Is Bhoomi Puja by state a Secular Act?

It is a common sight to see the statues, photos and symbols of Hindu Gods and Goddesses in different Government owned public places like police station and other buildings. Similarly state run buses also have the photos of Hindu Gods and Godesses. We have stopped thinking whether it is right. It is a common observation that most of the time Hindu rituals are performed while the construction of state projects, buildings etc are undertaken. The practice has become a sort of routine to which not many people give a thought. We remember that after independence serious scholars criticized the government for not being secular enough. Around that time when Pundit Nehru was the Prime Minister, the Central Cabinet not only turned down the proposal of building Somanth temple with state money but Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the then President was also advised not to inaugurate the temple in his capacity as the President of India. The visits of public functionaries to the holy places were a strictly private matter, away form the glare of media.

Times seem to have been changing. The politicians are competing with each other to seek the divine blessing through different well advertised visits, the inaugural ceremonies of state sponsored buildings have the Brahmin priest supervising laying of the foundation stone and undertaking a bhoomi puja (Worship of Earth) and doing his best to get the approval of the supernatural powers though the chanting of Mantras. In this scenario, the move by Rajesh Solanki, a dalit activist from Gujarat to file a Public Interest Litigation against the bhoomi pujan and chanting of mantras performed at the time of foundation stone laying ceremony for the new building for the High court, came as a move to set the things on secular grounds. The function was performed in the presence of the Governor of the State of Gujarat and the Chief Justice of the State amongst others.


The Former Union Minister for Civil Aviation Sharad Yadav at Bhoomi Pujan Ceremony for the “Construction of New Terminal Building” at Civil Enclave, Pathankot on June 29, 2001. The Former Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution Shanta Kumar, the Former Minister of State for Civil Aviation Chaman Lal Gupta and the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Prem Kumar Dhumal are also seen.

Solanki’s plea was that a secular state should not perform the religious rituals. Such an act of worship violates the basic principles of the Indian Constitution, which is secular and lays the boundaries between the state and the religion. Solanki argued that the puja and chanting of mantras by Brahmin priests would make the judiciary loose its secular credentials.

Rather than upholding his rational and secular plea, the court went on to dismiss the petition and also fined the petitioner Rs 20000, doubting his bona fides. The judges went onto say that the Bhoomi puja is meant to seek the pardon of the Earth to graciously bear the burden of the damage to make the construction, to make the construction successful. And since this is for the welfare of all it fits into the Hindu values of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam (All beings on the planet are one family) and Sarvajan Sukhino Bhavantu (For the good of all).

There is a lot of mix up in different arguments being put forward. To begin with to regard that for making a construction the Earth has to be worshipped is a purely Hindu concept. The people from other religions will do different things to start their construction work, like sprinkling Holy water by Christian priest for example. The atheists will be more concerned about the preservation of ecological balance and to see that the geological and
architectural aspects have been fully taken care of.

The legal defense of the practices of one religion for state function is nothing short of violating the basic principles of Indian Constitution, which ensures that state keep its distance from all religions and then treats them all on the equal ground, reaffirmed in S. R. Bommai case. Secularism, as understood in S.R. Bommai is that (1) the state has no religion (2) the state stands aloof from religion and (3) the state does not promote or identify with any religion.

It is true that moral values of many religions can be accepted by the society at large, like Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam (Hinduism), or ‘all men are brother’ (Islam) or ‘Love thy neighbor’ (Christianity) but as far as rituals are concerned it is a different cup of tea. The core of religions is not rituals but moral values. In popular perception and practices it is the rituals which are identified with the religion. This is a matter of social understudying and different streams will go by different opinion on this.

The core point is that the saints of the genre of Kabir, Nizamuddin Auliya, and Gandhi harped on the moral aspects of the religions. As far as practice of religion is concerned people have no restriction in following their social and personal practices, which are so diverse between different religions and even within the same religion as different sects follow different religious practices.

Such a judgment goes totally against the Article 51 (A) of the Constitution also, which directs us to promote the rational thought in the society. The promotion of rituals of one particular faith by the State is against the spirit of our Constitution. Again in many instances there is just a thin borderline between faith and blind faith. Blind faith will push the society in the retrograde direction. Today we know that unless the location for a
construction is selected properly, geological and construction aspects are taken care of scientifically, accidents do happen. That’s why state has developed many a norms of construction which are necessary to be cleared and we have witnessed that violation of such norms have led to accidents.

Our courts have to promote these aspects of Constitution rather than to prove in a convoluted way that practices of one religion should be accepted as the state practices. Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi had gone on to state that “In India, for whose fashioning I have worked all my life, every man enjoys equality of status, whatever his religion is. The state is bound to be wholly Secular” (Harijan August 31, 1947) and, “religion is not the test of nationality but is a personal matter between man and God, (ibid pg 90), and,” religion is a personal affair of each Individual, it must not be mixed up with politics or national Affairs”(ibid pg 90).

Last few decades identification of Hindu religious practices has been accepted as the state norms and this needs to be given a rethinking. (Issues in Secular Politics III March 2011 www.pluralindia.com

[Photo: PIB]

Can Islam And Secularism Dialogue With Each Other?

By Maulana Waris Mazhari,

The question of whether or not there can be a dialogue between Islam and secularism is a particularly pertinent one today. Many Muslims, including the vast majority of ulema and Islamists, believe that these ideologies are polar opposites. Hence, they insist, there is no possibility of arriving at even a minimum consensus between the two.

Yet, the question of dialogue between Islam and secularism remains one of particular importance, especially in the context of the rights of Muslims living as minorities in non-Muslim-majority countries. Numerous non-Muslim scholars and even some noted Muslim intellectuals (such as the Pakistani writer Mubarak Ali, the Indian Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, and the late Professor Mushirul Haq) complain that where Muslims are in a majority, they brand secularism as ‘anti-Islamic’ and a threat to Islam and its followers, but where they are in a minority, they regard it as a blessing. Furthermore, where they are in a minority, they seem to argue for a secular state but, at the same time, insist that Muslims must remain safe from secularism.

These intellectual contradictions, which abound in our ulema and Islamist circles, must be resolved if we are not to be accused of double-standards. It is primarily the responsibility of the ulema and other ‘lovers of Islam’ to address this task with the urgency it deserves.

To cite an instance of such intellectual sophistry, in several of his Urdu works a noted, recently-deceased, Indian Islamic scholar described secularism in India as a ‘shady tree’ that must be protected and strengthened. At the same time, in his copious Arabic writings, aimed at Arab scholars and readers, he decried secularism in no uncertain terms. The same sort of contradiction may be observed, to an even greater degree, in the case of the ideologues and activists of the Jamaat-e Islami of India. Those of them who consider any minor departure from the thought of the Jamaat’s founder, Syed Abul Ala Maududi, to be damaging to Islam itself agree wholeheartedly with Maududi’s claim of secularism being a form of ‘infidelity’ (kufr). To my mind, these people are victims of a pathetic form of personality-worship and literalism.

On the other hand are some other individuals also influenced by Maududi’s thought, but who, after sixty years or so of lambasting secularism and hoping in vain for establishing in India what Maududi termed ‘Divine Government’ (hukumat-e ilahiya) or the Islamic Caliphate, have only just begun to realize that this utterly fanciful agenda is proving to be seriously counter-productive, creating immense hurdles in the path of Islamic missionary work and in the struggle for the rights of religious minorities, including Muslims, in India. It is striking to note here that these people have been compelled to accept secularism as the best available option. Theirs is not a choice willingly made, but one which they feel themselves forced, almost against their will, to accept because they realize that in India they have no other realistic option—the only alternative to a secular state in India being a Hindu state. This dualism in their thought is both a product as well as an indicator of the utter confusion and chaos that characterises contemporary Muslim political thought.

In this regard, the question must be raised that if such people do not willingly accept secularism or actually believe in it, but have been forced by circumstance (the fact of Muslims being in a minority in India) to pay lip-service to it, how far can they truly be loyal to a system based on secularism? How far can they help such a system if they have chosen to support secularism out of compulsion and not out of choice and conviction?

The emotionally-driven slogans of these people clamoring for what they call ‘Divine Government’ and the Caliphate in India have given added ammunition to anti-Muslim Hindutva forces in the country. Thus, in an interview given to the Urdu weekly Friday Special, the top BJP leader and former Home Minister Murli Manohar Joshi argued that if the Jamaat-e islami could talk of establishing an Islamic state in India, there was nothing wrong if the RSS demanded that India be declared a Hindu state.

It is an undeniable fact that Muslim religious leaders have grossly misunderstood the meaning of secularism in its true sense. They see secularism as wholly opposed to religion. This is reflected in the general tendency in Urdu circles to translate secularism as ‘irreligiousness’ (la-diniyat). This is completely incorrect. In actual fact, secularism does not imply anti-religiousness. Rather, it simply means that the state follows a policy of non-interference in the religious affairs of all its citizens.

There are two basic factors for the extremely erroneous understanding and interpretation of secularism in Islamic circles. One of these is the prevalence of a very narrow and restricted understanding of Islam. The second is the tendency to equate secularism with a certain strand of Western secularism that seeks not just to remove keep religion out of politics but also to uproot religion from society and from people’s lives. However, the fact remains that there is not just one form of secularism. Rather, it can be understood, interpreted, expressed and practically implemented diversely and in an expansive and flexible manner. Thus, for instance, a noted Arab scholar, Abdul Wahhab Masiri, speaks of two types of secularism. The first is what he calls ‘total secularism’ or ‘comprehensive secularism (al-ilmaniya ash-shamila), and the other ‘partial secularism’ (al-ilmaniya al-juziya). The former does not have any place at all for religion in the lives of individuals and society, while the latter provides for religion to be kept apart from politics, especially in plural societies, where this is the only practicable solution.

Theocratic rule is a notion that is foreign in Islam, which has no room for priesthood. According to the famous Egyptian Islamic scholar, Mufti Muhammad Abduh, an Islamic government is a ‘civil government’ (al-dawlah al-madaniya). A ‘civil government’, he explains, is one that is established on the basis of human welfare and works for this purpose, keeping in mind the comprehensive interests of its citizens. In a similar vein, the noted thirteenth century Islamic scholar Izz Ibn Abdus Salam wrote in his Qawaid al-Ahkam, ‘The aim of the shariah is to put an end to evil and strife and their causes and to promote the interests [of people] and the causes thereof.’ He further added, ‘People’s interests as well as evils and strife and the causes thereof are indentified through human experience, customs and [other] reliable means.’ This suggests the importance of human experience in devising structures, processes, and policies of governance.

It is not true to claim, as many Islamist ideologues and ulema do, that the ‘Righteous Caliphate’, the period of the first four Sunni Caliphs, has elaborated, expressed and fixed for all time all the features and details of Islamic government and governance. It is well-known that Abu Bakr nominated Umar as his successor, while the latter set up a committee of six persons to decide his successor. Obviously, this indicates, the methods of choosing a leader can differ according to the context.

The ‘Righteous Caliphate’ lasted, in practical terms, for a very short period of only thirty years. Undoubtedly, this system of governance was based on social justice and human welfare. However, to consider it the final Islamic model would mean accepting the argument that this model could not be realistically applied in later stages of history, and that it was rendered incapable of being applied after a short period of three decades.

Certain indispensable modifications in the concept of Islamic government had to be made in the early Islamic period itself, and this was accepted at both the ideological as well as practical levels. For instance, the later ulema and Islamic commentators rebutted the literal import of hadith reports that suggested that the Caliph must be from the tribe of Quraish. Likewise, the notion that there must be a single Caliph for Imam for the entire Islamic world was also negated. The noted twentieth century Indian Muslim thinker Allama Muhammad Iqbal went to the extent of claiming in his acclaimedmagnum opus Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam that in today’s world a single Muslim ummah simply does not exist. Rather, he argued, the world’s Muslims consist of several different communities, and recognized that it was difficult for all of them to form a single commonwealth.

From this discussion, it clearly emerges that human experience plays a major role in the construction of the state structures. New human experiences emerge with changing times and conditions, and these need to be incorporated in crafting patterns and processes of governance, contrary to what doctrinaire Islamists and ulema might argue. This is also indicated in the Quran, which speaks of monarchy as being a blessing from God (5: 20) although in today we are all aware of the pitfalls of this form of governance. In this regard, all we can say is that monarchy was more suited to the context and times this particular verse of the Quran referred to, although for today democracy is for more preferable.

A vital basis for dialogue between Islam and secularism, and evidence that such dialogue is indeed acceptable in terms of theshariah, is the polity established in Medina by the Prophet. The Constitution of this polity was, in a sense, based on the same princples that secularism (in its widely-accepted Indian sense) is founded on—equality and respect for the religious freedom of all communities. The leading ulema of the Deoband school, it is instructive to note, invoked the Constitution of Medina to legitimize their role in their struggle for a united and free India.

The noted Deobandi scholar Maulana Saeed Ahmad Akbaradi was of the view that there was no contradiction between Islam and secularism, as understood in its particular Indian sense. This approach to both secularism and Islam, I believe, is the only practicable one for plural societies today, and can serve as a firm basis for a meaningful dialogue between Islam and secularism, and between believing Muslims and secularists.

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(Maulana Waris Mazhari is the editor of the New Delhi-based monthly Tarjuman Dar ul-Uloom, the official organ of the Graduates’ Association of the Deoband madrasa. He can be contacted on w.mazhari@gmail.com

(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand)

(Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion at the National Law School, Bangalore.)

India, Secularism, Whatever

Overcrowded Bus, West BengalIndia 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. Continue reading India, Secularism, Whatever

Is India Really A Secular State?

Laxmi Street, DelhiIn reading Dr Khalidi’s article, “Why is India not a Secular State“, I find that he has presented irrefutable points to back his basic premise. My difficulty is largely with the wording of the title and the conclusive paragraph of his meaningful essay.

Yes, in many ways the Muslim and Christian minorities have suffered unequal treatment at the hands of the state in India. Sikhs suffered only in one phase for a few years mostly in reaction to their own militancy. After that the state moved to ensure that Sikhs do not get away from the Hindu fold. Continue reading Is India Really A Secular State?

Journalistic Fascism And Indian Muslims

TehelkaAjit Sahi is an investigative reporter with the New Delhi-based Tehelka magazine. He recently published several startling reports clearly indicating that scores of innocent Muslims, including some former members or associates of the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), across the country have been falsely implicated by the police, intelligence agencies and the media as being behind various terror attacks. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, he talks about how influential sections of the Indian media are playing a major role in demonizing Muslims today. Continue reading Journalistic Fascism And Indian Muslims

India: A Secular Democracy Strains For Balance

Lamxi Street, PuneSixty-one years ago as the independent sovereign nation of India dawned on the global horizon, its leaders led by a visionary Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru boldly declared that the new nation will be a secular democracy. In these sixtyone years, despite frequent travails and tribulations in an ethnically and religiously diverse nation, where at least six major religions and thirteen major languages flourish, as India’s neighours have faltered, India has continued to thrive as a modern, secular democracy. Continue reading India: A Secular Democracy Strains For Balance

Rays Of Hope In Ways Of Humanity

FlowerI was one of the founder trustees, the framer of Constitution and Chairman of the first Board of the local NGO – “The Guardian Trust, Kanodar”. I worked for first seven years in team spirit with my fellow trustees to achieve the goals of the Trust and now I am retired. Here, I am pleased to disclose one of the objects of the Trust which will be self explanatory to my Readers and particularly those NRIs and PRs of Kanodar residing elsewhere representing young generation to know about this village, its community, its culture and many other aspects of its heritage descending from the ancestors for the last half millennium since the foundation of this village by Kaano (Kanji) Patel whose name reflects in the word ‘KANODAR’. Continue reading Rays Of Hope In Ways Of Humanity

“Begum” Was Waiting, But Master Never Returned

Shivnath Jha

Ustad Bismillah KhanRemembering Ustad Bismillah Khan who was born 92 years ago on this day.

In the last half a century or more, no one could think of shehnai without Bismillah Khan or vice-versa. It is he, who, in fact, gave a popular instrument the capacity and courage to raise to be admitted to the hoary company instruments of Hisndustani classical music globally. Continue reading “Begum” Was Waiting, But Master Never Returned

Islamic Shariah In The Western World

As the population of Muslims is increasing in western countries like U.K., USA, Canada etc. the demand for applying Shari’ah law to Muslims is being voiced. The Government of Canada was toying with the idea of enforcing Shari’ah law in the state of Toronto but none other than progressive Muslim women and men themselves opposed government’s intention to apply Shari’ah law and in view of stiff opposition by these Muslims, government gave up the idea. Continue reading Islamic Shariah In The Western World

50th Death Anniversary Of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad

Abul Kalam AzadMaulana Abul Kalam Azad the renowned Indian leader died on February 22, 1958. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad ranks among the top builders of modern India and among the top freedom fighters, who dedicated his entire life to liberate India from the British colonial rule, and to promote unity among the Hindus and Muslims of India. Continue reading 50th Death Anniversary Of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad