For me, the word ‘secular’ holds no fear. Instead, I am mindful of the founders of India’s secular constitution, such as B R Ambedkar and Rajendra Prasad.
Their intention in promoting secularism was to recognise formally the religious diversity of Indian society. Mohandas Gandhi, the inspiration behind the Constitution, was himself a deeply religious man. In his daily prayer meetings, he included readings and hymns from all the country’s major faith traditions.
The kind of religious tolerance Gandhi personified is nothing new in India. It has ancient roots, stretching back more than 2,000 years. It is revealed, for example, on inscribed pillars dating from the reign of Emperor Ashoka in the third century BCE. One inscription contains the exhortation to “honour another’s religion, for doing so strengthens both one’s own and that of the other”.
Furthermore, Sanskrit literature reveals a classical culture that was intellectually tolerant and rich in debate. In India, many philosophical positions have been subjects of great discussion since ancient times. Even positions that look much like modern materialism and atheism have an honourable and respected history in Indian tradition.
Classical philosophical texts contain many references to the Charvaka school, whose adherents rejected any idea of God and the existence of any soul or afterlife. The proponents of Charvaka ideas were also accorded a certain level of recognition and respect by some Indian rulers — many of whom were outstandingly tolerant of other religious faiths.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.