Secularism and Secular Values

By Dr SL Peeran
S L Peeran
Secularism is the principle of the separation of the government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries. One manifestation of secularism is asserting the right to be free from religious rule and teachings or in a state declared, to be neutral on matters of belief, from the imposition by government of religion or religious practices upon its people. Another manifestation of secularism is the view that public activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be uninfluenced by religious beliefs and/or practices.
Secularism draws its intellectual roots from Greek and Roman philosophers such as Epicurus and Marcus Aurelius, from enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, Dines Diderot, Voltaire, Baruch Spinoza, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine and from more recent free thinkers and atheists such as Robert Ingersoll and Bertrand Russell.
Secularism means setting up democratically elected governments and laws passed by parliament and legislatures uninfluenced by religious dictates and scriptures. The rule of law is supreme and all citizens are equal in the eye of law. The actions are judged by courts manned by skilled judges and proceedings are conducted with help of trained and skilled lawyers. The government collects taxes direct and indirect from citizens and manufactures and sellers of goods and provider of services under due process of legislated laws. No person can be punished, censured without due process of law and can be done only after following the principles of natural justice. The state is governed by its constitution wherein is enshrined the fundamental rights to its citizens.
Historical Background
India on gaining Independence adopted secular socialistic democracy with three wings –Legislature, Judiciary and Executive. The Constitution of India enshrined basic fundamental rights to its citizens and all citizens to be treated equally and guarantying equal protection with reservation for socially and economically backward classes including scheduled castes and schedule tribes for their uplift and betterment. People are granted liberty and freedom to practice their faith and religion. Liberty and freedom are the foundation stones of the Indian Constitution.
Secular Society
In studies of religion, modern democracies are generally recognized as secular. This is due to the near complete freedom of religion (beliefs on religion generally are not subject to legal or social sanctions), and the lack of authority of religious leaders over political decisions. Nevertheless, religious beliefs are widely considered by most to be a relevant part of the political discourse in many of the secular countries (most notably in the western society and the United States). This contrasts with other western countries like Britain and France where religious references are generally considered out-of-place in mainstream politics.
The aspirations of a secular society could characterize a secular society as one which:
 – refuses to commit itself as a whole to any one view of the nature of the universe and the role of man in it;
– is not homogenous, but is pluralistic;
– is tolerant. It widens the sphere of private decision-making;
– is a society without any official images. Nor is there a common ideal type of behavior with universal application.
While every society must have some common aims, which implies they must be agreed on methods of problem-solving, and a common frame work of law; in a secular society these are as limited as possible.
Problem solving is approached rationally, through examination of the facts. While the secular society does not set any overall aim, it helps members realize their aims.
Positive ideals behind the secular society are –
·         Deep respect for individuals and small groups of which they are a part.
·         Equality of all people.
·         Each person should be helped to realize their particular excellence.
·         Breaking down of the barriers of class and caste.
Some societies become increasingly secular as the result of social processes, rather than through the actions of a dedicated secular movement; this process is known as secularization.
Secularism in India 
Secularism in India means equal treatment of all religions by the state. The laws implicitly require the state and its institutions to recognize and accept all religions, enforce parliamentary laws instead of religious laws, and accept pluralism. India does not have an official state religion. The people of India have freedom of religion, and the state treats all individuals as equal citizens regardless of their religion. In matters of law in modern India, however, the applicable code of law is unequal and India’s personal laws – on matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, alimony – vary from religion to religion.
Secularism as practiced in India, with its marked differences from the western practice of secularism, is a controversial topic in India. Supporters of the Indian concept of secularism claim it respects Muslim men’s religious rights and recognizes that they are culturally different from the Indians of other religions. Secularism is a divisive, politically charged topic in India.
Secularism in India, thus, does not mean separation of religion from state. Instead, secularism in India means that the state is neutral to all religious groups. Religious laws in personal domains, particularly for Muslim Indians, supersede parliamentary laws in India; and currently, in some situations, the state partially finances certain religious schools.
Secular values
The secular mind is better equipped than the religious to reach reasoned and compassionate judgments. Religious minds tend to become irrational and fanatical leading to inter-religious differences, violence and bloodshed. The more potent form of faith seeks to justify doctrines and practices that defy rationality and compassion. The religious minded refuse abortion, even a case of rape, incest or severe foetal abnormality. Secular mind on the other hand values human rights and makes the society tolerant.
Therefore, secular values are simply those values derived not from any religious source; they are separate from any religious concerns; they stem from “Secular” meaning, not connected to any dogma or doctrines. Anything said to be secular, including values, is that which has been reached through purely ‘human’ means.
Secular values are those values which people come up with that focus on the effects certain actions actually have on people (other organisms, the planet etc) instead of ignoring /overriding such concerns to focus on the commands of some religious text/traditions or whatever. Secular values are derived from rationality and are based on scientific findings but not on superstitious beliefs or religious dogmas.
Secular humanism is a comprehensive life stance or world view; and it embraces human reason, metaphysical naturalism, altruistic morality and distributive justice – and consciously rejects super natural claims, theistic faith and religiosity, pseudo-science, and superstitions.  It is sometimes referred to as Humanism. Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and doesn’t accept supernatural views of reality (According to the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), Bylaw 5.1)
Countering fascism and fanaticism to strengthen secularism and secular values
In a parliamentary democracy, the majority party holds the reigns of the government. If a party has strong religious leaning with religious ideals as its agenda, then its functioning and rule is bound to effect the ideals and values of secularism. This has been demonstrated in our country with umpteen communal riots and suppression of rights of minorities, schedule caste, tribes and backward classes. Recent excesses shown in enforcement of ban on cow slaughter is one pointer. Ram temple issue also brought in series of communal clashes and affected the harmony and peace of the country. The question facing the country is: How to strengthen secularism and secular values by facing the challenges posed by fascism and fanaticism?
The old Indian spiritual life and custom have been replaced by western modes and western way of life. The two great world wars had a little impact on our country; instead, it stirred political consciousness among the masses, which played a great part in bringing the change in the life style of Indian people. The traditional caste system and the hold of upper castes have been broken and a more cohesive society has been created. The social revival of the masses with the ushering in of right of self-determination, rule of law and concept of social welfare has indeed shaken the traditional faction ridden caste society. The improvement of social lives of poor masses, schedule caste and tribes, by enforcement of democracy into the hitherto highly religious society has brought in tremendous changes in the social life style of Indian people. The economic changes and the change of the village life-pattern to a more sophisticated urban life have equally not been free from malaise. The emergence of evils of western civilizations like poverty, crime, prostitution, alcoholism, juvenile delinquency, gambling, beggary, materialism, consumerism, dissolution of joint family, divorce and break down of traditional social life has helped in the growth of religious fanaticism. At one hand the concept of state and involvement of people in their state affairs has become total, but on the other hand the waning of spiritual life is also apparent. The growth of materialistic life style, high cost of living and the inability of political parties to solve these issues and help in development of socialistic philosophy and democratic life style has thereby created a watershed in the Indian polity. This has been a major cause of the revival of religious fanaticism. Even before the concept of free thought and expression and democratic living could become a way of life of the last Indian, the religious forces have revived there by effecting secular values and secularism. These religious forces are more from persons who are pseudo-spiritualists and godmen. The true spiritual guides and philosophers of India, who have mass influence, have become scarce and rare. This has given room for fascist forces to grow by leaps and bounds endangering secularism and secular values among the Indian people. The greatest harm the fascist, fundamentalist and religious politicians have done is to run down the supremacy of the rule of law and to weaken the functioning of the democratic institutions, besides causing the destruction of the growth of true spiritualism.
The answer lies in the search to bring in cohesion between philosophies of ancient spiritual sages with those of the present concept of rule of law. The way to counter fascism and strengthen secularism and secular values is to meet its challenges posed by materialism and consumerism. It is by reviving true spiritualism in the Indian religious context rather than use of ritualistic symbols, religious rites in all secular democratic institutions.  Use of religion in politics should be prohibited. Political parties should not be allowed to use any religious rites or symbols. All religious processions in public places should be discouraged. Democratic living and only true spiritualists should be encouraged, who give the message of brotherhood, humanism, compassion and mercy.
The sacred spaces in India where people practicing their respective religions gather to celebrate common festivals are required to be strengthened to help secularism and secular values. So also secular values have to be strengthened in all public schools, public institutions and public places.

No comments :

Post a Comment

We welcome your comments related to the article and the topic being discussed. We expect the comments to be courteous, and respectful of the author and other commenters. Setu reserves the right to moderate, remove or reject comments that contain foul language, insult, hatred, personal information or indicate bad intention. The views expressed in comments reflect those of the commenter, not the official views of the Setu editorial board. प्रकाशित रचना से सम्बंधित शालीन सम्वाद का स्वागत है।