Swaraj India National President Yogendra Yadav’s article: Distinction Between Pro-Minority-ism and Secularism – a Compass to Guide Secular Politics

Swaraj India National President Yogendra Yadav’s article: Distinction Between Pro-Minority-ism and Secularism – a Compass to Guide Secular Politics

Distinction between pro-minority-ism and secularism: a compass guide to secular politics

Secularism must be distinguished from pro-minorityism. Two recent incidents, both related to Friday Namaz, invite us to draw this distinction sharply.

The first incident relates to a dispute about whether Muslim teachers in Delhi should be given a special leave for Juma namaz, the Friday prayers. The Minority Commission of Delhi wrote to the Department of Education making this recommendation. This is not a pre-existing practice but they wanted this special concession to minority teachers in view of the special obligation to perform Friday namaz in a congregation. The Directorate of Education of the Delhi Government rejected this suggestion on the ground that this will cause disruption in school schedule and will result in loss of studies for the students. Interestingly, the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi distanced itself from this decision of the Directorate of Education and kept quiet on it. Secular intellectuals and politicians did not comment on this issue.

I took to social media to support this decision of the Directorate of Education. My reasoning was simple: if such a special leave is not granted to any other employee of Delhi Government and if similar concession is not given to a teacher of any other faith, why should it be given only to Muslim teachers? My opposition was not to teachers attending Friday congregation but to them being given a special leave for this purpose. It was unnecessary as the teachers could adjust the time of their visit for Friday namaz either during lunch breaks or before or after the school timing in case of double shift schools. If necessary, the mosques could adjust the timing of the prayer.


As is the norm with social media, my comments were greeted with an uproar and lot of abuses, mostly from Muslim twitterati. I was accused of finally showing my Hindu colours, of cosying up to the RSS or of total ignorance about Islamic practices. There were some serious questions as well. Many critics claimed that attending Friday prayers was a constitutional right. I pointed out that prayer was a constitutional right, getting sarkari leave was not. It was argued that Friday prayer with congregation is a compulsory duty for the faithful. I responded that all the five namaz were compulsory and that while performing Friday namaz with congregation was mandated, exceptions were also provided for. My suggestion that mosques could adjust their timing was interpreted as an insult. I pointed out that Friday namaz can take place anywhere between 12:20 to 3:30. Pm and that it is very normal for mosques to adjust their timing within this limit to suit local requirements including market timings. So why not do it for schools?

I don’t know if I managed to convince many of my critics but I stood my ground. I did so as I believe that any demand for special symbolic concessions for minorities actually damages the case for a secular state policy. It distracts from the real and substantive issues of disadvantage and discrimination that Muslims often face in this country. In fact symbolic and special concessions for Muslim are directly linked with substantiative disadvantage and discrimination. This demand was pro-minority but not necessarily secular.

The second case presented itself immediately thereafter and very close by. In Gurgaon, a small band of self-styled leaders came and disrupted Friday namaz being offered in an open place. They also attacked the namazis leading to injuries. Thankfully the incident was captured on a video that went viral, thus forcing the police to register an FIR and catch the disruptors. There were meetings between community leaders and police where local Muslim leaders agreed not to hold Friday namaz in three places that could cause public disturbance.

 Yet the matters did not end here. Two weeks later, several teams of aggressive young persons prevented Friday namaz in seven other locations. The police stood and did nothing. At the time of writing, the situation is still unresolved. The holy month of Ramazan is approaching. The local Muslim community is anxious and apprehensive. There is no resolution.

When I intervened to express shock at the denial of their right to perform Friday prayers, this time I was attacked from the opposite side. Usual abuses followed: sickular, pro-Muslim, anti-Hindu, and what not. There was an insinuation that the Friday namaz was followed by anti-India slogan, but there was not a shred of evidence to support it. It was argued that Friday namaz was causing disruption to neighbourhood life and was a traffic obstacle, but, except the three cases mentioned above, there was no complaint from the neighbourhood. There was apprehension that regular namaz would be followed by encroachment on land to make mosque. But not a single such case has been reported so far. Actually there is a religious injunction in Islam prohibiting the building of mosque on a land that is not properly owned. So that apprehension was ruled out.

That still leaves one serious argument: Why perform namaz in a public place and not inside a mosque or an eidgah? Sadly, The argument was put forward by no less than the Chief Minister of Haryana, and that too on a day when vigilante groups had attacked those performing prayer, when his duty as the Chief Executive of the state was to assure the Muslims of their security.

Now, this argument holds for regular prayer activity. But Friday namaz is special as a Muslim is expected to join the community in a congregation. That’s why the numbers during Friday namaz are unusually high. In most places, small mosques are unable to accommodate these numbers inside and a nearby public place is routinely used for a couple of hours for this purpose.

The case of Gurgaon is even more special. After partition, there are virtually no local Muslims in the city. Muslims from nearby Muslim concentration area, Mewat, are negligible. The Muslim population in Gurgaon is almost entirely that of migrants, mostly poor working class migrants from UP, Bihar and West Bengal.

Thus the city has no large old mosques and has very few and small recently mosques. Therefore Friday congregations are held in open public places in more than hundred places.

In this context, a refusal to allow them to to hold Friday namaz in public places would tantamount to denying the Muslims the right to perform Friday prayers, which is a violation of their constitutional rights to practice their religion. Incidentally, this is not something new. This has always been accepted in colonial and post colonial India. And such a concession is not special to Muslims. All over North India, Kirtans and Jagratas are held in public places often by blocking roads and streets. Religious processions that hold up traffic for substantial period are taken out by followers of all religions. Therefore this falls in the category of normal citizen rights, not a special minority concession.

This distinction between pro-minorityism and secularism, between special symbolic concessions to a community and equal constitutional rights of all citizen, could serve as a compass to guide secular politics. Thus, Haj subsidy and similar such concessions to any religious activity should not be supported. Triple Talaq or similar anti-women provisions in any religion must be opposed. Secular politics must retain its focus on equal access to education, employment opportunities, housing, and equal treatment by police & state agencies.

Those who uphold this distinction must be willing to face attack from big sides. But this is critical in the present times when the idea of secular India faces its darkest hour.

National President of Swaraj India

The author’s views are personal.