Sophia Marinho de Lemos

 

In states where the majority of the population belong to a certain religion the boundary between religion and government becomes permeable, an example of this is that of Tamil Nadu where the state government manages the Hindu temples and in Punjab a declared Sikh political party usually controls the state assembly. 7 These cases openly contest India’s notion of nationalist secularization.

Ninian Smart defines secular nationalism has a concept that encompasses; doctrine, myth, ethics, ritual, experience, and social organization8 this criteria for a secular system shares a striking resemblance with the framework for religion as both demand complete loyalty to those who abide by it. Perhaps the similarity between the two is unavoidable as the Indian population are accustomed to living by the system of worship and faith. Though Congress may claim to be a secular organization, India’s government has consistently been accused of having religious inclination and has consequently often been labelled a ‘pseudosecular’ state.

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9 Many Hindus believe that the government is inclined to support Muslims, Sikhs and other minority groups rather than catering for Hindu needs whereas the members of the minority religious communities see the situation in reverse and subsequently tension often arises. A notable feature of Indian politics since the 1960’s has been the growth of militant ideologies that cater for one specific religious tradition, these groups continuously call for their faith to be recognized and adhered to.

These militant organizations flaming from religious fundamentalism have had a huge impact on public life in the form of terrorism, rioting and the creation of religious based political parties and have consequently provided a major challenge to the political institution of India. An example of such an organization is the RSS which was founded in 1925 by middle-class Hindus whose main mission was to contest the appeal of a secular society and instead remain loyal to ‘mother India’ by reviving the traditional values of a Hindu India.

10 Nonetheless far more extreme are the groups of Muslim, Sikh and Hindu fundamentalists who frequently commit acts of terrorism or present violent demonstrations in attempts to make their voices heard. Collective action and group mobilization has greatly increased during the past two decades adopting numerous forms, these include the rise of identity politics by majority and minority groups based upon characterizations such as religion and caste, increase in protest groups, ascending use of violence and alternative politics and secular politics of social movements.

11 In particular one may examine the rise in identity politics between the 1980’s and the 1990’s among religious communities and note the social conflict and violence that has come of a result of it. It could be debated that these organizations make religion politically important because they impose their ideologies onto the public and are often invasive of peoples’ privacy and right to belief. As religion plays such a vital role in the lives of Indians it is often used as a tool by politicians to win votes. The promotion of religion is not unusual in Indian politics and has proved to be a useful means of mobilizing entire communities.

Thakur states that ‘an astonishing number of Indians of all religions believe that religious intolerance and militancy is provoked by politicians,’12 and this notion is very much correct. The federal system of India forms an ideal set up for local religious values to be represented and to often be a decisive factor in national elections. What comes as a result of this system is a set up where strong local parties are able to be elected into national parliament and the representative national parties must thus campaign for the support of the states and in return cater for local issues, such as religious belief.

As a result religion finds itself as being a prominent topic when it comes to electoral campaigning. Examples of this are found in various parties, in the Punjab the Akali Dal use their demand for a separate Sikh state to obtain the large Sikh vote which is local to that region and similarly in the predominantly Muslim states Islamic nationalist movements try to draw attention to the unjustness of Congress and its neglect of Muslim needs such as the economic inequality that is often seen as a root of tension.

It would be nai?? ve to assume that Congress despite its claim to be fully secular did not also manipulate the weight of religion, often Congress has been known to use the controversial topic of the Hindu language as means of attracting votes. Other prevailing factors manipulated by politicians are those of caste and region both equally problematic concerns. Caste is a product of the Hinduism by which people are born into a class system that they are confined to for their lives.

Caste is in fact illegal though the state accepts its existence and despite Nehru’s condemning of the caste system it must be taken into account that by reforming the caste system one would have to tamper in the cultural and religious traditions of Indian society. If one were to appreciate caste as ultimately a religious issue then the importance of religion in Indian society is further increased since caste determines ones’ economic situation, profession and even delves so deep into the private sphere as to determine peoples’ marital rights.

India has a history of religious conflict but it must also be appreciated that India’s history has represented remarkable harmony between a population of such diverse origin and belief. Religion is such an important issue in Indian politics because it plays such a significant role in the nations’ culture. The dispersal of religious groups has often led to problems within the nation as minority religions wish to be better represented or in the more extreme cases desire secession from India.

Partition fundamentally created two separate states divided by religion in the hope that both could live in peace, yet religious fundamentalism has led to tension and violence along the boarders and within the nations themselves. India’s main predicament is that she faces a nation divided by scores of issues including language, region, the caste system, ethnicity and of course religion. Though India is a secular republic it retains a population which prioritizes religion and thus it is unfeasible to govern the nation neglecting the numerous faiths.

If India is to be truly secular the entire culture of the nation would have to transform and at least temporarily this is an improbably solution.

Word Count: 1991 Bibliography Andersen, Walter K. and Damle, D Shridhar, The Brotherhood in Saffron: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Revivalism (Boulder, Colo. : Westview Press, 1987) Hardgrave, Robert L. and Kochanek, Stanley A. Jr, India; Government and Politics in a Developing Nation,(Orlando; Harcourt and Brace Company, 2000) Harrison, S., India and Pakistan: The First Fifty Years, (United Kingdom; Cambridge University Press, 1999)

Hewitt, Vernon, The New International Politics of South Asia, (Manchester; Manchester University Press, 1997) Hiro, D. Inside India Today, (London; Routledge and Kegan Ltd. , 1976) Juergensmeyer, Mark, Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, (Oxford: Oxford India Paperbacks, 1996) Smart, Ninian, ‘Religion, Myth, and Nationalism’, in Merkyl, Peter H. and Smart, Ninian, eds. , Religion and Politics in the Modern World (New York: New York University, 1983)

Thakur, R. Ayodhya and the Politics of India’s Secularism A Double-Standards Discourse, (California; The Regents of the University of California, 1993) http://www. indianchild. com/india_religion. htm http://www. censusindia. net/religiondata/Summary%20Hindus. pdf 1 Juergensmeyer, Mark, Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, (Oxford: Oxford India Paperbacks, 1996) p. 15 2 Ibid. 3 http://www. censusindia. net/religiondata/Summary%20Hindus. pdf 4 Hewitt, Vernon, The New International Politics of South Asia, (Manchester; Manchester University Press, 1997) p.

126 5 Thakur, R. Ayodhya and the Politics of India’s Secularism A Double-Standards Discourse, (California; The Regents of the University of California, 1993), p. 647 6 Hardgrave, Robert L. and Kochanek, Stanley A. Jr, India; Government and Politics in a Developing Nation,(Orlando; Harcourt and Brace Company, 2000), p155 7 http://www. indianchild. com/india_religion. htm 8 Smart, Ninian, ‘Religion, Myth, and Nationalism’, in Peter H. Merkyl and Ninian Smart, eds. , Religion and Politics in the Modern World (New York: New York University 1983) p. 27

9 Juergensmeyer, Mark, Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, ( Oxford: Oxford India Paperbacks, 1996) p. 12 10 Andersen, Walter K. and Damle, D Shridhar, The Brotherhood in Saffron: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Revivalism (Boulder, Colo. : Westview Press, 1987) p. 83 11 Hardgrave, Robert L. and Kochanek, Stanley A. Jr, India; Government and Politics in a Developing Nation,(Orlando; Harcourt and Brace Company, 2000), p184 12 Thakur, R. Ayodhya and the Politics of India’s Secularism A Double-Standards Discourse, (California; The Regents of the University of California, 1993), p. 655.

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