Secularism defined


If men were good, there would be no need for governments, James Madison, the third President of the United States of America, and one of the founding fathers of the country’s constitution famously said in charting out the philosophy by which the American constitution was to be written. The innate suspicion of man’s basic nature may be contrary to the idealistic teachings of religions, but it has nonetheless proven to be an effective mantra for governance. Madison’s prescription for America definitely would cure a lot of the ills of any government anywhere in the world. The Manipur administration too could use some of it much to its benefit. If it had understood the significance of the statement in its letter and spirit, it might have been able not only to anticipate but also draw up effective administrative measures to prevent what happened at Tentha last year, whereby Hindu villagers burnt down a church built in the village by Christian converts amongst them. No, we are not talking about preventing conflict situations by beefing up security or through other intimidatory shows of state power, but through un-intrusive social engineering that takes into consideration that differences in faith, ethnicity etc, can easily translate into social friction and even conflicts.

Given the administrative foresight, religious or ethnic frictions do not have to be much more than mere civic problems, well within the power of the civil administration to handle. In fact it is the duty of a secular government not to allow any of its social problems to escalate beyond the civic. It is a limitation of imagination that makes secularism seen only in terms of the doctrine of tolerance. The term tolerance itself implies putting up with something one is not altogether too pleased with. Rather than this, secularism should be more about good impartial and farsighted administration that keeps in mind that men are not angels or saints. Supposing the government were to enact a legislation restricting the building of public places of worship, be it a temple, church, mosque or synagogue in residential areas and opening it only to government approved sites, no problem of civil religious strife would have arisen? One might not have anything against living next door to a Hindu, Christian, Muslim or a Jew, but if the followers of any of these faiths decide to convert his house into a public temple or church the next day and have congregations singing bhajan or performing midnight masses, it is likely to rub many other neighbours the wrong way. The Manipur government, and so too a large section of the public, in their obtuse sense of secularism, have been ignoring this particular dynamics behind conflicts. Mark our words, given the rapidity with which public places of worship are sprouting, if the administration does not take care to rectify this oversight, religious frictions in the state, not necessarily Hindus pitted against Christians, but in any permutation or combination of the religions practised in the state, are likely to escalate. After all, as Madison implied, men are not angels, and it is a senseless conflict resolution strategy to simply curse that men are not angels.


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