‘Secular’ and ‘communal’ are bad words in India unlike in any other part of the world. Most countries in the world are secular in the sense they don’t have state religions; they keep politics and religion apart from each other. ‘Communal’ means belonging or related to a community and has no negative connotations except in India.
We Indians are queer indeed. We elected a party to power in the Centre because it promised to deliver us development. But from the time the party started governing us, we started entertaining ourselves by abusing some people as ‘secular’ or ‘pseudo-secular.’ The latter term seems to have gone out of fashion. The country is polarised today into the ‘secular’ and the ‘communal.’ If you believe in some religion or god, you are communal. If you demand peace and prosperity, you are filthy secular.
Rajnath Singh, our Home Minister, wants to cleanse the Indian vocabulary of secularism. He tried to sound profoundly philosophical by adding two new words to the country’s neologism [which relies more on slogans like swachch Bharat and Achche din than on new coinages] by introducing Dharam Nirpeksh and Panth Nirpeksh. The phrases may make little sense to more than half of the Indians.
Making sense hardly matters. When Manuel I, King of Portugal, issued a decree in 1496 that all the Jews in the country should either convert to Christianity or leave the country [which is plagiarised as one of the goals of Hindutva as envisaged by Golwalkar in We or Our Nation Defined], the real intention was to subjugate the perceived enemies. Those Jews who got ready to leave the country were stopped at the port by soldiers and priests and were converted by force. The new converts came to be called New Christians who were never given equal status.
A decade after the conversions, there was a terrible drought and onset of plague in the country. The entire blame for the evils was placed on the New Christians. They were converted by force. And now they were accused of being the cause of drought and plague. Those wielding power always find some enemies. Or else create them. Enemies are essential for upholding political power.
In 1506, during a prayer service in a church in Portugal somebody claimed to have seen the illuminated face of Jesus on the altar. One of the faithful in the church, who was perhaps more secular than religious, said that the illumination must have been a reflection of the candle on the crucifix. That man was immediately dragged out of the church by the hair and beaten to death mercilessly. That man was a New Christian.
A few years later Inquisition became the most favourite entertainment in Portugal. About 40,000 people were killed in the most savage forms by the Grand Inquisitor and his ministers who were ushering development in the country – spiritual development, of course. The victims were mostly the New Christians.
Five centuries have passed. The darkness has passed from one continent to another. The robes of the inquisitors have changed colour. The war cries are very similar sometimes. But there is a veneer of sophistication being imposed from above in the form of neologisms.
Portugal learnt secularism eventually. It has no official religion today though 81% of the people are Christians [the percentage is the same for the majority community in India]. Article 13 of the Portuguese Constitution states that "No one may be privileged, favoured, prejudiced, deprived of any right or exempted from any duty for reasons of ancestry, sex, race, language, territory of origin, religion, political or ideological beliefs, education, economic situation, social circumstances or sexual orientation."
India has a Constitution which extends similar rights and privileges to its citizens. Why do our leaders want to change that Constitution? Why do they want us to go backward rather than forward?