Is India heading towards a theocratic nation ?

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Does secularism then have a futureBy Muskan Saifi

Nada new under the sun, controversies over religious affairs in a diverse country like ours have been a bagatelle for the last few years now, oodles of visible political slugfest is unfolding on communally sensitive issues resulting in gut-wrenching bloodshed of the masses. How can we even expect the vitals like financial inclusion, healthcare management or agricultural reforms to stand out there in the headlines when the regime we cast a vote for, was solely to feed the communal rot festering within us.
Incidents of religious intolerance like Gujarat riots in 2002, Anti- Christian riots in 2008, the very recent Delhi riots in 2020, and now the echoing current Hijab row controversy have been snowballing in the southern land of India, distracting the voters from the very pressing issues of the nation like employment, yet again.

The matter got flared up when six female students of Kundapura PU college in Udupi district of Karnataka were barred from attending classes wearing a Hijab(headscarf) by the college authorities curtailing their very basic right to education.

Following this, a writ petition was filed in Karnataka’s high court under Article 25 & Article 26, by which the constitution guarantees the freedom of conscience & the right to profess, practice and propagate religion. The petition added that the state has the right to interfere with religious matters only if it involves an issue relating to public orders, morality and health, which is certainly not the case here. It is argued that the right of women to have the choice of dress based on religious injunctions is a fundamental right protected under Article 25(1).

Article 25-28] Freedom of Religion - Indian Constitution | FindYourAdvocate
Article 25 & 26 (Pic: Find your adovcate)

Primary and secondary education minister BC Nagesh said rules under Karnataka educational act 2013 & 2018 had empowered the universities to prescribe a dress code. Though no such uniform dress code has been mandated in the colleges for all these years, recently College Development Committee (CDC), headed by a local BJP MLA, Shetty has been insisting on putting a strict ban over hijab in the district, leaving the college authorities in a fix.

The entire incident took up a violent turn when a bunch of saffron scarved mob chanting Jai Shree Ram came up protesting against the Burqa clad students. Since then, multiple incidents of Hijab- saffron scarf row have been reported from various parts of the state. Ground reports disclosed that the mob doesn’t include the male students of the university as they were reportedly seen supporting the rights of their female classmates. Now the question arises, who sent the mob and supplied saffron scarves igniting them to protest?

Those in power have been making India going down a slippery slope by converting the temple of knowledge into a Warfield of two communities. The aim is to have the youth become so engrossed in religious matters that they forget asking about generating employment.

The hate propaganda campaign by radical organizations doesn’t worry me anymore, rather, the way that common masses embrace it so comfortably and turn into lynch mobs does.

The nation for which the attire of an individual is more concerning rather than the quality of education delivered has already been doomed in. The attire of an individual should not be a concern of the state unless it’s hindering public order, decency, morality, health or other state interests.

We need to revisit the chapters of history to see how the divide and rule policy proved out to be a nightmare for common citizens and was meant for the benefit of those in power only.

Indian philosophy of secularism represented as “Sarva Dharma Sambhava” glorifies how the path could be different but destination of all the religions is same. It ensures equal respect to all religions.
The present regime completely Neglects the Core Idea of Indian Secularism. Political parties have bizarrely interpreted ‘respect’ to mean cutting deals with aggressive or orthodox sections of religious groups at times igniting communal violence.

Politicisation of any one religious group leads to the competitive politicisation of other groups, thereby resulting in inter-religious conflict.

India’s constitutional secularism cannot be sustained by governments alone but requires collective commitment from an impartial judiciary, a scrupulous media, civil society activists, and an alert citizenry.
There is need to shift focus from a politically-led Secularism project to a socially-driven movement for justice and to achieve peaceful coexistence of different religions focusing more on the development of a pandemic hitted nation, which is certainly the need of hour.

By Muskan Saifi

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