Secularism's Last Sigh?: The Hindu Right, the Courts, and India's Struggle for Democracy
Harvard International Law Journal, Vol. 38, No. 1, p. 113, 1997
58 Pages Posted: 4 Oct 2008
Date Written: October 1, 2008
The struggle to secure the constitutional and political protection of secularism in India has been long and difficult. Recently, the Hindu Right- a nationalist and right wing political movement devoted to creating a Hindu State- has hijacked the dominant understanding of secularism as the equal respect of all religions in order to promote its vision of Hindutva and its agenda of establishing a Hindu State. Its' emphasis on the formal equal-treatment of all religions operates as an unmodified majoritarianism whereby the dominant Hindu community becomes the norm against which all others are to be judged- threatening the rights of minority religious communities.
In Manohar Joshi v. Nitin Bbaurao Patil and eleven other cases (collectively known as the "Hindurva" cases), the Supreme Court of India delivered a mixed message to the cause of secularism. In this Article, we examine two deeply problematic aspects of the Supreme Court's judgment: (1) its conclusion that hindutva constitutes neither a violation of the prohibition on appealing to religion to gain votes nor a violation of the prohibition on promoting religious enmity and hatred and (2) its conclusion on the secular character of the speeches of the Hindu Right- effectively vindicating the profoundly anti-secular vision of secularism that the Hindu Right has long been trying to promote.
In the final section, we turn to consider the crisis of secularism in India. After briefly reviewing some of the debates on secularism's future, we suggest a strategy for reappropriating the dominant discourse of secularism from the Hindu Right, and reshaping this discourse in a way that may better capture and promote a democratic political vision.
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