Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, July 14th, 2020

Relevance of Secular Traditions in South Asian Context


Relevance of Secular Traditions in  South Asian Context

In the post-independence era, with secularism laid down in the constitution, which the Muslim community’s elected representatives unanimously supported and to which they swore allegiance, the evil of communal politics was expected to disappear gradually, if not instantly. The word “secularism” means that there shall be no state religion and that the state shall treat all religions equally. But the nationalist ideology under the Congress frowned upon open expression of the Muslim identity in politics and still more upon separate political organisation for the Muslims. In fighting the two-nation theory of the Muslim League and establishing the claim of the Congress to represent all communities, the movement failed to create a proper atmosphere for secular interaction between different communities through their own organisation and left behind a poor legacy.  Secularism has lost its meaning in a milieu where religious personal law is a mockery of equality under law. The positive purpose of secularism is equal behaviour and equal facilities to the followers of all faiths.  Our secular state enacts laws directing the Hindu to follow monogamy, making difficult for the husband to divorce his wife and providing alimony till her remarriage or death.  At the same time it allows Indian Muslims to follow their personal law which gives them the right to take four wives, divorce their wives at will and are under no obligation to pay alimony if a wife is divorced.  Thus, secularism cannot be achieved simply by inscribing it in our constitution.
Status of different identities
The transformation of colonial Indian society into modern one has raised the question of caste and religion based identities.  To have an identity is to have an integral connectedness to a stable and relevant set of beliefs, desires and acts.  Since these beliefs, desires and acts are constructed and sustained socially, to have an identity is to be integrally connected also to all those who share the conceptual framework that generates these beliefs, desires and acts. It possesses not only language but also a community, a world defined by a common vocabulary, generating a particular set of orientations that impel us to act in some rather than other ways.  Religious identity is something different to that of  caste and general identity.  To have a religious identity is to possess a framework that enables us to make qualitative distinctions between what is worthy and trivial, the strongly valuable and merely desirable, superior and inferior, sacred and profane, the highest good and the downright evil, the admirable and the contemptible, the glorious and the despicable; in short, our ultimate ideals and their converse including that which is merely pleasant, beneficial or advantageous but not of enduring, overriding significance. Generally, there exist three kinds of religious identity, the identity of the Zealots, of the faithful and finally of the religious ideologues. The concept has been badly affected by the modernity, which brings in itself a new logic of self-determination. Again there are two sides of this act of  self-determination.  First, there are wholly new types of belonging which modernity renders possible. Secondly it often makes possible their earlier identities in an altogether different way. The latter one is a new type of identity, entirely produced by the modern imagination, which submerges them all – the new, constructed, willed, imagined community of the nation.  Although all other traditional identities are still at work inside this process of submergence, are equally submitted to its power.  In the creation of Pakistan we can see how religious identity can submerge the national in itself.
Politico- social fabrics
Modern politics is a politics of numbers both in its democratic and authoritarian forms. The majorities of democracy are, in principle at least, random and momentary, bound to change quickly in the exigencies of the next vote.  The majorities of the census, given the logic of modern politics, hold a permanent menace, and correspondingly subject the minorities to constant reminders of an equally permanent helplessness.  According to Bernard Cohn this process of objectification of communities had incalculably far reaching consequences for the making and remaking of political identity.  However, from the sociological points of view, the transformation of the nature of religion under the logic of modernity is often seen as rise of fundamentalism, a term used interchangeably in Indian political debates with communalism. Fundamentalism is seen as a resolute retreat from the principles of modernity into the more comprehensible doctrines of tradition, a secure move into the past in the face of modernity’s incomprehensibility and sufferings. But this description does not fit communal politics of India where it is clearly a strategy to get more secure advantages within the arrangements of modern electoral politics.  Thus modern communal politics in India presupposes the existence of parliamentary electoral arrangements, or at least of the numerical biases of the modern state.
Therefore, in context of  India, when we refer to the social relations between Hindus and Muslim as a community it is both a question of religious as well as of political identity. There are two reasons for studying this closely.  The first comes from our hypothesis that modernity not only makes new identities possible but the identities which existed earlier in a different mode undergo a crucial often undeclared transformation, becoming old identities of a new type. For example, the meaning of ‘being a Muslim or a Hindu might change fundamentally, though the persistence of the phrase as a description of  practical being produces a misleading impression of continuity.  It is not as if people were not Muslims before, but they were not Muslim in the same way; or rather, the significance of their being Muslim was not the same, precisely because it was a social world which lacked this accent on being something. Thus, the way of  being Hindus and Muslims have changed.  The second reason relates with the dominance of  nationalist habits of thinking in our social science discussions.  Some basics of nationalist thinking are so widely influential that they make us forget that these are representations of historical reality, and thus, subject to critical tests.

Dr. Rajkumar Singh is Professor and Head of P.G.Department of Political Science, BNMU, West Campus, P.G. Centre, Saharsa-852201. Bihar, India. Email- rajkumarsinghpg@yahoo.com

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