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Time to relook concept of secularism in India: Prof. Pratap Bhanu Mehta

It is time for the ‘taken for granted’ concept of secularism to be hitched to the value of justice and freedom rather than to the corrosive and stultifying multiple identities created by the process of modernity, opined political scientist and newspaper columnist Pratap Bhanu Mehta.

Addressing the 21st Dr. Azghar Ali Engineer Memorial Lecture on Saturday 2nd September 2023 at St.Xavier College, Mumbai “Escaping the identity trap: Secularism and Future of freedom” Mehta pointed out while it is a fact that the Indian subcontinent had witnessed conflagrations earlier in the 19th and 20th century, the last 15-20 years has seen the legitimisation and institutionization of these communal conflagrations.

“We are living at the historical juncture wherein the tentacles of virus of communalism are more widespread, when it is connected to the contested history narratives, what is striking is the visceral dread ‘of the other’ that is being institutionalized.” Tracing the genesis of the increasing number of internecine clashes and desensitisation towards the life of the “others”. Professor Mehta pointed out that the substratum of this identity politics lies in the paradox of modernity and democratic processes.

He said that both these facets create multiple identities in a multidimensional manner which in itself binds and stultifies the individual being. Taking the discourse of the need to study the connection between modernity, democracy and the categories of social cells, it creates for it’s survival, averred that it becomes an imperative paradox wherein the multiple identities are objectified and given a meta reality and a lens to view to other categories.

Talking on the need of the hour of the future of secularism, he opined that it is important to do away with the language that reiterates covertly communal categories and reinforce the identity traps.

The Lecture was organized by Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS) and chaired by Dr. Ram Puniyani, President of CSSS and prominent author. The Lecture was attended by over 300 persons including professors, students, former Parliamentarians, scholars, academics and social activists in Mumbai.

The Lecture was appreciated by the audience who asked relevant questions related to the future of freedom in India against the current political discourse. The subsequent discussions were enriching and shed light on recent public debates. The prestigious Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer Memorial Lectures have been delivered in the past by decorated academicians including Prof. Romila Thapar, Prof. Christophe Jaffrelot, Prof. Tanika Sarkar, A. G Noorani and Prof. HarbansMukhia.

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