Understanding Pluralism in India

BURAGOHAIN, MINAKSHI; MISHRA, PUNIT KUMAR (2016). 'Understanding Pluralism in India' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

One of the key debates in India that has arisen in the context of pluralism is that, a tendency towards non-accommodation of the voices of minority has come to the fore. In this context the concept of Secularism in India becomes important as many have pointed out that secularism as a concept has failed in India as it has been unable to stop communalism. The issue of secularism is pertinent in the contemporary times as these recent instances of sectarianism and religious fundamentalism have outlined politics in the recent times. The Indian conception of secularism, is distinct from its western origin and understanding. The constitutional meaning of India’s secularism is that of “equal respect to all religion”or Sarva Dharma Sambhava. The critics who attempt to problematise the concept of secularism says that it is a concept alien to Indian context and fails to reflect on the religious sentiments of the population at large. A distinct position in this arena points out that religion is a very  significant part of life of Indians and therefore separation and mutual exclusion of politics and religion is neither possible nor desirable. Some point out that the notion of dharma in India has been different and any state devoid of dharma will also be lacking a moral theory and since religion is made lower in hierarchy than state we are not able to use the resources inside religion. Secularism is, thus, seen as a Western import unsuitable for India. They also point out that  a political critique of religion is made but a similar ground for critiquing politics on moral grounds is absent. But the fact is that the Indian brand of secularism never discouraged religiosity or the celebration of religion. Though yes, secularism in India have also been uneven in its response to minority rights. However, in the recent times the rise of right wing politics and religious fundamentalism -beyond India too, have put the idea of secularism on trial and have induced a new pattern referring to the relationship of state and religion. In this context it becomes important to revisit the idea of secularism itself. There is a necessity to understand the difference between fundamentalism and religion in emerging contexts. Religion, which had declined in social and political life with industrialisation, consequent growth of capitalism and philosophy of liberalism that also brought in the so-called project of modernism, has made its presence felt the world over. Today we see an increasing role of religion in the contemporary world, making it a global phenomenon. Therefore few questions arises like, we need to redefine the idea of secularism in specific contexts or the alternative idea of religious communitarianism as suggested by many scholars is a viable option.
Keywords: Secularism, minority rights, Religion, Communalism.

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