India is passing through a transition phase and recent incidents have raised many questions over its secular ethos. There is debate, whether India is still a democracy, are minority rights still valued or what are the rights of religious and linguistic minorities in the world largest democracy?
Some people opine that India is secular just on paper but not in practice. Hindutatva Nationalists (read Communal forces) believe that India is the motherland of natives, who only are the genuine citizens. Muslims and Christians are not indigenous for them and are considered outsiders, despite the fact that most of them are converted from Hinduism.
Strong aversion and deep repugnance of high caste Hindus supremacy and, its couple’s condescension towards low-caste Hindus have forced many people to leave their religion, but this fact is often underestimated. Despite their native roots, but because of their religion, Muslims are supposed not to claim the same rights in India as Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists should have.
“What has secularism offered to the Indian Muslims” is a question often debated. Indian Muslims, who opted to live in India after Partition, have always elated, appreciative, and grateful to their country for declaring itself as a secular democracy. However, several domineering forces, including groups of opportunists, were not satisfied with the futuristic approach and vision of the fathers of the Indian Constitution, for pronouncing India a Secular Republic.
Regrettably, Congress, the ruling party for most of India’s post-independence period, deliberately, deceitfully, and repeatedly promised of making India a multi-ethnic society. Successive “secular” Congress governments did not deliver on critical minority issues such as minority’s education, jobs, safety, and economy. For Congress, the proclamation of Indian secularism is/was merely a political tactic and sham perception of democracy and Gandhi’s optimism.
However, the secular groups of Indians were not demoralized and continued their efforts to keep India away from turning into a fascist Hindu state. Regrettably, currently, open hostilities, the emergence of powerful Hindutva groups, and strengthening of communal forces in the Congress party threatened the secularism. This endangered the minorities and their position as equal and respectable citizens of the country. This led to pessimism among them about India’s secularism.
In this context, those confronted with the issues of national integration and secularism in India must learn a lesson from western countries. With huge Christian majorities, they have handled the issues of equity and secularism beautifully. Countries like the United States and Canada are a great example, how ethnically diverse societies and multi-religious, multi-cultural groups are weaved together to consolidate them as a strong nation. They are almost welded together with a common objective, that’s equality for all.
‘Unity in Diversity’ is a slogan that India have boasted for years but in reality there are so many fault lines within. India could imitate the beneficial results for all its citizens from the western world. Instead, it is following a phony and hypocritical formula for assimilation of ethnic minorities, with a genuine commitment for non-implementation of secularism in India.
Majority among minority communities in India still have a blind trust in country’s secularism. They must also realize that once the judicial system loses credibility democracy, secularism, and nationalism are all at stake. Unfortunately, it’s the time when Indian judicial system, which is an important pillar of secularism, needs to be reformed. Not only, by giving the proper representation to deprived sections but also by revisiting its wisdom in some of the most controversial cases.
Recent conflicts and the political confrontations suggest that only those on the top of religious and economic hierarchy can sustain in the present system. There is nothing like equality, justice and secularism in the picture now. The ruling party and its affiliates have created the conditions that have endangered India’s economy, social fabric and the constitutional secularism. Unless, there is a huge reform, India’s credibility as a secular state may not be restored.
Author is educated, and trained at the College of Physician and Surgeon, Columbia University, (New York), Harvard Medical School (Boston), and Johns Hopkins Medical Center (Baltimore). He earned his Ph.D. from Aligarh Muslim University, India and presently is a Scientist on Biological Warfare Program of the United States Army, Fort Detrick, Maryland.