Secularism is the concept that government or other entities should exist separately from religion and / or religious beliefs.
In one sense, secularism may assert the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, and the right to freedom from governmental imposition of religion upon the people within a state that is neutral on matters of belief. (See also Separation of church and state and Laïcité.) In another sense, it refers to the view that human activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be based on evidence and fact unbiased by religious influence. (See also public reason.) Some scholars are now arguing that the very idea of secularism will change.
Secularism draws its intellectual roots from Greek and Roman philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius and Epicurus, medieval Muslim polymaths such as Ibn Rushd, Enlightenment thinkers like Denis Diderot, Voltaire, John Locke, James Madison,Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine, and modern freethinkers, agnostics and atheists such as Bertrand Russell and Robert Ingersoll.
Secularism in India
The Preamble to the Constitution of India declares that India is a secular state. The original preamble did not mention the word “secular”. It was added later by 42nd amendment in 1976. The term secularism in politics refers to the governmental practice of indifference towards religion. Though such bifurcation is not totally possible, still, secular politics attempt to prevent religious philosophies or bodies from influencing governmental policies. The philosophy that the Indian constitution upholds is a kind ofsecular humanism made relevant through a historical development of the ideology within the context of religious pluralism in India.
Indian concept of secularism takes is colour from Article 15 (Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth), Article 25 (Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion), and Article 26 (Freedom to manage religious affairs). These are among the list of Fundamental Rights of citizens. It is interesting to note that Indian Constitution merely states the behaviour of the State in terms of what it will not do (i.e. not discriminate based on religion). It does not say that the State has or has not a religion. It does not say whether State can or cannot participate in religion. It does not say whether State can or cannot spend public money on religious activities.
Even so, India recognizes laws based on religion. Hindus, Muslims, and Christians are governed by their own religious laws. Thus, India does not really fit into any text book definition of Secularism. It has, in fact, created its own brand of Secularism. Indeed, Supreme Court of India observed the same thing in the case of Aruna Roy vs. Union of India (SC AIR 2002), when it said Indian Secularism means “sarva dhrama samabhav” and not “sarva dharma abhav” ( meaning, “equal feeling for all religions” and not “no feeling for any religion”).
Liberalism (from the Latin liberalis, “of freedom”) is the belief in the importance of individual liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but most liberals support such fundamental ideas as constitutions, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights, capitalism, free trade, and the separation of church and state. These ideas are widely accepted, even by political groups that do not openly profess a liberal ideological orientation. Liberalism encompasses several intellectual trends and traditions, but the dominant variants are classical liberalism, which became popular in the eighteenth century, and social liberalism, which became popular in the twentieth century.
Liberalism first became a powerful force in the Age of Enlightenment, rejecting several foundational assumptions that dominated most earlier theories of government, such as hereditary status, established religion, absolute monarchy, and the Divine Right of Kings. The early liberal thinker John Locke, who is often credited for the creation of liberalism as a distinct philosophical tradition, employed the concept of natural rights and the social contract to argue that the rule of law should replace absolutism in government, that rulers were subject to the consent of the governed, and that private individuals had a fundamental right to life, liberty, and property.
Liberalism in India
Raja Ram Mohan Roy, other contributors to political thought on freedom in 19th century India included Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917), Mahadeo Govind Ranade (1842-1901), Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1866-1915) and Pherozeshah Mehta (1845-1915). Theory led to an independence movement in India. Gandhi demonstrated through a humane, non-violent, and dignified protest, that all humans were equal and should be treated equally, including their being given the opportunity to govern themselves. This was a major advance in the theory and practice of freedom and can be argued to have had a major effect in ending the age of imperialism and the age of racial discrimination.
The 1949 Indian Constitution gave to Indians some of the liberal rights that the British and Americans had come to expect by then. In addition, India extended franchise to everyone: all adults had the right to vote in the Indian Republic. That was earlier than even most developed countries had provided to their citizens at that time.
Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari, the second Governor-General of India, and a Bharat Ratna, was a close colleague of Nehru during the independence movement. But soon after independence he quickly began to see the risks to India of letting Nehru’s fervour with socialism go unchallenged. Despite having fought for independence by Nehru’s side, and without regard for his own advanced age (Rajaji was 80 by then), Rajaji decided to act to block Nehru’s onslaught on freedom. He formed the Freedom (Swatantra) Party, to oppose Nehru’s policies.
In conclusion liberal is not necessarily a meat eating, liquor drinking individual just as a vegetarian, non drinker an illiberal. Mainstream English media personalities would do themselves a great service by desisting from fragmenting society according to convenience of caste, creed, religion or ideology in order to serve their narrow viewpoints. India needs to be viewed as a single entity and dealt accordingly.
Picture Credit: Suffolk Humanists and Secularists and thanks to lovely tweeples for screen shots.