• Raajveer Singh Bisht

State and Religion

Updated: Sep 1, 2019

India’s “unique” form of secularism is not only confusing but a catalyst to the growth of fundamentalist extremism within the nation.

For decades now India’s unique secular identity has been harped upon as some sort of great source of unity. Indian historians, political thinkers and philosophers have been quick to assert that Indian secularism is greater than its Western format.

In the West, secularism entails that the State and religion (especially in the organised and mobilised form) are to remain separate entities. The French format of secularism for example clearly states that religion shall be absent from governmental institutions and the government shall be absent from religious institutions. In such a manner the two remain independent elements which neither clash nor syncretise.

In India however, the government regularly funds and supports religion-based educational institutes and provide incentives for the imparting of religious instruction. In the guise of maintaining the integrity of the culture of India, this system has led to the supremacy of religious law (personal law specifically) over any form of a united code.

The paradox of India being a secular state yet providing its resources to the financing of religious institutions is one which leads to the ideal of religion being an impervious, invulnerable political and cultural element that the State must at least ‘respect’ if not outrightly support.

This ideal once pandered to, leads to the fallacy of the supremacy of religion and religious instruction over other moral, ethical, legal and economic ideals. For example, the State when enforcing that cows are not to be slaughtered unknowingly emboldens communalised violence against certain sections of society.

The confused state of affairs of the Indian society, in its organisation and the relationship of religion with the idea of the nation is the major reason why fundamentalist extremism rises amongst most religious denominations.

Once the ideal of religious supremacy has been accepted or tolerated it leads to a cascading effect which leads to the justification of extremist thought and ideologues under the misguided attempt at ‘tolerance’. The justification and consequent acceptance of such a system leads to the final clashes between the state and religious extremists.

India’s place in the world of secular states is heavily disputed due to the actual thin line between Indian secularism and religious appeasement. Elements on both sides of the political spectrum end up pandering to extremist demagogues emboldening them.

To end this era of confusion and unintentional harbouring of extremist ideologies Indian secularism must truly be reconsidered. The government’s involvement in religious institutions and its convenient ignorance of fundamentalist thought for political gains must be seen for what it truly is.

For if this is not done the basic fundamentals of secularism may be forgotten entirely after a few more decades of communal political manoeuvres which would be a step in the unraveling of the Indian state.

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