Growing up in the New Delhi of the 1980s-90s, being secular was rather simple. Many families lived in mixed religion neighbourhoods and did more than ‘tolerate’ the others’ religious and cultural identities. People participated in one another’s festivals to the point of organizing them, inviting guests on the other’s behalf, feasting with each other and cleaning up the mess together at the end of a day. Few people told their Hindu child, and vice versa, that the people of a household with an Arabic inscription of ‘Allah’ deserved different scales of respect from those that had a Kali goddess painting or the engraving of Jesus Christ. In mixed religion schools, few thought anything of singing ‘Count Your Blessings’ apart from the gratitude it set aflutter in the heart.
The nonchalance towards religious difference evaporated over time. With the Indian Constitution, however, standing firm on secular tenets the word became more about ‘tolerating’ the other rather than embracing one another.
Of course, the best way to imbibe secularism—equal respect for all religions—in citizens would have been to inculcate, to all, the basic theories of the major religions followed by societies in the local geographical region at the least; then we could choose from the wide array of moral principles available to humankind (or in our neighbourhood) and make the best choice while respecting another’s choice. But to think this will happen in India today is to live in LaLa land.
To expect Nagaland State to vote for secularism is also to live on the same land. Some of the State’s minorities may vote for secularism, and Naga Christians may vote against communalism in order to protect and preserve the life and liberty of Christians everywhere. But few Naga people, albeit tolerant of others, believe in or propagate secularism; most people often describe Nagaland as a Christian State. It is, usually, those who are able to draw the line between terming Nagaland a Christian State and terming Nagaland a State with a Christian majority who are secular enough to open their hearts to the theology of other religions, or partake in the joy, grief, struggle or celebration of other communities.
Becoming secular in Nagaland is no simple task. And it is essential to recognize the reason for this. Unlike the Union of India, Nagaland did not set out to be secular. Its people aspired to be Christian, model the state and politics on Christian principles. A majority of the citizens of Nagaland hold their leaders accountable against Biblical principles, not the Indian Constitution.
It would help Indian political parties immensely if they focused on real issues of concern in Nagaland State instead of either blatantly lying or further inflating their secular credentials. No one is stopping them from making the Indian Union a safe, secure, liberal and free state for all to practice any religion of their choice, without discrimination—that is the promise the Indian Constitution makes for the powers-that-be to keep. In the meantime, what can the people of Nagaland achieve with one Member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha? That is the question Indian political parties should be preparing answers for while campaigning in Nagaland State.
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