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Secularism : The Indian concept - The Times of India

Dr Rajendra Prasad ()
December 25, 1997

Title: Secularism : The Indian concept
Author: Dr Rajendra Prasad
Publication: The Times of India
Date: December 25, 1997

There was unanimous opinion in the Constituent assembly as indeed
allover the country, that the State should be secular in the
sense that there would be no State religion nor would there be
any discrimination of its citizens on the basis of religion. The
question now arises as to why do we have this sharp controversy
over secularism full four decades after the framing of the
Constitution?

It seems that there are three main reasons. In principle, it was
accepted that the Indian concept of secularism would draw its
inspiration from the Sarva Dharma Samabhava - equal respect for
all religions. It would not be anti-religion. Still the
Government followed such policies and implemented them in such a
manner that gave rise to the apprehension that the State wanted
to keep away from the religion and treated it as a hurdle in the
way progress. The equality of all religions and also of their
followers as implied in the Sarva Dharma Samabhava was not put
into practice. Right or wrong, both the majority and minority
communities started feeling that the scales were tilted one side
or the other in view of political expediency and for the quest of
power. The scheme of providing incentives and disincentives to
tackle the problem of population explosion was not implemented on
the ground that it would hurt the religious feelings of some
groups. Such as interpretation makes the very concept of
secularism ludicrous. A bride in the ancient times was given
blessing with the expression of the wish that she may bear eight
sons (Ashta-Putravati). In the present times, if we start
practising what we were told, you can well imagine what would
happen to the country in a matter of few years.

The Directive Principles of the Constitution say that the State
should make efforts for evolving a Common Civil Code. The
Government's failure in this regard has also helped to strengthen
the impression that no efforts are being made to achieve this as
it may annoy some groups and hurt the election prospects of the
ruling party. The objection to the national song, "Vande Mataram"
betrays the same mentality that had resulted in the unfortunate
division of the country. The idea behind the secular India was
that the country once already divided would not have any further
division and there would be no demand for its division in the
name of religion, community or language. The violent disturbances
created by the divisive elements in different parts of the
country have given a blow to the feeling of one nation and some
people have started wondering if the path we decided to follow in
1950 was correct. The public mind also gets influenced by what
happens in India's neighbouring countries. The emergence of
religious fundamentalism in some parts of the world and its
alliance with terrorism has generated new fears.

I feel that had we translated the word "secular" as "Sampradaya-
nirpeksha" or "Pantha-nirpeksha" instead of "Dharma-nirpeksha",
in the very beginning, many apprehensions would not have arisen.
Whatever might have been the differences of opinion on the
interpretation of the word "secular", all, however, agreed that
the State should be non-communal. Even today there is unanimity
on this question. The new Hindi edition of the Constitution has
translated the word "secular" as "Panth-nirpeksha" and thus tried
to make amends for the past mistake. What is needed now is that
we all should adopt correct translation and popularise it........

.... Several dramatic changes have taken place in the world. No
one could have ever even imagined of such changes a few years
ago. Some changes augur well, but there are also changes which
spell uncertainty. The end of the cold war gives rise to the hope
that the world community would move fast towards achieving the
goal of disarmament and some part of the heavy expenditure on
defence equipment would now be made available to the third world
countries for their economic development. However, the emergence
of religious fundamentalism and its alliance with terrorism in
Rome parts of the world have caused serious apprehensions. It is
a serious situation.

While keeping a watchful eye on the developments in neighbouring
and other countries, we have to remain firm in maintaining our
traditions and culture. We have to give a concrete shape to our
resolve to build an India where there is no discrimination on the
basis of the community or the way of worship. Our Republic rests
on the foundation of the guarantee that all citizens have equal
rights, equal opportunities and equal status. By strengthening
this foundation only, can we face successfully the serious
challenges, from within and without, to out national unity and
integrity.

(Dr Rajendra Prasad Lecture, 1992)


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