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‘Removing Secularism Will Sound the Death Knell of Democracy’: Former SC Judge Justice K.M. Joseph

"The whole idea of secularism is that religion is your private affair, keep it private…[the] State must maintain complete neutrality," said Justice Joseph.
Justice K.M. Joseph. Photo: Wikipedia

New Delhi: Former Supreme Court judge Justice K.M. Joseph has said that ‘secularism’ is indispensable in a democracy.

“Even if you take away secularism from the preamble, none of the features of secularism would go away. So you cannot take away Secularism from the Constitution,” he said.

“Secularism is absolutely indispensable in a democracy. If secularism is going to be removed by any government from the Preamble to the Constitution, under the impression that by merely removing the word ‘secularism’, you are removing the features of secularism…even if it is removed, it will sound the death knell of democracy,” he said.

He made these remarks while delivering a lecture at an event organised by the Kerala High Court Advocates Association. The lecture was titled ‘The Concept of Secularism under the Indian Constitution’, LiveLaw reported.

He was referring to calls from certain quarters to remove the reference to ‘secularism’ from the constitution.

“Secularism is a facet of equality. If you treat all religions equally, that is secularism. You are fair, you do not bias or patronise. This is substance as held in S.R. Bommai [judgment],” he explained.

“The whole idea of secularism is that religion is your private affair, keep it private…[the] State must maintain complete neutrality. This is the substance of what is laid down by the Supreme Court in these batch of cases,” he said. “All members of the Constituent Assembly agreed that India is a secular country, they felt that there was no need to specifically mention that,” he said in this context.

There was agreement particularly in the aftermath of partition, which saw the birth of Pakistan choosing a theocratic model, that India would be a secular country.

“Unity in diversity does not mean you can wipe out diversity. It cannot mean you will achieve unity by wiping out diversity,” he further said.

Under secularism, it is the bounden duty of the State to protect the lives of all its citizens regardless of religion, race, caste etc.

“No functionary, no representative, no minister can endorse any religion, can take sides in a fight between religions. That leads to the impression that the other religions are secondary, which is not because all religions under the principle of secularism must be treated equally,” he said.

He appealed that citizens must rise to protect secularism and constitutional values.

“There is no point in lying in bed saying I will not protest or do anything, let the State do whatever it wants. You mount all sorts of criticism and display complete impotence when it comes to your own actions. What is it that you’re contributing?” he asked.

In this regard, he mentioned the fundamental duties of the citizens enshrined under Article 51A of the Constitution, particularly the need to cultivate a scientific temper and feeling of fraternity rising above religions and other divisions, the report said.

Expressed hope that secularism will survive in India, Justice Joseph said: “I am still optimistic that secularism will survive. My optimism comes largely from the catholicity of the Hindu religion itself. The vast majority of the Hindus are completely broadminded and tolerant and they do not treat religion in the manner religion is treated in other religions.”

“The shores of this country were opened to other religions, including Christianity and Islam when there was no war. When Islam came in 8th century, they came as traders. When Christianity came, there was no army marching by their side. The shores of the country were thrown open by the kings, the priests…Hinduism is essentially based on the quest for universal truth at the highest level…in Hinduism you will find the dualism of Madhavacharya, non-dualism of Shankaracharya…so the very innate faith which Hinduism is such that it is broadminded to absorb other faiths. The problem arises when it is abused, misused for the sake of politics, for the sake of gaining power. That is where the greatest danger lies,” he said.

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