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SECULARISM – What does that word mean to you?

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SECULARISM – What does that word mean to you?

Academically, secularism is the separation of religion and state. It ensures religious groups don’t interfere in affairs of state, and the state doesn’t interfere in religious affairs.

In the West, the word secular implies three things: freedom of religion, equal citizenship to each citizen regardless of his or her religion, and the separation of religion and state. Contrastingly, in India, the word secular does not imply the separation of religion and state. It means equal treatment of all religions.

Now, let me tell you what it meant to me, and what I have believed it to mean my entire life. I grew up as part of (what I believe to be) the only surviving secular organization in the country! The Glorious Indian Army! Keeping with the spirit of secularism, I and my friends always looked forward to carol singing during Christmas, the festivities and celebrations of Diwali, the Bihu dance during the Bihu festival and the rituals of Durga Puja. We wished our Keralite friends for Onam, went to Gurudwaras, Mosques, Churches and Temples alike. There were so much beauty and fun in this unity in diversity!

Did you know that when a soldier is posted to Siachen, and after a gruelling training, when they are finally ready to go up to the glacier, they all go to a “Sarv Dharm Sthal”, a popular and common fixture in Military Stations, where under one large roof, there are several miniature “places of worship” for all religions so each soldier can enter one roof and follow and his religion. This is the true spirit of a patriot: Respect and tolerance towards a fellow Indian, irrespective of caste, creed, colour, religion! Despite the many differences, we are united as one: as Indians!

What has happened to that spirit? Who is benefitting from the hate that is being spread?

Many people argue that the word Secular was added in the Indian Constitution by in the 42nd amendment, but what they forget is that even though the word might have been added in the Preamble in 1976, the nature of our constitution has always been secular. Peace and harmony are inherent to a nation’s development. Why then are we falling for this hate-mongering? Have we forgotten that the British could conquer us by dividing and ruling? Why allow this division to happen again?

I decided to voice my opinion after an educated and erudite author “friend” of mine wrote a post on Facebook, trying to justify Gauri Lankesh’s murder as a kind of holy cleansing, while also targeting many others and calling out for a policy to deal with the so-called anti-Hindus. What’s more upsetting is the fact that not one individual condemned this individual for what he wrote, not one, but me! Since when can people openly support murder? I don’t think he felt the fear I do while writing this!

‘There is continuity between home and school for Muslim girls’

People with sane reasoning are shot down as being Pseudo-Secular, Pseudo-Intellectual, Sickulars, Libtards, Commies and what not! Ministers are garlanding criminals out on bail, they aren’t being punished for such acts. It is worth bearing in mind that the ruling party operates ideologically under the aegis of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu fundamentalist body. Repeat: Fundamentalist! Their youth groups have attacked Swami Agnivesh, who declares himself a secular; and a short while before that, they vandalized Shashi Tharoor’s office in Kerala for his comments. Since when has it become okay to use violence against words? There has been no attempt to condemn the BJP Yuva Morcha for these attacks, nor has any concrete action been taken against these miscreants.

When my father went to the border to protect and safeguard this nation, he was also protecting the Muslims and the many other minorities. They are Indian Citizens, and their rights are the same as ours. Almost 14% of our population is made up by the 172 million Indian Muslims. India has more Muslims than even Pakistan, second only to Indonesia.

How, then, can they be ghettoised and outcast? How can they be lynched and killed in public? Since when has it become more important to protect the cow than to protect a fellow human being? 20 out of 29 states in India currently have various regulations prohibiting either the slaughter or sale of cows, but not one has a law against Mob Lynching!

Freedom of Speech and Expression is essential to the Indian democracy

Today, our constitutional rights are under danger. The six fundamental rights recognised by the Indian constitution are the right to equality, right to freedom, right against exploitation, right to freedom of religion, cultural and educational rights and the right to constitutional remedies. Where is the freedom and where is the equality? Why am I being told what I can eat, and what I cannot? Can I not have a preference, and choose to eat beef despite being a Hindu? Do I need to explain and prove my interpretation of spirituality to the government?

I don’t need to #TalktoAMuslim to know that he/she has every right that I do. I will uphold the legacy of my father, and continue to stand by India’s Muslim Citizens, just because, they are and shall remain, India’s citizens!

Leher Sethi is Social Activist, Advisor-Delhi Lit Fest, Project Director (Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana – Majra Dabbas Village in North West Delhi)

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