Eskimos have over dozens of words for 'snow'. Sounds about right, considering that snow is what they see, feel and live. Similarly, the way India is going, we might have a dozen or so words for 'secular': sickular, pseudo-secular and the list is ever expanding. This sounds right too, considering everything related to religion is what India sees, feels and lives.
This is the cacophony we live in, where moral decay and religious effervescence seem to go hand in hand. There are many such conflicts and contradictions that obfuscate some basic yet important questions, which remarkably escape public discourse.
Secularism they say is a simple concept. It has two versions, the Western: Dharma nirpekshata, which means separation of state from religion, and the Indian: which Gandhi called Sarva Dharma sambhava and can be read as equal treatment of all religions. We respect religion, not disregard it.
And how is religion relevant today? Athiests question its very logic, the Hindutva question the differences in it, Muslim hardliners question the questions, and the rest, agonistic or annoyed, surrendered or sedated, question their own existence in this pandemonium.
To explore such questions we have to understand that secularism is intimately connected with the idea of India. We also need to understand the concept of secularism itself, and its connection with other issues of importance, such as the Uniform Civil Code.

The Mosaic of India

Let us begin at the beginning. India is said to have three institutions that define it - the Indian village, the caste system, and the joint Indian family. All three of them combine to create a structure that has been quite extraordinary in its willingness to preserve itself. Migrants to India have never assimilated as they do in other places; the caste system makes it quite difficult. Combine this with endogamy, and we see the rise of ethnic enclaves around the country. One example is the Parsi community, which has maintained its distinctiveness in India, but has disappeared from its place of birth in Iran. Perhaps this is the idea of India for some: a mosaic of cultures.
Secularism finds its place in this context. It promotes an idea of India that is acceptable to different sections of Indian society, one that all can share.

The Melting of the Mosaic

The mosaic, however, is changing face. I’m South Indian, my parents had an inter-caste marriage, I studied in East India, and I now live in North India. Change is a comin'. Our urban spaces have broken the delicate balance of the village; new social structures are transforming traditional ones. You can see class replace caste, and linguistic and regional differences dissolve in deference to the nation as a whole. It’s only now that the idea of India is beginning to take shape.

The Conflict of Contradictions

Tradition and modernity interact in very curious ways in our country. In a strange cycle, modernity dissolves tradition, and tradition creates new modernity. How else can you explain the recent newspaper classified ad where a Brahmin mother seeks a groom for her gay son but within the bounds of their caste?
But these changes are too few and far between. Inter-faith marriages are increasingly politicized and actively discouraged with colorful names such as ‘Love-Jihad’.

Contradiction and Contention

These contradictions have been extended to the sphere of secularism. Thus, we see arguments regarding the Uniform Civil Code - essentially an extension of civil laws into the personal sphere. The Shah Bano case was a landmark in the question for the definition of secularism. Shah Bano, an elderly woman who had been divorced by her husband, appealed in the High Court of Madhya Pradesh that her former husband should pay her maintenance under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). The High Court ruled in favour of Shah Bano. However, Shah Bano’s husband Ahmed Khan, moved to the Supreme Court as an appellant on the ground that he was not obliged to pay his ex-wife maintenance beyond the traditional three month period of iddat under Section 127(3) of the CrPC. This section upholds personal religious laws regarding maintenance and overrides Section 125.
However, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Chandrachud confirmed the judgment of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, and stated Section 125 of the CrPC overrides all personal laws, and it is uniformly applicable to all women. It also called upon the government of India to enact a Uniform Civil Code, which is a Directive principle under Article 44 of the Constitution. However, under pressure from patriarchal leaders from the Muslim community, the government buckled and introduced the Muslim Women Protection and Rights on Divorce Bill that cancelled the right to maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC.
Thus, the accusation of pseudo-secularism began, where religious differences are promoted and the state refuses to intrude into the personal laws of certain religions, despite their patriarchal nature. This is ‘pseudo’ because the state already has created a uniform law for Hindus, Jains, Buddhist and Sikhs by the enactment of the Hindu Code Bill.

We, The People

It’s becoming clear that secularism is not equipped to handle such issues, simply because it cannot deal with intra-group relations. And neither is it meant to do so; secularism regulates the relationship between groups, i.e. inter-group relations.
Thus, we need to go back to the basic values from which secularism itself is derived. The Constitution is a social contract that has been signed by the people of India. The preamble promises justice, liberty and equality of all citizens. Article 14 promotes Freedom of Equality. Granting vulnerable groups in society special protection but withholding this protection from vulnerable sections within these groups is both politically inconsistent and morally flawed.
Being a modern Indian is to find ways to acknowledge the differences, and make them horizontal rather than vertical, such that the differences lay side by side, appreciated rather than arranged in a vertical hierarchy of superiority.

The Idea of India

The idea of India, Sunil Khilnani states, is a movement in itself. It’s a movement that is taking place within the institutional values of democracy, which has withheld storms and stood strong. It’s here that secularism finds its place. It promotes and protects the rights of minorities from the tyranny of the majority. But this protection lies within the bounds of the core values of justice, liberty and equality we agreed to in the Constitution.