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Secularism In India: Article 25 Vis-A-Vis Hindus

During the inception of the Constitution of India in 1950, the Preamble did not contain the words socialist' and secular'. These words were added to the Preamble through the 42nd Amendment Act, in the year 1976. Prior to this Amendment, the Supreme Court in Keshavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala,[1]held that Preamble is a part of the Constitution and it can be amended but subject to the condition that the basic feature of the Preamble cannot be amended. With the Bharatiya Janata Party, coming to power in the year 2014, one word which is revolving in and around every person's mind is secular'.

Though prior to that, there were major changes that changed the demography of this country under the umbrella of secularism, but with a rise of a Hindu Nationalist' Party, it is being alleged by the minority section of this country that their religion is under immense danger and this has resulted in tremendous intolerance in the country.

Analysing the current scenario in the country, the research paper tries to portrait the secularism existing in India in the light of the plight of millions of Hindus who have been the victim of this rising intolerance. The research paper concludes with certain suggestions which can be considered for establishing a balanced secular society and thus enshrining the goals of the Constitution.

Introduction
India is often accredited with the term melting pot of diversity' due to the presence of many religions within the country. In light of this religious diversity, independent India has proclaimed secularism to be one of its key policy values and thus declaring itself as a secular state by the insertion of the word secular in the Preamble. D.E. Smith opines that a secular state is a state which guarantees individual and corporate freedom of religion, deals with the individual as a citizen irrespective of religion, is not constitutionally connected to a particular religion nor does it seek either to promote or interfere with it.

The secular state views it individual as a citizen and not as a member of a particular religious group. Religion becomes entirely irrelevance in defining the terms of citizenship; its rights and duties are not affected by the individual religious beliefs.[2]

Article 25 of the Constitution of India, allows any individual the freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of his/her religion. This Article forms the bedrock of Secularism in India. Accordingly, every person is allowed to practice his religion. The religious demography, before the advent of Islam was to very extent stable, with only few religions residing. With the advent of Islam, not only a new community established but certain religions in order to counter this new religion of brotherhood also came into existence due to the growing atrocities against Hindus. This situation somewhat got stable with the coming of Britishers but situation started deteriorating again with the Divide and Rule' Policy that was adopted by Britishers.

After independence, the situation with regard to communal clashes started getting worsen. And with India entering the 21st Century, the secularism in India started taking a different turn altogether. Though the beginning of this change started around 1990s with the enactment of Places of Worship Act in 1991 for prohibiting the conversion of any place of worship and requiring the preservation of any place of worship's religious character as it existed on August 15, 1947 and the demolition of Babri Masjid which was allegedly to be constructed after demolishing the temple of Lord Ram. Prior to all these from 1989 onwards, mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits had begun from Kashmir.

If one tries to analyse these incidents, prima facie appeared, that the secularism in India for Hindus had become a hoax and they were always subject to a situation of compromise'. Year after year, the faith of Hindus was made a joke and with the coming of Bharatiya Janata Party into power in 2014 and again in 2019, the faith of Hindu has been termed a new word i.e. intolerance' by the liberal section of this country.

Secularism in India
The Hindu ethos is prevalent in India. Hindus make up the bulk of the population. It is ingrained in the culture to respect all forms of thinking, belief, and worship. Minority sects would have had complete equality even though the constitutional protections had not been in place. This is in contrast, to our Muslim-majority neighbours Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and the Middle East's Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and others have proclaimed themselves Islamic Republics or Kingdoms and have refused Hindus religious freedom by law and practise.

If one tries to trace the incidents from the time Islamic invaders invaded India and especially after the Independence, it appears, that under the Islamic rule, the religious sentiments of the Hindus became the victim of the aggressive conversion policies of the Islamic rulers. Thousands of temples including certain temple of utmost importance in the Hindu religion such as at Ayodhya, Kashi, Mathura, Somnath and many other were attacked and illegally demolished and at certain demolished sites, mosques were even constructed.

What surprises the most is the situation which supposed to have improved, worsened after Independence. Minor incidents of temples being demolished and lynching of Hindus were reported from various parts of the country.

Post- Independence, it was in 1976, the Indira Gandhi government decided to insert the word secular' to the preamble which was left out by the Constitution makers. But one prominent question arises after this Amendment, i.e. did the insertion of secular' imply that India had not been secular before 1976? Had the omission of the word turned India into a Hindu Rashtra?

The answer to these questions is no. The fathers of the Constitution made it incumbent on Hindus to note their devotion to the Upanishadic ideal of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam' by leaving the term out of the preamble. So, secularism in the Indian context would not mean the state remaining away from religion. Instead, it would mean maintaining equidistance from all religions.

Unfortunately, that equidistance never happened. Over the years, the test of secularism came to be whether India's minorities perceived an action as secular or not. For example, the government gave itself very little day-to-day control over the Central Waqf Council or over Christian institutions but soon exercised incredible control over Hindu temples.
Nehru decided to pass the four Hindu Code Bills while abandoning the objective of a Uniform Civil Code. Even in politics, seeking Muslim votes by appealing to the Imam of Jama Masjid was considered smart but appealing to Hindu seers was communal.[3]

Religious Interference and Temple Destruction
The repeated aggressions of radical Islamists and Christians has pushed the Hindus into a state of victimhood. Continuous assault over the religious sentiments of the Hindus has not only destroyed the thread of unity among Hindus but also destruction of thousands of temples. The history is full of such incidents of destruction of temples. For example, the Somnath temple. The temple was first desecrated in 725 CE by Al-Junayd, the Arab governor of Sindh.

After being repaired, it was destroyed during Mahmud of Ghazni's invasions in 1025. It was repaired, but Allauddin Khilji destroyed it again in 1299. The temple was rebuilt only to be demolished in 1395 by Zafar Khan, the Muslim governor of Gujarat. The Sultan of Gujarat, Mahmud Begada, desecrated it in 1451. In 1665, Aurangzeb dealt the final blow when he tore it down. Such incident of demolition of temples can also be found in the three holy sites of Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi.

Fortunately, the dispute in Ayodhya took a legal turn and was instituted in the Court as a suit which took years to be resolved. In 1992, the Babri Masjid which was built over the Ramjanmabhoomi, was demolished by Hindus. Fortunately, another title suit was instituted in the Court and in 2019, the Apex Court granted the disputed site to Hindus. Though the Ayodhya dispute has been resolved, Mathura and Kashi are still waiting to get justice.

The beginning of construction of Ram Temple at Ayodhya also faced backlash from the secular' group of the country for not constructing hospitals or other public infrastructure. But such criticisms were not made while construction of mosques in different part of the country.

Apart from these prime religious sites, today also, idols of Hindu Gods and Goddesses are destroyed and religious sites are being desecrated by people from minority groups. In addition to this, despite constitutional provisions, state governments have been regulating and regularly taking over Hindu temples, while mosques and churches are permitted to be governed exclusively by their respective communities, despite Article 26 conferring the right on all people equally.

Furthermore, state control of temples is doubly harmful to Hindus in that they have not only lost control of their temples to the government, but they have also become a part of "the State" as per Article 12 of the Constitution as a result of that control. As a result, centuries-old religious rituals, festivals, and traditions are selectively and unduly questioned and interfered with.

In addition to this, in 1991, the P.V. Narasimha Rao government enacted the Places of Worship Act, in the backdrop of growing agitation by right wing groups regarding reclamation of 3000 mosques which were built by destructing temples. The Act aims to freeze the status of places of worship as they were on August 15, 1947. The law kept the disputed structure at Ayodhya out of its purview, mainly because it was the subject of prolonged litigation.

It was also aimed at providing scope for a possible negotiated settlement.[4] This law again hurt the religious sentiments of the majority population, because in the name of secularism, the mosques were given a security from being demolished as history is full of examples, where temples have been demolished and mosques have been built over them.

Human Rights Violations
Gross human rights violation has been taking place from the day Islamic invaders came to India. In the name of conversion, several people were looted and killed and women were raped. During the British Raj, due to the divide and rule policies, there were constant communal clashes. In post-independent India, these clashes exaggerated further and the primary victim of this exaggeration were the Hindus. Mob lynching cases were reported from all over the country.

But something more severe took place in the 1990s. In 1990, India saw one of the largest exoduses of a community fleeing its homeland from fear of being persecuted.[5] The number of people who fled remains debated with few authors stating it ranged from 1,00,000-1,40,000 to as high as 8,00,000.[6]

Religious and ethnic triggers, as well as external influences, seem to have played a role in the incident. The Hindu community was disappointed, believing that they were not treated fairly because they were a minority. Many factors contributed to Hindu-Muslim tensions, including the construction of a mosque on the Secretariat grounds.

This attracted the resentment of many Hindus. As a result, several temples were demolished, including those in Anantnaag, causing widespread havoc. The genocide that began in the valley, was targeted towards the minority community residing there i.e. the Kashmiri Pandits and the primary reason is that these people follow a particular religion. Thousands of people were made refugees in their own country, many were looted and killed and women were raped. But unfortunately, there was no crackdown on these gross human rights violations. Hopefully, the abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A has started attracting the Pandits back to the valley.

In 21st Century, mob lynching of Hindus and no action against the culprits has become a daily affair of the country. Whether it is the Palghar lynching case, or lynching of common people in the name of conversion, the government has become a mute spectator. What is surprising is Hindus are being lynched just because of supporting a particular party.

The state of West Bengal is reporting such incidents in large numbers where the goons' of the ruling TMC government are killing supporters of the BJP. The post-poll violence appeared genocidal like situation where these goons not only killed BJP workers but also damaged properties and also assaulted and raped women. The prime target of these incidents of violence were Hindus just because of following a political party with a Hindu ideology and religion.

The issue of Love Jihaad has also become a centre of discussion. Many Hindu women are lured to marry by the men from other religion and after marriage are forced to convert to the religion of their husband. The refusal to convert brings torture and at times death for the women. Such incidents have been termed as Love Jihaad' by the Hindu right wing groups. States like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand, have enacted laws to curb such incidents of Love Jihaad. Such laws have been termed by critics as against the fundamental rights of citizens especially Article 25.

But the fact is, women not only from Hindu religion but also from also other religion are lured to marry later are forced to convert and if the women refuse, she is assaulted and at times killed. However, most of the victims are from Hindu religion. During such incidents where a woman from the majority population is the victim none of the human rights activists come out in support of such victims. Hopefully, the Love Jihaad' laws would be helpful in curbing such cases with regard to women from all the religion.

Appeasement Politics
The nation's political parties have passionately opposed to the secular state's strategy. They combine religion with revenge in politics and toss ideals into the open. Religion is nothing more than a dead ritual if it lacks ideals such as justice, equality, compassion, love, nonviolence, truth, and sensitivity to other people's suffering and it can be very dangerous if faith is synonymous with hollow rituals rather than beliefs, as our politicians do. This has been the case since the country's independence.

The Indian politics has been commercialised. Politicians rather than focussing on achievements focus more on branding themselves with religious groups which are considered as the dominant religious groups in the region. This branding is termed as appeasement politics. Whether it be the regional parties or national parties, minority appeasement is the first method to grab votes. Post-independence, every election has seen appeasement of minority religions.

Be it granting monthly salary to Imams or welfare projects for minority groups or trips to Haj, the welfare of Hindus during these appeasement politics is the last thing done. A recent example is during the election of the State of West Bengal.

The TMC Government increased the salary of Imams, offered namaz and did what not to appease the minority sections which form a good chunk of the State's population. However, seeing the BJP conducting an aggressive campaigning through its top leaders for grabbing votes of Hindus, the TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee turned herself towards appeasing the Hindus by performing Chandi Path. Similar instances of appeasing Hindus just before election has been done by several other Chief Ministers by arranging Tirth Yatras' programs just before elections. The Prime Minister himself had offered scholarships for students from minority community.

Conclusions And Suggestion
Every invasion of India by an alien religious and cultural community, according to Gajendragadkar, J., resulted in conflicts and forcible conversion for a short period of time. But, in the end, they settled down peacefully and contributed to the Indian society in different ways. This, he says, is due to the Hindu religion's omnipresence of tolerance and liberal nature, which provides the theological foundation for the philosophy of secularism in India.

India's constitutional scheme guarantees equality in matters of religion to all religions to all persons and classes, regardless of faith, emphasising that the state has no religion. The preamble of the Constitution, when read in conjunction with Articles 25 to 28, exemplifies this point and shows that secularism is enshrined in our Constitution in this way.

With the Bharatiya Janata Party, coming into the power, the Hindus, found a ray of hope for raising their voices and to some extent even did. But the liberals of this nation termed this as religious intolerance towards minority communities. A new trend has emerged that whatever the ruling government does, it is for Hindus and only they should be blamed for it. Due to this, for every act of government, the common Hindu mass is being abused who has no role to play in the acts of government. There is a strong need to curb this growing aggression against the Hindus and achieve the goals of secularism as enshrined in the Constitution.

The first and foremost thing is to bring a Uniform Civil Code. This will provide a basic foundation to re-orient the policy of secularism as there would be a singular law for civil purposes such as marriages, adoption, etc instead of numerous personal laws. Secondly, there should be a curb over the appeasement politics. Political parties, focus more on appeasing the religions which are dominant in a particular region. This is despite the ruling of the Apex Court in S.R. Bommai v. UOI[7], wherein the Court states that political parties or the group of individuals who aspire to hold public posts must abide by the provisions of the Constitution.

They should not mix religion with politics and respect the fundamental of secularism. The policies of the government should be focussing on particular religion but on the population as a whole.

Thirdly, a Committee should be formulated independent of political interference to look into the matters of mob lynching and human rights violations including the cases of Love Jihaad and ensure that such cases exclusively investigated by the CBI. Lastly, restoration of temples and allotment of alternate sites to Muslims for construction of their mosques and allow them to profess their faith peacefully.

In the end, the words of Shashi Tharoor are worth mentioning to understand the Indian secularism. He says, Western dictionaries define secularism as absence of religion but Indian secularism does not mean irreligiousness. It means profusion of religions.

Bibliography
  1. https://ddceutkal.ac.in/Syllabus/MA_SOCIOLOGY/Paper-6.pdf
  2. Heta Thakar and Vaishnavi Mishra, The Kashmiri Pandit Exodus: An Obliterated Chronicle Vol. 3, Issue 5, IJLMH 1023-1037, 2020
  3. Banu, Zenab. RELIGION IN INDIAN POLITICS Need to Be Value Oriented, Not Power Oriented. The Indian Journal of Political Science, vol. 70, no. 3, 2009, pp. 705 718. JSTOR, available at www.jstor.org/stable/42742753.
  4. Tanya Bansal, Indian Secularism: Theory and Practice, available at http://14.139.58.147:8080/jspui/bitstream/123456789/358/1/77LLM18.pdf
  5. M. Nageswara Rao P.K.D. Nambiar, Temples must be liberated from government control, available at https://www.sundayguardianlive.com/opinion/temples-must-liberated-government-control
References:
  1. Constitution of India, 1950
  2. Places of Worship Act, 1991
  3. V. N. Shukla, Constitution of India, 13th Edition, 2017, Eastern Book Company
  4. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/legally-speaking/mob-lynching-a-desecration-of-the-rule-of-law/

End-Notes:
  1. AIR 1973 SC 1461
  2. Chishti, S.M.A.W. "Secularism In India: An Overview." The Indian Journal of Political Science 65, no. 2 (2004): 183-98. Accessed April 28, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41855808.
  3. Sanghi Ashwin, Want to preserve secularism in India? Well, preserve the Hindu ethos first, available at https://theprint.in/opinion/want-to-preserve-secularism-in-india-well-preserve-the-hindu-ethos-first/477972/ (accessed on 04th May, 2021)
  4. K. Venkataramanan, The Hindu, What does the Places of Worship Act protect?, available at https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/what-does-the-places-of-worship-act-protect/article29993190.ece, (accessed on 3rd May, 2021)
  5. Nirupama Subramanian, The Indian Express, Explained: The Kashmir Pandit tragedy, https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/exodus-of-kashmiri-pandits-from-valley-6232410/, (accessed on 04th May, 2021)
  6. A. G. Noorani, DAWN, Kashmir's Pandits, https://www.dawn.com/news/1269592
  7. S R Bommai v. Union of India, (1994) 3 SCC 1.

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