Secularism begins with uniform civil code: Romila Thapar

"We have just accepted secularism as a value but have not asked ourselves what it means to be secular as a society."

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:33 pm IST

Published - October 27, 2015 01:29 am IST - Mumbai:

Secularising India has to begin with a uniform civil code that ensures equal rights to all citizens without exceptions according to eminent historian Romila Thapar. “Religion impinges on every human rights in the civil law — whether its birth, death, marriage, divorce, — the religions have laws on all of these,” and so making India secular necessarily means demarcating religion out of our social institutions.

“And its not just about the Muslim personal law like everybody thinks. I am talking about khap panchayats and all the socio-legal inequalities that every religion carries. Decide what are the kind civil laws you would like to see removed? Sit down with the Khap Panchayats in Haryana and say that your powers are to be cut. Start a discussion there.”

Speaking at a public lecture organised by the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism at KC College in Mumbai, Ms. Thapar said that the Indian polity is yet to critically engaged with the idea of secularism.

“No one has really questioned this idea. We have just accepted secularism as a value but have not asked ourselves what it means to be secular as a society. We have just gone on mouthing slogans. Good slogans and bad slogans. But we haven’t yet started discussing what happens when a society has to be secularized.”

This, in Ms. Thapar’s view, only emphasises the importance of the role played by a public intellectual in engendering discussion and public debate; something that is not as much in evidence today.

“If you really are concerned about secularizing society, when the crisis arises, you open your mouths and scream and shout and say this is not what I want from being an Indian citizen. We are not doing that. We are allowing all kinds of decisions to be taken and we are just shrugging and saying ‘we haven’t got the authority. We don’t have the following.’ I think it’s a defeatist attitude. I am not saying rush out and say down with the state — that is a difficult thing to do. At least you begin by saying this something I object to. We don’t have enough people saying that. We don’t have voices getting up and saying we object to this. We are citizens of the country and these are our rights as citizens. The consciousness of being citizens and having rights is a consciousness that we lack,” she said.

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