National

Secularism & Muslims: For Muslims, it's an issue of equality

By M.R. Shamshad

In our country, every group of aware persons has been holding different connotations about secularism.  When it is time to elect representatives in Parliament and assemblies, this becomes a much more serious issue and the entire debate would surround the large chunk of Muslims votes and the beneficiaries of such votes would roam around like scroungers.

The question is, who plays with it and whether Muslims are party as traders of "secularism"? No, they are a commodity. The outsized politics of the country has taken the burden of defining and implementing it and the ultimate beneficiaries could be any one but not the Muslims. At the same time, it is expected that Muslims should clearly take a stand in favour of secularists.

What is to be achieved through this? Today's secularism could be, taking affirmative action for a class of citizens who is lagging behind in comparison to others, fair criminal investigation and trial, equal treatment in accessing schools, equal benefit of the natural resources, and indiscriminate planning and fund allocations for making roads, hospitals, schools and enforcing law without discrimination could be the highest degree of the secular idea in the administrative and regulatory processes. If these are the principles, then Muslims have the misleading content of secularism in their bag. Are these not the general duties of the aspiring or current governments towards all citizens? This duty does not flow from the specially created fundamental rights for religious and linguistic minorities. Who has changed this perception of understanding secularism? Who are responsible to ensure that secular fabric remains intact?

In elections, political parties have taken the benefit of the concept of secularism and at the same time there are parties that have used secularism to polarise large sections against this secular principle and have reaped the benefit.

The issue has reached the Supreme Court on many occasions. In 1976, two Muslims belonging to different political parties, one accusing the other "about competence to represent Muslims because the other candidate was not the kind of Muslim who could represent Muslims, were asking for votes in the name of secularism", reached the Supreme Court' and the election of the candidate who made that statement was set aside and the court defined the concept of 'Secularism' stating 'if all human activity in this world could be labeled "secular" on the ground that it appertains to "this world" as against "the other world", all religious thought and activity could be described as "secular", as it takes place in this world'.

Again, when the matter came to SC in 1996, arising out of the speeches of Bal Thackrey, after setting aside the election - the SC defined the concept of 'Hidutva' by stating that the mere use of the word 'Hindutva' during an election campaign must not necessarily mean an appeal on the ground of Hindu religion for a Hindu candidate."

Today, Muslims are being directly targeted for their appeasement because a few parties, for the sake of votes, have taken the stand that they shall ensure equal treatment before law by prosecuting the culprits and shall take affirmative action in favour of those who are lagging behind.

In almost all elections in this country such assurances are made and subsequently flouted. In this process Muslims continue to be placed as an "appeased" commodity without a constitutional guarantee of equal treatment.

If secularism, with the limited meaning of the equal treatment, may have worked for such a long period, the condition of Muslims around the country would not have been as it has been reflected in Sachar Committee Report.  

In the recent saga, the rioting in Muzaffarnagar region, was secularism missing? The violence may have sparked due to hatred of few people around but essentially it was completely an issue of law and order and in that process people of clashing communities died and lost their properties, one community lost much more than the other. The state government in power may not have such intention but why and how did that situation arise? If some would talk about it, the other shall raise his voice stating that the majority community needs protection. Against this issue of threat, though unfounded, there could only be an issue of law and order but that is projected as an issue of appeasement to one section and hence the political forces should be at liberty to ask for vote in the name of revenge and the religious slogans would emerge to protect different religious communities.  

We have seen strategies are structured to polarize various sections of the society prior to election, and those strategies would largely be to disturb the law and order situation and the aftermath shall be available for sale as a component for both the groups. One would sell it to maintain law and order and assurance to treat everyone without discrimination and hence he would become the custodian of secularism. At the same time the other group shall sell the same fact to state that the opposite party is appeasing a particular community and hence disturbing the secular fabric. This shows how, instead of using the concept of democracy for real constructive issues, one could use it devastatingly.

In this situation, why one should not think that the true secular principles have lost their meaning in the present scenario?  

The author is Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court of India

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 May 2014 on page no. 7

We hope you liked this report/article. The Milli Gazette is a free and independent readers-supported media organisation. To support it, please contribute generously. Click here or email us at sales@milligazette.com

blog comments powered by Disqus