Friday, July 25, 2003
Re: The Supreme Court and the Uniform Civil Code

> Chubby wrote:
> Are these your views - for a minute I thought I was reading Dilip D'Souza!

D'Souza?! Certainly not! In my understanding, ur complaint is that I am peddling the usual so-called secularist rhetoric in the name of liberal ideals. To an extent, it is true - I am indeed hoping to achieve a truly secular nation, and I am basing my reason on classical liberal ideals, which I am sure u share. However, unlike, Mr.D'Souza, what I have said is not intended to be a sentimental, heart-rending, tear-jerking anti-establishment account that appeals to nothing higher than the torso.

Moving beyond D'Souza, let me try to explain the stance clearer. My essential claim is that secularism is an overhyped, completely misinterpreted term in Indian politics. What should truly be the concern to all of us must be *equality* of all. Normally, secularism is one tool that helps achieve that goal, at least equality of all religions. Even that is not true in Indian context, because of the misinterpretation.

A secular state is indifferent to religion, something that does not pay heed to *any* specific religion. It evolves its own ethos and value system, which is most times a syncretism of local cultural tradition and Enlightenment ideas, and ideas common to any religion. However, in India, the opposite is what is called secularism - a state order that tries to satisfy the demands and desires of every religion. It ends up doing nothing but dividing up the people.

Even in a state where every single citizen is a follower of the same faith, it makes sense for the state to be secular. Why? The reason is that, while secularism is certainly helpful in achieving equality, that is not its ultimate goal. As an isolated concept, secularism has very little to equality among adherants of different faiths.

The true aim of secularism is to emancipate the populace from religious hierarchy, and vesting the individual with the state's respect. In some sense, Hinduism is the only practically hierarchical religion whose adherants have been experiencing secularism of the Indian state, as is evident in the erosion of Brahmin power over the years. In the case of minorities, however, Indian secular state, has always been empowering the religious orthodoxy and allowing them to ride rough shod over the lay folk, the concrete example of which was witnessed in the Shah Bano case.

Returning to the meaning of true secularism, the state and the Law should be completely blind to the religion of a particular individual, and set out its own parallel rules that, while carefully avoiding, as much as possible, trampling on the sensitivity of any believer, creates equality of all citizens, and inculcates ethos and values for all people in common. These shared values should bind people across all communal lines. For example, ethos such as respect for others' independence, rights and privacy, deference to the common law are all ethos that a state should inculcate, beyond to the individual's natural affinity towards his communal affiliation and its laws and ethos.

That caveat "as far as possible" is very important. Some times, it is essential that the state asserts its authority, in the course of administration. For example, a state can require a person (irrespective of his/her faith) to register her birth/marriage/death etc. Even if this is violative of his/her faith, since the state has a genuine interest in doing this, it could not be held as a violation by the state. In legal parlance, this is called strict scrutiny. In fact, this very order caused disturbances in Hyderabad recently when some Muslim groups objected to it (Apparently, they believed they needed to register only with Allah - if only we had an import filter for His Divine Database!). In true secular states, the state would have to overrule such frivolous objections - which, as could be expected, did not happen in AP.

Where then IS the limit for the state's power to enforce? That is where individual liberty comes in. Thus, the limiting criterion, as it is called, in a secular state is not really deference to religious sentiments, but to the individual citizen's liberty.

If the state is not secular, probability favors the situation where the state (esp a democratic one) leans to the majority's interests, sooner or later, due to their sheer number. The only pre-requisite for that the majority unite. This could not be good for the minorities or the population in general.

Even in a truly secular state, if a group divorces its rights from that of the rest of the populace, it essentially puts those rights at risk of being eroded by the others, who have nothing to lose by such erosion, but possibly something to gain. Hence my previous conclusion that the true interests of the minorities, in a true secularism, is in tying its rights to that of the majority.

As usual, I would welcome any criticism or comments.


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