We Ignore True Secularism At Our Own Peril

Synopsis: Indian state shouldn’t be running Hindu temples when it doesn’t run mosques, churches, gurdwaras.


This article highlights the essence of Secularism and how it impacts Indian culture.

What is Secularism in the Indian context?

Secularism in the Indian context does not mean that the state will stay away from religion. In India State strives to maintain equal distance and equal engagement with all religions. But it looks like India often fails this secularism test too. This can be seen from numerous cases and examples.

Pre Independence India: Before 1947

1925: British introduced the Madras Religious and Charitable Endowments Act. It brought all religious establishments under government control. But this law faced a lot of opposition from Indian minorities and so was redrafted to exclude Muslim, Christian and Parsi places of worship.

That same year the Sikh Gurdwaras Act was passed. It was to bring Sikh places of worship under a Sikh council. In effect, government control was only left in place on Hindu temples.

Read more: Women as temple priests: An idea whose time has come

After Independence

Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959: This act gives state governments the power to exercise control over the finances of over four lakh Hindu places of worship while leaving out government control on mosques, churches and gurdwaras.

This was followed by similar legislation being passed in most South Indian states. For example, while Tamil Nadu controls and manages 44,000 temples, Andhra Pradesh controls 33,000 temples.

Read more: Archakas of all hues : About religious reforms

What was the motive behind this legislation?

The intent of such legislation was to avoid mismanagement and misappropriation of assets by temple authorities. But this has raised its own challenges. Recently the Madras high court asked the state government to explain how 47,000 acres of temple land had gone missing from records of the state. Courts called it a form of institutionalized plunder.

Read more: States control over temples is against Secularism
What should government do to become more secular?

Give up control of Hindu temples:  As the acts majorly regulate the Hindu temples alone, this is against the notion of secularism.

Bring India under Uniform Civil Code: It would define the framework for marriage, divorce, inheritance and many other areas. The indian government passed the Hindu Marriage Act, the Hindu Succession Act, the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act in the 1950s. But some religions continue to be guided by their personal laws.

What should be done next?

In recent years there has been much debate about secularism, communalism, fundamentalism, Islamism and Talibanisation and such terms. But amongst all these, we have forgotten that India is essentially dharmic (Based on Dharma). 

As opposed to any ideology that attempts to impose a singular truth on a plural world, dharmic philosophy is plural. That is the very essence of the Upanishadic ideal of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’. The world is one family. If we want true secularism, we should walk the dharmic path.

Source: This post is based on the article ” We Ignore True Secularism At Our Own Peril” published in the Times of India on 16th September 2021.

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