Secularism: A Nation that lost its focus

The idea of writing about “Secularism” caught my attention after understanding the present situation of India. People are being segregated based on religion and caste. I was listening to a song by the name of “Mile Sur Mera Tumahara (a song that has been sung in 14 languages spoken in India)”, which reflects the culture of India back in the 80s. I reminisce this song as it used to play on Doordarshan (90s kids can relate much here) as an advertisement during 2003-‘04 during morning hours. At that time, I used to get offended as this song was 6-minute-long and would often disorient me as I keenly watched Shaktimaan (Indian version of Star Wars). Quoting Azgar Khan (a quote as seen at the beginning of the video), “India is a country of rich cultural heritage with different colours, religions, languages, castes and way of life. But there is always Unity in Diversity. Our spirit of unity got us Independence, and the same is needed for continuous growth and welfare of the Nation. Only when there is peace, we can develop into a great nation.” Honestly, this song makes more sense to me now as India is being divided and somehow the attention of people is drawn towards the issues which are redundant. Some people (blinded by the love for power) might deny this fact in ignorance and call this as a “goofy” propaganda. The consequences of “divide and rule” based on religion and caste affect not just some people but a whole nation. People from various societies and societies, in turn, form a nation. What I have observed from the present situation of India is that the freedom of speech and expression are being suppressed in some or the other way. This is not a sign of a secular nation, where leaders are not open to criticism and questions. When a leader is not open to criticism and questions, it’s obvious that he/she wants the things to happen their way rather than what the common people demand. In political terms, this is called “dictatorship” (this is quite straightforward here). I’m not hitting on an individual leader (sarcastically enough for a sensible person to understand) but that’s the truth. I believe that the strong foundation for a nation is when common people are given the right to question everything they doubt or have questions about. People, in this case, are aware of their surroundings and don’t blindly follow anything or anyone that comes their way. They don’t indulge themselves in trivial issues. Considering the countries where religion dominates everything else, can never reach their full potential in the world because the people living in those nations are discriminated based on religion and caste. Nobody likes discrimination. Everyone wants to be treated equally with love and respect.

An extra footnote in the end as I recall the achievements of this great nation, India I’m always fascinated (and will always be) by the story/struggle of the great mathematician S. Ramanujan. His groundbreaking research abilities brought pride to the Indian nation in the past and some of his research works are still relevant today. Let me ask you a question here, have you ever heard someone say ,”Ramanujan was a Hindu first, a resident of Madras second and then an Indian? An objective answer to this question is a simple No. He was an Indian first irrespective of which religion he belonged to. Aryabhata, who discovered 0, without which no numbers after 9 would exist, let alone advanced mathematics, was an Indian first. Dr A.P.J Abdul Kalam, the rocket man of India was an Indian first no matter whichever religion he kept close to his heart. Also, William Carey’s contribution to the social reform movement, etc. There are numerous small examples, though the contributions were not as big as these, but they changed and moved the society in some way or the other. Such great contributions were made in every field from a diverse set of people for a diverse country, but still united at heart.   

My thoughts on Secularism

In my opinion, “secularism is the only way forward” to live in this changing and a megadiverse world. Secularism corresponds to “respect” all other religion in a secular society without a pre-conceived notion of religious supremacy. The term “respect” is not the same as “to worship or engage in all the religions”. I have often heard people confusing between the term, “respect” and “worship”. Worshipping all the religions is like painting all the objects with the same colour. This leads to a pluralistic society where religious supremacy is at the heart of people. In this type of society, people think that their beliefs are the best one no matter how if they sound absurd. At the backdrop of any religion is an evaluative term called “cultural attachment”. If we try to tweak someone’s religion, we end up questioning and changing their cultural belief systems and values. Quoting sociologist Daniel Bell, he said: “Culture is the effort to provide a coherent set of answers to the existential situations that confront all human beings in the passage of their lives”.

These answers as Daniel Bell describes are often drawn from a long-believed cultural system which helps them to form a worldview when confronted with a decision-making situation. This is called a critical process of decision-making ability in humans. Once these belief systems are questioned or say someone presents an idea in contradiction to an existing belief, it hurts people’s sentiments/emotions. This is the reason why people have their own truths and beliefs in today’s world. What I personally think is that we should be a little flexible with our set of principles and ideas. I myself am a Christian, but I would not like the fact if Christianity does not teach me to see a person and a heart behind an action (ironically, it does teach me so). Logically speaking, everyone should be given a chance to express themselves and speak their defence irrespective of their background which specifically includes “religion”. We are living in times when religion is a personal belief and should never be “imposed” on someone else. Try understanding the term “impose” here. Imposing a belief system (when it comes to any religion) involves proselytizing which should be discouraged as far as I believe. Religion is not a market product which should be sold in order to have profit. People believe in truth after observing certain trends in their lifestyles. They see their lifestyle/habits changed because they followed certain rules or prayed to some XYZ. I personally believe that if we keep on questioning other religion and try to prove every time that ours has a supreme value over the other (no matter even if it is) we end up destroying a relationship. This is never a desired situation in a healthy community. A place where one-person reveres another and treats them with love and respect. I’m not directing my views and thoughts for a society to be utopian or idealistic. This can never happen as none of us are perfect and will never be until we are buried under the dirt. But we can sure try and progress to make this better if not perfect.    

In the end, I would like to quote Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, he said, “For great men, religion is a way of making friends, small people make religion a fighting tool”.