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Indian Secularism

Attitude of various Religious Communities in India towards Secularism

by Sudheer Birodkar


Table of Contents


In the following table we have tried to examine the attitude of various religious communities in India towards secularism.


Indifference to history would make political arrangements like the secularism more acceptable.


History is ranked at a lower metaphysical level and is looked upon as pre-ordained. Thus in Hinduism the view of history is fatalistic and not much significance is attached to historic happenings. Hence there is not much proselytization.


Metaphysics is recognised as the central force in Christianity. But in practice history is taken more seriously. Emphasis is on proselytization by persuation.


History is decisive. Hence a certain pattern of life must be established on earth. Hence in Islam proselytization is undertaken by force of arms and only insignificantly by persuation.


An attitude of tolerance is important in the development of a secular state.


Extremely tolerant theologically and generally so in practice. Ekam Satya Viprah Bahuda Vadanti (Truth is one, people call it by many names".

But internally, displays extreme rigidity in its social (caste) structure.


Missionary Religion culturally tolerant towards other faiths.

But is Monotheistic and hence is theologically intolerant internally. "Thou shalt have no other Gods before me."


Theologically intolerant and often so in practice.


The more highly organised a religion is, the more difficult is to establish a secular state.


Practically no eccleslastical organisation, no congregational worship, no organised clergy.


Well organised ecclesiastlcal order, regular congregational worship, strictly organised clergy.


Regular congregational worship.


Tradition of separation of these two functions supports the secular state


Two functions traditionally performed by separate castes.


Principle of separation of church and state well established.


Tradition of Mohammed and Caliphs supports fusion of temporal and spiritual authority


The stronger this tendency, the more difficult is it to establish a secular state.


Rigid practices like the caste system existed and Hindu law (Dharma-Shastra) gave sanction to thc caste system. But the system was strictly applicable only to Hindus. It was expressly prohibited to extend the system to members of other faiths.


The Church made continuous attempts to regulate Society.


Shariah (Islamic law) imposed detailed and rigorous regulation of Society.

As is evident from the table the inherent nature of Hinduism supports the attitude of religious tolerance. Separation of religion from the state and the confinement of religion to ecclesiastical sphere as against its taking on a militant theocratic form. This makes Hinduism tolerant towards all religions. The spirit of co-existence and tolerance that has characterized Hinduism from ancient times has its parallel today in the freedom of religious worship that is guaranteed under our constitution. So much so that it has been ingrained into our minds that religious tolerance equals secularism.


Before proceeding further with our discussion we shall examine the oft repeated statement that all religions have mutual respect for each other. This seems natural as we are told that all religions lead to a common goal - unity with the Supreme. These thoughts are indeed ennobling. But what is it that inculcates respect about a certain thing ? What is respect ? Respect is defined as high opinion or regard for a high quality. In itself it implies recognition of superiority in the thing that is respected. One cannot have respect for something inferior.

When a member of one religion says that he respects another religion, he obviously does not recognise the other religion as superior to his own. And if he does consider another religion as superior to his own, it is but natural that he should get himself converted to the other religion That he does not do so implies that the word respect for him, as for most of us, does not connote recognition of superiority or regard for a higher quality. What we imply by the term respect is tolerance and non-interference as regards other religions.

Again, if one religion respects other religions, there would be no conversions into that religion. We know that almost every religion wants to convert members of other religions to itself and every religion considers itself the true faith, while other religions are untrue and their members are either pagans, infidels or heretics. Hence it would be inconsistent wlth the true and evident spirit of religion to say that one religion respects others, what can utmost be said is that while some religions tolerate other religions, most others do not.

Much to our credit, it needs to be conceded that in India, the pantheistic character of Hinduism - the religion of the majority, has been conducive to the survival of religious tolerance, misunderstood as secularism For a polity to be termed secular it has to be outside the pale of religion altogether.


Now we move on to examine Rationalism the intellectual bedrock of Secularism.




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