According to Merriam Webster Dictionary the meaning of ‘definition’ is “a statement of the meaning of a word or word group or a sign or symbol dictionary or a statement expressing the essential nature of something”. A definition thus expresses an essential nature or meaning of something. In law, the definition becomes all the more important as it restricts the ground for misinterpretation or restricts for unnecessary broad interpretations. But what will happen if there is no definition? You can realize the answer by understanding the misuse of the word ‘Secular’ in India. Secular was introduced in the Constitution of India by the 44th amendment. Originally there was mention of the word secular in the preamble of the constitution. The Constituent Assembly didn’t agree to include the word in the original constitution. Dr. B R Ambedkar himself opposed the inclusion stating that the Constitution had inherent principles of secularism and it would be redundant to include it in the preamble.
Later Smt Indira Gandhi during emergency introduced the word in the preamble by the 44th Amendment. A failed attempt was made through the 45th Amendment Bill to introduce a definition of the word secular. The 45th amendment stated “the expression ‘Republic’ as qualified by the expression ‘Secular’, means a republic in which there is equal respect of all religion”. Based on this and the Sanskrit aphorism of ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhava’ several scholars have stated that the meaning of the word secular is different in India as compared to the one followed in the west. In the West, the word secular largely implies a wall of separation between the State and religion. However, in India people have argued that ‘equal respect for all religion’ is not one and the same as ‘wall of separation between the state and religion’. The former is generally for complete separation of the State from religious activities and the latter is more about ‘non-discrimination’ by the State on the basis of religion. The latter is more applicable to a multicultural and multi religious country like India. But none of the concepts have been clearly defined. Thus there is no definition and no common understanding of the word ‘Secular’ in India. This has opened multiple avenues for the legislature, the executive and the Judiciary to play around. The Supreme Court through various judgments has also tried to understand the concept of secularism. The Supreme Court in St. Xavier’s College Vs. State of Gujrat observed,” India is a secular state, secularism eliminates god from the matter of the state affairs and ensures that none shall be discriminated against on the ground of religion”. This is more in line with the ‘non-discriminatory’ nature of the state while interpreting secularism. However, the consecutive Governments over the past three decades and the political parties have used ’secular’ to their advantage to not only drive home the voters but also create a continuous divide in the society. To highlight the misuse of the word of ‘secular’, George Alfred James, Professor of Jain Studies, University of North Texas, an expert in South Asian religions said that the term ‘secularism’ has been overused and is being misused. He further said “The government is managing most of the institutions. If the state intends to promote tolerance among the religions and co-existence, the appropriate term should be ‘pluralism’,”. This highlights how without a proper definition of secularism political parties use it both out of context and out of its true meaning. The word is only for meeting political goals. Today some of the political stooges express their anxiety against the promotion of Hindu Rashtra but the same stooges forget the principle of ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhava’ which is also a core principle of Hinduism and promotes the same meaning as the word ‘Secular’ in the Constitution. Their anxiety is perhaps driven by monetary incentives and stupid ideological backlogs which turns them blind in front of a prism.
Talking about Hinduism, the judiciary has had its own difficulties while defining Hinduism. But before moving on to the definition of Hinduism, let’s have some understanding about the origin of the word Hindu. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, the word Hinduism was first used by the British writers in the year 1830 to describe the multiplicity of the faiths of the people of India excluding the converted Christians. So it was included for administrative purposes by the British. If we go further back in time, the Persian Cuneiform inscriptions refer to the word “Hindu” as a geographic name rather than a demographic or religious name. So a geographic identity was converted into a religious one by the British. Swami Vivekanand once said,”The word Hindu is a misnomer; the correct word should be a Vedantins, a person who follows the Vedas.” Many people today prefer to call it Santana Dharma meaning that has no beginning or an end, righteousness forever. However, now Hinduism is considered a ‘religion’ by the State. As such, the Supreme Court had tried to define it. In a 1966 case of ‘Shastri yagnapurushadji’ the court stated that it is difficult to define Hinduism or adequately define it. The Court further stated that Hinduism is not bounded by narrow traditional features as there is no one god, no one prophet or one philosophy and as such, it can be only defined as a way of life. In the 1995 case of Dr. Ramesh Yeshwant Prabhoo v. Shri Prabhakar Kashinath Kunte, the Court again defined Hinduism as a way of life and not just a religion. This definition is inline with the inclusiveness of Sanatana Dharma. Very recently in 2016, the Supreme Court declined a plea of social activist Teesta Setalvad to look into the 1995 case. Thus even till today, the Definition of Hinduism stands as a ‘way of life’. Also, today when we consider Hinduism as a way of life then it also includes ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhava’ as a way of life for Hindu society. Hence, the Hindu society which is pluralistic in nature needs no validation from the word secular as mentioned in the Constitution. This does not go down well with pseudo liberals on political payrolls. Their agenda of painting Hinduism as communal hasn’t found legal takers. Their ignorant parochial perspectives lead them nowhere.
Thus, the word and the principles of secularism as mentioned in the Constitution is redundant to the other provisions of the Constitution and also the majority Hindu society which is pluralistic and secular in its core values.
To be Continued…
- How Supreme Court viewed words ‘Hindu’, ‘Hinduism’ & ‘Hindutva’ in rulings, available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/how-supreme-court-viewed-words-hindu-hinduism-hindutva-in-rulings/articleshow/62782807.cms
- SC declines to go into Hindutva verdict available at: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/SC-declines-to-go-into-Hindutva-verdict/article16081556.ece
- Supreme Court revisits 21-year-old verdict on Hindutva ahead of crucial elections available at: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/supreme-court-verdict-hindutva-interpretation-elections-346972-2016-10-17
- The Meaning of Secularism in India available at: https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/posts/the-meaning-of-secularism-in-india
- Constituent Assembly Debates On 6 December, 1948 Part I available at: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1933556/
- Secularism in the Constituent Assembly Debates, 1946-1950, https://www.jstor.org/stable/4412419?seq=1
- ‘Secularism’ is overused, misused term in India, says US scholar available at: https://www.deccanherald.com/content/650682/secularism-overused-misused-term-india.html