December 29, 2016

India: Secularism is not opposed to religion - Romila Thapar

The Hindu


Secularism is not opposed to religion: Romila Thapar

Thiruvananthapuram: Secularism is not opposed to religion, but is opposed to the religious control over civil institutions, law and governance, historian Romila Thapar has said. She was delivering the presidential address at a public seminar on ‘Making of Modern India and Secularism’ here on Tuesday, ahead of the 77th session of the Indian History Congress, set to begin here on Wednesday.
“Religion has two aspects – personal beliefs and the social institutions that are controlled by a religious ideology. When I say secularism is not opposed to religion, what I mean is that it is not opposed to the personal belief and faith that one may have. There is also a distinction between faith and religion, because religion incorporates the social institutions that it controls, including customs, identity at birth, marriage, inheritance and education. Control over education is absolutely crucial because it is the root of explaining the world to every individual human being. Secularism is thus opposed to this control and the treating of religion as the pre-eminent factor in society,” she said.
She was taking off from Carnatic musician T.M.Krishna’s proposition earlier in the session that the secular cannot say that it is in loggerheads with faith.

“Secular is not limited by religious faith. The idea of being secular is about humanity, about feeling for another human being. Within that idea is automatically embedded, every faith, every belief, every agnostic, every atheist. Secular is something larger. It is an experience of human beings and within that every other aspect of human beings must come in. The secular has to say that faith lives below my umbrella. Unless we reconfigure the secular as umbrella within which all conflicts exists, all anger exists, hatred and love exists, the secular will fail,” said Krishna.
He said that the fact that the secular was not in independent India’s constitution is something we should celebrate, because it was accepted as a natural way of living.
“Within the secular, they could love their Gods or hate them. Can secular represent that, is the challenge we have to pass. Because today we live in times when the word secular is being used purposely as being something that will break people of faith,” he said.
Ms.Thapar said that secularism is essential to democracy because “it cannot function if you insist on permanent majority communities, defined by religion or caste”.
“The basic feature of democracy is that the majorities emerge with each issue that is being discussed. So, the same people do not form the majority in all situations. Majorities emerge from discussion and debate and not pre-determined by religion or caste or language. Democratic process demands that there be openness for the creation of discussion and debate and the emergence of majority opinion. Democracy requires secularism because unless you have equal status of all citizens in society, it cannot function,” she said.