Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The state and religion

The British Independent newspaper has recently published a report on a conflict between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is a Hindu religious party and the opposition parties in the state of Karnataka in South India over a new policy that desires the teaching of religious text from the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita for three hours every week in the state schools. The opposition parties were concerned that this new proposal is against the secular constitution of India which does not endorse a specific religion in spite of the massive Hindu majority in India. The Indian constitution demands equality amongst all the citizens regardless of religion, gender, race, cast, or place of birth. Imposing the teaching of one religion at schools even if it is the religion of the vast majority is considered against the spirit of the Indian constitution and would encourage demands for teaching other religions from the different religious communities within India. No agreement has been reached and the issue was referred to the high court of India for a judgement.
The Indian political system impresses me as a good example of how secular democracy can succeed in a deeply religious country. India has achieved remarkable political and economic progress while the majority of Asian and African countries have struggled post colonisation. These struggling countries have failed because they replaced external colonisation by internal ones in the form of military or single party dictatorship which created more corrupt and less efficient administrations than the previous imperial ones with all the inherent evils of foreign occupation. India on the other hand has succeeded because Gandhi, Nehru and the other leaders of the Congress Party were committed from day one after the independence of creating a secular democratic society that gives equal opportunities to its entire population and refusing the dominance of one group or sect. Gandhi lost his life because of his strong believe against the dominance of Hinduism and was shot dead by a Hindu fundamentalist. For several decades now all the citizens of India enjoy practicing their chosen religion freely without imposition of the values of the majority Hindu religion on the rest of the population. Although in Hinduism cows are considered sacred and the Hindu religion demands from its followers to be vegetarians there are no restrictions on the practice of eating cow’s meat within India. Muslims, Christians, non-believers or other minorities can eat meat freely in India whenever they want and wherever they want.
Should the state be actively involved in promoting religious teaching and practices? In my view the main responsibility of the state is to ensure the security of the country against foreign forces and the safety of its people within secure legitimate borders. The state should protect the human rights of its citizens, freedom of expression, social justice; provide equal opportunities for honest living, and work to achieve the happiness of its people. Religious education is the responsibility of religious institutions which should have the full freedom to educate and preach their followers and full freedom of the believers to express and practice their religions’ under the protection of the state laws. The Indian example shows us that majority religion can survive and flourish without state interference or attacks on those who don’t adhere to its rules and accusing them of apostasy. In addition, the state sees no needs for reminding the believers of religious practices through TV channels or other state media. True believers often do not need these intrusive reminders.
Religious society can be maintained without state promotion and the Indian example should be carefully studied by all politicians in Egypt who are interested in maintain the religious identity of Egypt and achieving a fair and free society.
SK Morcos
July 2011