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Indian Media discourse on Secularism: Some Questions

Secularism has become a very contentious word these days - especially in the political and media discourse in our country. The nauseating use of this word by politicians and those in the media industry, its various interpretations and twists provided to it for self-serving interests have resulted in a loss of the actual and truthful meaning of this term. The current media debate, in run up to the Lok Sabha elections 2014 only focuses on the secular vs the communal. So, on one hand we have the secular forces epitomized by certain parties and on the other hand, we have the communal forces epitomized by certain other parties. However, we have failed to understand why secularism and its true meaning is so important for the social, political and democratic fabric of this country. Since, the division of a united India was done on the basis of religion and led to the creation of a theocratic Pakistan - India believed that it would be a secular state. However, the flawed idea of Nehruvian secularism unlike the western version which sees secularism as the separation of 'state' and 'religion' constituted a disastrous beginning for the Indian state. From its very birth Indian secularism is notorious. The term 'secularism' was interestingly added in the later stage and not when the Constitution was formulated and the idea behind embodying secular principles was to ensure the minorities that they were safe and their rights would be protected in a Hindu dominant India (this has to be understood in the context of the partition). However, all hell broke loose and after independence our political class left no stone unturned to misuse, misrepresent and misinterpret this word for their own parochial purposes. However, can the entire blame be placed on the political class ...even as the context changed and India progressed towards social and political development after independence. The most pertinent thing to examine are the secular provisions of The Indian Constitution - the law of the land.

The Constitution of India is a puzzling document which if I may dare to opine, empowers and dis-empowers citizens at the same time. No doubt that it was indeed a very progressive document and its makers were visionaries in their own right, however some of the provisions in the Constitution are contradictory. Sample this - Fundamental Rights - Part III - Art 14 - Right to Equality which provides for equality for all citizens irrespective of caste, creed, religion, language etc but contradicts this provision in the Cultural and Educational Rights (Art 29, 30) by providing special rights to minorities. This was well intentional and meaningful immediately after independence, however after six decades of independence this sounds a bit suspicious.

The question of one important player in the dynamics of secularism is whether media discourse has been true to constitutional provisions or has favoured its own economic and commercial considerations when it came to debating the secular credentials of people in public life? The another question is how secular is the media itself when it takes funding from religious organizations? How secular is media discourse when it is tilted in favour of a particular community and against another? How secular is media behaviour when some castes, and some religions are under-represented in media networks? How secular is the media when it cannot rise above its own political and ideological affiliations? So, the question remains how equipped is the media to even talk of secularism.

The media has in fact distorted the discourse on secularism by two extremes - the English media which is far too left liberal and the vernacular/regional media which is far too right wing. In the game of ideologies, the media seems to have forgotten that secularism in essential is not about Hindutva, or Islamic fundamentalism it is about creating a rightful and liberal space to debate for. The media alleges that this leader is secular, that one is communal but the media as an entity does not have the right to deem anybody as secular and communal. The media has played a huge role in impressioning a certain brand of secularism on the minds of people. The secular-communal debate is the one which drives the media and fetches it high TRP and brownie points. Any political and electoral discourse today is maneuvered to suit the bill of secularism and communalism. Has the media overstepped in this domain and abused its right to free speech and expression? Yes, if I may conclude.

In the political and media discourse pre-liberalization, secularism and communalism were not important terms, but after Ayodhya (1992) and the attack on the Babri Masjid, and the rise of right wing in India - secularism has come to be an important and much misused term. So much so that the media has exploited it and hence sometimes it is rightly called 'pseudo-secular' and 'pseudo-liberal'.

Neither the media nor the political discourse in this country have understood what secularism is and how Indian secularism is unique. In fact, both have contributed to the peril of secularism while claiming very pompously that they are guardians of secularism. The debate on secularism is just restricted to left-wing, right-wing, communal etc and not taken to the realm of nationalism as was the vision of our constitution makers even though I believe even they at that point of time did not possess a clear vision of what they meant by a secular India.

So when I am asked, whether India is a secular country or not? Whether I am secular or not? I really am dumb-faced and have no answer because the media and our great political masters have taken it upon themselves to answer this for Indian citizens. What secularism means to my life, existence and identity has no value in the Indian democratic order.

I thus remain secular for some, communal for other, overtly secular for some, pseudo-secular for others and nothing at all for the political class and the media!!!!!! 

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