Many of you might be knowing that the word ‘secular‘ was inserted in the preamble of the Indian constitution by the 42nd amendment in 1976. Does that mean India was not secular before 1976? You might wonder then why this word found no mention in the original constitution. Many Indian leaders at the time of the making of the Indian constitution were self-proclaimed seculars, yet they not only rejected the addition of the word ‘Secular’ in the Indian constitution but also negatived a proposal of adding a non-establishment clause explicitly proscribing the state from seeking to promote, patronize and establish any religion (CAD). Was that a deliberate move mischievously calculated to achieve state assisted gradual Hindufication/Brahmanisation of India?
Oxford dictionary describes secularism as a principle of separation of state from religious institutions. This idea of secularism got prevalent in Europe after the Renaissance because of the turbulent relationship between two well-established institutions-The Church and the State. These two institutions entered a tacit understanding of not interfering in each other’s affairs.
But no such tacit or express agreement took place in India between the state and the religion. At the time of independence from British rule and during the making of the Indian constitution, many prominent Indian leaders claimed to have been deeply influenced by the idea of secularism yet they were cautious about its wholesale import into India due to varied reasons.
Indian leaders wanted to initiate a state-sanctioned reform of the Hindu Religion to cure the horrible evils of the Hindu society such as untouchability, caste-system, flagrant subordination of women etc (CAD). They did not think it wise to leave Hinduism at its own peril given that majority of Hindus were Shudras (lower castes) and were incapable of catching up with the rest of the society on their own because of their centuries of subordination and exploitation at the hands of the minority but dominant Hindu upper-castes. Adopting a European style secularism in such a situation would have restrained the hands of the Indian state from initiating religious reforms amongst Hindus on a priority basis.
Does that make sense? Eminent constitutional expert Rajeev Bhargava in his essay ‘The Distinctiveness of Indian Secularism‘ writes that this interference in Hindu Religion even if for social reforms may be interpreted to undermine or promote Hinduism. The ground impact of those reforms is also an issue.
Today many of our right-wing friends do not take the then Congress leadership kindly and complain that Hinduism was not given its due honour in India after Independence. But they fail to realize that if not for those state-sanctioned reforms of Hindu-Brahmanism initiated by the then Indian leadership, the fate of Hinduism would be in much peril today. If not for those socio-religious reforms and constitutional assurances in the form of affirmative actions and reservations, etc. many Shudras (lower caste Hindus including STs, SCs and OBCs) might have converted to other religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam and thereby immensely altering the Indian demography. Proselytic tendencies of Christianity and especially of Islam are still feared by many especially the Hindu right wings and many Hindu upper castes who are the prime beneficiaries of the Hindu social order of India.
Also, if we look at the practices and conduct of the Indian state since independence, we can easily find its soft corner for Hinduism and its direct or indirect patronisation. Be it the enthusiastic reconstruction of Somnath Temple right after Independence and its flamboyant inauguration by the Brahmin President Rajendra Prasad, Sanskritisation of Hindi, the Hindu social and personal law reforms, restricting the benefits of reservation largely to Hindus only, an array of anti-conversion laws, Hindu friendly judgments by Indian courts or not doing enough to stop the demolition of Babri Mosque. All of this has directly or indirectly aided the consolidation and entrenchment of Hinduism.
All this could have been very difficult to achieve if not entirely impossible if there were express provisions on Secularism and Establishment clause in the Indian constitution as in the United States. But one important question that often gets lost in this carefully constructed and nurtured binaries of secular versus non-secular, India versus Pakistan, Hindus versus Muslims and indigenous versus foreign is who exactly are the beneficiaries and losers of this construction of main-stream which sidelines the genuine reforms and helps the Hawks in taking over the reign and the mantle. The other important question is about the success and efficacy of those Hindu socio-religious reforms undertaken by the Indian State.
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