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Does Secularism Have A Place In Ritualistic India?

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Does Secularism Have A Place In Ritualistic India?

Caught between a deeply religious citizenry and a religion-driven polity, secularism is facing threat both as an ideal and as a practice

Secular Assertion: A man wears the artwork declaring “I am secular”
Secular Assertion: A man wears the artwork declaring “I am secular” Photo: getty Images

At the core of the crisis secularism faces in India are a set of questions and a paradox. Which model of secularism should a deeply religious and ritualistic society adopt? Can one expect a believer to suddenly distance herself from her religion when she becomes part of the government? Is expecting a theist to have equal respect for other reli­gions misplaced because a believer, unless highly evolved, tends to consider one’s religion superior?

The paradox emerges when secular commentary traces the roots of religious harmony in certain icons of Indian history. The commentary ignores that the theological argument of personalities like Kabir and Mahatma Gandhi was founded in deep faith. They were profound believers who invoked divinity in order to create a space for other faiths. Far from being separated from religion, Gandhi’s politics and his normative order was rooted in his faith to the extent that he could term the 1934 Bihar earthquake a “divine chastisement”.

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