Sunday, September 12, 2010

Seven distinctive features of Indian secularism

Social citizenship rights of Canadian Muslim youth: youth resiliencies and the claims for social inclusion. CONCLUSION: THE BEGINNINGS OF A WAY FORWARD 
Given the discussion so far that point to the very serious limitations of the Canadian secular welfare state to recognize social citizenship rights of Canadian-Muslims in socially inclusionary ways, alternative ways of defining secular welfare state's relationship with its faith-based communities need to be conceived. Rajeev Bhargava (2008), an eminent Indian political theorist has undertaken compelling theoretical work in this direction, by grounding his analysis from lessons learnt through expressions of secularism found in India. Starting with the admission that the Indian state has its own failings, Bhargava analyzes the constitutional claims that the Indian State offers an ideal for a rearticulation of secularism that takes the rights, interests and values of the multiple faith-based communities within which social citizenship rights are negotiated.

There are seven features of Indian secularism that Bhargava (2008: 101-103) feels can provide western welfare states with alternative definitions of secularism and which correspond to the earlier critique of the Canadian welfare state as an example of western secularism discussed in this paper. The first is its multi-value character. Bhargava argues that the Indian state takes seriously values that have been forgotten in western secular states, such as peace between communities as well as defining values of autonomy and equality in both individualistic as well as non-individualistic ways. This recalls the earlier discussion in this paper which was concerned with the limitations that were placed on faith-based communities through individualistic definitions of autonomy that overlooked the resiliencies that Muslim youth spoke of when they envisioned themselves as being part of something greater than their self. Thus Indian state supports the rights of faith-based communities to establish and maintain educational institutions that are crucial to the survival of these communities. This is very unlike Canada where the state feels it has no role to play in relation to such educational institutions unless it is a policing role.

Second, India is concerned with issues of domination in inter-religious as well as intra-religious relations. Thus it recognizes community-specific socio-cultural rights of faith based communities. Within Canada recognition of the socio-cultural rights of faith-based communities is withheld and rationalized in terms of the harm that can occur to citizens' individual rights of autonomy and equality within faith-based communities. In particular the state invokes Muslim women's rights of equality within their faith-based communities to make the case (Kymlicka 1995). Hence, as discussed earlier, faith is relegated to a private space. In the example of the Indian state, these thorny issues of community and individual rights of autonomy are viewed as maters of state concern and the effort is to set up institutions that can help negotiate and balance these sometimes conflicting claims to autonomy, rather than turning a blind eye to the lives of citizens for whom their communities of faith are central to their lived experiences of being citizens.

Third, building on the first two features discussed above, is that the Indian state is committed to the idea of principled distance rather than the mutual exclusion model of secularism that is characteristic of the Canadian welfare state. The mutual exclusion model, as has been previously discussed sees the state as having no connection to religion and vice versa. India recognizes some level of inclusion at the level of law and public policy, so long as the principles of autonomy and equality (defined in more communal terms) are not trammeled. India recognizes the falsity of a separation that is mutually exclusive because it recognizes that for some of her citizens such a separation would be meaningless in terms of their lived experiences. In the following quote Bhargava defines what he means by principled separation in an eloquent and nuanced fashion that resonates with many of the arguments made in this paper:
      ... for mainstream western secularism, separation    means mutual exclusion. The idea of principled distance unpacks the metaphor of separation differently. It accepts a disconnection between state and religion at the level of ends and institutions but does not make a fetish of it at the third level of policy and law.... How else can it be in a society where religion frames some of its deepest interests?.... a secularism based on principled distance s not committed to the mainstream Enlightenment idea of religion. It accepts that humans have an interest in relating to something beyond themselves including God, and this manifests itself as individual belief and feeling as well as social practice in the public domain. (2008: 103)
A fourth characteristic of Indian secularism is the distinction that it makes between unpublicized and depoliticization. It does not depublicize religion, as mentioned earlier; it provides public space for faith-based groups through its laws and public policy; however it depoliticizes religion in one form, by insisting on a disconnection between the ends of its own activities and those of religious organizations. In other words the state does not exist to serve the ends of religious organizations; it exists to serve its own political ends. Similarly at an institutional level it remains disconnected from religious organizations whose own institutions and personnel are different from the personnel that run and maintain state organizations. This is in contrast to theocratic states like Iran who's political and religious institutions are run more explicitly by the same people and on the basis of their attachment to faith.

Fifth, the Indian definition of state secularism is defined by active hostility to some aspects of religion that are incommensurate with secular liberal notions of social justice whilst maintaining active respect for its other dimensions. This allows for faith-based communities to have a voice and visibility in society but disallows it from using that voice to discriminate against its own or others. Faith communities are open to critique but not to active hostility or "respectful indifference," which could work as a wonderful alternative to address the concerns of Canadian citizens who fear limitations on their freedom of speech to critiques religious organizations, while addressing the needs of faith-based communities for respect.

A sixth feature is the malleability of the Indian state to allow for various and multiple definitions of secularism. The rather rigid definition of Canadian state secularism does not allow for such fluidity leaving secular Muslims at a loss of accounting for and articulating the complex characteristics of their identity.

Finally Indian secularism challenges normative notions modern welfare secular states by providing an alternative that is both modern but departs significantly from mainstream conceptions of western secularism (Bhargava 2008: 103). It speaks to the importance of young Canadian-Muslims to be both a part of modern Canadian society as well as deeply attached to the world vies offered by their faith, without having them choose between the two as incompatible.

In summary the Indian example of secularism treats faith-based communities as participating citizens whose voice is made visible in their own terms and as members of faith-based groups through a vision of social justice that is inclusionary of liberal conceptions of autonomy and equality--and much more. COPYRIGHT 2009 Association of Arab-American University Graduates. No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder. Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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