BY ASHIMA SINGH
India recently celebrated its 73rd Independence Day. Ironically, religious conflict which led to the partition of India into two nations, still continues to be a subject of great debate in this country. The recent bhoomi pujan (ground-breaking) ceremony at the site of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya has once again shed light on the issues surrounding secularism: What is meant by Indian Secularism? Did Indian Secularism die on August 5, 2020 with the laying of the brick?
Secularism is of two kinds; one is Gandhian secularism which means equally supporting all the religions. And the second is Nehruvian secularism, it essentially means separating state from religion. I have no objection against the building of the Ram Temple, a construction of a temple, gurudwara, mosque, church or any other place of worship as long as it is not a cause of grief over secularism. Instead it should be a celebration of building a temple at the site of Lord Rama’s birth. However, what the cause of grief is that in this case, like in many others, the idea of Nehruvian secularism was destroyed with the judgment to build a temple at the site of a demolished place of worship of a minority community.
Many believe that day was the end of Secularism, however I would say it was not. Over the years, many instances have taken place in which the opposition and the ruling party have accused each other of ending secularism. The Right wing claimed the death of secularism after Rajiv Gandhi’s stance on the Shah Bano case (1986), the unlocking of the gates of the sacred Babri Masjid-Ram Temple, and so forth. The Left pronounced the death of secularism when Atal Bihari Vajpayee put together a RSS-BJP led government, though it only lasted for 13 days. Again secularism died during the Gujarat killings (2002), and even when Narendra Modi continuously got elected as the Chief Minister for Gujarat and then as the Prime Minister of India in 2009 and 2014 respectively. In the name of politics secularism has been killed more than a few times. So I wouldn’t say that it is a radical departure from Nehruvian Secularism, but this ceremony may or may not have hit the final nail on the coffin.
A fresh wave of secularism began with the Ram Mandir movement in 1990 and with the advent of 1991 liberalisation in India.While the majority of the citizens came to the realisation that India is a secular country, it is also observed that politics in India under the guise of pseudo-secularism only refers to Hindu and Muslims. Does secularism end there? Why is secularism always reduced to a debate between these two religions? Unfortunately, India like its former rulers – imperial Britain have merely reduced religion to a political powerplay. It has followed the footsteps of sixteenth century Britain by not separating state and religion. It is clear that it is just a gamble for the vote bank. Even the media is so invested in broadcasting about making it a competition between ‘who wins the war,’ that it has failed to shed the light on the importance of the site. Perhaps, the construction of the Ram Temple actually helps in bridging the gap between the religious communities, since at the end of the day the person who sent an invite for the ceremony was a person who was not a Hindu. The construction of this temple may also develop the city of Ayodhya and since it’s a site of Lord Rama’s birth it may attract thousands of people and hence increase tourism similar to that of the Golden Temple or Jama Masjid. These places of worship attract so many tourists belonging to every religion throughout the year. On the contrary, I do feel that the Supreme Court of India, in their judgement should have given two separate lands to both the communities and ordered for the construction of a school or a hospital in its place. Would this sacred land in Ayodhya have ever been given the same importance as of today if it would not have been for a debate between two religions? Will the caste and religion politics ever end in India?
In my concluding remarks, I would like the readers to critically analyse about the present scenario where the judgement has been passed and the foundation has been laid. Do we keep sitting idle and mourning about it and pass endless petitions in the name of secularism? Or; do we start to introspect as to where we missed out on the opportunity as active and responsible citizens? Why was no action taken in the last 28 years between 1992 and 2020, when the Babri Masjid was demolished? Do we need to move on from Nehru’s singular narrative of secularism which he adopted from the West and tried to paste it on the Indian cultural and heritage? Should we adopt Modi’s view on the Ram Temple as a “modern symbol of our culture,” and accept this as secularism?