Mumbai: Missing from Indian secularism is concern for individuality and justice, said eminent political scientist and columnist Prof Pratap Bhanu Mehta. Mehta was talking at the 21st Dr Asghar Ali Engineer Memorial Lecture held at the St Xavier's College in Mumbai on Saturday.
Titled 'Escaping the Identity Trap: Secularism and Future of Freedom', it was organised by the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS), established b y (late) Dr Ashgar Ali. The meet was attended by Dr Ram Puniyani, president of CSSS, Advocate Irfan Ali Engineer, Tushar Gandhi, Kumar Ketkar and many others.
Crisis into Indian secularism
Mehta's speech was loaded with concepts, ideas, democracy, multiple identities that included individual, community and nation-state. Mehta said that the picture of secularism is of one “tied to some concept of justice” but there seemed to be a disconnect between secularism and justice and that there was a crisis into Indian secularism.
Mehta said there was an “unprecedented spread of communalism” that one had not seen in Indian history with poison seeping into the souls of people. The poison was legitimised at the highest level of government and it was more insidious and more dangerous as people were living in a statistical illusion that allowed them to sleep peacefully as no massive violence had taken place, he added.
The political scientist said that the nature of representation, in most democracies, had signs of majoritarianism. India's founding generation was aware of the ethnic cleansing in Europe and its catastrophes, before the societies got homogenised.
He said in the range of debates like “freedom of expression” and “Uniform Civil Code” there was always an attempt to get the “balance” right, which one community would feel was tilted in favour of the other. “So the approach to every question, if one is to be consistent, is to say will a particular policy measure or law enhance and protect the individual freedom or curtail,” said Mehta.
“Dr Asghar Ali was one of the first ones to lay the foundation of study on communalism. His work in gender justice in Islam has been remarkable and his contribution has not reached as much as it should have. We have tried to have eminent speakers for the memorial lecture and Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta very well explained the issues,” said Puniyani.