Communalism & Legal Punishment

Of late, some noise has been made about the damage that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stand regarding Indian pluralism can cause to this country. Undeniably, since he has assumed power, extremely communal activities indulged by those associated with Sangh Parivar have raised alarming concern about the extent to which Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s stay in power at the Centre can prove disturbing for the country, especially the minorities. While there remains little doubt about the definition of Indian secularism, apparently there remains some lack of clarity regarding understanding of religious extremism and communalism. Perhaps, time has come when a stand must be taken regarding definition of these terms and the degree the indulgence in the same may be regarded as illegal, against the dictates of the Indian Constitution.

Certainly, the Constitution gives each citizen the right to practice his religion. An individual can be as religious as his/her beliefs require, as long as the same does not prove damaging to others. Thus, a person is legally permitted to be extremely religious to the point of even being regarded as an extremist but with a limitation. His/her beliefs or practices must not cause any damage of any nature to the others. This perhaps may be viewed as extremely significant point of Indian secularism. People belonging to different religions can practice their respective beliefs and be considered as secular if their practices do not cause any damage to others and if they display respect for people of other religious communities.

In certain parts of the world, secularism is understood as not being religious. The notion prevails that one cannot be secular and religious at the same time.

With respect to the Indian society, secularism and practice of religious beliefs are strongly linked with each other. This is strongly reflected in people cutting across their religious divisions to greet each other on religious occasions, share sweets and even to a degree participate in each others’ religious practices. For instance, when it is Christmas time, Santa Claus is given importance in urban areas not just by the Christian community. Likewise, Hindu festivals such as Holi, Rakhee and Diwali witness some participation by non-Hindus also. Recent history has been marked by Iftar parties being hosted by non-Muslims too. In fact, Iftar parties and other religious occasions tend to hit headlines when they symbolise not just religious belief of one community but that of people belonging to different communities cutting across religious differences to participate and share the same.

Thus, while there remains little doubt about the highlights of Indian secularism, the same cannot be said about communalism. Undeniably, recent past has been witness to various kinds of communal activities indulged in by those linked with Sangh Parivar. These include their ghar-wapasi programme, their aggression against Muslims regarding alleged cases of beef (cow meat) consumption, their indulgence in hate speeches targeting Muslims and so forth. There is a strong difference in delivering speeches to promote a particular ideal and in the same being indulged in to hurt, abuse and threaten other religious communities. This includes the excessive manner in which several leaders associated with Sangh Parivar have tended to question Indian Muslims’ national identity by linking them with Pakistan. Incidentally, while these leaders have hit headlines, no action has been taken against their indulging in such communal abuses. Besides, the silence maintained by Prime Minister Modi over such incidents cannot be ignored.

There certainly has been no dearth of criticism and also media coverage of communal activities engaged in by such right-wing elements. Media coverage projecting the same in a negative light and also their criticism act as pointers to prevalence of conscientious Indian citizens who have not hesitated in raising their voice whenever secularism has been threatened and minorities targeted. At the same time, the hard fact cannot be ignored that this is just not enough. These moves have not restrained the communal elements from continuing their drive. And this is what necessitates taking a serious look at what action can perhaps prevent their indulgence in such communal activities.

It is perhaps essential to draw a distinct line between activities that can be viewed as religious and those that need to be defined as communal. When activities in the name of religion start causing damage, it would probably be pertinent to label them as communal, legally punishable in keeping with principles of Indian Constitution. One of the basic dictates of the Indian Constitution is secularism of the Indian system. Thus, religious freedom as well as that of speech and expression is subject to reasonable restrictions such as public order, decency, morality and power of State to take measures for social welfare and reform. In keeping with what is laid out in the Constitution, communal activities indulged in by those linked with the Sangh Parivar can hardly be viewed as legally permissible. Then why isn’t effective legal action taken against them? Perhaps, now greater noise needs to be made about activities which should be defined as communal and punishable by law.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 January 2016 on page no. 11

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