Why we secularists must fight on

SC has warned against invoking history “selectively” to “create schisms in society”

The basic structure of our nation is the source of the basic structure of our Constitution. So, in protecting the basic structure of our Constitution, the Supreme Court is protecting the very basis of our nationhood, which is “unity in diversity”. Delivering their judgement, rejecting a petition moved by a hindutivist, Justice K.M. Joseph and Justice B.V. Nagarathna have stamped their judicial imprimatur on the idea of India that for the past nine years has been under its most serious challenge ever. As the honourable justices aver, “There is no space for bigotry in Hinduism.”

Yet, the forces who do not represent the Hindu religion but a political perversion of it, are symbols of bigotry seeking to lump all non-Hindus, especially Muslims, as “barbaric invaders”. The court rightly asserts the “golden principle of fraternity”, which is “enshrined in the Preamble”. The petitioner who decried “foreign invaders” as “looters” was rhetorically asked, “Can you wish away invasions from history? What are you trying to achieve?” It was unambiguously affirmed, “India that is Bharat is a secular country… wedded to the rule of law, secularism, constitutionalism of which Article 14 stands out as the grand guarantee of both equality and fairness in state action.” No politician has put it more clearly than that.

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

Underlining that, “India is a secular state, this is a secular forum,” Justice Nagarathna pleaded, “let us not break society with such kinds of petitions, please have the country in mind, not any religion.” And Justice Joseph added, “I am a Christian, but I can say I am equally fond of Hinduism… Try and understand its greatness.” Saying that, “History cannot haunt present and future generations,” the bench warned against our becoming “prisoners of the past” and underlined that “this court should not become an instrument to create havoc”. And Justice Joseph concluded, “We have to understand our own greatness. Our greatness should lead us to be magnanimous.”

In addressing these words to the petitioner, the bench had much more than the petitioner in mind. The audience Justice Joseph and Justice Nagarathna were addressing was much wider extending to the nation as a whole and including all those who have been undermining our fraternity as a nation. The audience would include the ruling dispensation. While Rahul Gandhi’s plea to “open in the bazaar of hatred the store of love” might be construed as a partisan political jibe, when a similar view is expressed by a bench of the highest court in the land, it is imperative that the powers-that-be absorb the judicial message.

There is no place in our nationhood for the targeting of minorities with lynchings or ‘love jihad’, or bulldozing the very modest homes of blameless Muslims, or holding them to be “Babar ki aulad”―expressions that are freely bruited about without a word of reprimand from their leaders, indeed with encouragement of one minister demanding “goli maro saalon ko”. It is, thus, that the ground is prepared for calls to genocide that go unpunished. The nation has been brought to a very dangerous place. The court has rightly warned against invoking history “selectively” to “create schisms in society”. Yet, this is the precise stock-in-trade of those who have risen on the ladder of the pogrom in 2002 and abuse of the civic and human rights of a section of our society. In the words of an earlier judgment of the Supreme Court, the “egregious violence” that went into the brick-by-brick demolition of the Babri Masjid is to be deplored.

The court is, in effect, warning against the stoking of religious vengeance-seeking. It is for the sangh parivar in both its avatars as the RSS and the BJP to heed the call of the court. I have no expectation they will. Which is why we secularists must fight on, confident that the Supreme Court is behind us.

Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.