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ICC Note: Hindu radicals in India have declared their intent to remove the word ‘secular’ from the Indian constitution. This declaration has many minorities, including Christians, concerned that greater persecution awaits their communities in India. If the word ‘secular’ is removed from the constitution, what hope do minorities have of being treated equally? 

08/31/2018 India (The Diplomat) – It is a dangerous time to be in India, especially for people who believed in the idea of India after the partition with Pakistan, and later generations that thrived on that idea. The idea of a nation of people from different regions, of different religions, and of different castes and colors is at risk.

The Hindu right-wing in India is busy trying to change the social fabric of the nation and turn it into a Hindu nation—run by the upper-caste Hindus. The goal now for them is to gain traction by changing the constitution. On August 27, Sanatan Sanstha, a Hindutva outfit in India, relatively unknown till a few years ago, held a press conference in Mumbai to demand removal of the word ‘secular’ from the Indian constitution.

The reason for such a demand, they believe, is because a secular constitution necessarily puts the people from the country’s majority religion at a disadvantage. The Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rose to power at the center in 2014, working on the fear that somehow India’s Hindu majority, who account for almost 80 percent of the population, are at risk of being taken over and dominated by minorities.

Understandably, working on this ideology of hate, there has been a tremendous rise in violence against the minorities (Muslims, Dalits, and Christians, in particular) in India, ever since they came to power. While the BJP cannot openly endorse such views, given the structure of the Indian constitution currently, it tries to make arguments about tinkering with the constitution mainstream through organizations like Sanatan Sanstha.

A little perspective is important here. The Indian interpretation of the word secular is different from how the western world understands it. While the general understanding in the west is that secularism is about non-religious matters or maybe atheism; in India, it veers towards being equally respectful of all religions. In the constitution, though, it stands for equal treatment of all religions. The word was added to the Preamble to the Constitution in 1976 through the 42nd Amendment during former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s tenure.

Per the Constitution, the state is equidistant from all religions, and every citizen is equal in the eyes of the law and enjoys same rights. The BJP—even the top brass including prime minister Narendra Modi—has regularly distanced itself from the word. It is seen by the party as a dirty word and a dirty ideology, practiced by intellectuals (another dirty word, under the current regime). The effort now is to mainstream fundamentalism and change the structure of Indian society as one knows it. Why must the word secular put the majority Hindus at a disadvantage, unless the goal is to put the minorities at a special disadvantage?

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