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Secularism And Minority Religions


Jun 1, 2004
Secularism And Minority Religions

“Merae Prabh Saache ik khel rachaiya Koi na kis hi jeha upaya Aapae faraq karae vekh vigasae Sabh raas dehi maha hae.” [SGGS: 1056 Rag Maru III]

The foregoing Guru-Vani precept translates roughly as: my true Lord has created a universe of wondrous diversity wherein no two being are alike. By God’s unique design have different people evolved, even as He revels in their multitudinous diversity. Yet their elements and emotions are identical.
The philosophical underpinnings of Sikh religion cannot be understood unless one appreciates the historical milieu of its inception, particularly the Founder Guru Nanak’s uncompromising belief in the dignity, equality and freedom of man, coupled with selfless devotion to God. Guru Nanak experienced, first hand, the travails of Indian masses, and witnessed the bloody conflict and religious persecution by dynasts as well as priesthood. In powerful statements of great poetic beauty the Guru-Prophet articulated common man’s suffering, and pleaded with God - the King of kings - for justice and mercy.

Guru-Vani, the seminal scripture of the Sikhs, stressing as it does the basic unity of human race, calls for peaceful co-existence of nations and societies. It goes beyond mere religious tolerance, and spells the basic principles of genuine respect for all religions. Time and again, Guru Granth’s message dwells on all that is noble in Hinduism and Islam, and urges people to live by the true spirit of one’s own religion, even as it exhorts the religious and political leaders to rise above ritualist cant and to protect - not exploit - the poor and downtrodden masses.

Today Guru Nanak’s message of piety and activism, which subsumed the twin principle of Miri-Piri, remains a safe guide for the modern secular state. Rooted in righteous action and welfare of all, such a State, or system of governance, is not wedded to any religion nor is it antagonistic to any; its merit lies in high moral conduct, religious neutrality and non-discriminatory public service.

Indian Constitution is, by any reckoning, a monumental document that enshrines the people’s rights and powers, as well as the duties of every wing of the State: legislative, judicial and executive. It is deserving of loyalty and reverence in so far as it embodies the people’s aspirations and principles of democratic rule. There are, nevertheless, certain problems and gaps as between practice and precept, between fixity of concept and flux of changing times. Many such problems have surfaced in the last 46 years giving rise to a plethora of amendments (including the infamous 59th Amendment) curtailing citizen’s rights as well as powers of the constituent states vis-a-vis the Union.

Unfortunately, the Constitution was framed under the shadow of partition of the Sub-continent on the basis of religion. Consequently, the religious freedoms provided for in the constitution have an element of unconscious - if implicit-assumption of superiority of the dominant community.

What was perhaps implicit has become more and more explicit with the spreading influence of forces inimical to secularism. Whether it is official practices and rituals, the language policy or history books, the state controlled media or film industry, there is no escape from the creeping cultural overtones of the majority religion. Now, with the emergence of full-throated Hindutva religio-political philosophy-enigmatically sanctified by a recent Supreme Court pronouncement - the wheels have come full circle.
The Sikhs, as the second most important minority in India had, in 1947 believed, in all sincerity, that by aligning with the majority community their rights to religious freedom will be respected, and not trespassed in all sorts of subtle and not-so-subtle ways. No alarm bells had rung in their mind that, in less that four decades, their holiest shrine - the very heart of Sikhism - would be savaged by India’s army to which they had contributed so much blood and toil before and after independence; nor that the Indian State will mount a genocidal attack on the Sikh youth, of such brutal proportions as witnessed in the last fifteen years. Surreptitious cremation by Punjab police of so-called unclaimed bodies of Sikhs, officially confirmed recently, is only the tip of the iceberg.

Ironically, whenever the Sikhs have asserted their religious rights and identity as a people of one faith, they have been dubbed as communal and fundamentalist. It is a well-recognised social phenomenon that whenever a minority is driven into a corner it suffers a sense of isolation and its members either withdraw into their own cocoon or tend to develop an “urge to merge” with the majority in order to buy acceptance howsoever condescending. In such an event, a sense of insecurity grips the psyche of true believers. The resultant social unrest becomes a ferment, giving rise to embittered extremism. The Sikhs have come to such a pass, not because they have lost their way in India, but because the Indian State has refused to render justice to the Sikhs in their own homeland.

At the root of this confusion is the inherent contradiction in Article 25 of the Constitution which abridges - if not denies - the rights to freedom of religion to Sikhs as Sikhs. Explanations I and II appended to clause (2) of this Article confuse, rather than clarify, the issue. Explanation I says: “The wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion.” Thereby, the Constitution - by implication and expressly -accords recognition to Sikhism as a sovereign religion. However, Explanation II says: “In sub-clause (b) of clause (2) the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly.”

Explanation II, besides being wholly gratuitous, ignores Sikhism’s doctrinal, purity and its institutional framework sanctified by centuries’ old practice of distinctive ethos and code of ethics collectively called Rehat Maryada. With a single stroke, all three minority religions have been clubbed with Hinduism, making a mockery of the spirit of religious freedom, and arbitrarily placing the Sikh religious tradition as subservient to Hindu religious institutions.
This is an example of “assimilation by statute”: first you sow the seeds of confusion, and then use the hydra-headed institutional mechanism to let the big fish eat the small fry.

In this insidious game, the state controlled media: radio, television, text books, religious festivals and official protocol play no mean role. Telecameras invariably focus on selected place of pilgrimage and linger devoutly on ceremonies of majority religion. State dignitaries hardly ever regard the practice of religion as their private affair. Video cameras follow them as they pay obeisance at certain holy places. State functions unabashedly pander to Hindu rituals and litany. Mythology comes alive over state television year in and year out.

These calculated displays serve a single purpose: to mould a mindset favourable to majority religion. This despite the Supreme Court’s many rulings that enjoin upon the State to maintain neutrality and ensure equal opportunity. The theory as well as practice of Constitutional rights demand even handed treatment for, any preferential treatment is bound to breed discontent and resentment.

The surest remedy is to amend the Constitution one more time, placing beyond doubt its secular credentials and ensuring the integrity and identity of minority religions. The state alignment with the substance - or trappings - of the majority religion should be barred.

That way lies the measure of true secularism, envisaged in Rabindranath Tagore’s evocative writing: “There is a Divine purpose in the diversity of languages, religions and cultures which are found in Indian life. India’s salvation lies in the unity - not the uniformity - of her diverse people.”

... Author Unknown


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Oct 29, 2010
Dear Aman Singh,
I read your note above and had a feeling of being 'lone'.
The picture, as you present, is frightening. I have since, your writing, been looking into the evidence on the net and it is sole destroying. I sometimes wonder if Guru Tegbhadur was duped into giving his life for the majority 'non Sikh' community.
I must admit that when ever you make a pact with a person it always fails.
For example I sold some land in India and the buyer (a very nice and educated person) promised all I would expect from a fellow - but when it came to pay - he committed mistaminas unbelieveable!
I have had similar experiances in work and in business.
On the political level, people who fought for sikhs betrayed and joined Moslems and British. Moslems made certain agreement with sikh Gurus and betrayed them, British made agreements and betrayed us and so on.
On international terms we see the similar betrayals - Americans sought out Bin Laden to help them against Islamic fundamentalists and when he understood the American thinking and their 'honouring' of the bargain he refused to help and thus we see today American response in Afganistan, Iraq and needling of Iran.
Similarly in India the authorities put up Bhindrawala to help them and when he found out what they were cooking - he refused and the result is to elliminate the sikh community by publicly splitting them at their roots. Thanks, Indian state, may you be paid in kind.
There are many other examples - I think these should suffice.
Now what has caused all this to happen after Sikhs showed the nation the way with all the undercurrents trying to detrack them?
"The Sikhs have come to such a pass, not because they have lost their way in India, but because the Indian State has refused to render justice to the Sikhs in their own homeland."
I think we have lost our way - we will not win by blaming a majority (however crooked and corroupt they may be). WE Sikhs did it last time but we had iron mind and steel arm of our Gurus and we were guided well.
This time we are bickering between ourselves - we have plenty financial wealth to let our childern fall into sea of drugs, we find diversions to sideswerve the real issues and put down those who can contribute to unity.
Why because we do not have a healthy common root to stand on. I mean TRUTH.
It is a pity that a simple word is so difficult to understand. Let me give an example of my family - my father was a very strong man with live and let live philosphy. Once he went into a jewler's shop with his business partner and there was a long que of people to be served. Four thieves came in with guns and ordered all to lie down - all did but my father refused and asked them why?
They could not answer and became defensive and shot him - fortunately the shot hit is watch and another somewhere else - that annoyed my father and he picked up a fan on a stand that was around and swung it hitting one or two and the lot ran out leaving the shop!
When he was asked why did he do that - he said "I did not trespass on their rights".
He could do that because he would not abuse anybody elses' rights and at the same time will not give into those trying to abuse his
Let us put ourselves into that situation - I would have caved in like the others there - it takes a lot to be able to cultivate that strength both mental and physical.
If all of us Sikhs strong at the 'roots' (teachings of our gurus) we could stand up to the trynee of any faith or state.
I shall continue after other contributers also express their views whilst I further look into the story of S. Jaswant Singh Khalra who was, I think, trying to ask some questions off the state of India about the people they killed and what they did with their bodies?



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