The British colonialists ruled India through a divide and rule practice, and they promoted rivalry between Hindus and Muslims. Eventually, they succeeded in dividing India on religious basis to give it independence.
One part chose religion as the basis of a new nation. The other chose secularism to ensure unity in diversity. In a quarter of a century the foundational religious basis of Pakistan got a rude jolt and it split into two, one part choosing linguistic-cultural nationalism over religion and became Bangladesh.
This historical development showed that religion cannot be an overriding principle in formation of a modern nation as it fails to accommodate linguistic-cultural nationalism and ethno-diversity of various constituting communities coming under the political umbrella of a state.
By choosing secularism as a basic structure of the Constitution, India has smoothly overcome such aberrations that can be the centrifugal force for any further split of a complex and diverse country. Indian Constitution recognized diversity and has made all citizens equal in all respect giving them voice through Parliamentary system of democracy.
It stood many trials, even a major challenge from Dravidian ethno-nationalistic assertion and a threading possibility of a Dravidian secession. The secessionist movements later raising head in some parts of the country could be checked because democracy took strong root on the principle of equality for all people and because most people have faith in the Constitution, which is secular, socialist and democratic.
Against this foundational principle, now, there is an orchestrated move to convert it into a Hindu Rashtra disregarding the equality of all religions ensured by the Indian Constitution.
Even a high court judge in Meghalaya has shunned his judicial equanimity to make a religious parochial demand in his judicial judgment—a judge unbelievably appealing to the political executive to convert the democracy into a theocracy! Is not this a subversion of the Constitution itself?
The main argument of those who have questioned secularism is that the Hindus are in overwhelming majority in this country, but yet the question still remains strong, which Hinduism is to be accepted as the state religion? Is Hinduism one religion or a composite one? Are its main tenets Vaishnavite or Shaivite; whose claims of two major divisions within Hinduism will prevail?
Curiously, the Lingayats of Karnataka have gone to the extent of saying that they are a separate religion. What about Eka Sarana Nama Dharma, a Bhagawati dharma, which has no worship but recitation of the name of one God, practiced in Assam? Are its practices similar to those practiced among the people of say Northern India? Can the Hindi belt’s Hinduism politically override that practiced in the southern India or in Assam?
Shaktism is strong in Bengal. In Indian Hindu Rashtra what will be its position in Hindu hierarchy? In short, Hinduism in India being a composite religion of several different faiths, each requires space. In religious practice all of them coexist. But politically, there will be an unholy contest. And will the other religionists lose their equality and be reduced to politically insignificant minorities driven to the wall? If driven to the wall, will not they rebel in unthinkable ways to ensure their rights?
Is equality practiced in Hindu religion? Then why a Dalit even now cannot take water from the same well as is used by the upper castes? Why is a Dalit killed for riding a horse which the upper castes think it to be their privilege only? Why can’t a Dalit take out barat through a predominantly upper-caste locality? And is this kind of orthodoxy practiced in all forms of Hinduism or prevalent only in regions from where the demand for a Hindu Rashtra is so vociferous?
Admitting that Hindu Religion is Santana Dharma tracing it’s origin to Vedic practices, has it not branched off into many different faiths, some of which do not practice idol worship? Which practice will take precedence as the foundational rock of the religious Constitution? Some Dalit tribes worship Mahishasura as an idol. Ravana is held in high esteem in some regions. How a Hindu Constitution will reconcile these concepts that oppose the mainstream faith?
I am a Hindu by birth but a Vaishnavite by familial practice (though I do not practice any religious ritual individually). The prasad that is given after any puja is strictly vegetarian. On the other hand, the Sakti worshippers sacrifice animals and some feel religious animation at such practices because they believe sacrifice of animals gives ‘punya’. But a vegetarian may find it unacceptable and even detestable.
One can say that the Hindu religion is so resilient that it can admit diverse and opposing practices within its fold harmoniously. But as a principle of statecraft, this can create many points of conflicts and opposing demands. Communalism arises in conflict of two different religions. But Hinduism itself has fault lines that may give rise to such conflict if one particular practice exercises political dominance over the others reducing them to a minority status.
In a democracy, where all citizens are equal, secularism is the best practice. One belonging to a particular religious culture may be in majority in a state, but all other religious practitioners have equal right to life and faith in a secular democracy.
Harekrishna Deka is former DGP of Assam and a renowned critic and poet. He can be reached at: [email protected]