Thursday, December 26, 2013

Brief Report of Round Table Meet on 14th December, 2013 at Hyderabad


The Round Table Meet was held by All India Secular Forum on “In Defense of Democracy in Current Scenario” on 14th December, 2013 at Ramanuja Chary Hall, Masab Tank, Hyderabad. The meeting was chaired by Justice E. Ismail, Former Member – A.P. State Human Rights Commission and Ms. Sarah Mathews, Managing Trustee, SANKALP conducted the meeting as Moderator.

The meeting began with an opening note from Mr. M.A. Shakeel introducing us to the topic by speaking about secularism, concrete agenda for reinforcing it and future course of action.The meeting was attended by 45 members.

Issues addressed:

  • How to combat the threats posed by the communal fascist parties?
  • How to tackle the media?
  • How to deal with youngsters who think authoritarian rule is better?
Recommendations and future work: The discussion ended with finalizing to adopt certain methods of approach to spread awareness. The methods suggested were as under:
  • Slogans, stickers, pamphlets on communal harmony
  • Hoardings
  • Advertisements in print and electronic media
  • One minute short films
  • Awareness for First time voters
  • Street plays
  • The Kati patang campaign – to write the intended messages on communal harmony and secularism on the kite and let the kites spread the word
  • Going to colleges to conduct lectures, interactive sessions, group discussions as well as organizing debates and essay writing competitions
  • Social networking sites
  • Organizing cultural events at public places like People’s Plaza or the bus-stands and train stations
  • Artisans mela
  • Run for democracy
  • Going to slums to meet with people and engage in informative talks with them and circulate the printed material
  • Approaching other organizations with similar ideology to spread more awareness
  • Using a sports icon to add weight to the message
Of the above mentioned items, we unanimously shortlisted few actions items to start working immediately for which committees were formed and people present volunteered to work on the following:
  • Basti meetings
  • Awareness meetings at Colleges and schools along with debates and essay competitions
  • Slogans, stickers, pamphlets on communal harmony
  • Hoardings
  • Advertisements in print and electronic media
  • One minute short films
  • Kites with messages

It was also decided by all present that each one would work and carry forward this agenda on a continuous basis and also unanimously passed a resolution that Bill on “Communal violence” be passed in this present session of the parliament.
The vote of thanks was given by Ms. Jasveen with sincere thanks to the Chair, Moderator and the organizing committee along with special thanks to Mr. Mahmood Ali for providing the venue. 

A brief report of 6th December demonstration at Jantar Mantar, Delhi

At the call of the PEOPLE'S ALLIANCE FOR DEMOCRACY AND SECULARISM in association with Pension Parishad  and 41 organizations, a well disciplined sit-in-Dharna and a demonstration was organized on 6th December, 2013 to coincide with the marking of the 21st anniversary of demolition of Babri Masjid and of highlighting the legitimate demands against communalism and growing danger of Fascism in the country at Jantar Mantar, Delhi.
The Sit-in-Dharna started with spirited and resounding slogans at 12.00. The meeting started at 1 PM presided by Kiran Shaheen and addressed by

1. Baba Adhav - Senior leader of waste pickers  from Maharashtra , social reformer and  also founder of Pension Parishad
2. Aruna Roy - Reputed peoples activist, leader of Majdoor Kishan shakti sangathan and Right to Information
3. Kavita Krishnun - Leader , CPI-ML (Liberation) and general secretary of All India Progressive women's Association
4. Sharfudin Ahmmad, Gen. Secretary, SDPI
5.Subhash Gatade - New Socialist Initiative
6.Sanjay Kumar - Peoples Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS)
7.Viren Lobo  -  ICAN
8. Arjun Prasad Singh - Committee  against state repression 
9. Shyam Sunder - Shaheed Bhagat Singh Disha Manch .........., Haryana
10. P K Shahi - CPI - ML
11. Roma - Forest Workers Union
12. Akbar Chaudhary - Leader of AISA, President JNU SU
13. Kiran shaheen - Women for water Democracy,  Right to water Campaign
14. Dipak Dholakia - ICAN
15. Shiwani Kaur - Bigul Mazdoor Dasta
All the speakers appealed the people to stand up against the crippling effect of communalism on the Indian society and conveyed solidarity with the victims of communal violence and demanded due punishment be meted out to all organizations and persons responsible for communal violence. Misha and Lokesh of DU students presented two songs.
Finally, all the participants held an impressive rally and demonstration within the Jantar Mantar circle with rousing slogans against communalism and fascism.


Stand up for Secularism and Democracy !

On the 21st anniversary of the demolition of  Babri Masjid

Stand up for Secularism and Democracy
Raise your voice for Justice for Victims of Communal Violence
December 6, 1992 must count as the darkest day in the history independent India. While the crowds mobilized by organisations of the RSS destroyed Babri Mosque under a planned conspiracy, the institutions of the Indian state, elected state and central governments, police and judiciary stood by as mute spectators. This was the culmination of a prolonged campaign by the RSS and its allies to destabilize constitutional government and seize power via spread of communal hatred and violence. Thousands of Indian citizens were killed in riots instigated by these forces during the run-up to, and after the demolition of Babri Masjid.
The history of independent India is also a history of communal killings. Riots in Jabalpur (1961) , Jamshedpur (1964), Rourkela (1964), Bhiwandi, Ahmedabad (1989), Nellie (1983), Delhi (1984), Malliana-Hashimpur (1987), Bhagalpur (1989), Mumbai (1992-93), Gujarat (2002), Kandhamal (2008) and Muzaffarnagar (2013), are major landmarks in this dark history. Citizens have also suffered violence due to their religious and ethnic identities in Kashmir, during the Khalistani movement in Punjab, and in Assam. None of the organisations and major leaders involved in organising communal violence have been brought to book by the criminal justice system of India. In fact different components of Indian state have contributed to this violence by their acts of commission and omission.   

We believe all decent-minded Indians mourn the loss of innocent lives in communal violence on December 6. It is also a day for us to
i)  Express our solidarity with victims of communal violence who are fighting for justice
ii)  Redouble our efforts to build an India in which no one faces threat due to her/his community, religion, place of origin or ethnicity
iii)  Demand that due punishment be meted out to all organizations and people responsible for communal violence
iv)  Demand accountability of the administration and police officials for failing to take action against communal violence.

Come out in large numbers for a demonstration at Jantar Mantar, Delhi
on 6 December, 2013 at 12:00 PM
Peoples Alliance for Democracy and Secularism

Organization’s Endorsed by:

  1. Pension Parishad
  2. All India Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (AIMKSS)
  3. Revolutionary Youth Association(RYA)
  4.  Khudai khidmatgar
  5.  South Asia Citizens Web
  6.  Indian Community Activists Network (ICAN)
  7.  AIPWA
  8.  COVA
  9. IPSCR
  10. All India Secular Forum (AISF)
  11.  Rajastan mazdoor Kisan Union (RMKU)
  12.  ANHAD
  13. Darshan Organisation
  14.  Black Pepper Publications
  15.  EKTA (Committee for Communal Amity, Mumbai)
  16.  Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum
  17. Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM)
  18. New Trade Union Initiative NTUI)
  19. New Socialist Initiative (NSI)
  20. Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP)
  21. Shaheed Bhagat Singh Disha Manch
  22. Radical Socialist
  23. Progressive Organization of People (POP)
  24. Bigul Mazdoor Dasta
  25. Disha Students Organization
  26. New Wave (Bolshevik Leninist)
  27. PUCL Rajastan
  28. Center for studies in science and societies (CESTUSS)
  29. Nishant Natya Manch, Delhi
  30. Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)
  31. Centre for Science Policy/Concerned
    Scientists & Philosophers
  32. All India Workers Forum
  33. Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan
  34. Right to Water Campaign
  35. Stree Mukti Sanghatan
  36. Social Democratik Party of India(SDPI)
  37. Nagrik Adhikar Manch, MP
  38. Yuva Samvad, MP
  39. Students for Resistance (SFR)
  40. Rights and Responsibilities Collective
  41. All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP)

Individual’s Endorsement:
  1. Abheek Barman
  2. Aftab Fazil
  3. Adhiraj Bose
  4. Ajmal Khan
  5. Ambrose Pinto
  6. Amir Rizvi
  7. Anannya Bhattacharjee 
  8. Antara Dev Sen
  9. Dr. Apoorvanand
  10. A.K. Arun
  11. Arun Bidani
  12. Ashok chowdhury
  13. Ashok Mukherjee
  14. Ashok Gautam
  15. Asit Das
  16. Ayub Ali Khan
  17. Balvant Desai
  18. Bodhisatwa Ray
  19. Dhirendra Sharma
  20. Dilip Simeon
  21. Dipak Dholakia
  22. Dipendar Kapur
  23. Diwan Singh
  24. Dr. Frzer Mascarenhas
  25.  Elyas Muhammed
  26. Gautam Kumar Bandopadhyay
  27. Gautam Modi
  28. G N Saibaba
  29. Harsh Kapoor
  30. Harsh Mander
  31. Hiren Gandhi
  32. Irfan Engineer
  33. Ishwar Prajapati
  34. Jamal Kidwai
  35. Javed Anis
  36. Jaya Vindhyala
  37. J.S. Bandukwala
  38. Juhi Jain
  39. Kumara Sundaram
  40. Lajja Shankar Herdenia
  41. Liyarath
  42. Kamayani
  43. Kaveri R I
  44. Kavita Krishnan
  45. Kiran Shaheen
  46. Krishnakant
  47. Madhu Prasad
  48. Mallika
  49. Mazher Hussain
  50. Mallika Sarabhai
  51. Meher engineer
  52. Mukul Dube
  53. Narendra Mohanty
  54. Neelima Sarma
  55. Noor Zaheer Zaheer
  56. Ovais Sultan Khan
  57. Pervez Bari
  58. Prabhat Patnaik
  59. Prithvi Sharma
  60. Pratip Nag
  61. Pushpa Achanta
  62. Ram Puniyani
  63. Rohini Hensman
  64. Rohit Prajapati
  65. Roja Ramani
  66. Romila Thappar
  67. Sagar Nama
  68. Dr (Ms) Sarwat Ali
  69. S.Q. Masood
  70. Sagar Rabari
  71. Saroop Dhruv
  72. Saumendra Sengupta
  73. Shabnam Hashmi
  74. Shamsul Islam
  75. Soumen Ray
  76. S. Seshan
  77. Subash Gatade
  78. Subash Mohapatra
  79. Suhas Borker
  80. Sudhavasan
  81. Sukla Sen
  82. Sumathi
  83. Suresh Bhat
  84. Surekha
  85. Sushovan Dhar
  86. Sudha Bharadwaj
  87. Tanusree Gangopadhyay
  88. Tanvir  Jafri
  89. Trupti Shah
  90. Uday Chhatre
  91. Uma Chandru
  92. Uma Chakravarti
  93. Vasanti Raman
  94. V.A. Kabeer
  95. Viren Lobo
  96. Walter Fernandes
  97. Waqar Kazi
  98. Yogesg Diwan 
  99. Dr.Zaheer Ahmed Sayeed
  100. Zakia Soman

Draft Manifesto of the All India Secular Forum by Sanjay

Manifesto of the All India Secular Forum
(Proposed Draft)
by Sanjay

Secularism is one of the essential pillars of the Constitution of India, yet it is perhaps the one most in danger of crumbling at the moment. Anti-secular communal ideologies and practices have become integral to the workings of state and other public institutions. Their influence can be found in criminal justice system, political establishment, education, and media. Hundreds of minority youth are picked up routinely on fake terror charges, and languish in jails for years. None of the political groups and people who conspired in the destruction of the Babri mosque and have engineered riots against minorities have been punished; rather their political fortunes have blossomed. It is possible that the person believed to have organized the most vicious communal pogrom in the post-independence history of the country becomes prime minister in near future. Pubic education glorifies a particular type of Hindu past. Media routinely caricatures minorities, targets them after every terror strike, and spreads false propaganda about them. Most worrisome is the widespread acceptance of anti-secular ideologies and practices by the people at large. Political parties and candidates with clear communal histories and programmes receive large proportion of votes in every election, in all parts of the country. Minorities are ghettoized in all cities. They are under constant suspicion in street level popular discourses. Among the minority communities themselves, communal identity has become the main pole of community life. Civil rights of minority members are threatened by the leadership of these communities themselves, and communal propaganda plays an important role in internal discourse.

Why is secularism faring so badly sixty five years after India declared itself a democratic republic, despite it enjoying a clear popular support in the anti-colonial struggle, and despite country being ruled by at least nominally secular political parties most of the time since independence? Does the reason for this failure lie solely with the Hindu nationalist formations like the RSS and its affiliates? Attributing difficulties of secularism on its opponents appears to miss the main issue. Opponents of secularism have always opposed it; the question is why have they succeeded in the past three decades. Success of Hindu communal politics and ideology is not only a measure of the success of its votaries, it also is an indication of deeper social and political processes. What are these, and how can they be countered? Also, it is time to critically reflect on the type of secularism visaulised in Indian constitution and attempted by Indian state. Social scientists have distinguished secularism in India from the secularism of Western liberal democracies, primarily on the basis of the relationship between state and religion. The Indian one is believed to be based upon ‘Sarv Dharm Sambhav’ (Equal respect for all religions), while the Western one is believed to be based upon separation of state from religion. How accurate is this distinction, and how well does it match with reality?  Is the secularism conceived and attempted in India adequate to the challenges of building a democratic society in a country like India with deep feudal and patriarchal roots?

Indian Secularism

Secularism of Indian constitution drew its spirit from experiences Indian freedom movement. Congress under Gandhi had declared Hindu-Muslim unity as an important goal of the freedom movement. This unity was attempted under a constant shadow of the British policy of divide and rule, and machinations of the communal forces of the two communities, both outside and inside the Congress. The establishment of Pakistan on a religious principle consolidated the opinion that the promise of security under secularism  for the remaining minorities is the best guarantee for unity and integrity of  the country. Horrors of partition riots and murder of Gandhi by a Hindu communalist further galvanized popular opinion against communalism. Hence, the constitutional scheme of Indian secularism developed its two main characters; security to religious minorities, enshrined in the fundamental right to religious freedom and no discrimination based on religion, and opposition to aggressive manifestations of majority communalism. Even though Indian constitution is a thoroughly liberal, humanist and secular document, there are important traces of concessions to sectarian demands, like the right to not just practice but also propagate religion given under Christian missionary demands and the Directive Principle on cow protection.   

The secularism of Indian in the meanwhile has had a chequered history. It has been high on rhetoric and commissions of enquiries, but has often faltered in practice. Upper caste Hindu forces have enjoyed significant presence in politics, and state apparatuses, and these forces in administration, police and judiciary have played important role in fomenting communal discord. Rather than keeping away from religion, Indian state has played a supportive role to religion. It adopted an active policy of reform of Hinduism towards an upper caste sanskritised form. This effort was directed towards making Hinduism palatable to a modernist sensibility. These efforts worked more to cover up the disdainful aspects of Hinduism, and in effect gave it state support. Thus the constitution banned untouchability and declared Hindu temples open to dalit castes, while the enlightened dalit leadership under Ambedkar had left the temple entry programme long before that, and had declared a resolve to leave Hinduism. Indian state denied reservation benefits to dalits who converted to Buddhism with Ambedkar, and till date dalits who leave Hinduism and convert to Islam and Christianity forfeit all reservation benefits, which acts as a pressure on them to remain within the Hindu fold. In reality, Indian state supports other religions too. It regularly provides administrative and financial support to various religious enterprises, like pilgrimages, festivals, places of worship and processions.

The post-independence state in India continued many practices from colonial times that were inspired by the colonial rulers’ policy of treating India as a collection of distinct and communities with separate and conflicting interestrs, rather than a community of rights bearing citizens. Thus the state continued funding of educational institutions run by religious trusts, and granted special management rights to those run by minorities. It continued with laws dealing with the so called hurt to religious and community sentiments, and spreading animosity between communities, and has banned books, authors, films, and plays under these laws. State took over the management of temples and other places of worship managed by erstwhile princely states as part of accession agreements. In the late eighties, under the prime ministership of Rajiv Gandhi, the Central Government indulged in an ugly double appeasement of religious demands, which opened the way for a qualitatively new growth of Hindu communalism. It passed an act regarding maintenance of Muslim widows that annulled Shahbano judgement of the Supreme Court, to satisfy the demands of religious heads of the community. To appease the aggressive sentiment of Hindus it opened the locked doors to the temple in Babri mosque.

Non-communal dominant political forces in the country have practiced a type of secularism that can best be described as the ‘iftar party’ variety, after the post-fasting parties organized by political parties during Ramzan. Such secularism aims for symbolic communal amity under well orchestrated conditions. It looks for the so called ‘natural leaders’ of minority communities and opens up engagement with them with a clearly political purpose. Through focusing interaction with the minority communities during their religious events, it sees their concerns purely in terms of their religious demands.  The ‘iftar party’ secularism does not generate interaction among ordinary members of different communities to create a shared domain of mutual appreciation. It does not confront the main concerns of the members of minority community that arise from their economic and social conditions, and the threat to their security from the majority communalism and state institutions.

Indian state and dominating political forces have shown an unhealthy indulgence with all religions, sects, godmen and godwomen. They have played an important role in keeping a dominating presence of religion of all types in the public life of the country. When religion is so important in public life, it is unrealistic to expect that it will not have a role in country’s politics. There is nothing wrong in itself in the presence religion in the public life of the country, after all the fundamental right to practice and propagate religion can not be quarantined to the so called private sphere, as the liberal ideology imagines. This is particularly so in a country like India, where religion has been a very important component of community festivals and fares. What is worrisome is the priority given to religion on public resources, overlooking of blatantly illegal practices of religious institutions, stymieing of public discourse to assuage the so called hurt religious sentiments, and meddling of religious heads in politics.     

A principled secularism today in India has to confront communalism, not only of the majority, which admittedly is the biggest threat to country’s social fabric, but of all religious communities. It also has to confront the Indian state in its various acts of commission and omission vis a vis religion, that have compromised rights of not only minorities, but of all citizens. Finally, it has to come to a clear understanding of the role of religion in a plural and democratic society.  

Rethinking Secularism

A very common misunderstanding regarding secularism is to consider it related only to state policies and practices. While the key issue to address should be how society can be made secular. Secularism of state is justifiable only on the basis of requirements of a secular society. Secularism of society itself is not a separate independent principle dealing with religion. It is an integral part of `the process of democratization. As part of this process secularism is not conceived as a negative principle, as anti-religion. Its positive content lies in very definite assertions about humanity and society. These assertions in fact are also values, they are realizable only partially under capitalism, but that does not diminish their significance for any project of human liberation.  The two most important of these se are (i) recognition of the moral autonomy of humans as individual persons, without any reference to their birth, gender, religion, caste, economic worth, etc., and (ii) a prescription that the social institutional structure should encourage emergence of a community of equals of such humans as citizens. The first assertion is realized in fundamental and equal rights assigned to individual citizens. No other rights and privileges accepted for existing communities, associations, or state institutions can override these fundamental rights.  The second assertion demands open and inclusive institutional structures. Within the framework of these twin assertions, secularism is a set of claims and practices that deal with the role of religion and faith based practices

It is during the process of democratization of society that religion based beliefs in the supernatural have been pushed out of explanations and workings of social institutions. Authors of the American Declaration of Independence may have claimed ‘that all men are created equal’, and ‘that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.’ Nobody today is bothered about whether their claim about a Creator God, common to all Semitic religions, is right or wrong. For the evolution of democracy it was the belief of flesh and blood humans about themselves that they are equal, and that they have certain in-alienable rights, which turned out to be of paramount significance. All modern political constitutions establish their source as the will and wisdom of the people, without any recourse to a divine source or agency. In other fields too, humanist and naturalist perspectives have become dominant.  A divine inspiration is no longer sought behind works of art and culture. Economy is understood as emerging from the needs and greed of humans only. Public office holders can take oath on whatsoever they consider as the basis of their morality, any god if they so wish, or just their own conscience, if they do not believe in any supernatural power. However, only they as individuals are responsible for their actions, they can not pass on the responsibility of their actions onto their god(s). Similarly, no supernatural cause is justifiable in any modern criminal justice system.

It is impossible to imagine any modern democracy without diverse secular processes. Secularisation of society may have started in a few countries in Western Europe, but it has been adopted and adapted all over the world by people who wish to form a democratic society. Some scholars have argued that Western Christianity was most suitable for the emergence of secularism, understood as separation of state and religion, and relegation of religion to private domain. Christianity has always had clear institutional form, and its theology itself imagined a separation between an eternal divine world, and a temporal, mundane saeculum (from which the world is secular derived). In contrast, in countries like India religion as a way of life permeates every part of society, and it is not institutionalized with well laid demarcations. As Gandhi’s politics was inseperable from his religion, it is inappropriate to force a secularism in these societies, which creates a wall of separation between religion and politics. It can only be the project of a Westernised elite, with little mass support.

There are a number of problems with this argument, in its understanding of the emergence of secularism in Western Europe and valuation of its prospects in countries like India. First, it is wrong to imagine that religion is purely a private affair in Western European countries with well entrenched secularism. At a symbolic level religion continues to enjoy a significant pubic presence. No American president is unlikely to end his/her speech to American people without ‘God Bless You’; ‘In God we Trust’ remains printed on currency notes. Festivals related to Christianity are the biggest community affairs. At a more substantial level, churches and church groups play a role in politics; mobilizing their members and putting forth sectarian demands during elections. Right wing leaders like George Bush or Sarkozy, and like the right wing in all countries, regularly woo voters on religious grounds. So it is not true that the religion has disappeared, or has been forced out of public life. Nor is it the case that secularism in these countries has reached any sense of perfection. Some of their recent policies against Muslims and other religious minorities, need to be denounced on the principles of secularism. What has happened is that with developments in economy, sciences, state institutional structure; struggles between state institutions and Church, and most importantly popular struggles for social, political and economic rights, which often found Church as a big counter-revolutionary conservative force, a public sphere has emerged in which all citizens are believed to interact equals, at least theoretically. This has resulted in a big shift. Whereas during medieval times Church and religion had a dominating presence in society; concerns of the public sphere now confine and determine the role of religion.

Processes similar to those in liberal West European countries have occurred in India too, though given the unique history of Indian religious traditions and the nature of popular struggles, Indian secularism can not be a copy of the West European secularism. Freedom movement, struggle against majority and minority communalisms, left led popular mobilizations, and anti caste movements have played an important role in establishing state politics and institutional structures on non-religious foundations. For instance a fundamental political choice was made in Indian constitution. Gandhian idea was to constitute independent India as a collection of village communities, while Ambedkar had declared caste dominated Indian village to be the prison house of oppressed castes. His programme for emancipation of dalit castes included ‘one person one vote’ without any concession to existing community institutions like the caste. Once caste based organization of society was rejected, and a political system erected on Ambedkar’s scheme, the significance of Hinduism in the public life of the country was severely undercut, so much so that the caste itself underwent a process of secularisation. Brahminism based untouchability was declared illegal. In the arena of politics, and public life in general, caste is now often connected with secular mobilizations and associations. No longer can it operate publically as a principle of ritualized hierarchy. A very interesting development occurred a few years ago in the most populous state of the country, where a Dalit woman politician successfully led an alliance of Dalits and Brahmins in state elections.

Simple questions should be asked to politicians and scholars who question the relevance of secularism for India. Would they prefer a political system based on the fundamental moral autonomy of all humans as equal individuals, or the one that treats humans irreducibly as members of faith based communities, determining what they are, and constraining their freedom to be what they want to be? Would they prefer a criminal-justice system based on the principle of evidence and individual culpability, or the one which grants different evidential values to witnesses based upon their gender, religion, etc.? The former choices are the starting principles of modern democracies. The latter are what occurred in many medieval polities, and can still be seen in countries like Saudi Arabia.

There is nothing inherently anti-religious in the democratization project of society. Secularisation of society as part this project comes into many points of contact, and possible conflicts with religion and religious institutions. Citizens have a right to assume whatever they believe to be the foundation of their moral agency, which may be religious, or something else. Also, a large proportion of believers do accept that religious tenets need to be interpreted according to the context of the current society, rather than in a fundamentalist way, and have been thoroughly secular.  Religious or faith based claims and practices are confronted to the extent they are against the basic assertions of the democratic process. For instance, no community, religious or otherwise, can deny the right to exit to any of its members. Communities are not allowed to vilify or demonise other communities or people.  If children are assumed to have certain rights, then no religious practice can be allowed to violate these rights. Given their social conditions, women in family, as wives, divorcees, widows, daughters, etc. may be given rights that do not match with religious commands. A deeper conflict arises when religion takes on a fundamentalist and exclusivist character.  Religious beliefs and practices are intimately connected with the formation of personal and collective identities, which while bringing the adherents together, also create boundaries and exclude others. This leads to a contradiction between open ended rational discourses and inclusive practices required in all modern, plural and democratic societies, and faith based rigid demands. Hence, according to secularism, sections of Hindus have a right to build a temple to Ram in Ayodhaya after following legal provisions. They have no right to demand, as a matter of faith, that it should be built precisely at the location of Babri Masjid. 

Once religion is no longer accepted as an organizing principle of plural democratic societies, and secularism is recognized as integral to the democratic project, then this project should be the aim of anti-communal secular forces. This entails a fundamental shift in the conception of secularism in India. For instance, protection of minorities and communal amity emerge naturally as a consequence of the democratization project, rather than being primary aims in themselves. As noted earlier, dominant political forces in India have practiced an ‘iftar party’ variety of secularism, which aims for surface communal amity without first consolidating the regime of equal citizenship rights. A correct understanding of the naturalist and humanist context of secularism inverts the priorities of the politically dominant forces.    

Programme of the All India Secular Forum

Strategic goals and tactical programme of the All India Secular Forum follow from a principled position on secularism. Secular principles of state policy come from requirements of a secular society. Secularization of society is an integral part of its democratization. Both strategy and tactics of the front are determined by the primary aim of building a democratic society. Majoritarian communalism, best exemplified in the politics of the RSS and its organizations, is the biggest threat to secularism in the country.  Other social political formations like the Shiv Sena also follow similar programme. The success of the majoritarian communalism in the past three decades should be seen as consolidation of a reactionary social, political and economic programe in favour of privileged sections of the society. This reactionary programme attacks not only the rights of religious minorities, but also of women, oppressed castes, regions and nationalities. The economic content of this programme is against workers and toiling masses.  The Secular Forum also recognizes that Indian state has by and large been a dishonest custodian of the principles of secularism of Indian constitution. It has compromised with religious leaderships of different communities, even when their demands violated fundamental rights granted to all citizens. It has failed to confront the upper caste Hindu communalism of its functionaries.  Secular Forum realizes the folly of the surface secularism of the dominant political parties in the country.  These parties wear the secular hat opportunistically for political gains. Secular Forum also realizes the threat to secularism from internal communalism of minority communities, which violates citizenship rights of members of minority communities under religious diktats.      

The guiding strategy of Secular Forum can be summarized as follows.
  • The strategic goal of Secular Forum is realization of a democratic society in which the fundamental rights of every member are accepted and honoured as a matter of course.
  • Attaining this goal involves struggles not only against religious discrimination, but also against caste, gender, language, ethnicity and nationality oppressions.  While fighting against religious discrimination, the Forum will also struggle jointly with other forces fighting against these oppressions.
  • Many faith based demands violate citizenship rights. Forum will struggle against all such demands without distinction. 
  • State is the most important formal institution in society. Many of the struggles waged by the forum will be in the form of demands put on state, and opposition to its actions. The forum however also realizes that in a society like India with a deep feudal and patriarchal past the establishment of democratic values in the day to day life of citizens involves a long ideological struggle among the people.

The immediate tactical programme of the Secular Forum can be summarized in following points.
  • The Hindutava  programme and ideology of majority communalism is the biggest threat to secularism in the country. All efforts need to be made to defeat it politically. However, the Secular Forum will project its distinct principles on all platforms.
  • The Secular Forum will confront the shallow secularism of dominant political forces and convince people of its limitations.
  • The Secular Forum will oppose priority given to religious institutions and practices on public resources, overlooking of blatantly illegal practices of religious institutions, stymieing of public discourse to assuage the so called hurt religious sentiments, and the meddling of religious heads in politics.
  • The Secular Forum will oppose gender and caste oppression in the name of religion in any community.
  • Many parts of India are witnessing localized oppression of minorities based on religion, language, or ethnicity. Examples are violence by Shiv Sena against North Indians in Mumbai, or by Bodo extremists against Muslims staying in Bodoland.  Secular Forum will struggle against such community based violence.
  • As religious fundamentalism is becoming a potent political force in many countries, popular struggles for a secular state and way of life are occurring in many of these, for example in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt. Forum expresses its solidarity with popular struggles for secularism in all parts of the world.
  • Secular Forum denounces religious fundamentalism and oppression of minorities everywhere; Hindutva fundamentalism in India, Buddhist fundamentalism in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, Islamic fundamentalism in Muslim majority countries, and Christian fundamentalism in Western countries.   

Draft Manifesto by Ram Puniani

For Discussion
Draft Manifesto
Ram Puniani

The communalization of the society and rise of communal politics by the forces espousing the cause of Religion based Nationalism, has posed serious threat to democratic and secular values of the society. During last two decades in particular we have witnessed anti-Sikh pogroms, Anti Muslim violence, demolition of Babri Masjid, and low intensity sustained anti-Christian violence. The state apparatus has been heavily communalized over the period of last many decades. While organizations like Simi have played their dirty role, the major communalization has been done by various components of Sangh Parivar. This has occurred at various levels. The most serious of these has been the systematic attempt by trained volunteers of RSS in infiltrating different wings of the state. The communalized social consciousness has also affected the other state functionaries in various ways. This has been manifested not only at the times of communal violence when the communal attitude of state apparatus and more particularly police force is very obvious, even at other times the state has shown its biases in recruitment policies and has resorted to other discriminatory polices against the minorities and other weaker sections of society.

Concerned social groupings and individuals have risen to this new threat to the democratic values. Their efforts have resulted in formation of various initiatives-groups, campaigns, publications, and different types of meaningful activities. These initiatives are supplementing each other’s role in fighting against the menace of communal politics. These efforts are scattered, non-coordinated and mostly effective at local level. The need is felt to create a platform, which can assist the local activities and also provide a National direction to these efforts, which aim to protect and promote the Democratic-Secular values and principles.

Agenda of Communal Politics:

In post-independence era communal riots began on a big scale around 1962 and went on increasing in frequency and intensity. These riots were outcome of various complex socio-economic factors and went along with the simultaneous strengthening of communalization of society. Communal ideology became a part of ‘social common sense’.

By late 80’s the large sections of society began to accept the myths, that Muslims were responsible for partition. Muslims are out to increase their population by multiple marriages. Muslims’ opposition to uniform civil code is coming in the way of ‘national integration’, Lately these myths have been joined by series of myths against the other minority community, i.e. Christians. Suddenly one has started hearing that Christians start school and Hospitals mainly to convert the people by force and inducement, that these conversions are anti-national acts, that lot of money is being brought to India for the Evangelization project from ‘Christian’ Nations. Needless to say communal parties are actively propagating these myths.

The role of Muslim communalists, was visibly seen during the Shah Bano judgment time when they roused the communal passions to get this judgment reversed. There are enough left over of Muslim communal politics, which have tried to keep the large sections of Muslim community in their grip. The rise of terrorism worldwide projects itself to be the monolith of Islamic terrorism. But all the same, while equally condemnable, their role in the communal conflicts and communalization of society has been secondary to the majoritarian communalism of RSS and its progeny.

Needless to say communal outfits are bereft of programs, which would benefit a majority of people and have all along tried to make a majority on communal lines. Communalism gives rise to revivalist tendencies and spells doom for women struggling against patriarchy and Dalits struggling for social justice. Communal riots legitimize retribution and create a violent society where democratic aspirations of the people cannot be realized.

To summarize, the freedom struggle and the accompanying industrialization/secularization process of the society meant a death knell for the birth based hierarchies of caste and gender, as it meant the introduction of the principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. The declining social classes of Feudal Lords and their social accompaniments resorted to the ‘Religion based Politics’ of Hindu Mahasabha, RSS on one side and of Muslim League on the other. Part of communalist ideology also got expressed through other political parties as well. Post independence, the Religion based Nationalism got deflated and industrialization and secularization proceeded at some pace. By the decade of 80s again sections of society threatened by the social transformation assertively brought this retrograde politics to the fore. This politics is for status quo to begin with and then attempts to push back the social relations in a backward direction i.e. towards restoration of birth based hierarchies of caste and gender. This politics is a cover for suspension of democratic rights, stifling of Human rights of the weaker sections of society and creation of an atmosphere of social hysteria, which acts as a camouflage for the march of Fascist agenda, agenda of intolerance.

Aims of All India Secular Forum:

1. To provide a National platform for the Secular struggles for all the groups for whom the issue of Communalism is the primary focus and for the other groups-women, worker, Dalit and adivasi, for whom it is a major concern in their work.
2. To provide a secular and democratic expression for the aspirations of the sections struggling for their Human and democratic rights.
3. To promote intercommunity relations, to ensure that machinations of communal forces in generating hatred and violence amongst different communities are stalled.
4. To positively work in the prevention of situations, which can cause communal tension. In the situations of communal tensions, to work for harmony committees and for protection of the rights of all the sections of society.
5. To work for the communal amity between different communities by demolishing the myths against ‘other’ communities.
6. To undertake campaigns for preservation and promotion of Secular values in the society.
7. To initiate cultural programs which express the syncretic and plural values of our society, culture of weaker groups of society.
8. To initiate workshops, camps and seminars for secular awareness.

Tasks ahead

In the immediate future we need to

a. State level meetings and conventions on this theme to be held.
b. To work towards a National Convention of Rashtriya Secular Manch at the earliest.
c. To net work all the groups interested in these issues
d. To run a newsletter to link these groups. To work towards publications, visual materials-films-posters for the spreading popular awareness.
e To initiate national campaigns for promotion of Secular values.
f. To support the Human Rights Campaigns initiated by other coalitions/groups.
g. The Forum will work to
1.Initiate campaigns to seek punishment of the guilty.
2. Support women struggling against patriarchy and Dalits struggling for social justice.
3. Work at preventing communal violence.
4. Work to counter communal propaganda.

Protest against the brutal murder of Narendra Dabholkar

Today at the SPWD hall, many ‘activists for secularism’ protested against the brutal murder of Narendra Dabholkar by the fascist forces. He was a relentless fighter against superstitions in the society. More than forty years, he struggled to develop an organization to put an end to superstitions and in the process established a network of thousands of activists across Maharashtra.Two minutes silence was observed in respect to the departed fighter.
The meeting was organized to discuss the draft manifesto for All India Secular Forum. Speaking on the occasion prof. Dileep Simeon said, “Anybody, who want to fight for their rights have to struggle today for defending the secular democratic elements of our social life, to the extent it is there. This is in the backdrop of the fascist forces in India trying their best to abolish even the constitutionally assured minimum democratic rights in the country.” The programme was presided by Deepak Dolakia, and was attended by Prof. Sanjay Kumar, Kiran Shaheen, Noor Zaheer, Sudha Vasan, Battini Rao, Viren Lobo, etc.

Appeal in defence of democracy and secularism

As you all are aware, today we are facing with the growing menace of fascism, even graver than the earlier times. The fascist vipers are spreading out the poison of communalism, casteism, national jingoism to develop disunity and disharmony among the people and as a result the democratic culture of living together has been radically undermined. They turned the country in to a slaughter house for their pelf and power. In this situation, to give shape to an all India secular democratic forum or network with a strong and clear vision and to develop a powerful countrywide democratic campaign for secularism and democracy is the need of the hour.  This includes campaign against the dangers posed by fascism to various sections of society, countering all attempts to develop communal, casteist polarizations of society, and spreading an understanding of what genuine secular democracy means and why it is an essential part of a modern state and society. With this aim, we are conducting a series of meetings over the past few months in various centers across the country.
A meeting of democratic activists held in Delhi on October 20, 2013, issued the following appeal in defense of secularism and Democracy as a preliminary step to mobilize public opinion and create a network through its endorsement.
So, I request all those who have not yet endorsed, to endorse the (following) appeal to make it public and widely circulate it in your circle to get endorsement and mobilization for our campaign. Those who have endorsed till today, their names are given in the list, below.
With Regards,
Battini Rao

Appeal in defence of democracy and secularism

A meeting of democratic activists took place in Delhi on October 20, 2013. it was part of a series of meetings conducted over the past six months and more in various centres across the country. The activists issued an appeal to all citizens to resist communal propaganda of all hues and communal violence at all levels. They called upon organs of state and judiciary to uphold democratic and constitutional norms.
Communal hatred and violence are a danger to social integrity and if allowed to continue will endanger the security of all Indians. The very fate of our democratic institutions is at stake. The gathering decided to continue the campaign of resistance to communal politics of all kinds and work together with persons, groups and organizations throughout the country who share these concerns.


1)      Ali Javed
2)      Apoorvanand
3)      Ashim Jain
4)      Ashok Vaishnav
5)      Dilip Simeon
6)      Dilip Vyas
7)      Dipak Dholakia
8)      Faisal Khan
9)      gautam kumar Bandyopadhyay
10)   Harsh Kapoor
11)   Hiremath SR
12)   Jamal Kidwai
13)   Jeevika
14)   Juned Khan
15)   K Babu Rao
16)   Kavitha Muralidharan
17)   Kiran Shaheen
18)   Mahtab Alam
19)   Mukul Dube
20)   Nasiruddin H.K
21)   Nikhil Dey
22)   Onkar Mittal
23)   Ovais Sultan Khan
24)   Praatibh Mishra
25)   Prakash K Ray
26)   Prasad V
27)   Pridhvi Sarma
28)   Rajesh Ramakrishnan
29)   Rakhi Gupta
30)   Ravi Nitesh
31)   Rebacca kurian
32)   Ritwik Agrawal
33)   Rohini Hensman
34)   Rohit Prajapati
35)   Rohit Shukla Swayam
36)   Sajal Dand
37)   Samir Dholakia
38)   Sanakara Narayanan
39)   Sanjay Kumar
40)   Shabnam Hashmi
41)   Shreya lla Anasuya
42)   Shyam Sonar
43)   Soumen Ray
44)  Battini Srinivasa Rao
45)   Subash mohapatra
46)   Subhash Gatade
47)   Sudha Vasan
48)   Sukhvinder Shahi
49)   Sukla Sen
50)   Trupti Shah
51)   Vinerjeet Kaur
52)   Vipin Tripathi
53)   Viren Lobo
54)   Zulaikha Jabeen
55) Lubna Sarwath
56) Priya Vari
57) Noor Zaheer Zaheer
58) Sudha Reddy
59) Sushovan Dhar
60) Garg Chattarjee
61) Helen Saldanha
62) Uday Chhatre
63) Samantha Agarwal
64) Depinder Kapur
65) Uma Chakravarti
66) Dhruv Narayan
67) Amit Sengupta
68) Jaya Iear
69) Pervin Jehangir
70) M. Abdus Salam
71) Abha Mittal
72) A.K. Arun
73) Dunu Roy
74) Ashok Chowdhury
75) Kunal Chattopadhyay
76) Ram Puniyani
77) Ayesha Kidwai
78) Hiren Gandhi
79) Saroop Dhruv
80) Waqar Qazi
81) Ananth Phadke
82) Tanveer Hussain Khan
83) Jayachandran .R
84) Bernard D’molle
85) Arun Khote
86) Elyas Mohammed
87) Uma Shankar Thiwari
88) Justice Kolse Patil B.G
89) Swati Birla
90) Abhinav Sinha
91) Soma Kishore Parthasarathi
92) Sophia Khan
93) Veena
94) Juhi Jain
95) Suneeta Dhar
96) Nafisa Barot
97) Sheba George
98) Aliya Tabasum
99) Manisha Gupte
100) Jasveen Jairath
101) Irfan Engeneer
102) S.Q. Masood
103) Preeti Sampat
104) Lalita Ramdas
105) Jaya Vindhyala
106) Saraswati Kavula
107) Vasanta Kannabhiran
108) Nimisha
109) Ramesh Nandwana
110) S.R. Darapuri
111) Ali Asgar                
112) Vijay Burgula
113) Kinnera Murthy
114) Anuradha Kapoor
115) Richa Singh
116) Francis Lobo
117) Arun Kumar
118) Zakia Soman
119) Nayan Jyoti
120) Ajmal Khan
121) Meghana Arora
122) Venkat Kolagari
123) Pravin Kumar
124) Anand Teltumbde
125) Harsh Mander
126) Indira Kaveri
127) Gabriele Dietriech
128) Neeraj Jain
129) Pratibh Mishra
130) Prof. Haragopal
131) Roja Ramani
132) Adhiraj
133) Vijayachandran
134) Anandi Sharan
135) C.K.Vishwanath136) Kavita Srivastava
137) Mukta Srivastava138) Rajni Tilak
139) Abhay Kumar140) Uday Chhattre