Constitutionally it is wrong to say that India is not secular. The preamble of the constitution is decorated with the word secular. Apart from that , what is being practiced in India is not secularism at all.
Secular implies the separation of religion from the state. It ensures freedom of religion also. Let us examine the major fault with secularism in its application here. Except stating that India is a secular state , the relationship between religion and state is not defined in the constitution ! This facilitates the opportunistic stance of appeasing religions in the country.
In effect , rather than keeping away religions and religious dignitaries from the state and state institutions , they are being pampered , patronised in our country.
Secularism allows different religions to function, promote their faith without interference from the state unlike in countries having official religions. Freedom does not mean state support for all religions to grow. The policy of the central government and state governments to appease all religions to spread their wings and lavish state funds for their activities is a negation of the spirit of the secular credentials of a nation where different religions are practiced.
In fact this practice of the state to appease religions has led to the phenomenal growth of BJP in India promoting Hinduthwa ideology.
The seeds of religious appeasement started with providing assistance to religious minorities in the name of minority protection soon after our independence. In the name of religion no special status is given to the individual in true secular countries. The civil law should be applicable to all citizens irrespective of the personal law applicable for the followers of religious groups. One can have faith in a particular religion , the religious laws are binding , but when such a law is in conflict with the civil law, it is the civil law that prevails. In the well known Shah Bano Case, the supreme court gave its ruling that the divorced muslim lady was entitled to get maintenance allowances from the husband who divorced her as the civil law makes provisions for this as against the Muslim law that does not mention alimony. This invited sharp criticism from the Muslim community as well as political parties including the left parties. Perhaps the schism among Muslim and non Muslim religions aggravated with the constitution amendment that was introduced when Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister. In order to overcome the Supreme Court judgement , the amendment provides for exemption for Muslims to give alimony in divorce cases and Muslim person al law was made applicable. Naturally others religions developed discontent and pointed out discrimination in the name of religion. This certainly was against the spirit of secularism.
Since then , barring Goa which has the specific law applicable for all citizens, the central government and the state governments compete each other to appease different religions with an eye on the ballot.
This didn't confine to mere state funding. The state resources are channelized for the sake of religions. The religious dignitaries are treated on a par or sometimes more than with the state dignitaries . State provides all support for religions to flourish. Minority protection laws are misused for the growth of religions. The simultaneous growth of religious fundamentalism in majority Hindu community is to be read together with this.
Why , neither the Central government nor the state governments are able to enact uniform law for citizens? Progressive parties like the left have been in power in some states. The ' secular ' Congress Party was in power for a long time. Religion comes in the concurrent list. Nothing bars any state government to enact legislation upholding the secular character of the country. In a secular country, no political party can function in the in the interest of a particular religion. So if Hindthwa ideology has gained ground in India, our parties and the legislative bodies are to be blamed to a great extent. How shameful is that the state provides financial and other support for religious pilgrimages? How serious is that government encourages all religious ceremonies to be held with its patronage?
What legitimacy even the left government has when its ministers bow down before religious heads in a secular state?
Ministers as individuals can believe in any religion or faith. It is personal. But as a state dignitary visiting and paying respect to religious heads in public is against the very spirit of secularism and we should not encourage such actions if we are serious about our secular credentials and our fight against growing religious clouts and religions' growing say in the running of the state.
Let us remember that a secular state implies the separation of religion from the state and not the appeasement of all religions.
Josh Sreedharan is Professor of English at Department of Studies in English & Dean, Language Faculty at Kannur University