POLITY, RELIGION AND SECULARISM IN INDIA: A STUDY OF INTERRELATIONSHIPS

  • C. N. Venugopal Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India

Abstract

In most parts of the world, the political processes have arisen out of social matrix. Tribes, clans, castes, classes have existed around a social organization. Economy, polity, religion, family and kinship networks have operated under a social framework. When Aristotle said that man is a political animal he had in mind the social element. In ancient Greece the political and the social were interdependent. F.D. Coulanges in his study of ancient cities noted that in Greek city states, the political activities of free citizens (who excluded women and slaves) were associated with social and religious duties and obligations. The people who gathered at the public forum participated in city cults which honoured their ancestors and deities and subsequently engaged themselves in political discussion. The Roman cities also had similar cuts which were led by the senators in the presence of citizens. The modern states have treated political work as a formal process which is independent of other factors. At present, the direct participation of people in politics has become a thing of the past. The domestic element has almost vanished due to the rise of representative democracy. J. Habermas has stated that in the post – 17th century Europe the public sphere has disappeared, because the direct participation of people in the city councils has mostly disappeared. Harold Laski, the British thinker, has observed in a cryptic way the today public opinion is neither public nor opinion. In other words, politicians have taken over the functions of public who previously expressed their opinion freely. The Indian society has not only been multi-ethnic but also multi-religious. Indian religions are pantheistic in which the nature is seen as a manifestation of divinity. By contrast of the monotheistic religions of West Asia the divinity was withdrawn from nature and made transcendental. In the Pre-Christian era (at the time of the rise of Jainism and Budhism) there were numerous small-scale republics in the North. We find references to them in the Budhist Jatak tales (composed both Pali and Sanskrit). These small tales had a strong demotic character: 1  Cell phone number: (+91) 80-3240 8782 22 ПОЛИТИКА И РЕЛИГИЈА У САВРЕМЕНОЈ ИНДИЈИ ПОЛИТИКОЛОГИЈА РЕЛИГИЈЕ бр. 1/2013 год VII • POLITICS AND RELIGION • POLITOLOGIE DES RELIGIONS • Nº 1/2013 Vol. VII they elected their rulers mostly on merit; there was widespread participation of people in the political affairs. In 3rd century B.C. Alexander reached the borders of India; this even gave rise to a socio-political ferment. Although Alexander abruptly returned to Macedonia, Chanakya (also known as Kautilya) used the threat of Greek invasion to mobilize the people towards building a central state. He inspired Chandragupta (a warrior) to establish the Mauryan state in eastern India. Thereafter, many such states came up in different parts of India. In spite of their aggressive or despotic tendencies, these large states brought about social stability. By decree they protected the many ethnic groups which were getting absorbed into the caste system. Although the caste system was hierarchic, yet it was based on reciprocal ties. Besides, they laid the foundations for socio-economic development. In the southern peninsula the village councils known as panchayats became highly effective in the rural areas. These panchayats controlled land, fostered community participation in the village affairs and punished the wrong-doers. The southern kings never disturbed their autonomy. In the north also the village panchayat flourished till the 10th century. In the wake of British rule (17th century) these village councils declined. Radhakamal Mukerjee, the Indian sociologist, described them as “democracies of the East”. Although many Indians are not educated, they have exercised intelligence in choosing their representative for assembly and parliament. This is largely due to the legacy of the panchayats. The Indian political systems have been traditionally guided by two types of juridical texts. I. The dharmashastras (composed by Manu and others). II. The nitishastras (such as Kautilya’s Arthashastra, Shukra’s Nitisara and Bhisma’s address to the princes in Mahabharata which is known as Shantiparva). The texts of the first type laid down rules for conducting cacred duties, codes of conduct, punishment for transgression. The texts of the second type deal with more mundane matters related to agriculture, irrigation, imports and exports and military organization. It is here that Indian secularism originated. In other words, the rulers protected both sacred and secular pursuits of their subjects. The Indian rulers (Hindu, Budhists and Jaina) followed the same texts in administering justice, conducting warfare against the invaders and maintaining internal peace. Further, the two ancient systems of Indian philosophy – Vaisheshika and Samkhya were highly ratiocinative. They laid the foundations for developments in Indian science. Alburini, the Persian scholar, described in detail India’s developments in science, mathematics and astronomy in the 10th century AD. This clearly shows that Indian religions have not opposed science which is a secular activity. The Indian constitution (1951) has not seen any contradiction between religion and secularism. Both types of activities are legitimate in India. All people of India have freedom of worship; only condition is that one religious group should not interfere in the religious life of another group. However, in the recent years the Hindu, Sikh and Muslim militant groups have arisen and disturbed the social POLITICS AND RELIGION IN CONTEMPORARY INDIA 23 C.N. Venugopal , POLITY, RELIGION AND SECULARISM IN INDIA: A STUDY OF INTERRELATIONSHIPS • (pp 21-40) harmony. These tensions and problems will be more fully analyzed in the larger version of this paper.

Keywords: multi-ethnic, multi-religious, pilgrimage, inclusiveness, panchayats, secularism

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Published
2017-01-09
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