Religion and Public Life Maintaining the Balance – Jammu Kashmir Latest News | Tourism
After the remarks made by the former BJP spokesperson and the controversy it sparked in the country and internationally, one would have expected that corrective measures would be put in place to prevent the recurrence such preventable incidents. But this is not the case. Sadly and very sadly, two people were killed in retaliation – a 54-year-old Umesh Kolhe in Amravati and a tailor, Kanhaiya Lal in Udaipur. The Muslim community held rallies to protest the spokesperson’s comments and the Hindu community did the same to protest the heinous killings of these two people.
Vengeful rhetoric and hate speech are uttered by boof-heads in all communities. Example of this, a Sarwar Chishti, khadim of Ajmer Sharif Dargah says to the camera that, “Muslims were the rulers of India for hundreds of years and by changing the name of the stations, the current government cannot erase the facts and warned the administration that such activities will only force Muslims to aim to rule India.” Worse still, Sarwar’s son, Adil Chishti, made detailed disparaging comments about the Hinduism and its multiple deities. He may have expressed complete ignorance of Hinduism, but was that necessary? It is highly provocative and inflammatory to comment on any religion, especially one that is not your own. The demand for their arrest is growing.
In an atmosphere of visceral aversion to one’s religious faith and political leanings, comments made by one’s own religion are also challenged, often viciously and violently. I am referring to the intra-religious debate concerning the remarks made by MP Mahua Moitra. Demands are also being made in public for his arrest. This was not expected of the protagonists of Hinduism, known for its celebration of the diversity of beliefs, perspectives and practices. If Mahua Moitra was articulating a point of view, it should be recognized unless it is based on falsehood. Its tone and tenor could have been softer and more subtle. She is said to be articulate but a bit aggressive.
The above incidents should cause us to rethink our use of religion in public life. Although India is a secular state by constitutional arrangement, the role of religion in public life is shrouded in misunderstanding and mystery. Secularism, I have always maintained, does not work in the Indian context. The concept was misunderstood and misapplied from day one. Secularism, as it was born, means the separation of religion from the state. When people in Western countries, where he comes from, refer to secularism, they mean working outside the church.
A friend of mine in the UK once surprised me by saying that he was doing a secular job in his spare time on a particular afternoon. I was surprised that we treated secularism as a serious subject or state domain. When I asked him what he was doing, he told me he was gardening. So, cleaning the car or doing odd jobs around the house could be a secular job.
We entered into this concept having such meanings in the preamble to our Constitution. Certainly, a secular state in India means religious tolerance, equidistance and equal treatment of all religions. The last two were never practiced, as they were not feasible. Religious tolerance was evident in our history and culture, but it is rapidly disappearing in public life. Secularism may have been confused with pluralism, which is an existential reality in India. There are at least 12 religions, over 300 castes, almost 4000 sub-castes, over 100 languages and 300 dialects. The only way for all these diversities to exist without mutual tensions is to practice mutual tolerance and accommodation. This was not the case.
If we consider that the state has little to do with religion in a secular framework. it is not true either, because we have contrary practices. For example, Hindu temples and the Muslim Wakf Board are run by governments. Religious political parties have been registered by the Electoral Commission and are allowed to campaign – All India Muslim League, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, Akali Dals, etc.
Religion has been used as a tool for political mobilization in elections, although casting votes on the basis of caste, religion and other identities is illegal. Now religion has become a part of public discourse by people who do not even know the essence and scriptures of a particular religion. Such ignorance and indiscretion cause serious conflicts in society and problems for the administration.
There are two ways of approaching religion vis-à-vis public life. One is to push religious discussion into churches, temples and mosques, or into purely religious congregations. Political mobilization on the basis of religion in competitive electoral politics is perhaps inevitable. When material conditions as a measure of social development become prominent elements of public discourse, religion and ethnic identities will take a back seat. It is also about establishing a new discourse, that of progress and development.
The second way to use religion is to recognize its role in the social life of individuals and to let it extend to public life as well. In this case, a code of conduct for all citizens regarding speaking out about religion should be defined. For example, people belonging to a particular religion should not comment on the tenets of another religion, people should refer to religion only as a source of PSME – personal, social and moral education. Religion should always be used for the betterment of society and not to compare religions or undermine some.
Be that as it may, given the current clutter and confusion over the role of religion and the resulting violent consequences, the Indian government must come up with a white paper on the repeal of the concept of secularism and the replacing it with a viable substitute which could be pluralism. Note that France, which devised the concept of laïcité (secularism in French) has been re-examining it for years in the wake of sectarian violence in the country.
It is high time for India to rethink it too. The Bharatiya Janata Party has accused Congress of pseudo-secularism for years. Now that he is in power with a full majority, he should correct this concept or replace it and allow religions to play their constructive role in private or even public life. This is the call for time that we must take to calm things down and ease tensions across the country. (INFA)