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What is Secularism - In India?

India is diverse in many aspects. That not only includes lifestyles, cuisines, languages/dialects, fashion, clothing style but also religions. India is home to more than five religions, where four religions: Buddhism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism originated as branches of Hindutva Lifestyle. Even Sikhism has been derived from Hinduism. But this post is not about religions. It is about secularism in India: What is secularism? Who is secular? Is India a secular country? What does Secularism mean? I am trying to answer all these questions by constructing the Hindi equivalent of the word "secularism".

What is Secularism?


Major Religions In India
The Hindi equivalent of the word is "Dharm Nirapekhsta" (धर्म निर अपेक्षता). This Hindi word is actually a combination of three words: Dharma (धर्म), Nir (निर), and Apeksha (अपेक्षा). We take the last word first. Apeksha means "expecting". That translates to expecting anything from anyone. For example, "I was expecting him on Sunday" will translate to "मैं रविवार को उसकी अपेक्षा कर रहा था".

Add "Nir" to "Apeksha" and it becomes opposite: something that loosely translates to non-expectant. Thus, "I was not expecting him" (मैं उसकी अपेक्षा नही कर रहा था) also translates to "he was a non-expectant" (वह निरपेक्षित था). Another better example would be - "This work was unexpected" (यह कार्य निरपेक्षित था).

In short, "nirapeksha" (निरपेक्षा) means "not expecting anything". Add "dharm" (or Religion in English) to it and it becomes secularism. Thus, secularism should mean "not expecting anything from religion(s)". However, not in the Indian context. The above explains what does secularism mean actually and literally. Though "nirapeksha" is more commonly pronounced as "unapeksha" (अन+अपेक्षा), our intellectuals decided to use the former. That means, secularism can also be called "Dharm Anapekshta" (धर्म अनपेक्षता).

I will now pick up another similar sounding word - upeksha (उपेक्षा) to explain secularism in India. Before that, let us take a look at how using the "upeksha" word changes the entire meaning of secularism.

Apeksha vs Upkesha (अपेक्षा बनाम उपेक्षा)

As discussed in previous section, adding "un" or "nir" to most words makes it opposite. For example, "he is wealthy" is "वह धनी है". And "he is not wealthy" would translate to "वह निर्धन है". This is just for your reference that adding 'un' or 'nir' to most of the Hindi words, changes the meaning of a word to its opposite.

Now, coming to Upeksha, it means "Ignoring". It sounds similar to Apeksha (only the first sound being different) that means "expecting". For example, "He was ignoring my talk" would translate to "वह मेरी बात की उपेक्षा कर रहा था".

Secularism In India

It makes a fine combination of Dharm (religion) with Upeksha (ignoring) to reveal the exact meaning of what is secularism. You ignore the religion or you do not have any expectations from the religion. Good so far. But we have the "nir" word that changes the entire meaning. Thus, Dharm Upeksha (धर्म उपेक्षा) stands good for secularism based on the meaning of secularism we derived from the phrase "धर्म निरपेक्षता".

Coming to Indian political scenario, rather than real society and culture that adopts all religions as equal, the meaning of secularism stands different - based on the word "Upeksha". That is, instead of using "Apeksha" (expectance) with "nir" (not), we seem to be using "Upeksha" with "nir". That would make it Dharm Nirupekshata" which, in turn, would translate to "not ignoring dharma or religion". And that is the fact - our political parties just cannot ignore the religion of their voters. For them, different religions are different types of vote banks. They just cannot ignore religions and instead of not expecting from religions, they tend to expect a lot from religions. That is, the whole meaning of 'secularism in India' changes - from non-religious expectant to religions-expectant, based on the phrase "dharm nirupeksha" (religion non-avoidable).

I guess I have been successful in explaining the meaning of secularism as such and also what is secularism in India. If you have doubts or anything to add, please comment or send me a mail using the Contact page.


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