Structural asymmetric secularism

Arvind Sharma, a professor of comparative religion at McGill University, “pinpointed asymmetrical secularism practised in India as a reason for Hindutva and went on to suggest that it is a structural problem with the Indian Constitution” and that “the asymmetry was not merely in discourse, but structured in the Indian Constitution that favours some religion over the other.”

The Indian variety

India Today’s S Prasannarajan refers to an “apt term to describe the official Indian secularism”. That term is “asymmetric secularism”. Speaking at a panel discussion at the launch of Tavleen Singh’s new book, Arvind Sharma, a professor of comparative religion at McGill University, “pinpointed asymmetrical secularism practised in India as a reason for Hindutva and went on to suggest that it is a structural problem with the Indian Constitution” and that “the asymmetry was not merely in discourse, but structured in the Indian Constitution that favours some religion over the other.”

Arun Shourie agreed with Dr Sharma and “suggested that individual-based policy planning is necessary for a secular state”. Salman Khurshid, on the other hand, said individual rights and rights guaranteed collectively to a group are both important for the functioning of a secular state and Constitution.

Is asymmetric secularism an oxymoron? In a strict sense, yes. As for Khurshid’s argument, it is hard to square group rights with equality of all citizens under the law. Such an argument holds up only if we accept that equality too should be asymmetric.

Update:Bibek Debroy in the Indian Express

Except where there are clear inequities in access to physical and social infrastructure in some backward districts and villages, deprivation is an individual concept. The apparent religious deprivation flagged by the Sachar Committee breaks down, once one controls for other variables like class and educational status. There should be legitimate resentment at UPA’s attempts to equate deprivation with collective caste and religious categories and this brings one to a difference between the two major political parties on what may be called a social-cum-political continuum, with ideology now focused on what one means by secularism. Does secularism mean rejection of religion for formulating public policy and neutrality across religions, or does it mean positive affirmation in favour of minority religions? [IE]

4 thoughts on “Structural asymmetric secularism”

  1. The problem with India’s consititution is that it is suppose to treat all religions equally? But what does that really mean? Why is there a perception among some religious groups– i.e. Hindus– that they are being shortchanged, while Muslims seems to be getting more benefits?

    It would be best, in my opinion, that all mention of religion be excised from the constitution, and the Ministry of Religion be dissolved; meaning no more Hajj subsidies, religious quotas for government jobs, etc. Government should not be in the religion business at all.

  2. There is a saying in Tamil which roughly means “one could donate only what is surplus”. The Indian form of secularism assumes that the majority are well off and have surplus resources to donate to the minority, who inherently are poor. Not just economic resources.

  3. Sharma might just have given us a neologism; not exactly, but something close. Secularism in India is terribly asymmetric as it prejudges groups and tries to even out their advantages. This prejudice is at the root of the “asymmetry” that is compounding our problems.

    Aside, Arvind Sharma is the same guy whose essay on Hinduism replaced the “admittedly nasty” one by Wendy Doniger on Encarta Encyclopedia– thanks to Sankrant Sanu’s activism of course.

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