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One Year Since The Tablighi Jamaat Controversy: Has Our Definition Of Secularism Changed?

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

The Preamble to the Constitution of India says, “We the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a [sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic]in our constituent assembly this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949 do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution.” But have we really given ourselves to this Constitution? Is it followed by us in true means?

A judgement established by the Supreme Court of India stated, “In matters of State, religion has no place. And if the Constitution requires the State to be secular in thought and action, the same requirement attaches to political parties as well. The Constitution does not recognise, it does not permit, mixing religion and State power. That is the constitutional injunction. None can say otherwise so long as this Constitution governs this country. Politics and religion cannot be mixed. Any State government which pursues nonsecular on policies or nonsecular course of action acts contrary to the constitutional mandate and renders itself amenable to action under Article 356”. But could these words be justified in the practical world today?

The Constitution of India was amended by 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 to include secularism. Due to large number of amendments made this act is also referred to as ‘Mini Constitution’. It was enacted by Indira Gandhi led Indian National Congress.

How Has The Concept Of Secularism Changed?

Now, after 44 years of India being a secular state, a question being raised in this regard in itself is an alarming bell for the nation. Over the years, the definition of secularism has transformed from respecting the other religion to bragging about one’s own.

Back in 1947, when partition took place, when it was not the boundaries that were being created but the people who were being separated. I think during that phase, India set the best example of secularism it ever could. Wondering how? Today, many of us may criticise the then great leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and hold them accountable for the present situations.

But have we ever thought that it was India who open-heartedly accepted people of all religious beliefs and faiths. It was upon the people whether they wanted to be a part of India or Pakistan (talking explicitly about our nation no one was denied to enter). And this is what secularism is all about. It’s about choice and not imposition. It’s about equally respecting and regarding every religion as well as the individual associated with it.

Coming to the present scenario, according to me, the past that we had is not responsible for where we are heading today, but the past that we are creating every now and then definitely is.

 The Tablighi Jamaat — Ostensible Or Responsible?

The Tablighi Jamaat is an Islamic Missionary Movement established by Muhammad Ilyas Al-Kandhlawi in 1926 that urges Muslims worldwide to practice the religion as it was at the time of Prophet Muhammad and aims to convert them back to true Muslims. They hold religious gatherings annually in various parts of the world and this year the event was being held in Nizamuddin Markaz, Delhi, India, from 1-15 March.

That was precisely the time when the coronavirus was starting to set up its roots in our country. Around 2,000 foreigners congregated in Nizamuddin and around 8,000 people visited during the meantime. The distress and panic started when an Indonesian citizen who had participated in Markaz and was travelling in Telangana was found Covid positive. After that started a chain of congregators testing positive. The Delhi Police told the Delhi government that despite being warned to vacate the mosque, the disciples did not do that. And then started the blame game.

muslim corona

Not only the Jamaats, but the entire Muslim community was being portrayed as anti-nationals. They were being held responsible for the widespread of the virus. The Indian media got a new ‘burning topic’ that would do no good to nation but would benefit them by increasing their TRPs. Fake news started spreading faster than fire. False images were being circulated. Abhorrent messages were being spread. The issue was being fabricated and the controversy was being created. People were being prompted to detest each other. Religious polarisation reached an extreme extent.

Even the Supreme Court of India expressed its discontentment in this regard. Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramaniam said, “We wanted you to tell as to what actions you have taken under the Cable TV Network Act. There is no information about this in the affidavit. We should tell you that we are disappointed with the Centre’s affidavit in these matters.”  CJI SA Bobde said, “We want to know the mechanism employed by you and this affidavit has nothing on it. Why should we refer to NBSA etc. when you have the authority to look into it? If it does exist you create authority else we will hand it over to an outside agency.”

There were no discussions or debates on the subjects of utmost concern. On how to get the labourers out of the miserable conditions? On how to do away with the rising unemployment? On how to balance the decelerating economy with -23.9 GDP? On how to control the daunting crime rates? Or even on how to keep a tight rein on the lethal virus?

India seemed to be a nation of Hindus and Muslims and not Indians. Terms such as ‘Corona Jehad’ were being used. Barbers, fruit sellers and general workers were being asked their religion. Our Constitution prohibits discrimination on any grounds and grants Right to Equality to every citizen. Anyone who violates the law should strictly be punished. Then, if we can hold a community responsible for spreading the virus, shouldn’t those violating the fundamental right be punished?

Here, I’m not favouring any particular caste, community or religion. But isn’t it nonplussing that in a population of 135.26 crores 0.04% of a particular community or 0.0006% of the total population were being held responsible for spreading a virus.

According to the reports, the first worldwide corona case was reported on November 17, 2019. In December 2019, the world came to know about it. Still why no international flights were cancelled by the government and lakhs of people from foreign countries visited India from November 2019 till January 2020 (even after that people continue to came but here, we are questioning the initial phase)?

The first corona case in the USA was also reported in January itself. Then why was the American President invited to India on 24th and 25th February? Around 1,00,000 people gathered on the first day of the ‘Namaste Trump’ event. Well, it appears to be as if 2,000 is a larger number compared to lakh, isn’t it? Why were there no questions on the Ayodhya bhoomi poojan that was held amidst the pandemic with 175 invitees and thousands of uninvitees (sitting without any masks or social distancing as seen in a few photographs shown by the news channels without any criticism) who were there to light diyas at Ayodhya?

A protester holds a placard during a demonstration against India’s new citizenship law in Mumbai on December 27, 2019.

The lockdown affected 40 million migrants; 50,000 to 60,000 labourers moved from urban areas to rural areas. Unlock 1 started 20 days after the workers were asked to migrate. Some of them reached their villages, some were stuck in the middle while some even lost their lives. Yet, till today, there is no data on the death of migrant workers.

When the workers were moving as a huge crowd without being provided any precautionary measures, was there no corona? When people were dying due to adverse and unfavourable conditions where was the government? Why was the permission of holding the event in Nizamuddin Markaz granted by the Delhi government (though it comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs as Delhi is a UT) and no strict actions were taken despite having the information about the happening?

Although the Tablighi Jamaat did not do the right thing by getting together for the occurrence, yet, a single community can not be held liable under any circumstances. It is evident from the above arguments that the government was trying to elude from certain failures which with the support of media and public it did successfully. It is these political parties that through religious polarisation have degraded the concept of Secularism.

Secularism is ‘the heart and soul’ of our nation. It’s about being one. It’s about getting stronger each and every time we go through adversities and not let them destroy the very spirit of our nation. The country that fights together, wins together. As Atal Bihari Vajpayee said, “If India is not secular, India is not India at all”. We need to remind ourselves that constitution guarantees the protection of faith of every citizen and henceforth, it is our fundamental as well as moral duty to protect the ‘Unity and Integrity‘ of India.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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