India is not a secular country. India does not treat all its religions equally.
India allows Muslims, Christians, Jews and Parsis to manage their civil affairs according to their respective religious laws whereas placing restrictions upon how Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains can manage theirs. Heck, Indian Parliament even overturned a Supreme Court ruling to appease Muslims.
Indian government subsidizes (Rs 413 Crore) annual Haj journey for Muslims to go to Saudi Arabia. Andhra Pradesh government sponsors (Rs 2 Crore) religious junketÃ‚Â for ChristiansÃ‚Â to Bethlehem.
Aligarh Muslim University is allocated an annual budget (Rs 245 Crore) that is one of the highest Ã‚Â for any universityÃ‚Â in India. However it still allows the central university to retain its distinct Muslim character. All dining halls serve halal meat and no space is available for Hindu religious congregation. Same goes for Jamia Millia Islamia.
Indian Muslims can have multiple wives but people belonging to other religions can’t unless they convert to Islam. Indian Muslims can utter talaq three times and get over with it whereas others need to undergo the tedious court proceedings.
So on and so forth.
All the statements listed above are true. Therefore I conclude that India is not a secular country rather it is in fact a defender of monotheistic religions notably Islam.
It is easier now to understand the fallacy of Dr. Omar Khalidi’s argument in his essay “Why India Is Not A Secular Country”. He selectively pick and choose dots to create an ugly picture and then present it as the reality. It is as if Dr. Khalidi has a checklist of carefully drawn items that he keeps checking till he reaches to the conclusion that India is not secular. It is the same methodology used by Islam bashers to conclude that Islam equals terrorism. It is the same exercise undertaken by Hindu extremists to prove that Indian state appeases Muslims. It is therefore unfortunate that someone like Dr. Khalidi who has in the past produced important works like “Muslims In Indian Economy” and “Khaki And The Ethnic Violence In India” would indulge in such sophistry.
Dr. Khalidi quotes Hindu Marriage Act (1955) to buttress his claim for legislative preference to Hinduism. In reality some of the biggest critics of the Act were conservative Hindus including Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders. If the Act was just an attempt to co-opt Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists then wouldn’t Hindu leaders welcome it with open arms? Dr. Ambedkar in fact resigned in October 1951 from the Union cabinet apparently because of the stringent opposition to Hindu Code Bill (precursor to Hindu Marriage Act). It was not until after the 1952 elections that Nehru became strong enough to push through the Bill again.
It is not by accident that all Indic religions have been slotted together under Hindi Marriage Act and others originating outside India left out from its purview. It was a common-sense approach to take at that time and if anything, it did not go far enough. If Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains think that they have been co-opted within the larger fold of Hinduism then its evidence is certainly hard to find.Ã‚Â In an ideal situation there would be one civil law for all religions as laws should be same for all citizens. However a nation that just saw millions die on the question of religion did not want to push through a Uniform Civil Code to a vulnerable Muslim community lest it sees it as an example of Hindu domination. Unfortunately the issue has been communalized so much since then that it is difficult to even have a debate on it now. Eventually India will move towards a Uniform Civil Code and it will then have to thank the Hindu Marriage Act for paving the way.
Dr. Khalidi talks about the anti-conversion measures passed by various state governments.Ã‚Â I have my concerns about such legislations and many other Indians do as well.Ã‚Â It is absolutely right that such laws infringes upon the freedom of religion. But it infringes upon the right of an individual to choose a religion because that individual right is already enshrined in the constitution. These battles can be fought and will be won in courts.
Reservations in jobs and educational institutions forÃ‚Â Schedule Castes (SCs) is another contentious issue and those who convert to Christianity or Islam are denied benefits which were previously available to them. Personally I am against reservations and I think India should be moving away from a reservation based system. However it is important to note that a similar clause for Scheduled Tribes (STs) does not exists. In Muslim majority Lakshadweep there are just 2 Muslims of a total police force of 290 according to 2007 NDRB figures. But there are 217 under ST category and there is footnote that most ST police personnel are also Muslims.
Dr. Khalidi mentions General JJ Singh sporting a beard whereas Muslims servicemen not being allowed to do the same. It is interesting that Dr. Khalidi quotes the example of General Singh, a Sikh, and not any Hindu General to support his argument. Reason being that there will not be any Hindu General sporting a beard either as there won’t be a Muslim General. As a matter of fact no one can sport a beard in Indian Armed Forces except for Sikhs.Ã‚Â One could argue about the merits of this policy and whether it is biased in favor of Sikhs but it is hardly a case of Indian state favoring Hindus and discriminating against Muslims, the basic premise of Dr. Khalidi’s essay. By the way in Indian Navy anyone can sport a beard after taking permission from the senior officers.
Cultural discrimination is a complex issue and not simply an issue of one religion being given preference over others as Dr. Khalidi presumes it to be. Does he cries foul when government sponsored iftars are hosted? Or when Eid Milad-un-Nabi gets declared a national holiday by VP Singh? What about Indo-Islamic Culture course that is a requirement at 10+2 level at Aligarh Muslim University?
His assertion that Door Darshan does nor broadcasts any serial of Muslim or Christian character is blatantly incorrect. What about Alif Laila, Mullah Naseeruddin and Bibli Ki Kahaniyan? And Tipu Sultan and Mirza Ghalib relegated as stock characters? Oh please. Kaifi Azmi must be turning in his grave and Gulzar has a good case for litigation!
Dr. Khalidi in his article fails to understand the complexity of Indian society and the nature of Indian state. Wherein Dr. Khalidi can quote selective examples to prove India is not a secular state but predisposed towards Hinduism, other selective examples can be used to prove that indeed India is not a secular state but one predisposed towards Islam. This goes on to show that the reality lies somewhere in between. Unfortunately Dr. Khalidi reduces the essence of secularism and tolerant Indian ethos to a checklist of randomly selected items.
It is obvious that there are major issues facing India that need to be addressed. However all of them can be addressed currently within the Indian constitutional framework. Aftab Ahmad Ansari, an aircraftsmen of Indian Air Force, might not have yet gotÃ‚Â permission to wear a beard but eventually India will implement a more balanced policy on the issue. Similarly on other thorny issues like religious conversions and reservations, a consensus will emerge when we starting treating individual as the only minority and get out of our preconceived majority-minority paradigm. Same goes for the Uniform Civil Code.Ã‚Â It is easy for Dr. Khalidi to dismiss UCC and Haj Subsidy as an aside but those issues severely undercut his major premise that Indian state is predisposed towards Hinduism. And if that was the case then surely the Indian state has done a very poor job at that with a Sikh Prime Minister and a Catholic leader at the top for the past 5 years!
It would have been too easy for Dr. Martin Luther King to conclude that United States was a racist country, wash his hands off and immigrate to Jamaica. In that case we would never have got Barack Obama. Indian Muslims, by any stretch of imagination, are not in the same discriminatory situation as blacks were in USA. The community would do well not to pay heed to Dr. Khalidi who instead of encouraging them to strive for their rights, if and when denied, within a democractic setup is content with proving that they don’t have a chance anyway. Dr. Khalidi’s essay is an affront all those Indians whot are fighting for the rights of Ã‚Â fellow Indians – including those Indians who suffered in Delhi 1984 andÃ‚Â Gujarat 2002Ã‚Â - every day to make India a better country. It is an insult to millions and millions of Muslims – like my grandfather – who chose to stay in India because they believed in the idea of India.
When the French writer Andre Malraux asked Jawaharlal Nehru in 1958 about his “greatest difficulty since Independence” then Nehru replied: “Creating a just state by just means”. He then added: “Perhaps, too, creating a secular State in a religious country.”
Indian state is a work in progress but the foundations are right. The champions of modern Indian state fought hard to create a secular democratic state. India will remain secular as long as the people of India – you, me, everyone – choose it to be.Ã‚Â It doesn’t help a bit to start with a position that says India is not a secular country.Ã‚Â It is the responsibility of all Indians to ensure it stays secular andÃ‚Â Indian Muslims need to do their bit as equal stakeholders in the future of the country.
A slightly modified version of this article appeared at the Outlook Magazine website.
Photo:Ã‚Â Overcrowded Bus, West Bengal