Setting the record straight: Panth, Dharma & Secularism..
..as well as “Dharma-Nirapekshata” धर्मं निरपेक्षता vs. “Panth-Nirapekshata” पंथ निरपेक्षता (or “Panth Nirpekshata”)..From Defining ‘Secular’: The war rages on by Arvind Lavakare, comes this illuminating excerpt (emphasis added):
“Dr Ambedkar made it clear in Parliament that he did not believe our Constitution was secular because it allowed different treatment to various communities and the legislatures could frame separate laws for different communities.” (‘Reforming The Constitution’, UBS Publishers Distributors Ltd, 1992, edited by Subhash C Kashyap, an eminent Constitutional authority).
In the above book, Kashyap writes, ‘Where there is discrimination between man and man on the grounds of religions… where the administration of places of worship can be entrusted to Government Officers… where even fundamental rights are demanded and conceded on grounds of communities, it is a cruel joke to talk of secularism.’
The Indian nation as a whole is itself not ‘secular.’ Unknown to almost our entire political class, the Preamble of the separate Jammu and Kashmir State Constitution, November 1956, does not proclaim J&K State as a ‘Secular’ State, courtesy Article 370.
Come now to Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief who was provoked by Kumar’s remark to talk of dharmanirpeksh. He too was wrong in not realising that the word dharmanirpeksh does not denote the adjective ‘secular.’ The exact Hindi word for ‘secular’ is panthnirpeksha, coined, at the behest of Indira Gandhi, by Lakshmi Mall Singhvi, (1931-2007), a literary figure and an altogether very versatile personality who was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1998…
He said the word ‘secular’ should more appropriately be translated as panthnirpeksh. He argued that dharma, the fundamental duty, is the foundation ethic of the Indian nation..and the very foundation for the section called Fundamental Duties of Citizens being part of Mrs Gandhi’s Constitutional amendment. Panth, on the other hand, meant religion. That is how the word panthnirpeksh to denote ‘secular’ got into the Hindi version of the Preamble of our Constitution. It is, therefore, a shame that dharm continues to appear in Articles 15, 16 and 25 of our Constitution’s Hindi version with regard to ‘Prohibition of discrimination…,’ ‘Equality of opportunity…’ and ‘Right to freedom of Religion’ respectively in the English version.
Below is another true story. In 1977, the Janata Party government introduced a Constitution Amendment Bill wherein one clause sought to define the word ‘Secular’ as ‘equal respect for all religions.’ The proposal was passed in the Lok Sabha where the newly elected Janata Party was dominant, but was rejected by the Congress majority in the Rajya Sabha. The Congress should no longer object to that definition suggested 34 years ago. Why? Because in a lecture delivered on June 9, 2007, at the Nexus Institute, The Hague, Sonia Gandhi herself proclaimed that ‘India is a secular country. The term secularism means equal respect for all religions.’
Let me end with a poser. A political party represented in our Parliament from 1952 till now says in its website that among its aims is ‘To secure and protect the rights and interests of the Muslims and other minorities in the state.’ Which is that party? And can it be labelled as ‘secular?’
So there you are..The word “secular” has not been defined to date by Parliament. Worse, it has been wrongly translated in Hindi. Reminds of another shibboleth that similarly remains undefined: “Socialism”. So, I ask – once again – Is it not high time we dump these anachronisms?
* This was the 44th Amendment (here is a link to the infamous 42nd Amendment which introduced this word)