India is a vast country, with more than a billion people of various faiths, religious sects, and cultures, etc. Its staggering diversity has been a mighty unifying factor to make it a strong and unified nation. There are various races, castes communities and religions co-existing in peace and harmony for many centuries. There are Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Christians, Buddhists, Jews and a host of others. Hindus are in majority, forming over 82% of the total population. The Muslims are the single largest minority and constitute over 11% of the total population. Next comes the Christians and the Sikhs. The communal intolerance and fight between the Hindus and the Muslims has been a legacy of the Britishers.
They followed the policy of divide and rule and this ultimately led to the partition of the sub-continent into India and Pakistan at the time of Independence in 1947. Millions of Muslims left India for good and migrated to the newly formed Pakistan and yet millions of them stayed back in India, being assured of their security, safety and religious freedom. In post-independent India, the Hindu-Muslim conflict has been more or less backed and sponsored by certain vested interests. Hindus and Muslims, by and large, are tolerant and co-operative and like to co-exist in peace, harmony and respect for each other.
Secularism is the very essence of Indian democracy. It reflects the ancient Indian tradition of religious tolerance, cooperation and mutual respect for one another. Islam came to India with the Muslim conquests. The Muslims in India make it one of the largest Islamic nations. The contribution of Islam towards India’s culture and civilisation has been very significant and lasting. It has added colour, variety, strength and richness t° Indian heritage and culture. The Christian Church here is much older than Islam. St. Thomas, one of the twelve Disciples of Christ, was the first preacher of Christianity in India. He was a contemporary of St. Peter in Rome.
The Parsis came in the eighth century, seeking refuge from religious persecution in Iran and brought Zoroastrianism. The Jews came quite early, about 2,000 years ago and settled down chiefly in Mumbai, Pune, Kochi and Delhi. In Hinduism itself, there are hundreds of sects following different religious practices, rites, rituals, and manners of worship and prayer. Sometimes the difference between one sect from the other may be as wide as that between one religion and the other. This religious diversity represents a complete and wonderful pattern of unity, integrity and wholeness.
India has been always secular and yet profoundly religious. It is in keeping with this eternal spirit that our Constitutional fathers declared India a secular state, without any discrimination on the basis of faith and religion among other things. It was a great Indian value upheld by these leaders of great wisdom in the larger interest of India and its teeming millions. The secular character of Indian polity was further strengthened under the great leadership of Mahatma Gandhi during the struggle for independence. Himself a deeply religious Hindu, he had a great respect for all other religions and faiths. Ultimately, he died at the altar of British imperialism, based on religious divide and intolerance and for the cause of religious tolerance, communal harmony, which forms the very foundation of true secularism.
There have been communal and religious riots, conflicts and conflagrations during the last 50 years of our independence but mainly because of certain vested political and sectarian interests. These politicians and their parties have been using different communities as their vote banks. Lack of education, enlightenment, economical advancement, scientific temper, and existence of orthodoxy and obscurantism, aided and abetted by certain fanatic, fundamentalist and narrow-minded elements have been the main causes of communal disharmony in India. A majority of Muslims are still backward, illiterate, superstitious and unaware of modern, economic, scientific and technological advances. They are being exploited by some religious fanatics and so-called political leaders to grind their own axe. Among the Hindus also there are sections of people subject to such exploitation. They become easy tools in the hands of these bigots and indulge in communal conflicts.
There is an urgent need to be aware of these anti-social and anti-secular forces so that they may be exposed and effectively checkmated. The economic and cultural backwardness of these sections should be removed. They should be brought into the national mainstream so as to eliminate their self-imposed isolation, alienation and backwardness. It is natural that these economically weak and vulnerable sections should succumb to narrow sectarian pressures and rise in revolt in the name of religion against those who are better off and belong to the other community and faith. Removal of unemployment and backwardness, more equal distribution of national wealth and removal of imbalances in economic development of various communities only can ensure real and lasting secularism.
It cannot prosper in poverty, economic discrimination, backwardness and slums because then the communities or people suffering from these evils can easily become prey to fundamentalist and reactionary communal-forces in the country. We should not allow these communal forces to undermine our secular spirit, religious tolerance, peace, harmony, co-existence and respect for each other. No political leader or party should be allowed to raise the bogey of religion or community. Religion is a personal affair and has nothing to do with the day-to-day national affairs. In our public and social life, we should be guided only by national interests. Nation should always come first. All religions teach tolerance, peace, harmony, co-operation and respect for other religions and faiths. No truly religious person will ever indulge in communal violence, hatred or rioting.
Communal riots and clashes are a big hindrance in national integration, unity and economic development. Many a time, communal riots break out because of slackness on the part of the administration, police and law-enforcement agencies. Special task forces, committees, societies, and clubs, etc., should be established to face this menace. More and more people of different communities should be involved in the work of promoting religious harmony and secularism. The agents of fanaticism, narrow, vested, political and communal interests should be dealt with sternly. Communal disturbances and riots in India are aberrations, in which the weak and the poor suffer most. They should be checked, minimized and rooted out at the earliest.
Communal flare-ups and riots are not always between the Hindus and the Muslims, but sometimes they are also between Sunnis and Shia groups or two different groups belonging to the Hindu community. But they all have their roots in ignorance, obscurantism and lack of proper understanding of their respective religions and their tenets and teachings. The virus of communalism should be weeded out by all means because it is a great obstacle in the way of secularization of our polity, on which ultimately our unity, integrity, solidarity and progress ultimately depends.