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Ritual Customs and Indian Constitution

 

India as a land of numerous ancient cultures and civilizations

 

The wonder that is India is disguised by its vast and eventful cultural history. The fertile land that nourished innumerable cultures that eventually bloomed into civilizations. The ancient and medieval history of India largely shaped the cultural heritage that is visible in the diversity of food, clothing and customs followed by every Indian. When we travel from the eternal Himalayas to the cultivated peninsula in the far south, from the deserts of the West to the humid deltas of the East, from the dry heat and cold of the Central Plateau to the cool forest foothills, Indian lifestyles clearly glorify the ethnicity they derive from the regional traditions.

 

Link to the ancient past, peculiarities of Indian society

 

India in the 21st Century still carries the trail from the history, the smaller regional kingdoms that was unified to form the country is held together by the boundaries of the Union of India. The Indian way of life reflects this diversity in all respects. The food you eat, the clothes you wear, the language you speak in and the God you worship all show these aspects. The peculiarity of ancient cultures is its rigid prescription of customs and traditions. As India’s existing cultures are all reminiscent of ancient cultures majority of the Indian social customs bear descendance from the ancient followings. The popular way of greeting in India, Namaste is an age-old custom indicated by folded palms placed before chest. The Sikhs carrying a Kirpan (a traditional dagger), one of the five articles of faith as per the Sikh Commandants, are subjects of news in several international airports even today. Most of the communities in India despite the belief, religion, tradition follows a set of ritual customs which becomes an integral part of their lifestyle. The traditional weddings are well known for the rich colours and rituals that showcase a vast variety of traditions. It is most likely that several ritual customs form part of the daily routine of a typical Indian.

 

The Indian society collectively reflects the characteristic evolution it had from the civilizations that made this land their home. The ancient tribal settlements that formed the seedlings of the Indian society at large for a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multilinguistic groups were mainly patriarchal in nature. This naturally became the general characteristic of the society. The social order construction was based on rigid hierarchy of class, caste and gender. Women were considered a particularly inferior species. The traditional patriarch has vested interests in keeping the larger section of population under control and so mechanism devised in this direction is always intended at retaining the power, keeping a check at questions and handing over the power to inherited descendants only. Thereby ensuring supremacy of the upper class and conserving it for future.

 

The ritual customs are used as a powerful method to give a spiritual and devotional dimension to the restrictions enforced. It is worth noting that the original manuscripts did not follow an ideology of restriction of power, knowledge or access to any strata of people in the society. When the need for keeping a check on power arose and to safeguard it with vested interests, the specific portions were added to the popular scripts that came to be accepted by the larger population. This almost ended up in the rituals never being questioned or if at all, quashed as disrespect to tradition, belief and unquestioned faith. The blind beliefs often evoke fear in human mind of calamities and inviting supernatural anger that can destroy the eternal self and wipe out existence.

 

Indian society at the time of Independence:

 

Indian society at the time of independence was a turning point in many aspects. It shaped the modern India that we witness today. It took decades of transformation to slacken the rigid social structure and extreme malpractices in the name of religion and culture. With the advent of western education and access to modern ideologies, Indians began to look beyond the impermeable walls of religious intolerance, caste, marginalization of women and minorities, extremes social evils like immolation of widows, child marriage, female foeticide, polygamy, untouchability, bonded labour etc to name a few. When religions attached more importance to external form than to inner reality, there was no qualm of conscience even in most horrific performances which could be disguised as grave crimes against humanity. This was not confined to any religion or class, but a predominant character of the society.

 

Resurgence of Indian Society and Draft Constitution

 

The Indian awakening was facilitated by various reform movements and the rise of new class of intelligent middleclass possessing liberal thought, influenced by developments happening all over the world. The young Indian was a rationalist and was sceptical about the blind followings. There was a gradual emergence of public opinion based on logical thinking, demanding revival of the society. They stood for the democratization of the society, removal of superstitions and decadent customs, spread of enlightenment and development of a rational and modern outlook. This was also the time India was undergoing transformation from an imperialist colony to an independent nation. The constitution of India, which lays down the fundamental law of the land was formulated, and the country declared its constitutional supremacy, placing it above the parliament and judiciary.

 

The forefathers drafted the constitution keeping in mind the peculiarities and shortcomings of the society. The prime responsibility was to keep the fragile fragments united and protect the unity in diversity. For this the policy adopted in the constitution was giving freedom to profess, practise and propagate any religion and not restricting any secular activity which may be associated with religious practice. The idea was to create an environment where different ideologies can coexist in peace and harmony. Any one is free to practise according to their beliefs and ideology they intend to follow. This is a unique version of secularism which was customized to fit the Indian context. The citizens could follow their traditions and customs without the law of the land restricting unless it is anti-democratic or having an impact in the fundamental rights of the citizens or national integrity.

 

Challenges in upholding secularism a multicultural, liberal, ritualistic patriarchal society

 

The Constitution upholds the fundamental rights of equality, freedom of religion and prohibits any discrimination on the grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth, or any of them. While guaranteeing the fundamental rights it also took stringent stance at the social stigmas. Abolition of untouchability, protection of interests of minorities and prohibition of discrimination are evidence of this. The challenges in safeguarding the underlying principles of equality, freedom and non-discrimination are achieved by making the fundamental rights as not-absolute and not-sacrosanct. There can be reasonable restrictions enforced by the state in these rights for protection of public interest.

 

The Article 25 is one of the pillars of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The relevance of this legislation can be gauged only when one understands the importance of preserving the pluralistic ethos of the country and the idea of harmonious coexistence of different religions.

The Article 25 states that every individual is “equally entitled to freedom of conscience” and has the right “to profess, practice and propagate religion” of one’s choice. Practicing religion or the act of propagating it should not, however, affect the “public order, morality and health.” The Article doesn’t put any restriction on the government when it comes to making any law to regulate “economic, financial, political or other secular” activities, which may be associated with religious practice.

Thus, the right balance of personal liberty and social integrity is maintained.

 

Conclusion

 

The colourful traditions of India live through the customs and rituals followed by the people. It also forms our responsibility to preserve our rich cultural heritage. The spirit and enthusiasm in following them should be by upholding humanitarian and social values. Any thought or action implied at humiliation, exclusion or discrimination should be trashed as crimes and not acclaimed in the name of culture. We need to confront the dogmas through the wisdom and rationalism that were imparted to us through the enlightened souls who entrusted the Union on us. 

Author
Anju M Nair
Author's Email
anju.m.nair2009@gmail.com
Author's Phone No
9539064240
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