Sunday, December 28, 2014

[NSI Statement] Harvest of Innocent Blood: The Democracy Deficit in Bodoland, Assam

Photo Courtsey: PTI
Once again, and very soon after the last instance of mass killings and displacement, another series of bloodshed and violence has rocked Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD) - Assam. On 21st December 2014, two suspected militants of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland- Songbijit Faction (NDFB-S) were killed by the security forces in an alleged cold blooded encounter in the Chirang district of BTAD-Assam. In retaliation, on 23rd December, armed militants of NDFB-S attacked Adivasi villages in Kokrajhar, Chirang and Sonitpur districts. Since then it has resulted in the death of 81 people – 73 Adivasis including many women and children as well as 3 Adivasis killed in police firing on protestors. As a mode of retaliation Adivasi mobs killed at least 8 Bodo civilians. Since 23rd December, the entire BTAD and adjoining areas like Sonitpur district have been extremely volatile and under curfew. On 25th December, the Home Minister Mr. Rajnath Singh, in a meeting with the top security top brass, which was also attended by the Assam chief minister Mr Tarun Gogoi, declared Government of India's resolve to fight terrorism and reportedly asked the security and intelligence apparati to ensure the elimination of the top leadership of NDFB-S within the next six months. Around 50 additional companies of paramilitary forces are being sent to Assam. The Army has also reportedly launched major operations in the Assam-Arunachal border region, in search of the NDFB-S militants.

The NDFB-S massacre of Adivasi civilians is not a pre-modern tribal savagery. In fact such violence is justified by notions of exclusive ethnic-homelands and nations, and their corollaries like aspiration for spatial homogenization and monopolization of resources by particular communities. The Northeast of the country is home to many armed mobilisations against the domination of Indian state that are driven by an ethnic conception of political community in a contiguous territory. The Bodos of the Assam valley started an armed movement for Bodoland in 1980s against their marginalisation by the dominant non-tribal Assamese. Following the time tested carrot and stick policy, the Government of India managed to win over a faction of the armed groups in exchange for internal autonomy under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. The BTAD was formed in 2003. Curiously, even while the majority of citizens under the BTAD area identify themselves as non-Bodos the distribution of seats under the BTAD agreement is so designed that Bodos enjoy majority in the elected body. While a faction of the Bodo leadership settled to run the BTAD, the seeds were sown for inter-ethnic clashes and violence. 

Both Bodos and Adivasis are two of the most oppressed communities of Assam. The history of colonialism made them neighbours, just like the way Muslims of East Bengal origin became their neighbours in the early 20th century. All these communities have legitimate demands for political autonomy, but their rights have to be envisioned in such a way that they do not violate similar rights of other oppressed communities. It is precisely here that the democracy of India and its attendant institutional mechanisms have failed. Instead of creating space for a democratic dialogue between communities, which could have opened ways to resolve thorny issues between them, the security obsessed state in the Northeast, which looks at political problems primarily in terms of military solutions and opportunistic deals, creates ethnic polarization. It needs emphasis that the ordinary Bodo people have genuine democratic aspirations for greater political and economic autonomy. However, under the current political arrangements the legitimate aspirations of the Bodo people have been completely hijacked by power mongering among vested interests, which try to advance their politics at the cost of the rights of other ethnic groups. Hence, it has become a norm in the BTAD to pit ordinary Bodo people against similar non-Bodo people of the region. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Secular Stake- A Burden, or a Democratic Imperative?

Sanjay Kumar
Mr Asaduddin Owaisi, the leader of MIM recently remarked in a media conclave that ‘Muslims are not coolies of secularism’. The statement made perfect sense for his politics. He is the leader a party that aims to mobilise voters on the basis of them being Muslim. The unprecedented success of Hindutva under Mr Modi in recent elections has upset many old electoral calculations, and opened new opportunities. Mr Owaisi is smelling a chance for the MIM to expand beyond its turf in Hyderabad, to regions where non-BJP parties have been getting the major chunk of Muslim votes with the slogan of secularism, seen principally as the promise of protection from riots. For Mr Owaisi, the remark serves multiple purposes. Average Muslim citizens are deeply disillusioned with a political process that has resulted in the utter marginalisation of their community.  For such voters, the statement is intended to clearly distinguish his party from the so-called secular non-BJP parties. It is calibrated to raise a doubt in their mind, why should only Muslims be expected to vote for such parties, when significant sections of the Hindus have sided with the communal BJP? It is also a preemptive answer to his political competitors and ideological critics, who are likely to accuse him of being communal.
Otherwise too, the secular discourse in India has largely become a minorities’ affair. It is said to be under threat when minorities are attacked. It is claimed to be flourishing when minorities rights are protected. A corollary belief among major sections of the so called majority community is that India  could have as well been non-secular if there were no minorities in the country, or if they are put in their place as the RSS political programme demands. It is not difficult to see that once secularism is equated with minority interests, the majority interests would be perceived as non-secular and with a passage of time the BJP style of politics would become the common sense of the majority. Should India remain, or rather become secular, only for minorities’ sake? Then, why should the majority be interested in secularism? Only because of their ‘good neighbourly’ sense, or to avoid civil strife of communal clashes? The tragedy and the farce of Indian secularism is precisely this, that ever since its initial conception and practice during the freedom movement, it has remained hostage to a majority-minority framework, and it has implicitly answered all the above questions in the affirmative. Nothing can be farther away from the real significance of secularism for a modern democracy. There have been many non-democratic secular regimes. Secularism though is a democratic imperative. What everybody, including minority citizens, lose in the absence of secularism are distinct democratic freedoms which only secularism can assure.
Secularism is most commonly seen as a particular set of state policies with reference to religious communities. In liberal democracies this set is assumed to have three components. Freedom of religion and non-discrimination by the state on the basis of religion are part of fundamental rights guaranteed to every citizen. Once these two are accepted, it follows logically that the state has to keep itself separate from any religion, or equidistant from all religions, otherwise the followers of the religion closer to state will have privileges denied to the non-religious, or followers of other religions. Secularism as state-religion separation is however, only a part of the secular framework. A liberal constitution like the Indian one, is a secular document not only because of the special features it shows vis a vis religious communities, but because of its very spirit and basic conception. There was some discussion in the Constituent Assembly to start the preamble with words like ‘In the name of God’. The proposal was not accepted, and ‘We, the People of India’ were placed as the sovereign, deriving their power to give themselves a constitution from no other real or imagined source. The people, who were giving themselves the constitution, were obviously an imagined entity, but imagined as a collective of thoroughly ordinary and mundane humans. What made them the People was the belief that they were equal among themselves in some fundamentally political ways, and that as persons they had certain in-alienable rights. This latter pair of beliefs is nothing but the core idea of citizenship.

Impossible Lesson

-Ravi Sinha
Far away from Peshawar five men and a woman sat in a physician’s waiting room in Lucknow. The television screen that ordinarily shows some Bollywood film or a cricket match had a news channel on. It was day after the slaughter of children. The assistant who maintains the waiting list of patients and collects the doctor’s fee said something very predictable, even if heart-felt, expressing his horror and revulsion. The matter would have passed as unremarkably as most things do most of the times, except for what an elderly gentleman waiting to see the doctor had to say in response.
In a feeble yet firm voice whose conviction and sincerity was unmistakable, he said – dhaarmikata ko badhaava doge to kattarta badhegi; kattarta badhegi to aatank upajega, haivaaniyat saamne aayegi.(If you will promote religiosity, fundamentalism will grow, and from that will emerge terror and barbarism.) After a pause he added – hamaare desh mein bhee yahee ho rahaa hai, haalaan ki abhee hum pehle daur mein hain, dhaarmikata badhaane ke daur mein. (Same thing is happening in our country too, although we are in the first phase so far – that of promoting religiosity.)
It was stunningly simple a statement with clear enunciation of a causal chain. No one spoke after that. Uncharacteristically, for Indians, no discussion followed and no rebuttals were made. The statement was surprising for a number of reasons. First of all it did not come from an atheist leftist. There are too few of them left in any case in this city of Majaz, Rashid Jahan and Sajjad Zaheer, and it would have been too much of a coincidence if both the patients waiting to see the doctor in that lean hour of the day belonged to this rare breed. (Others were either family members of the patients or the doctor’s assistants.)
The statement was surprising also because, despite widely held views to the contrary, it did not blame one particular religion for being more disposed than others to harbour and incite terrorism. Nor did it sing the usual song about true religiosity being antithetical to brutality and violence. If one were willing to honestly count all killings across millennia of human history, I have little doubt that religion will show up as the single biggest killer. There are those who deploy enormous erudition and scholarship in proving that it kills only when it becomes modern. There are others who would not tire of repeating that it kills only as a handmaiden of imperialism. Veracity of examples likely to be cited in support of such theses cannot be denied. And yet, the theses themselves are grievously mistaken. Religion kills for its own sake too. If others hire it frequently, they do so because it is extraordinarily effective at the job. Nobel winning physicist Steven Weinberg once said – … you have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But, for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
It does not take a great deal of erudition to know that the Thirty Year War in seventeenth century Europe had seen the biggest blood-bath before the world wars of the twentieth century broke that record. That can hardly be attributed to modernity or to imperialism. Nor did religion begin to kill children only in the modern times. The oldest of religious myths recount massacre of children. If one were to consider that the slaughter of all male children of Hebrew families at Egyptian Pharaoh’s orders is a story intended to portray the adversary in bad light, how does one interpret the same side reporting gleefully the extermination of all Egyptian firstborns in the last of the ten plagues unleashed by the Hebrew God on the Egyptians?
A mistaken view that seems to be widely held in this country considers Hinduism comparatively non-violent. The Hindutva brigade laments this. They would like to turn Hindus into ferocious warriors against other faiths. This sordid episode is currently in full bloom in the Indian society and polity. I do not fully agree with the gentleman in the clinic when he says that we are in the first phase of promoting religiosity that is yet to attain full-scale brutality and violence. Can one draw any such comfort after witnessing, for example, what happened during the Gujarat carnage of 2002?
If religion can kill even while preaching peace, compassion, brotherhood and spirituality, one can imagine the added ferocity when it openly preaches the virtues of violence. The current foreign minister of India has called upon the world to accept Gita as the global holy book. Honesty would demand that this appeal be accompanied with a disclaimer – this book is basically a call to arms and an incitement to violence. Lord Krishna went to great philosophical lengths to rid Arjun of the scruples the latter had about participating in the impending blood-bath of Mahabharat that would include killing his own cousins and relatives.
Speaking against religion is not a wise thing to do. It carries all kinds of dangers – exclusion and ridicule being among the more benign ones. It is not easy, therefore, to draw truthful lessons from histories and practices of religion. Nearly all of humanity that has lived so far has been religious and, by and large, it continues to be so.  How does one criticize or evaluate the mode of living of the entire human race? How does one bring its core beliefs under dispassionate and fearless scrutiny? It is not surprising that thinkers and theorists have had to plumb great philosophical depths and weave intricate theories around this issue. Obvious observations and simple truths would simply not do.
Undoubtedly there are things in the world about which precious little can be done. There are problems about which the best one can do is to go around them. And yet one learns about them not only because one is curious but also because one is always trying to cope with the world and make it better. One cannot do anything to gravity, and yet one keeps learning about it. In the process one does find newer ways to cope with it. Religion, unfortunately, is much like gravity. Lessons drawn from its history may invariably be impossible lessons, but even impossible lessons have their uses.
The poetically inspired moment in which Marx coined the phrase – opium of the people – has been the bane of every Marxist’s life. They have been mercilessly beaten up with this phrase and endlessly ridiculed for being juvenile. Hardly anyone reads the passage in the Introduction to Marx’s Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right from which the phrase gets plucked. It almost reads like an ode to religion when he says – Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. One wonders what Marx would say about religion after the slaughter of children in Peshawar. Would he say that it did the killing at the behest of imperialism? Would he say that seeds of a ferocious religious culture were sown in the Swat valley and elsewhere so that harvest of slaughters would feed the powers that rule over the planet, control its oil and own its wealth?
Anger and ridicule should be directed not towards what someone might say about religion. They should be directed towards what religion actually does. Its deeds are so grim and stark that even its sympathetic theorists are forced to raise questions about its conduct. Take for example the communitarian-idealist philosopher Charles Taylor who is famous for deploying exceptional intellect and erudition in making sense of the likes of Hegel, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and later Wittgenstein. In 2007 he came out with a 900-pages long book on the role of religion in history and civilization. The approach of this book, which he called The Secular Age, is too nuanced and its conclusions are too complex to be summarized here. While wrestling with the riddles of human thought and deeds in the dark alleys of history, myth and psyche with little light from the lamps of science and certainty reaching those alleys, Taylor emerges occasionally as if to catch a breath on the surface of manageable questions and simpler conclusions. I am tempted to quote from him, despite the risk of doing injustice to him and of exposing my own pretentiousness, in the hope that rational scrutiny of religion can be seen as a worthy enterprise.
Sources of primal frenzy, wild sexuality and plain slaughter have been debated within religious discourses themselves. More modern and humanist interpretations of religion have often castigated the primordial and naturalist versions for holding a view as if “all religion is ultimately Moloch drinking blood from the skulls of the slain” (The Secular Age, p. 648). I wonder if there have been similar debates within Hinduism where Kali and Shiva are reprimanded for such conduct. In any case, through an anthropocentric cleansing of ancient religions, at least in the west, it was hoped that religion would be rid of evil and frenzy, sex and slaughter,
“… in this anthropocentric climate, where we keep any idea of the spiritual, it must be totally constructive, positive. It can’t accommodate Kali, and is less and less able to allow for a God who punishes. The wrath of God disappears, leaving only His love…On the older view, wrath had to be part of the package…some people fry in Hell; and the others are only saved because Christ offered “satisfaction” for them. This was the heart of the juridical-penal understanding of the atonement. But in the anthropocentric climate, this no longer makes sense, and indeed, appears monstrous.” (The Secular Age, p. 649)
The question, however, remains. Why then, despite modernity, religion remains a prime instigator of bestiality and slaughter? Taylor discusses the question at various levels – biological, meta-biological, metaphysical, psycho-social, political and historical. Given his theoretical and ideological dispositions, he is inclined towards metaphysical explanations. Wading through complex arguments he arrives at a conclusion that puts part of the blame at modernity’s door. Modernity turns out in this account to be as self-righteous as religion. Citing examples of modern and non-religious violence, from the French Revolution to the War on Terror and Abu Ghraib, he accords equivalent status to Robespierre, Hitler, Stalin and George Bush.
I have put Taylor on display as an illustrative example. The point is to recognize the intrinsic relationship between religion and violence. If we have to understand our own specific predicament, we may have to step away from Taylor and go beyond his conclusions. After all, Peshawar and Gujarat happen here and not in Canada or Sweden. There must be some reason if religious slaughters and other barbarities of the present age tend to cluster in some parts of the world and not others.

Monday, December 15, 2014

दस्तारबंदी और मुस्लिम समुदाय में नेतृत्व को लेकर कुछ सवाल

जावेद अनीस

पिछले दिनों दिल्ली हाईकोर्ट ने इमाम अहमद बुख़ारी द्वारा अपने पुत्र को नायब इमाम नामित करने के लिए किये जा रहे ‘दस्तारबंदी’ समारोह पर अपना फैसला सुनाते हुए कहा था कि वे जो कुछ करने जा रहे हैं उसकी कोई कानूनी मान्यता नहीं है और इस आयोजन का मतलब नायब इमाम की नियुक्ति नहीं है। इस सम्बन्ध में याचिकाकर्ताओं और सरकार द्वारा दलील दी गयी थी कि चूंकि जामा मस्जिद वक्फ बोर्ड की प्रॉपर्टी है इसलिए इसका उत्तराधिकारी इमाम नहीं तय कर सकते, यह वक्फ बोर्ड की जिम्मेदारी है। हालांकि यह अंतिम फैसला नहीं है इस मामले में आगे भी सुनवाई होनी है, जो की 28 जनवरी को होने वाली है जिसमें कोर्ट द्वारा सभी पक्षों को नोटिस भेजकर हलफनामा दायर कर अपना-अपना पक्ष रखने को कहा गया है।

कुल मिलकर कर इस फैसले का सार यह है कि बुखारी 22 नवंबर को होने वाली दस्तारबंदी का आयोजन तो कर सकते हैं लेकिन फिलहाल इसकी कानूनी मान्यता नहीं होगी इस बारे में स्थिति 28 जनवरी को होने वाली सुनवाई में ही साफ हो पायेगी।

इस पूरे विवाद की शुरुआत तब हुई जब पिछले दिनों जामा मस्जिद के विवादास्पद “शाही इमाम” सैयद अहमद बुखारी द्वारा अपने उन्नीस वर्षीय बेटे सैयद शाबान बुखारी को अपना जांनशीन बनाने की घोषणा करते हुए कहा गया था कि 22 नवंबर 2014 को दस्तारबंदी की रस्म के साथ उन्हें नायब इमाम घोषित किया जाएगा। विवाद और गहराया जब बुखारी ने बात का खुलासा किया कि इस दस्तारबंदी रस्म में शामिल होने वाले मेहमानों की उनकी सूची में भारत के प्रधानमंत्री का नाम शामिल नहीं है, लेकिन पाकिस्तान के प्रधानमंत्री नवाज शरीफ को इसमें बुलाया गया है, सैयद अहमद बुखारी का कहना था कि ‘चूंकि यह उनका निजी कार्यक्रम है और वे किसे दावत में न्यौता भेजेंगे और किसे नहीं यह उनका अपना निर्णय है।‘ जैसा कि अपेक्षित था बुखारी के इस निर्णय को लेकर जबरदस्त विवाद हुआ और इस बहाने सैयद अहमद बुखारी एक बार फिर सुर्खियों में आ गये। 

यह वही जामा मस्जिद है जहाँ 1947 में जब दिल्ली के मुसलमान बड़ी संख्या में पाकिस्तान जा रहे थे, तब देश के प्रमुख स्वतंत्रता सेनानी मौलाना अबुल कलाम आजाद ने इसकी प्राचीर से मुसलमानों को संबोधित किया था, उनके इस भाषण का लोगों पर बहुत गहरा असर हुआ और बड़ी तादाद में मुसलमान जो पाकिस्तान जाने के लिए अपना सामान बाँध कर तैयार थे उन्होंने हिन्दुस्तान को चुन लिया। उनके इस मशहूर भाषण के शब्द कुछ इस प्रकार हैं- "जामा मस्जिद की ऊंची मीनारें तुमसे पूछ रही हैं कि जा रहे हो...कल तक तुम यमुना के तट पर वजू किया करते थे और आज तुम यहाँ रहने से डर रहे हो। याद रखो कि तुम्हारे ख़ून में दिल्ली बसी है। तुम समय के इस झटके से डर रहे हो...वापस आओ यह तुम्हारा घर है, तुम्हारा देश”।

Sunday, December 7, 2014

[Statement] In Solidarity with the Search for Mexico's Missing 43 students


the families of the disappeared students of Ayotzinapa, 

the students of the Rural Normal Schools,

the people of Mexico fighting against State repression:

We, students and concerned citizens of India, condemn the murder of six people and the disappearance of 43 students of the Raúl Isidro Burgos Normal School from the town of Iguala in Guerrero on 26 September 2014. The disappeared students were taken by the Police on this day and have since been missing. In India too, we have been witness to a long history of impunity of the State Armed Forces that have been consistently used against democratic and peaceful forms of protest and organisation. We are shocked by the gravity of the crime that reflects the deep-rooted culture of impunity built over many years in Mexico, and perpetuated by the 'War Against Narcotraffic' intiated 8 years ago. Your pain is our pain. 

In the search for these disappeared students, we have to come know that several mass graves were uncovered pointing to the many more disappearances over the years. We are aware this is not an isolated incident and is only the last in a long series of disappearances and murders. According to Amnesty International, over 22,000 people have disappeared without any proper investigations into these crimes. We stand in solidarity with you in your fight against repression and violence of the Mexican government and the impunity it provides. We salute your struggle in the search of your beloved children and in demanding the State's accountability and transparency in their disappearance.

We stand by you in your courage for having come out into the streets of Mexico to confront the violent State that has tried every trick up their sleeve to malign and divide your voices for instating a true democracy. We are watching the manner in which instead of heeding your demands, the Mexican government is responding with more and more repression and arbitrary detentions. We have faith that this will not deter you from continuing to demand justice, and remain inspired by your courage. You are not alone. We stand by you in this important moment in the building of a truly democratic Mexico and send our revolutionary greetings from other side of the world. 

In solidarity,

New Socialist Initiative
Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union
All India Students Association
Students Federation of India
Democratic Students Front
Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge
Krantikari Naujawan Sabha (Revolutionary Youth Council)
Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini
Extra-Judicial Execution Victims' Families Association, Manipur
Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, Kashmir
National Alliance of Peoples' Movements
Human Rights Alert
North East Students Organisation, Delhi
Save Democracy Repeal AFSPA (Group)

Photo by  Erika Lozano

Saturday, December 6, 2014

[PADS Public Meeting on Babri Mosque Destruction] Secularism A Democratic Imperative

On the 22nd Anniversary of Destruction of Babri Mosque

People's Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS)

invites you to a discussion on 

Secularism A Democratic Imperative: Is Democracy Possible Without Secularism?


Prof. Achin Vanaik, Dr. Ghazala Jamil, Dr. Sanjay Kumar

Tapti Hostel Mess, JNU, 9 pm, 8th December

December 6, 1992 must count as the darkest day in the history of independent India. While the crowds mobilised by organisations of the RSS destroyed the Babri Mosque in a planned conspiracy, the institutions of the Indian state, elected state and central governments, police and judiciary stood by as mute spectators. This was the culmination of a long campaign of communal hatred and violence. Thousands of Indian citizens were killed in riots during the run-up to, and after the demolition of, the Babri Masjid. Yet the nature of our society and politics is such that not only have the perpetrators of these crimes gone unpunished, they have reaped a rich political dividend. 

The victory of the BJP in the last elections has given a significant push to the Hindutva project. Minority targeting and riots are becoming more brazen and routine. Even while minorities are facing the brunt of the Hindutva assault, other Indians will be grossly mistaken if they think it does not affect them. Hindutva is a totalising project driven by a revanchist, casteist, and misogynist ideology. It valorises violence and targets the vulnerable. It seeks to control what all Indians can think, read, see, wear or even eat. In the name of tradition it attacks youth making their own choices, and it criminalises alternate sexualities. It is trying to propagate mythology as historical truth. All Indians who value freedom, equality, truth and human solidarity are targets of its violent politics. 

The Modi avtar of Hindutva is successful due to a marriage of mutual convenience with corporate capital. And, as a true partner of Indian capitalism, the new government is working overtime to reverse the little welfare rights to employment, land and forests that Indian workers, farmers and adivasis had won. As the ten years of UPA rule showed, the bourgeois hegemony in India can exist without overt Hindutva violence. However, the Modi regime provides the right amount of ruthlessness and state violence against the working poor that the capitalist class needs in times of economic recession. It cannot be denied that under Mr Modi, the BJP has been able to get the support of many sections of the lower middle classes, and also of oppressed castes and adivasis, which add to its core of upper caste and upper class Hindus. In typical Fascist fashion it has skilfully sold the hope of achhe din to the helpless and alienated sections through saturated media projection of Mr Modi as the ultimate saviour. It has successfully harnessed traditionally rooted prejudices and the violences of everyday life for propaganda against the minorities. Freedom loving Indians confront a project of bourgeois hegemony, supported by state terror and fortified by mass appeal. 

Diverse trends of Indian electoral politics, namely caste mobilisations, social justice, economic populism, regional aspirations, and social movements, which were considered adequate antidotes to communal venom, failed to stop the Hindutva success in the last elections. Why is communal fascism so successful after six decades of constitutional democracy and secularism? Surely, part of the answer lies in what has gone on in the name of democracy and secularism in the country. Finding this part of the answer, and unearthing the limitations of democracy and secularism in India, is the first responsibility of those who uphold these two values. The common understanding of democracy equates it with institutional means that establish the rule of the majority. This understanding misses the conditions that legitimise the very notion of majority. Can a majority rule that does not arise in conditions of equality, and which does not obey the principle of equality, ever be democratic? How can a society with pervasive caste, gender, ethnic and religious oppressions and brutalities and economic exploitation be made democratic? 

Secularism in India is understood in two distinct ways. One current believes it to be a modern import imposed by a westernised elite on a deeply religious society; as if the life in India before its Constitution declared it to be a secular country did not have secular aspects! If equality among citizens is the starting point of any democracy, then it follows that a democratic state cannot discriminate on the basis of religion. Hence, it is impossible to even imagine a democracy without secularism. The other trend sees secularism merely as a state policy of dealing with diverse religious communities, the so-called majority and minority communities, in an even-handed way. This trend misses the fact that secularism is also essential to ensure freedoms that are necessary for a secular way of life for every citizen, irrespective of her/his community. No religious authority or community can curtail rights of any citizen. The practice of secularism in our country has mostly been tortured. Presidents of our secular republic routinely inaugurate or lay foundation stones of temples. Our courts have declared official ceremonies with vedic mantras and havans to be not in violation of secularism. Our state has miserably failed to protect the rights of women from community based personal laws. A serious lacuna is the failure to realise that the democracy and secularism of the state shall remain under threat if social life in families, communities and the public sphere is not democratic and secular. 

December 6 is also the death anniversary of Dr Ambedkar, the architect of the Constitution of India, which guarantees the right to equality to all Indians. Communal politics is a direct violation of this right. December 6 is also the day to pay homage to Dr Ambedkar and recommit ourselves to realise his ideals.