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`Religion-neutral society must for secularism'

By Our Staff Reporter

BANGALORE, MAY 9. There is a growing impression that one's secular credentials can be proved only through anti-Hindu utterances, and it is very unfortunate, the eminent scholar M. Chidanandamurthy has said.

Participating in a consultation on "Communalism and Secularism" organised by Jana Jagruti here today, Dr. Murthy said that true secularism was possible only when society was religion neutral. Religious conversion with the objective of increasing the population of a particular community was not a good sign at all. The 1991 Census had shown that there had been a significant drop in the percentage of Hindus in the country's population, while that of Christians and Muslims had shown an increase. It could only be attributed to an assiduously pursued agenda of conversion.

The writer and scholar L.S. Seshagiri Rao said the nation's secular fabric would be ruptured if a leader abandoned the task of looking after its interests to consider the interests of a particular religious community. People should not be regarded as lifeless statistics in a real democracy and they should not be used as pawns to play one religion against another, Prof. Rao said.

R.L.M Patil, former chairman of the Department of Political Science, Bangalore University, said references to religion in the Constitution provided a study in contradictions. On the one hand, freedom to practise and propagate religion was guaranteed. On the other, there were a slew of concessions given to minority religions that could be interpreted as restrictive on other religions.

The writer Marulasiddaiah blamed intellectuals for the disturbances and agitations that religions seemed to be afflicted with in these times. Ordinary people were not interested in stoking hatred and, by their lifestyle and the choices they made, were proving that communal harmony was possible. Debating issues that had no direct bearing on the daily life of the common man was no way to promote communal harmony, he said.

The former Vice-Chancellor of Bangalore University, N.R. Shetty, who presided, said this unhealthy trend was seen when the controversy over Saraswathi Vandana caused a great deal of heartburn among many groups. "Singing the Saraswathi Vandana is a normal, spontaneous practice all over the country. Where was the need to make an issue of it," he asked.

The writer Sumathindra Nadig said it had become a fashion to brand articulate people who spoke their mind as "communal" and this needed to be curbed. People should be able to voice their opinion freely, especially those who spoke up for communal harmony, he said.

Jana Jagruti's S. Shamsunder said the consultation had been organised to counter the growing feeling that a section of the media and intelligentsia had created an atmosphere that was inhibiting free and frank discussion on issues such as the role of religious conversions in demographic stability, or the need for a uniform civil code and the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution.

This was the first of a series of discussions planned by Jana Jagruti to raise awareness, and the presentations at the consultations would be published and released for debate, he said.

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