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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK
Can India survive as a secular state?
Tensions between India's Hindu and Muslim communities have reached a climax in recent months.

They follow the row over the site of the demolished Babri mosque in Ayodhya and the murder of more than 700 people in communal violence in Gujarat.

India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee caused widespread anger by suggesting that the country's Muslim community was largely responsible for the violence.

But many say the blame lies with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for its overt encouragement of right-wing Hindu organisations.

So can tensions between the two communities be resolved? Can India survive as a secular state?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

There are extremists in every country and every society. Fortunately, like the US, these radical groups are far outnumbered by the more sensible moderate majority. Unfortunately, this majority does not speak up often enough and loud enough. A clear message should be sent to the present leaders that their oath of office demands that they protect the constitution where India is indeed a secular state and always will be.
Mohit Sen, USA

It has to be admitted that whatever happened in Gujarat was shameful and a blot on the secular face of India. But India is so large, riots in one part of the country cannot destroy the secular nature of the whole country. The atrocities committed were done by the illiterate masses and I for one am very sure that the peace loving people in India (who are quite large in number) will come together and fight against these extremists if this secular nature is threatened. If riots were to threaten the existence of a country, half the countries in the world today would have ceased to exist long ago. No, India has only suffered a blow which has shamed its image, but this will not damage its secular environment. There are so many other issues that contribute to what secular is.
Viswanath, USA

We will survive this as we have survived much worse

A.K. Ali, India
We may have our problems. But on the whole we are too diverse and complex a society to be categorised as simply "Hindu" or "Muslim" or whatever. The country can never break-up because ultimately we are all minorities in our societies BUT as Indians we are all in a majority. We will survive this as we have survived much worse.
A.K. Ali, India

I do not think this is just an issue of tension between Muslims and Hindus. The Sikh community has also suffered tremendously at the hands of Hindu extremists in this self-styled 'secular' state called India. In fact, the Hindu nature of this country is even enshrined in its actual official name 'Bharat' which is an ancient Hindu name for this territory. Until the international community pays more attention to the human rights abuses that are enacted daily against the various minorities in India, then I am very pessimistic about the future integrity of this country.
Baljit Singh Arora, UK

There will always be politically inspired communal and religious violence

Vinod Dawda, UK
India's diversity is too complex to succumb to widespread extremism. The majority religion by its very nature is an evolving phenomena and therefore not likely to get in a straitjacket of widespread fundamentalism. There will always be politically inspired communal and religious violence but the huge melting pot of India will dilute it in a short time as it has done in the past several centuries. Democracy, despite its shortcomings, still remains the only hope for progress even for developing countries.
Vinod Dawda, UK

India is a secular state and at times its foundations have been tested. It may be far from ideal but credit is due as the country has so many difficulties to overcome.
Mohammad Ali Khan, USA

We should not be compelled to think that a large country like India will suddenly change because of violence in just one state. The violence was unnecessary and uncalled for. Most Indians, whatever religion, like to live in peace. It is only a few extremists that taint the name of our nation and commit such atrocities.
Sriram, India/Singapore

A country riddled with contradictions

Marilyn Montrose, UK
India is a country riddled with contradictions which means that it is unlikely to survive for much longer in its present form. Although it professes to be 'secular', in fact Hindu chauvinism has been an ever-present factor since independence from Britain. This has now transformed into an ugly and reactionary Hindu-fundamentalism which has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of minority peoples living in India. Unless the Indian politicians rein in the Hindu extremists in such organisations as RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal - which regularly target Christians and Muslims - then the unbridled violence will continue in which people are murdered for simply following a different faith from that of the majority population.
Marilyn Montrose, UK

"Unity in diversity" is our principle. Sometimes we may have problems but these must not affect our secular nation.
Viji Palaniappan, USA / India

The constitution guarantees that India will be a secular state and the supreme court has ruled many times that the basic character of the constitution may not be changed. The constitution review commission recently submitted its report and it does not recommend any modification in this regard. Therefore the official character of the state is likely to stay secular but that does not mean that the subtle character of society at large will also remain secular. With minds being constantly poisoned by fundamentalists of all hues, subtle and covert forms of harassment will probably continue to increase unless a Mahatma Gandhi like figure with the stature and charisma to lead people to think differently appears on the scene.
Shantanu Dutta, India

South Asia Debate
... to both sides of the debate
Gujarat conflict in-depth

Key vote

Tense state



See also:

19 Apr 02 | South Asia
18 Apr 02 | South Asia
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