Rethinking secularism- Religious Pluralism not Non Religious?

Nepali Times: At a time when ‘secularism’ has become something of a bad word in India, and the Hindu-right establishment in New Delhi is said to take a dim view of of neighbouring Nepal declaring itself ‘secular’ in its new constitution, a leading Indian thinker says the misunderstanding stems from semantics.

Delivering the 13th annual Mahesh Chandra Regmi Lecture on Monday, Shiv Visvanathan, professor at the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy, sees the problem as one of inaccurate translation.

Secular has been translated to mean ‘non-religious’, whereas it should mean ‘religious pluralism’, Visvanathan said, calling for “dialogic secularism” where there is conversation in the space of secularism.

Visvanathan has been examining the etymology of the word ‘secularism’, which contrary to popular belief, was not at first included in India’s post-independence constitution but only inserted with the 42nd Amendment in 1976 by Indira Gandhi during her emergency.

Secularism thus became a vehicle for political parties, mainly the Congress, to appease minorities. Over the years, secularlism therefore came to denote the non-Hindu agenda and the BJP made political capital out of it, used it as an electoral strategy to be voted to power in 2014.

In his talk entitled ‘Rethinking Secularism: An invitation to an experiment’ to an audience of 150 at Hotel Shanker on Monday, Vishvanathan called for a new perspective on secularism in the 21st century that moves away from its reductionist definition in western sociology.

Visvanathan stressed the need to redefine and refine the concept and role of secularism to end the cycle of violence and intolerance in India today. “We need a reinvented secularism which creates a dialogue between myth and history, science and religion, democracy and pluralism,” he said.


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