India’s so-called secularism?

The Constitution declares India secular, but the government persecuted

Florets International School in Kanpur’s Gandhinagar area is owned by Hindu owners. It is viewed as a paragon of quality education and interfaith harmony.  The school had a long established tradition of beginning its morning session by reciting prayers of four religious faiths (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian). When the school reopened in 2003 after closure due to covid-19, the interfaith prayers were recited, as usual, to the morning assembly.

No-one ever objected to the practice. But some extremist Hindu outfits (Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and BJP’s leaders got inkling of the practice. On August 2, they forced a few parents to register a First Information es non-HindusReport against the school’s administration.

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The FIR inter alia accused school’s managing director, Sumeet Makhija of ‘sowing the seeds of conversion’ and indulging in “shiksha jihad” (jihad teaching). He has been booked under Section 295A (outraging religious feelings and infringing Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021). The police hastily sealed the school. The complainants said that it was never their intention to get the school closed down. They have no intention to move their wards to any other school.

The Preamble to the Indian Constitution turned India into a secular state through the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976. The underlying objective was to provide for the unity of the people of India, professing numerous faiths.  The state was bound to protect all religions equally and did not itself uphold any religion as the state religion. The secular objective of the state was specifically expressed by inserting the word ‘secular’ in the Preamble .Besides,  the liberty of ‘belief, faith and worship’ promised in the Preamble was censured by incorporating the fundamental rights of all citizens relating to ‘freedom of religion’ in Articles. 25-29. These articles guarantee to each individual freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion, assure strict impartiality on the part of the state and its institutions towards all religions.

A Christian preacher was burnt alive right in front of his two minor kids in Orissa by a serial killer Dara Singh. Several Indian states have passed anti-conversion laws. They are aimed at restricting the right to propagate religion, which is guaranteed by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.

India claims to be a secular country but unfortunately, the country’s legislative history, relating to the issue of conversion, underscores the reality that the government always harboured a grudge against conversion. Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Arunachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have passed Freedom of Religion Acts. A common feature of these anti-conversion laws is that they made so-called ‘forced conversion’ a cognizable offence under Sections 295 A and 298 of the Indian Penal Code. Several Indian states have passed anti-conversion laws.

Cognisability of the offence allowed police to harass missionaries and converts under the influence of Hindu fanatics or government functionaries. Some Indian courts intervened to stop the persecution of converts or Christian preachers. For instance, Chief Justice A.N. Ray in Reverend Stanislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh (AIR 1977 SC 908), and Yulitha v. State of Orissa and others, ruled that propagation is different from conversion. Ray observed adoption of a new religion is freedom of conscience, while conversion would impinge on ‘freedom of choice’ granted to all citizens alike. But the state governments remained nonchalant to the courts’ observations.

Fourteen US Senators sent a letter to the Secretary of State reminding him of the recommendation by the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to designate India a country of particular concern. The Senators went on to demand that “targeted sanctions” be imposed against Indian agencies and officials responsible for escalating religious intolerance and violence. According to USCIRF, violations of the religious freedom rights of minorities have reached a point where India should be considered amongst the world’s worst violators. The Senators went on to request the Secretary of State to provide Congress with reasons as to why the USCIRF recommendations are not being followed and why India is not designated “a country of particular concern”

To discourage Dalits from converting to Christianity, not only the Centre but also the Indian states have deprived ‘Dalit Christians’ of minority-status privileges. The courts’ decisions being declaratory (certiorari), not mandatory (mandamus), remained un-implemented. Interestingly, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (February 1981) advised the state government and union territories to enact laws to regulate change of religion on the lines of the existing Acts in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Arunachal Pradesh. Such legislations violate the UN Charter of Human Rights which gives a person the right to change his or her religion.

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Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power in 2014, religious intolerance and anti-Christian violence has surged across India. Six women at Kilipala village in Jagatsinghpur district (Orissa) had their heads tonsured by influential Hindus. Their offence was abandoning the Hindu faith of their own free will. Christian missionaries are harassed, deported and even killed. The Indian government ordered ‘deportation of three American preachers from the Church of Christ in North Carolina on the first available flight to the USA.’ To insult them even further, the preachers were even attacked by Hindu fanatics.

Not only Muslims but also the other minorities have a miserable plight. Article 25A of India’s Constitution provides for religious freedom. Yet, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom called for putting it on the religious freedom blacklist. The report noticed: ‘In 2019, religious freedom conditions in India experienced a drastic turn downward, with religious minorities under increasing assault’.  Not only Muslims but also Christians, Dalit (downtrodden) and other minorities are persecuted communities.

Fourteen US Senators sent a letter to the Secretary of State reminding him of the recommendation by the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to designate India a country of particular concern. The Senators went on to demand that “targeted sanctions” be imposed against Indian agencies and officials responsible for escalating religious intolerance and violence.

According to USCIRF, violations of the religious freedom rights of minorities have reached a point where India should be considered amongst the world’s worst violators. The Senators went on to request the Secretary of State to provide Congress with reasons as to why the USCIRF recommendations are not being followed and why India is not designated “a country of particular concern.”

Persecution of minorities distorts India’s secular face. The fanatic Hindus view Muslims as anti-national, terrorists, and enemies of the Hindu nation. Love jihad, “ghar wapsi” (reconversion), and cow vigilantism are tools to persecute Muslims.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi refused to condemn the lynching of the 55-year-old Muhammad Akhlaq at Dadri in Uttar Pradesh by a mob and about a hundred guards.  Muslim are treated as second-class citizens. Sikhs are treated, legally, as Hindus. They have petitioned the British parliament against this juggernaut.

Amjed Jaaved
The writer is a freelance journalist, has served in the Pakistan government for 39 years and holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law. He can be reached at [email protected]

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