The Mirage of Secularism in Indian Democracy

Before defining secularism, let us look into how various religions and castes evolved in India. ‘Religion’ is defined as ” the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” Even before religion came up, man, who was just evolving from apes was frightened by natural phenomenon like lightening, thunder, thunder storms, rains, the cycle of day and night, death and so on. The rational man started to reason out why all these happen. But, his limited knowledge could not be successful in this. So, he thought there is some power out of his cognition that does all such things. Thus, he started to worship nature to spare him from these disasters. This is how the concept of God came up. This perception of God and method of worship varied from place to place from civilisation to civilisation. This is why there are a variety of gods all over the globe.

The earliest traces of worship in India is found in the seals of the Indus Valley Civilisation. They worshipped the goddess fertility and a bull. Then came the Aryans who worshipped nature. They came up with various practices and the division of the society was initially based on the occupation. There were four divisions – the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras. It is noteworthy that this system was flexible and any willing person could change his occupation, hence could change his caste. During the later Vedic period, this division became watertight and a person’s occupation was decided by his father’s occupation. This is how the concept of castes came up. There was only one religion that existed – the Vedic religion with its divisions. However, there was trade and cultural contact with other cultures and countries.

India, being a diverse country, has castes and subcastes varying from place to place. That is why there are many religions, castes and sub castes in India. A single religion will have various subcastes, differing from region to region. So, no two castes in India, though of the same religion and some even of the same name are exact replica of each other.

Secularism is defined as “The principle of separation of the state from religious institutions.”. This simply means that the government of a state is not recognised by the religion of the persons working in it and it does not consider the religion of the citizens while taking any citizens or providing with state aid to them. In the Vedic times and later, there was a separate class of people (Kshatriyas) who could become rulers and nobody else from any other class of people could be rulers. So, there was no chance of rulers being influenced by the religion of their subjects. As time went by, the Brahmins came to have more and more influence on the rulers. Then, after the Muslim invasion into India, Muslim rulers started giving Musilms more preference in the administrative posts and discriminated between their subjects based on religion to the extent that they even taxed the non-Muslims. Later, the Europeans did not consider religion because their main focus was money making. They did trust Europeans over Indians for administrative posts. No where do we see Europeans preferring Christians over others to work in their government.

Post independence, we claim to be a secular country. Are we really a secular country? That is a complicated question to answer. You ask any lay person who he is going to vote. He will say, ” I vote for our people”. This “our people” does not mean that there are his relatives contesting in the elections. It means that people from his caste or community is contesting in the elections, and irrespective of the merits and demerits of the candidate, he will get a vote, just because he is born into such and such a caste. Ask the same person why he will vote for a person of his own community, his answer will somewhat say he expects favours from the elected person because he is from that community. This means the person elected to power provides favours based on the community. Is this not the exact opposite of the vey term “secularism”?         

A keen observer may also observe certain subtle facts that this also have a great influence over the decisions of the government. If a left-wing party comes to power, their decisions will mainly target to please the non-Hindus and if a right wing party comes to power, the decisions will focus on the pleasing of Hindus. If a Dalit comes to power, he will tend to do favours for people of the Dalit community. This is the harsh reality and the hands of the invisible ghost called ‘caste’ which runs democracy in India. Take for example the issue of Ayodhya. If pro-Hindu party comes to power, it promises that the Ram Mandir will be built there. If an anti-Hindu party comes to power, it promises that the Babri Masjid will be built there. But till date, the case is still in the Supreme Court and it is impossible that a person could influence the decisions of the Apex Court. It is highly incomprehensible how they make such claims.

Communalism to Blame

Any Indian, while conversing with a stranger, often asks this question while having a casual talk – “Which community do you belong to?”. There is nothing that anybody gains or loses if that person is from the community of the first person or not, it is simply that the conduct of the first person with him depends on the caste of the second person. Thankfully, things are changing with more and more educated and conscious younger generations.

The British sowed the seeds of communalism to divide the Indians and carry their rule on forever. After they left, the powerful use the crops of the same seed to get power and make money. The person in power himself will not be that passionate about his religion but his hands (close associates) and supportors will be very passionate about their religion and caste and will be ready to die and/or kill for the cause of their religion. Such people should remind themselves that there is nothing valuable that they or their communities get from such passion but shame.

Rays of Hope for a better future

There are two deadly diseases that need to be eradicated for India to become developed and a successful democracy in the true sense. First, corruption, which takes years of thorough education for decades to get rid of. The second is Communalism. This seems to be a Herculan task, because caste and religion are so stuck to our personalities right from womb all the way to grave. The society as a whole, needs to be awakened and educated about how a democracy should function and what are the parameters they should consider before voting for a candidate or a party and most importantly, caste is definitely NOT one of those parameters. We must educate our children and the society to keep castes and religion confined to their personal lives and not let them out to affect the social life and its peace and harmony, which are the rights of each and every person in the society, no matter whether is a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh or a Jew. All have the right to fair treatment by the Government and the facilities provided by it.


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Author: Ms. Nayana M R