1. In defense of secular democracy
Muslims for Secular Democracy (MSD) is taking birth at a critical juncture where India’s Constitution and democracy are in serious danger of being subverted from within and replaced by a fascist regime.
Because it is committed to the goal of ‘Hindu Rashtra’, the ideals of secular democracy have never been acceptable to the sangh parivar since its ideology is embedded in notions of majoritarianism and a deep-rooted hatred for the country’s minorities.
Sustained hate propaganda, instigation of communal violence to polarise Indian society and painstaking organisation building have been its principal occupation for decades. Today, having made deep inroads into the mass psyche, having infiltrated and captured State institutions, the sangh outfits are cynically misusing and manipulating the instruments and institutions of democracy to subvert them from within.
The suppression of the country’s minorities and the subversion of the Indian Constitution are part of the same mutually reinforcing process. Intense, unchallenged hate propaganda has succeeded to the point that the idea that "Muslims need to be taught a lesson" has gained wide currency. In the coming period it will be said that since teaching Muslims a ‘proper lesson’ is not easy in a democratic set-up, another political system is needed to enable ‘Us’ to put ‘Them’ in their place.
Unfortunately, some from among the Muslims make the job of their adversaries very easy. In India and internationally, those who claim to speak or act in the name of Muslims or Islam, help reinforce the image of Muslims as a community of ‘fundamentalists’, ‘fanatics’, ‘extremists’, ‘anti-nationals’, a people ‘unprepared for, or incapable of, peaceful coexistence with others’.
To some extent the media, too, is to be blamed: because of its preference for sensationalism, it plays up the statements of hotheads and muckrakers, while moderate, liberal voices find little mention, if at all. While continuing to consistently challenge the words and deeds of fanatics and extremists, Muslims for Secular Democracy proposes to consistently engage the media on its editorial choice that wittingly or unwittingly contributes towards building a negative image of Muslims.
For minorities targeted by fascist forces the only guarantee of survival with dignity lies, not in gaining the so-called ‘goodwill of the majority’ as the RSS advises, but in the defense of India’s Constitution that guarantees them fundamental rights as equal citizens.
To defend the Constitution is to uphold the basic values enshrined in them against all sectarian, divisive, communal worldviews: not the sanghis alone. It is not possible to fight Hindu communalism without fighting against Muslim communalism, nor is it possible to fight Muslim communalism without fighting against Hindu communalism, because the different communalisms feed on each other.
2. What we mean by our commitment to the Indian Constitution:
At the core of the Constitution which We, the People of India, gave ourselves 53 years ago, are the ideals of secularism, democracy, pluralism. We are committed to the Indian Constitution because we affirm our commitment to these values that are its bedrock.
The word continues to be misunderstood by many people even today. It is often wrongly assumed that ‘SECULAR’ is the opposite of ‘RELIGIOUS.’ However, if anything, the opposite of SECULAR is COMMUNAL, while the opposite of the word RELIGIOUS is ATHEIST.
A religious person is not necessarily communal (Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Azad were religious but not communal), a non-religious person or an atheist can also be extremely communal (Jinnah, Thackeray, Advani are good examples).
By communalism is meant not religiosity but the use of religion as the basis for political mobilization, or for nationhood.
By secularism is meant the insistence on a clear separation between religion and politics, between matters of faith and affairs of the state; by secularism is meant clear rejection of the idea of a theocratic state in the modern world.
To be secular is to affirm the universality of that principle, its applicability to all countries, irrespective of who constitutes a minority or majority.
Secularism rejects not only the theocratic state but also a majoritarian state that discriminates between citizens on the basis of religion, race or ethnicity; or, worse still, that pits one section of society against another. The claim that Hindu Rashtra would not be a theocratic state is no good news, because a non-theocratic fascist state can be worse.
(Historically, secularism as a concept emerged in Europe in the 17th century not in opposition to religion but only to resolve the problem of bloody wars between different sects of the same Christian religion: Protestants, Catholics etc. In countries where the official religion of the state was Protestant, Catholics were discriminated against and persecuted; and vice versa. To resolve this problem, initially the idea arose that while a State may have an official religion, the spirit of tolerance should govern its attitude to people of other sects.
Later, it was felt that this, too, is not enough since tolerance implies a relationship between ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’. It was then that the idea emerged that for people of different sects to coexist peacefully, it is essential that matters of faith are separated from affairs of the State, so that the State had no religion. This separation of State/politics and religion was understood to mean not equal respect for all religions -- Sarva dharma samabhav as the RSS argues -- but the State’s aloofness from religious matters.
To say that the State has no religion does not mean that the State is anti-religion. Nor does it mean that State heads or other State functionaries have to be non-religious or anti-religious, or that they could not go to pray in a church, mosque or temple. Or, to take another example, no religious education was to be permitted in state funded schools. This obviously did not
mean that children were prohibited from learning about their religion, but only that it was left to parents and communities to make private, non-State, arrangements for religious education).
The section on Fundamental Rights in the Indian Constitution (Articles 12-35) spells out the rights guaranteed to EVERY CITIZEN. Without these rights, democracy will be meaningless, in India or elsewhere in the world. Above all else, the defense of the Constitution means reaffirming our faith in, and commitment to, the values and principles enshrined in this section on fundamental rights.
Of particular relevance in our context are the following:
Equality before law:
Article 14. "The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India".
Article 15. "The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them…"
Right to Freedom
Article 19: " (1) All citizens shall have the right
(a) to freedom of speech and expression;
(b) to assemble peaceably and without arms;
(c) to form associations or unions…"
Article 21: Protection of life and personal liberty: "No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law".
(Both terrorists with BOMBS – so-called ‘jihadis’, the jung parivar – and criminals controlling MOBS – Sena or sangh parivar -- who target innocents obviously have no respect for human life as is inherent in this article. That is why both MOB TERROR and BOMB TERROR stand equally condemned from a human rights perspective).
Right to Freedom of Religion
Article 25: Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion: "Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion".
But, sadly, in most situations of communal conflict in post-Independence India, the police and the governments of the day have behaved as if Articles 14, 15 and 21 do not apply to the minorities. It is virtually like a periodic suspension, denial of fundamental rights to the minorities. This is nothing but a mockery of democracy, an issue that Muslims for Secular Democracy will bring to public focus as often as may be necessary.
It is also evident that the Constitution guarantees these rights to individual ‘citizens’, or ‘persons’; these are not community rights. Put differently, these are rights for the ‘ultimate minority’: the individual human being. Every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression (Article 19) and the right to freedom of religion (Article 25) i.e., it is every citizen’s right to be a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Parsi, agnostic or atheist.
In any society, minorities -- religious or cultural – have the greatest stake in the preservation of democracy because in that alone lies the real guarantee of the security of life, liberty and dignity.
While demanding that the State must protect the fundamental rights of ALL CITIZENS at ALL TIMES (not just sometimes), Muslims for Secular Democracy also unhesitatingly affirms the ‘fundamental duties’ of every citizen of India as spelt out in Article 51A:
"It shall be the duty of every citizen of India:
(a) to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem;
(c) to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India;
(e) to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women"...
The history of all religions demonstrates that any and every religion can be interpreted in many different ways. Muslims for Secular Democracy sees no conflict between Islam, as we understand it, and the Constitution.
5. Crime and 'Sin'
In a society governed by the Rule of Law, no citizen, not even a Prime Minister or President, is allowed to take the law in his or her own hand. Nor can ‘hurt religious sentiments’ be a justification for circumventing law.
The confusion that is common on this issue are best cleared by recalling some elementary principles:
- In a democracy, no citizen can be deprived of his life or liberty, except by the State and only through
due process of law.
- Those whose religious sentiments are hurt (be they Hindus, or Muslims, or whoever) have every right to
express their feelings in democratic, non-violent ways. But to take the law in your own hands is to invite
anarchy in society
- A secular State can stipulate punishment for CRIME; but it cannot provide punishment for SIN for it cannot
entertain any notion of SIN.
- At best, the State can place reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression. For example, the misuse of the freedom of expression to create hatred against a certain community is a punishable offence in India.
What is a sin and what is the punishment for the same? The answer to both is best left to God. (In its
report on the violence against the Ahmediyas in Pakistan in 1952, the Justice Munir Commission appointed by
the government had observed: "We cross-examined mullahs from all over Pakistan and no two of them were
agreed on their definition of a Muslim. However, they all were agreed that Ahmediyas should be
6. Gender Justice:
While observing that the oppression and exploitation of women is rampant in India – discrimination against the girl child, feticide, infanticide, dowry and dowry deaths, sexual violence, inadequate political representation – we uphold the principles of gender justice and non-discrimination between the sexes.
Muslim Personal Law:
Of particular concern to us are the issues of personal law and the uniform civil code. We believe that all existing personal laws, applicable to people of different religious communities, discriminate against women and therefore urgently need change. In case of Muslims, the theological defence of triple talaaq (instant divorce) and polygamy are unacceptable.
As for polygamy, census figures are quite revealing:
The 1991 census, that gives a state-wise break up of the population of the major religious communities, shows that the male-female ratio among the Christians was on top of the list with 994 women for every 1,000 men. The sex ratio among the Hindus was 925 females per thousand males. Among Muslims the sex ratio was 930 women for every 1,000 men while among the Sikhs the sex ratio was 888 women for every 1,000 men.
With Muslim men outnumbering Muslim women in the population, the sangh parivar’s insidious ‘hum panch’ (one man, four wives) propaganda is patently false and nonsensical. Is it being suggested that 25% Muslim males have four Muslim women as wives while the remaining 75% are condemned to remain unmarried? Or is it being suggested that a vast majority of Muslim men marry non-Muslim women?
It is also evident from census figures that bigamy is much more prevalent among non-Muslims than Muslims in India. According to 1961 census figures, the incidence of polygamy is highest among the Adivasis (15.25%), followed by Buddhists (7.9%), Jains (6.72%), Hindus (5.80%) and, finally, Muslims (5.70%). Studies have also shown that the practice of bigamy has been on the decline in all communities in recent decades.
It is also a fact that in many Muslim countries family laws have been revised in respect of minimum age of marriage, polygamy, divorce, maintenance. For example, in most Muslim majority countries, including those that claim to be run on Islamic principles, instant divorce is prohibited. Similarly, polygamy is either prohibited or is permissible under specific circumstances and only after permission has been obtained from the courts and the existing wife. Thus, there can be no ‘Islamic’ justification for these practices to be permitted in India: they must be prohibited. (Our objection is not to the concept of talaaq divorce, per se, but to the practice among some Muslim sects in India of instant divorce).
In short, it is simply not true that what goes in the name of ‘Muslim Personal Law’ in India are God-given laws that are immutable and all Muslims are obliged to follow them:
- In India itself, the Muslim Personal Law does not apply in Jammu and Kashmir (the only Muslim majority state in the country) or in Goa.
- As elaborated above, many Muslim countries have prohibited the practice of instant talaaq, and polygamy is either totally prohibited or permitted only under special circumstances.
- Millions of Muslims living in secular societies throughout the world enter into marital relations according to the laws of the country they live in. Yet, they don’t cease to be Muslims.
Uniform Civil Code:
In recent years, the sangh parivar has repeatedly invoked Article 44 in the section on Directive Principles in the Constitution that says: "The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India."
Why is it that the Hindutvavaadis who never tire of reference to Article 44 are entirely silent on other Articles (38-50) in the Directive Principles and which among other things stipulate that:
- "The State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life." (Article 38.(1)
- "The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing:
that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood." (Article 39(a)).
that there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women. (Article 39(d)).
that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment. (Article 39(f)).
- "The State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities." (Article 39A).
- Right to work, to education and to public assistance in certain cases. (Article 41) Provision for just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief. (Article 42).
- Living wage, etc., for workers. (Article 43).
- Provision for free and compulsory education for children. (Article 45).
- Promotion of educational and economic interests of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other weaker sections. (Article 46).
- Duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health. (Article 47).
- Protection of monuments and places and objects of national importance. (Article 49). (It is worth mentioning here that in 2002, sangh parivar goons destroyed well over 200 Muslim cultural and religious places during the BJP government-sponsored genocide in Gujarat. According to the Concerned Citizens Tribunal headed by three retired judges chief minister, Narendra Modi, was the ‘chief author and architect’ of that carnage).
- Separation of judiciary from executive. (Article 50).
Are these Directive Principles of no interest to the sangh parivar? The answer is simple: For the sanghi parivar, the question of a uniform civil code is not one of gender justice; rather, it is one more stick to beat the Muslims with.
On our part, however, we have no problem with Article 44 in which the word ‘endeavour’ was used by the Constitution makers for good reason.
India is a country of many religions, castes and tribes, who for centuries have had their own practices and customs in matters of family relations: marriage, divorce, maintenance, custody of children, guardianship, adoption, inheritance.
We support any endeavour by the State to bring about a uniform civil code.