When Secularism Hasn’t Served Its Purpose, Will ‘Areligious’ Do?

People from different religions, race, ethnicity and opinions have to form a strong cohesive atmosphere.

5 min read
Hindi Female

(Speaking in Parliament during a discussion to commemorate BR Ambedkar’s birth anniversary in 2015, BJD Lok Sabha MP Tathagata Satpathy made a case for an areligious governance system. His argument offers a counter-view and perhaps a less radical solution to Union MoS Anant Kumar Hegde’s proposal to do away with the idea of ‘secularism’ in the Indian Constitution.)

The inability to do or find something could, at times, be the mother of transcendence. Maybe that kind of situation was the reason for coining a word such as ‘areligious’, which truly did not hold any meaning for me until recently.

The need arose when discussions on the Constitution, held in Parliament on 26-27 November 2015 – to commemorate the 125th birth anniversary of the father of that great piece of literature B R Ambedkar – took place. Speaking in the Lok Sabha on that occasion, on behalf of the Biju Janata Dal, I tried to express certain ideas over which I would not lay full moral claim to have authored.

Ideas, some opine, always exist in the environment. Like catching a falling fruit from a tree, it is up to the to-be claimant how tenderly a certain idea is thought, nurtured and distributed for possible consumption. Areligious as an idea started off thus, in my talk, as simply as any complex thing would. A democratising country, India has pledged itself to democracy, to equality and to justice for all, but in all honesty, I feel democracy is still maturing to assert itself in our social affairs. We as a nation refuse to move beyond our faults and vulnerabilities. It is in these tenets of old ideologies, of past crimes against citizens and our flaws and culpabilities that we do not sincerely reflect our democratic values.

We hold memories and glimpses of the long and tumultuous hardships and about the inequalities our ancestors had to face, yet similar struggles haunt our society this day too. Why have we failed to find real solutions could be a question capable of triggering an endless debate.

Political equality alone cannot and will not secure a better future for our people. As a solution, it should be easy to say, we need to walk beyond our societal values of old and stroll into the future with a positive mindset. India is a pluralistic country and we should be happy in our diversity. In such a society, people from different religions, race, ethnicity and opinions have to make constant efforts to form a strong cohesive atmosphere and rejoice in those very differences.


Areligious-An Idea

  • Political equality alone cannot secure a better future for people.
  • People from different religions, races, ethnicities and opinions have to celebrate their differences.
  • No major ruler of India, except Ashoka, had ever used state intervention in forced conversion.
  • India needs to exhibit indifference to the existence of religious institutions through all activities and space.

Creating Animosity

 People from different religions, race, ethnicity and opinions have to form a strong cohesive atmosphere.
Activists of the Shiv Sena shout slogans after burning an effigy symbolising their protest against what they say are forcible religious conversions. (Photo: Reuters)  

Since this is a value that is not ingrained in the minds of the citizens, it is up to the social and political leadership to hand over such a baton to our future generations. In India, we love to radicalise differences. We separate people instead of uniting them by their differences. We create animosity amongst groups for small gains. This certainly creates universal pettiness and misery. Secularism is a concept that certainly has political barriers. In reality, many Indians use it without understanding its full implications. We can’t call ourselves inclusive when our government offices brazenly display the religious inclinations of the occupiers.

Other ‘secular’ nations take separation of ‘church’ and ‘state’ as a serious notion where the government (state) refrains from interfering in the functions and duties, and many a time the (mis)adventures, of the church. Why do we bring religion in public space then?

For us Indians, religion is a personal need, the existence of God is a personal greed, and I do not believe that such sentiments have any justification to be in the public space, especially in governmental space, which we look up to not only for leadership but, more importantly, basic services and even goods. Over the years, we have seen the power of religion transform ideas, geographical boundaries and our way of functioning. It has mostly helped in creating divisions and bitterness.

While arguments and counter-arguments rage about Tipu Sultan, I wonder whether all those who had ruled this land for centuries, like the Afghans (such as Sher Shah Suri) and Muslims (like Tipu Sultan or the Moguls) or, for that matter, even the Christian British, had actually tried to convert the ‘natives’ into their professed religions.


No History of State Religion

 People from different religions, race, ethnicity and opinions have to form a strong cohesive atmosphere.
Muslim children read the Koran at a madrasa in Mathura August 23, 2009. (Photo: Reuters)

Interestingly, none of them have declared any ‘state religion’ on record. All of them permitted the growth of various religious sentiments that either originated locally or were imported. Similarly, our history, as far as I know, has not recorded major state funding of any religion.

An interesting point to ponder is the way even the Portuguese dealt with this aspect in Goa. A race that seemingly never really was fond of itself, the Portuguese loved all their territories with fervour. They ruled Goa (1510-1961) for a much longer period than the Muslims or the British ruled India. Yet, they too allowed the locals to follow the religion and practices of their choice.

Notwithstanding what bigots may say, my firm belief is that all Christians and Muslims in the sub-continent are as indigenous as any Hindu. Most likely, various personal and/or local issues could have been the trigger for adopting (I am not using ‘converting’ here) a particular religion by certain groups in specific geographical locations.

In other words, since no major ruler of India, except probably Ashoka, had ever used state intervention in forced conversion on a nationwide scale, it is possible to surmise something else. Had that been tried at any time, I am certain our religious divides would have been different.


A New Concept and System

 People from different religions, race, ethnicity and opinions have to form a strong cohesive atmosphere.
Volunteers of the RSS take part in a camp in Hyderabad (Photo: Reuters)

That ‘something else’ is that this could not have been due to the secular attitude of all past rulers. It may simply have been their unwillingness to spend huge sums, from their royal coffers, needed for that kind of mammoth effort. All those who have lorded over this sub-continent at any point of time (including the present day) have had only one intention – to create as much wealth as possible by extracting it from the populace.

Most were unconcerned with the lives of the natives unless there was trouble. Now in this age and time, India definitely needs a governance system that does not only remain indifferent to the funding of Hindu religious trusts and endowments, Waqf boards and madrassas or other such religious institutions but also exhibits complete and total indifference to their existence through all activities and space. This, I term as areligious.

(The writer is a BJD Lok Sabha MP.)

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Topics:  Secularism   Portugese 

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