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Indian Constitution! How Secular!

Gurmit Singh Advocate

The term “secular” according to Encyclopedia Britannica (Vo l. XX page 264), means ‘non-spiritual, having no concern with religious or spiritual matters ....... anything which is distinct, opposed to or not connected with religion or ecclesiastical things, temporal as opposed to spiritual or ecclesiastical”.

According to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, secularism means:

The doctrine that morality should be based solely on regard to the well-being of mankind of the present life to the exclusion of all consideration drawn from belief in God or in a future state.

Secularism in these senses requires, in the picturesque phrase of Jefferson, “an impassable wall” between the church and the state. The underlying assumption of the term secularism in this sense is that religion and the state function in two different areas of human activity, each with its own objectives and tools. One must not interfere with the working of the other.

Tracing the historical origin of this concept, V. P. Luther in his book, The Concept Of The Secular State and India, writes;

The concept originated during the days of Roman Empire when the Caesars demanded allegiance from their Christian subjects in all walks of their (subjects) life, including the religions. Those Christians who refused to render their religious allegiance to the Caesars, were subjected to severe persecution. It was at that time that its philosophical foundations were laid in a sermon of Christ, recorded in St. Mark’s Gospel (XII, 7) “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

This became an accepted Christian doctrine and obedience to the command of the ruler became an admitted Christian virtue. St. Paul wrote that civil obedience is a duty imposed by God. This gave rise to the theory of divine right of kings. St. Paul wrote to the Romans:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers, For there is no power but of God. The powers that be, are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God.

For some time the Christian Church functioned in close alliance with the imperial authority and the emperors patronised the Church organisation. But soon the Pope began to function as a co-ordinate authority claiming an equal voice in State affairs. The dual authority of Pope and the Emperor, however, created grave confusion in the body politic, and thus arose the complications for Christianity. Christianity failed to capture the State and utilize it for moral and spiritual ends and its ecclesiastical authority refused to renounce politics totally.

In India, Guru Gobind Singh, in his autobiography Bachittar Natak, lays down the exact relationship between the Church and the State as follows:

Those of Baba (Nanak) and those of Babar (state). God Himself maketh them both. Know the former thus: as the king of Religion and the later as the worldly king. They, who fall to render that what is due to the House of Baba, The minions of Babar seize them and make exactions upon them.

Sardar Kapur Singh, in his treatise Baisakhi, explaining the meaning of above verses, writes:

There are two forces which claim allegiance of men’s soul on earth, the truth and morality as religion (House of Baba) and the state (House of Babar) as embodiment of secular power.

The primary allegiance of man is to the religion (truth and morality) and those, who fail in this allegiance suffer under the subjugation of the state, as they have no courage and hope which is born through unswerving allegiance to religion. The Church most correct and influence the state without aiming to destroy it. The two must exist side by side but the primary allegiance is towards religion, truth and morality.

The above interpretation shows that while admitting the principle of duality in the spiritual and temporal it also emphasizes the close relationship between the two. Guru Gobind Singh made this link between the church and the state more evident by writing:

The religion can’t survive without political patronage, and without religion there is political anarchy.

It is because religion can’t achieve its objective fully if the state is inimical towards it. The relationship between religion and politics is, however, only a brother-and-sister relationship and not a husband-and-wife relationship.

Secularism under Indian Constitution

The framers of the Indian constitution accepted the Sikh approach to state-church relationship. And although surprisingly the word “secular” nowhere appeared in the whole of the Indian Constitution until it was introduced for the first time in its Preamble through 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1975 yet the Indian Constitution came to be known as secular without using this word in its voluminous composition. Sri Ananthasayanam Ayyangar stated in the constituent Assembly on 7th December, 1948:

We are pledged to make the State a secular one. I do not by the word secular mean that we do not believe in any religion, and that we have nothing to do with it in our day-to-day life. It only means that the state or the government cannot aid one religion or give preference to one religion as against another. Therefore, it is obliged to be absolutely secular in character.

But is the Indian Constitution really secular in character as interpreted above? Or did the framers intentionally avoid the use of the word “secular” in it as they were conscious of its characteristics which make it otherwise?

Some of the articles of the Indian constitution make it abundantly clear that it is not so secular as it is proclaimed to be. For example Article 290-A of the Constitution reads as follows:

A sum of forty-six lakhs and fifty thousand rupees shall be charged on, and paid out of, the Consolidated Fund of the State of Kerala every year to the Travancore Devaswom Fund; and a sum of thirteen lakh and fifty thousand rupee shall be charged on, and paid out of the Consolidated Fund of the State of [Tamil Nadu] every year to the Devaswom Fund established in that state for the maintenance of Hindu temples and shrines in the territories transferred to that State on 1st day of November, 1956 from the state of Travancore-Cochin.

Whatever may be the reasons compelling the insertion of above Article in the Indian Constitution there can be any doubt that this provision is directly in conflict with the popular concept of secularism. When the question of secularism was being discussed in the Constituent Assembly there was a school in favour of India being made a Hindu state. Mr. Lokanath Misra assorted in the Assembly:

If you accept religion, you must accept Hinduism as it is practised by an overwhelming majority of the people of India.

Inclusion of this article in the Indian constitution is significant in another respect too. Those who demand a Sikh Homeland within the Indian Union, have repeatedly declared that they want Sikhism should be given a special place in the state of Punjab and a constitutional provision should be inserted to that effect as it will not affect the secular character of the Indian Constitution.

For example, they quote section 6 of Sri Lanka which provides that Buddhism should be given “the foremost place” and it is the duty of the state to protect and foster it. Commenting on the constitutional provision in the constitution of Sri Lanka, Wilson observes as follows:

The implications of this provision can mean no more than what the state has hitherto been doing for Buddhism providing financial subsidies for Buddhist activities and observing a certain amount of Buddhist ceremonies on state occasions and governmental and quasi-governmental functions. But it could add up to very much more if a government decided in earnest to implement it.

Provisions of the Indian Constitution with regard to Anglo-Indians as contained in articles 331, 333, 336, and 337 go against the canon of secularism. In this regard, Art 336 needs an analysis as it contains the future policy at the Indian government towards the religious minorities enjoying dominance in some particular sphere of state services. It reads as follows:

During the first two years after the commencement of this constitution, appointments of members of the Anglo-Indian community to posts in the railways, customs, postal and telegraph services of the Union shall be made on the same basis as immediately before the fifteenth day of August 1947.

During every succeeding period of two years, the number of posts reserved for the members of the said community in the said services shall, as nearly as possible, be less by ten percent than the numbers so reserved during the immediately preceding period of two years.

Provided that at the end of ten years from the Commencement of this constitution all such reservation shall cease.

A study of the above provision clearly shows that the policy of the government is to gradually reduce the number of Anglo-Indians in the aforesaid services and thereby to finish the dominant position which they enjoyed during the British rule.

There is no corresponding provision for the Sikhs in the Indian Constitution but the policy of the government has been the same vis-à-vis them too. Sikhs enjoyed a dominant position in the armed forces because the British admired their fighting capabilities and soldierly skills. But according to new recruitment policy of the Indian government enunciated by the spokesman of the Defence Ministry, each religion is to get recruitment proportionate to its population. According to him, this policy has been implemented since 1953.

Ex-Major General Gurbax Singh, in his presidential address to the convention organised by the Chief Khalsa Diwan at Amritsar on April 28, 1974 to protest against this recruitment policy summed up the consequences as under:

The number of Sikhs in the army at present is 93,000 of which 63,000 were recruited for special regiments while the remaining 30.000 got through general recruitment. If the new recruitment policy is fully implemented then the number of Sikhs in the mixed regimen is, with a total strength of 350,000, will be only 7,000 and, thus, their numbers will be reduced by 23,000.

Another important feature of the Indian Constitution, which makes it unsecular is the provision relating to scheduled castes. For a state to be secular, the various communities living in it cannot be treated as separate entities. But the Indian Constitution extends various concessions to the Schedule Caste Hindus only and not to adherents of other faiths such as neo-Buddhists. Sikh had to struggle hard to win these concessions for the Sikh converts which were conceded grudgingly by Sardar Patel who declared in Constituent Assembly on May 2, 1949 as follows:

The Sikhs themselves have thought that certain classes of people amongst them, who have been recent converts, and who are originally scheduled caste Hindus, are suffering from the disabilities which the scheduled caste Hindus are suffering from the fault of the Hindu community.

The Sikhs are suffering for the fault of the Sikh community, and nobody else. Really as a matter of fact, these converts are not scheduled castes, because in the Sikh religion, there is no such thing as untouchability or any classification or difference of classes.

Religion is only a cloak, a cover for political purpose.

When these proposals for (inclusion of Sikh Castes into Schedules caste) were brought to us (by Sikh representatives) I urged upon them strongly not to lower their religion to such a pitch as really fall to a level where for a mess of pottage you really give up the substance of religion. But they did not agree.

These advantages are there reserved for a class of people, and therefore, although there was stout opposition from the schedule caste people, who also naturally feared, and who had a justifiable fear complex, that if they agreed to this or if the House accepts this position, there is really a danger of forcible conversion from their class to the Schedule caste Sikhs, we have accepted it.

Sardar Hukam Singh had rightly pointed out in the constituent assembly that:

if we give concession and certain privileges, certain rights to the Schedule Castes, simply because they are backward, socially, economically and politically, and not because they are a religious minority, then other classes, whatever their religion, whatever the profession of their religion, who are equally backward socially, economically and politically must also be included in the list.

But as admitted by Sadar Patel, the provision is only a cover for political purpose. Hindu leadership was feeling disturbed by the large scale conversion of Hindu lower castes to Sikhism and Buddhism due to the movement launched once by Dr. Ambedkar and to stop this process of conversions the provisions for economic concessions to Hindu Schedule Castes alone were inserted.

The Sikhs had to pay a heavy price for getting the aforesaid concession for the Sikh schedule castes. Sikh members of the Constituent Assembly gave in writing to the effect that “the Sikhs will be prepared to give up the reservation in the East Punjab if Sikh and Hindu Schedule Castes are lumped together and seats reserved for them on the strength of their population.” This document dated 10th May, 1949, is signed by Sardar Ujjal Singh, Sardar Joginder Singh Mann, and Sardar Gurbachan Singh Bajwa and was placed on the table of the Constituent Assembly on 14th October, 1949.

In a country, where the political majority is to a large extent, the majority of a community and where religion completely colours and controls the outlook of most of the people, secularism can only be a myth and not a reality. Secularism is a term coined to deny the rights and privileges, otherwise due, to a religious minority in a country. Now that 42nd amendment is being repealed in parts, it will be in fitness of things if the term “secular” introduced in the Preamble is also removed.

Source – Failures of Akali Leadership