OPINION
Is India truly a secular country?
WE THE PEOPLE
- Markandey Katju

The preamble to the Indian Constitution declares India to be a secular country, and Articles 25 to 30 are also that effect.

But what is the truth? The truth is that the Constitution is only a piece of paper, and the ground reality is that India is a highly communal country. Most Hindus in it (and 80% of its population is Hindu) are communal, and so are most  Muslims (who are 15-16% of the population). Why is it so ? This needs a deeper analysis which is given below.

Secularism is a feature of industrial society (as exist in North America, Europe, Japan, etc ). It is not a feature of feudal or semi feudal society. In India the feudal economy was partially destroyed after Independence by the zamindari abolition laws, a certain limited degree of industrialization etc. However, the feudal mindset still continues among most of our people, as is obvious from the rampant casteism and communalism, which are feudal forces, and are still widespread in our society. Hence India can still be called a semi feudal country.

Why is secularism a feature of industrial society, but not of feudal or semi feudal society?

The reason is that feudal society is an agricultural society in which human groupings are small, and scattered over large rural areas. In contrast, in industrial society human groupings are large, and concentrated in factories, offices, etc in cities to which the peasants have migrated.

When people of different religions come together (in factories, offices etc) and interact they realize that persons of other religions are not the devils which they had been depicted to be, rather they share the same objectives of getting higher wages, better working conditions, etc. This changes their mindsets, and makes them secular ( when earlier they were communal ) and unites them in the common struggle for attaining their objectives.

In India the policy of the British rulers was to keep India broadly feudal and unindustrialised. They permitted setting up some light industries like textile mills, plantations etc, but not heavy industry like steel mills. After Independence in 1947 no doubt a limited degree of industrialization took place (e.g. some steel mills were set up, engineering colleges were established etc), but this was not a full fledged industrialization as took place in Western countries, Japan, and later China. Consequently, India still remains a semi feudal country, and hence its people are still largely communal. 

When a Muslim is lynched by cow vigilantes most Hindus are indifferent, and some even happy. One fanatic, terrorist or anti national less ! After 2014 religious polarization has increased in India (and even among NRIs abroad, e.g, in the Bay Area of California where I am presently staying).

In the ongoing anti CAA agitation my impression is that the majority of protesters are Muslims, but for that very reason most Hindus are not. The Hindus who are supporting the agitation are a minority of Hindus, maybe 10% of them (the so called ‘liberals’ and University students in big cities like Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai). Hence although I am personally against the CAA (see my article ‘Why the Citizens Amendment Act is unconstitutional‘) I fear that the anti CAA agitation is further polarizing Indian society and benefiting the BJP, as it is further consolidating most Hindus behind it.

In my opinion India will only become a secular country when it is highly industrialised, but that is possible only after a mighty historical united people’s struggle led by genuinely patriotic and modern minded leaders creates a new political and social order in which society and the economy are organized on scientific lines, and there is rapid industrialization. Until that happens, communalism will continue, and Indian society will remain polarised on religious and caste lines.

  
Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India. 
Main pic credit:Aashish R Gautam
 
 
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