Sunday, May 26, 2024

Has “secularism” become a sugar-coated term for appeasing the minorities in India?

Priyal Dholakia -Enigmatic Horizon Staff (Assistant Editor)

Secularism is founded on the ancient Indian philosophy known as “Sarva Dharma Sambhava.” It enshrines the notion that all religions are equal and deserve the same respect. Secularism upholds the idea that the state or the law will treat all religions equally. But in the current context in India, we see that the entire essence of secularism has gone for a toss. Some segments of society can be seen misinterpreting the idea of secularism in a totally different light. Instead of advocating “equal respect for all religions,” they are pushing secularism into a “pro-minority” strategy. Let us see how.

“Secularism” for the past few years can be seen becoming a cover term to indicate policies directed towards minority appeasement. Political parties can be seen misusing it to their advantage for fueling their vote bank. It has ended up becoming more of a political agenda than a noble ideal. so much so that whenever the majority seeks their rights, it comes off as “oppressing the minority.” Or much worse, it gets labeled under the tag of “communalism.” This has led to deep resentment in the majority groups, paving way for religious discord.

Is it fair to compromise on the interests of the majority or turning a blind eye to their rights? It is also a form of discrimination and a breach of secular spirit. One needs to understand that the rights of the majority are as important as the minorities’. True secularism lies in serving the interests of all in equal spirit.

But a bunch of people in media and politics can be seen converting this virtue of being secular into a farce. Secularism in India can be seen becoming a garb to promote communal sentiments in the society. Example, many politicians are beginning to label violent criminals as “activists” which is downright unacceptable. We can say that there is a great deal of hypocrisy when it comes to the matter. When an incident is perpetrated by the majority, the media and so-called “secular” people leave no stone unturned in condemning it. But we can see that they will assume a totally opposing stance when the same crime is being perpetrated by someone from a minority community. Such people make a huge hue-and-cry as if they care a lot about the minority interests but become mere spectators when it comes to the problems or rights of people belonging to the majority.  Justice should prevail in equity for all individuals and groups, be it any religion or community.

We need to understand that if religious extremism is bad, appeasing minorities in the name of secularism is also unacceptable. The views of the majority should be taken into account as well. The aim of secularism is to foster a culture of co-existence and not conflict. If political groups keep tweaking it to serve their vested interests, it will only give rise to religious demarcation and prejudice.

Isn’t it high time we stop breeding this culture of “pseudo secularism”? The true nature of secularism is being swamped by the fickle interests of some political parties. Secularism today has become a facade for appeasement politics. It is underpinned by a system of granting special privileges to minority groups. For example, religious conversions are legalized in India. The respective state governments control the temples. Whereas, places of worship for minority religions like Islam, Christianity, and Sikhism are free from government control. Haj yatras are subsidized, but devotees who wish to visit Man Sarovar are left to fend for themselves. The government is not subsidizing it despite repeated requests by devotees. 

These are just a few examples of the unfairness that is brewing under the pot of secularism. Do such instances really stand for secularism? The word “secularism” is being used as a cloak to hide the reality. By providing special privileges to certain religious groups, we defeat the very purpose of being secular.

As citizens, we certainly need to stay vigilant and be proactive in altering the perception of reality. We need to address these loose ends and ensure that minority appeasement does not get tagged as secularism. We have to make sure that the ideal of secularism is upheld in its true letter and spirit, not as a fake political agenda.

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