Sunday, February 21, 2010

Secularism in India

Previously I examined secularism in India with regard to the prevalence of religion in society. But secularism should not only be defined in terms of an absence of religion. So here I will examine the aspect of secularism which argues that each religion should enjoy legal symmetry.

Certainly, India's constitution is secular. It does not allow for favoritism for any particular religion. But India's societal make up is less clear cut. Hindu nationalists have gained a foothold into the mainstream. The BJP, a party that espoused a Hindu nationalist agenda, ruled India from 1998-2004, although the party never achieved anywhere near a majority of votes. but to have a ruling party promote an ideology of exceptionist nationalism on the basis of religion surely rocks the foundation of secular claims.

Traveling through cities such as Agra and Lucknow, it is impossible to miss that the poorer "old cities" are largely Muslim in character and population. Muslims do not have a unique claim on poverty in India, but urban Muslim areas are often poor. But lower caste Hindus share the same economic frustrations with a large portion of India's Muslim community.

In 2007, a bomb went off in Hyderabad's famous Mecca Masjid. The Indian media assumed that the perpetrators were Muslim extremists aiming to cause friction between Hindus and Muslims. The prospect that the responsibility could lie with Hindu extremists wasn't merely dismissed, it wasn't even considered. This in an era where Hindu extremists destroyed the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992 on religious grounds, leading to intercommunal riots and the 2002 massacre of Muslims in Gujrat, just to name two internationally infamous instances of violence committed by Hindu extremists.

The increased political success of Hindu nationalists in recent years, the relative economic struggles of Muslims (admittedly, however, an unambiguous dichotomy involving Hindu prosperity and Muslim poverty is far from reality), and couplet of anti-Muslim violence with the media's portrayal of those events, are all threats to India's de facto secularism. Hindu extremists and their allies, a minority of India's population, hope to eradicate all notions of India's secularism. While they have not been successful, they have created challenges to the concept of religious symmetry.

(The HQT-IE)

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