The Statesman – Sour secularism

Op/Ed, New Delhi, 12 May 2017. It was more likely an example of typical journalistic overdoing of the reading between the lines, and less any sort of “official” projection.

Still, it was disturbing that media reports should highlight as “unique” the composition of the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by the Chief Justice of India examining the “triple talaq” issue as comprising representatives of five faiths: Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Parsi and Christian.

And that was hailed as a shining example of Indian secularism. The disgust was further enhanced when one report found it prudent to clarify that judges drew conclusions on the basis of merit only, and the sole yardstick was the Constitution.

The unstated reasoning being that in normal course personal religious beliefs and practices did influence the judicial processes.

Whether intentional or inadvertent is immaterial, great dishonour and disservice had been done to their Lordships, they have been dragged to a new low, particularly since the government has been insisting (not that everyone accepts it) that the core issue is gender equality, not any underhand tinkering with Muslim personal law.

Whether the court chooses to take cognizance of such reports and dispels possible misconceptions is left for their Lordships to take a call on: ideally such matters could be ignored, but silence could also be perceived as endorsement.

The unhealthy “development” is actually a realistic reflection on how society has been divided so that everyone’s bona fides are now suspect, and members of minority communities are constantly required to re-prove their national credentials.

It is no longer deemed embarrassing to perceive polls prospects on caste and communal lines, and “strategies” are drawn up to exploit those divisions. The same holds true in matters of selection and appointments, and people, judges included, now claim to be victimised when they belong to less favoured castes.

On the national security front there is a convenient yet sinister overlapping of Muslim and Pakistani, even folk in the North-east lament they are not accepted as “truly Indian”.

Woe betide anyone in an Indian stadium who applauds the performance of a Pakistani sportsman, maybe it is “advisable” to ensure that sporting contacts remain suspended, or restricted to neutral venues.

Cultural exchanges are now curtailed, artistes hardly welcomed across the Radcliffe Line: why, even a tour of India by schoolchildren from Pakistan had to be scrapped.

The apprehensions of the Dalit communities are a sordid chapter in itself, another unbecoming reflection of grim realities. All this is what the President has been trying to rectify by his repeated condemnation of an intolerant society.

And now the malaise has spread to the extent of judges of the highest court of the land also being identified on skewed lines. The “colonials” were condemned for divide and rule practices: is present Indian “thinking” any less demeaning?


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