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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The genesis of secularism - II

The constituent assembly decided upon a civil code based on religions. I will comment on more of this later. My original intention was to write on this aspect and then write on the reactions thereof. However, I would like to preempt the debate on secularism in the constituent assembly by presenting the viewpoint of a great intellectual once again, a liberal Indian who was appalled by the onset of a faith based state.

Many years ago, I read Mr. Mohammedali Carim Chagla's autobiography, 'Roses in December' Mr. M.C.Chagla was an eminent lawyer who worked for Jinnah and the Muslim League (Bombay) before it became separatist. He became the Chief Justice of the Bombay High court, Ambassador to the USA, Mexico, Cuba, Vice- chancellor University of Bombay, High Commissioner to England, Minister of Education (UGC pay scales etc. were his creation) and so on. This book was written in 1973-74. and published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay. This is an excerpt from Roses in December, one of the truly great autobiographies written by an eminent Indian.

Excerpt begins
The Congress government has also often followed what I can only call the old British policy of communalism. In my view, if it is communalism to pass over and ignore a man with merit simply because he happens to be a Muslim or a Christian or a Parsi, it is also communalism to appoint a person merely because he happens to be a Muslim or a member of some other minority community. It is injurious to the interests of the minorities themselves to have posts and offices filled by men who have no merit, merely because they want representation in high offices. The minorities come to expect that they will get certain posts whether the men deserve to get them or not. It is much better that they learnt to work hard and deserve the post.

When I'm told that there is no minority representation in any particular post, I often ask the question; Is there any deserving person who has been passed over? If so, it is injustice, and we must fight against it. But if there is no deserving person, then to clamor for a post is really to be communal. And to yield to that clamour is also to betray a communal spirit. It amounts to a reproduction to the bad old days of discredited British policies. Such policies result in bitterness between majority and minority communities, and lead to a sense of frustration on the part of a member of the majority community, where legitimate claims were overlooked in favor of a less deserving member of a minority community.

Consider the attitude of the government to the question of a Uniform Civil Code. Although the Directive Principles of the State enjoins such a code, Government has refused to do anything about it on the plea that the minorities will resent any attempt at imposition. Unless they are agreeable it would not be fair and proper to make the law applicable to them. I wholly and emphatically disagree with this view. The Constitution is binding on everyone, majority and minority; and if the Constitution contains a directive that directive must be accepted and implemented. Jawaharlal showed great strength and courage in getting the Hindu Reform Bill passed, but he accepted the policy of *laissez-faire* where the Muslims and other minorities were concerned. I am horrified to find that in my country, while monogamy has been made the law for the Hindus, Muslims can still indulge in the luxury of polygamy. It is an insult to womanhood; and Muslim women, I know, resent this discrimination between Muslim women and Hindu women.

I believe in democracy as an article of faith. To me, it is much more than the general elections, adult franchise, parliamentary forms of government, cabinet responsibility, and so on. These are all very important, and they have to be maintained, but more than that, one must have an outlook on life and an attitude which is democratic. I believe in democracy because democracy means freedom, not unbridled freedom but freedom consistent with order and security of the State. It also means respect for the individual and his right to think his own thoughts, to express his thoughts freely and to experiment with his own life in a way that does no harm to others.

Read the whole thing.


Blogger history_lover said...

As an Indian muslim I prefer following muslim personal law and I am sure many traditional muslims share my view.I feel that is more pluralistic. and I resent it deeply that I am NOT allowed to follow my own religion which will damage my preparations for akhirah ...

BTW M.C Chagla is widely reviled among traditional muslims because he does not share the vision of preparing for the akhirah .He never really understood the vision of Islamic law anyway.
On a lighter note,the Directive Principles of state policy also call for prohibition which no seems keen to enforce ;-)

10:35 PM  
Blogger Quizman said...


That would be a view on diversity, a topic large enough on its own. But it would be incompatible with secularism - at least per the original definition of the word which I had included in Part I precisely for this reason [the separation of church and state].

6:53 AM  
Blogger doubtinggaurav said...

History Lover,

In case religious directive goes against natural justice and enlightened priciple of equality as recognised by civilization,in that case these fundamental rights will take priority.

How would you like if some Hindu says that since it is his religious duty, he will practice caste based discrimination and sati.

Your view which ignores equality for theology is what impedes muslim's progress.


I think that the term "secularism"
doesn't occur in constitution (not sure on this point).
It was only during emergecny that it was added in the forward.
I think the reason secularism was not added in constituion was it was considered too vague and when applied to individual meant atheism.
I think when state is truly seperated from religion, it means it can not promote any belief including atheism.
I think one major problem with our constituion is that it has been tempered to satisfy ideological whims and appease vote banks


7:35 AM  
Blogger Pankaj said...

Hello Quizman,

I have been reading your two posts on secularism and awaiting the other posts with much anticipation. I am in agreement with much of your ideas put forth in the first post.

I would also write on the subject and notify you in due time.

To History Lover,

Your point about preparing for "akhirah" is something new I learnt about Islam. However, we are living in a democratic republic of India with a liberal society, which needs to be made secular with secular laws. Your point about "preparing for akhirah" would have been valid in an Islamic state which India is definately not.

Your other point: "Directive Principles of state policy also call for prohibition which no seems keen to enforce" is in my view a feeble attempt to be too clever by half.


11:11 AM  
Blogger history_lover said...

@pankaj preparing for akhirah (Day of judgement) is after all why we practise religion anyway.That is independent of the fact whether someone is living in a islamic state or not.
In fact I would say that traditional muslim criticism of islamism/political islam is based on the fact that is (islamism) too much focused on worldly "success" and power
As for some aspects of islamic law contradicting current notions of "equality and civilization" that is a different debate altogether which I will not get into here.
As for understanding the vision of islam may be you could go and read about it here :

5:05 PM  
Blogger Quizman said...

thanks for your comments all. I will write more on secularism and its origins , especially on doubtinggaurav's point on its basis in the constitution soon.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Nitin said...

I picked up Sam Harris' book, The End of Faith, at the airport a couple of days ago. I think its essential reading for those interested in secularism.

I've not finished more than two chapters, but the thesis he makes is that religious moderates are a problem too, not least because they allow dogma to go unchallenged.

This will leave the secularists divided - between those who respect all religions and those who disrespect them.

10:49 AM  
Blogger Quizman said...

Thanks for the tip, Nitin. I'll try and get that book.

10:36 AM  

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