Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The many denominations of secular

Amit Chibber commented on yesterday's post, Saagar manthan and referenced the issue of defining secular: which of the definitions - US First Amendment (equal blindness), India (equal affirmation), France (affirmative atheism) - is "correct". I refrained from labeling my preferred definition of secular as “correct” in the original post for the very reason that there are competing versions. I am however, convinced that the ‘blind to religion in matters of state’ interpretation is the only workable solution (and therefore, the “correct” interpretation – should you want me to declare) in a multi-denominational society like ours.

The equal affirmation route, which we have been working with for the past so many decades, can not serve us well on a number of counts: (a) competitive populism – which equal affirmation encourages – is too big a temptation for any politician, and more so for those who have been reared on such a diet since their infancy. Notably, the direction of policy in such competitive populism approximates the ever decreasing spiral that a moth describes in his journey towards the flame; (b) in a society like ours – with the number of denominations being what they are and indeed, with the definition of Hinduism being as broad ranging as it is – it is difficult to find the point (across one, more or all dimensions of policy) which represents ‘equal affirmation’ and we end up on an ever oscillating see-saw where balance, desirable as it may be, is ever elusive; (c) it serves as yet another manifestation of the state as a ‘provider’ in a realm that is essentially private. As for the French interpretation, it is more statist than I am comfortable with and also, it does commit the state to one denomination – to the extent that atheism is, in itself, a doctrine pertaining to religion.

In any case, the framers of Indian constitution did the best in the circumstances they were presented with and we have "equal affirmation" as our guiding light for now. This, however, does not mean that "equally blind" will go against the spirit of our constitutions for, equal affirmation (with the degree of affirmation set to zero) is "equally blind".


Anonymous said...

Whichever defintion one may prefer, (although in my opinion, equal affirmation is not secularism, and nowhere except in the Indian political parlance has it come mean that), the essential issue, I think, is coming to a common understanding of the word "religion" so that the public at large clearly understands what the government should or should not be doing. Once again, except for India, the word "religion" is clearly understood by the people at large in a given state whether or not they adhere to whatever form of secularism that their state professes. In my opinion, until we have a genuine debate and come to working definition of what religion means in the Indian context, any debate on secularism (of whatever variety) is not going to go very far and is likely to bring any long lasting solution.

Unknown said...

I don't know much about religion or politicsbut the current scenario prompts me to say - in the land of the blind, one eyed man is the king