the way the then elected provincial governments administered the country. It is strict adherence to this concept of secularism that prompted the then national leadership to reject the two-nation theory as well as the demand to make this country a theocratic state by adopting the religion of the majority, namely, the Hindu religion as the state religion. People belonging to different religions, sects and faiths could come together to struggle for freedom because of this promise by the leadership of the then dominant national political party, namely, the Indian National Congress. The secularism of the kind we have been practising in this country has thus been an article of faith with us, and not a mere provision in the Constitution. It is also an essential part of the basic structure of our Constitution. The defiance of secularism in any manner, by word or action, is thus a defiance of the Constitution itself.
The persons who met in the Constituent Assembly knew too well that they would have to deal with a conflict-ridden, pluralist society. So they provided for secularism as a value. The major inarticulate premise of the constitutional scheme has been secularism until the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution, when it was made explicit as one of the objectives. Secularism as a concept came into existence during periods of early capitalism, as a response to the misery inflicted on the poor by unregulated working conditions. In fact, the dictionary defines secularism as a doctrine that morality should be solely based on regard to the well being of humankind in the present life to the exclusion of all considerations drawn from a belief in God or in a future state. Secularism was later eclipsed by the emergence of Socialist thought.
Thus secularism is included in the objectives set out in the Preamble, the Article pertaining to abolition of untouchability, bonded and child labour and almost all of the Directive Principles in the Constitution. This is how the Supreme Court defined Secularism in the crucial SR Bommai case, a decision rendered in the backdrop of the Ayodhya controversy. Now that ethnic claims and conflicts abound all over the world there is a necessity for the world body to bring forth an International Covenant on secularism in plural societies within states.
The refusal to see any good in others, the claim of the superiority of one’s faith and the inferiority of other faiths, the all-out attempts to maintain separate identities, the anti-social policy of exclusiveness and the irrational interpretation of traditions and a strict adherence to the religious texts, all tend to thwart the development of the scientific temper and the spirit of inquiry, which in turn prevents individual and social progress. Mankind today needs the acceptance of an an all-embracing humanism, not sectarian indoctrination. A religion bereft of humanism is no religion at all and a religion which preaches humanism can never be sectarian.
(Published by Citizens for Justice & Peace, www.cjp.org,in. Report released on November 21-22, 2002 at Ahmedabad, Available at https://www.sabrang.com/tribunal/vol2/secularism.html, Pages 182-190 of Volume II of the Report)
You can download the entire Concerned Citizens Tribunal – Gujarat 2002 here.