Church people happy over Indian state stressing secular values

Maharashtra's focus on the constitution comes amid criticism of the federal government ignoring secular principles
Church people happy over Indian state stressing secular values

Students wave Indian flags during a rehearsal for the upcoming Republic Day parade at Guru Nanak Stadium in Amritsar on Jan. 23. (Photo: Narinder Nanu/AFP)

An Indian state has ordered all its schools to daily read the preamble of the Indian constitution in its attempt to instill principles of secularism among children, drawing applause from church leaders.

All schools should read the preamble during their morning assembly from Jan. 26, India’s Republic Day, said the order by Maharashtra state in western India.

“It is being done so that everyone comes to know and understand the basic principles of inclusiveness, justice, equality, liberty and brotherhood,” Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad said in a statement on Jan. 21.

India’s constitution, promulgated on Jan. 26, 1950, declares in its preamble the nation as a sovereign, socialist, secular republic that strives to secure justice, liberty and equality to all its citizens.

The word "secular" was incorporated in 1976 with the interpretation that all religions in India should get equal respect, protection and support from the state.

Church leaders have appreciated the move to educate children on the values of the constitution.

“This is a laudable step, and it will benefit the state and the nation as a whole,” said Father Nigel Barett, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Bombay, based in the state capital.

“It is something that we will happily embrace. No one will have any objection. I think it will help people understand the purpose of our nation and the struggle that it has undergone to make it what it is now.” 

The Maharashtra government's move comes at a time when India has been witnessing protests against the federal government amending the country’s 65-year-old citizenship law, excluding Muslim refugees from becoming Indian citizens.

Ever since it came to power in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been facing criticism for ignoring the secular principles of the constitution.

Leaders of opposition and religious minorities say the government has been promoting policies and programs supporting the goal of Hindu groups to turn India into a nation of Hindu hegemony.

The government amended the citizenship law in December. On Jan. 10, it also confirmed implementation of the law in the official gazette, disregarding protests in which at least 25 people have died in clashes with police.

The notification reiterated that only “non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will be given Indian citizenship.”

Protesters say this violates secular principles of the constitution as it discriminates against Muslim refugees.

Christian and secular groups have been demanding to inculcate the values of the constitution in students to build up a generation of Indians respecting the country's religious pluralism.

A senior priest in Bombay Archdiocese, who requested anonymity, said the developments were "a serious worry” for all religious minorities.

“Attempts are being made to promote the religious ideologies of the majority Hindu religion. People following other religions are mistreated. A section of the people find pride in that,” he said.

The 27 million Christians, or 2.3 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people, form the second-largest religious minority in the country after Muslims. Indian Muslims number 170 million but form only 14 percent of the population in a country where 80 percent are Hindus.

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