On 17th June 2007 Pratibha Devsing Patil made a remark on the Purdah system, while addressing a congregation of Rajputs in Udaipur: “Women have always been respected in the Indian culture. The purdah system was introduced to protect them from the Muslim invaders." However, times have changed, she said. “India is now independent and hence, the systems should also change. Now that women are progressing in every field, we should morally support and encourage them by leaving such practices behind”, she advised.
On 30th March 2009 Justice Markandeya Katju speaking for a bench headed by Justice Raveendran observed while rejecting the plea of a Muslim student that he should be permitted to sport a beard in his convent school, “Secularism cannot be overstretched and that ‘Talibanisation’ of the country cannot be permitted. We don't want to have Talibans in the country. Tomorrow a girl student may come and say that she wants to wear a burqa, can we allow it".
The former is presently the President of India while the latter is a sitting judge of the Supreme Court of India. The former criticized the Purdah saying it was introduced to protect Rajput women from Muslim invaders, while the latter criticized the Purdah saying it would Talibanise India and he didn't want to have Talibans in the country.
Note: Both are icons of secular, democratic India. Both blame Muslims for purdah/burka. The difference being that Pratibha Devsing Patil does not call Rajput women as Talibans. She is content with saying that the hapless Hindu ladies used purdah to protect themselves from the debauched Muslim invaders (sorry to put words in the mouth of the President, but purdah can only prevent debauchery, not from swords and guns of the invaders). Markandey Katju opines that Muslims sporting a beard or wearing a burka is tantamount to Talibanisation of India. He like any ‘good Indian’ says he does not want Talibans in the country. So, in effect all Muslim men with a beard and all Muslim women with a burka in India are Talibans according to him.
Secularism means ‘Separation of religion from life’s affairs’ or differently put, that the State will not have any religion. Article 25 of the ‘Sovereign’ Constitution of ‘Secular’ India grants its citizens the Fundamental Right to practice and propagate their religion and that the State will not interfere in the religious beliefs of its citizens. Great as it sounds; one asks who is meant by ‘The State’. Is the executive head of a country i.e. the President or the highest office in the judiciary i.e. the judge of the apex court, the State? Pratibha Devsing Patil and Markandey Katju are both crucial elements of ‘The Indian State’. Both are Hindu by religion. Both have criticized Muslims in their own ways, inculcating disgust towards Muslims as demonstrated in the aforementioned paragraphs. ‘Muslim invaders’ and ‘Talibans of India’ are no praises. They will only foster disgust for Muslims in India.
As a Muslim may I ask (1) Are they both secular in their expressions? (2) Have Fundamental Rights of Muslims to practice and propagate their religion been trampled by utterances of the two persons? (3) As institutions in themselves (being in the position they are), has the State not transgressed the very basic ideals which India claims to espouse? If the answer to the above three questions is Yes, then the vital question is: Why should common Indian in general and Muslims in particular, keep secularism so dear to their hearts? If Muslims say they want Shariah to govern them and Islam to be the foundation of the State, or when RSS say they want a Hindu rashtra, at least they are honest to say what they believe in.
It is intellectual dishonesty to say that India is secular or that these institutional personalities as the two above are secular. It makes more sense that Hindutva forces and Muslim activists for their own reasons say they don’t want a secular India.