Nationalism, patriotism, communalism, secularism, regionalism, terrorism and other social science related terms have been clouding the national discourses lately. Political realists could easily figure out the political motive, a struggle of power behind these debates. But besides such harsh reality, a moderate view is, that contemporary debates should be taken in a positive sense if a nation wants to evolve itself into more mature state. Debates and dissents led to better functioning of democracy and thus help in strengthening democratic society.
Secularism is a contested concept like many other concepts of political science. Basically it could be classified into two types, first is complete separation of religion from state, that is, considering state and religion like two water tight compartments and the second one is ‘religious neutrality’ which means seeing all religion from same lens, not discriminating any religion, equidistance with all religion. Though these two kinds are not the only variety of secularism, different scholars came out with their own list of secularism. Here it is worth to mention the thoughts of Ludwig Wittgenstein, an Austrian-British philosopher, he attributed problems of philosophy to the faulty use of language, and for him it was the problem of language. Different scholars see the problems and come out with solutions using a language, all use the same language in different ways and thus a solution of any problem itself becomes problematic.
The word Secularism is one of the problems which become more problematic because of language. Wittgenstein had not worked in understanding secularism but his attribution hold very much true for secularism. Secularism is actually a historical fiction which born out of fall of feudalism and rise of capitalism. The bourgeois class of middle century wanted more freedom to trade, and religious institution (more specifically church) was not allowing it to happen. That time church dictated laws, and monarchy, landlords (ruling classes) used it to perpetuate their rules. Rise of modern science, rationalism, age of enlightenment, and bourgeois (liberal) philosophers helped in shifting power from hands of aristocracy to capitalist bourgeois class and to sustain its rule the new ruling class with the help of its scholars came out with capitalist concepts and secularism being among one of them, which necessarily meant the complete separation of state and religion and made religion part of private realm of an individual.
With imperial expansion of European powers, this concept was introduced in oriental society which never witnessed any such conflict between state and religion. Though during Mughal times, Ulemas tried to impose Islamic rules but Akbar practiced ‘religious neutrality’ and kept them aloof. Aurangzeb approach towards religion was set off by political and economic reasons rather than his personal choice at first instance. Aurganzeb faced the dilemma of internal rivalry among his court officials, mansabdars were not maintaining the required number of soldiers, and other throne rivals were taking helps of Hindu rulers/religious heads to dethrone him. All these led to his tilt towards Ulemas to get some support, & finally his futile attempt to over centralize administration led to breakdown of Akbar’s federal system.
Initially British in India followed non interference in religious affairs, but when Indian religions started hampering its administration then they actively started making laws to reform Indian religion. Thus U-turn from their secular approach. After 1857 revolt they tactfully used religions to divide Indian people, to hamper ‘nation in making’ attempts of western educated Indian middle class. Once Britishers left India, then new Indian ruling class started using this tactic to gain more votes and all political parties irrespective of their ideologies/leanings have been following it till date and thus secularism became integral part of Indian democracy but context wise it is not the original secularism. In contemporary India, some use intentionally or unintentionally term secularism for minority appeasement, majority domination, religious tolerance, religious freedom, communalism and some use it just for the sake of irrational talks, to raise passion among countrymen.
The word Secularism has outlived its purpose just like bipolar world of cold war era or unipolar world of early 1990’s. Multipolar world is the new reality. Globalization has led to free flow of people of different religions; nations are witnessing a diverse people of diverse cultures and thus evolving into a diverse society just like how India is, since ages. At this point of time India should not follow the politics of expired idea of secularism but it should teach world about tolerance which stitched Indian subcontinent into one fabric since our recorded history. Buddhism was actually a dissent against dominant Hindu thoughts but eventually it was assimilated into Hinduism. This proves about tolerance level of our people and the power of tolerance. ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhav’ (equality of all religion), & ‘Vasudev Kutumbukam’ (world- a global village) are the reality of our contemporary world.
So being a child of our times, I could proudly say that I am not a secular if the term is used in an orthodox way but I am a secular person if term is used for ‘toleration’. For ruling class Akbar’s ‘religious neutrality’ is better than western concept of secularism. We are living in 21st century and secularism needs to be redefined urgently to make it a part of present age or else it would be better to keep it in a museum, as a relic of triumph of capitalists over aristocracy. But common sense is not so common. Isn’t it?
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