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Gopal Sri Ram and a Secular Malaysia


Gopal Sri Ram and the Declaration of Independence

Ex Federal Court judge, Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram recently claimed Malaysia to be a secular state. Despite the absence of the term “secular” in the Federal Constitution many insist otherwise. The reference to backup these claims goes back to a judgement made in 1988. In the case of Che Omar Che Soh vs the Public Prosecutor, Tun Salleh Abbas mentioned Malaysia as a secular state.

The context of the sentence is often neglected in citations. What was meant by Tun Salleh at the time was in reference to the penal code in use being secular in nature and not the ideology of the state. This does not serve justice to Tun Salleh Abbas and the decision made. This can be read in a detailed article wrote by Aidil Khalid (http://www.themalaymailonline.com/what-you-think/article/wither-the-myth-of-a-secular-nation-aidil-khalid). The article is yet to be refuted.

Apart from that, many have insisted on the secular nature of the constitution because of the resemblance with the Indian Constitution. This however ignores the key differences that exist. For example, the Indian Constitution explicitly mentions the phrase “[SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC]”.

In the Malaysian Federal Constitution on the other hand, article 3(1) clearly states, Islam is the religion of the Federation. The stature and importance of this clause is often unrecognised. India is often taken as a benchmark of success for a multicultural nation. Albeit we should be setting the precedence ourselves, but some prefer pastures on the other side.

In spite of the assurance of a secular India, the reality is much different. The act of selling and consuming beef has been outlawed in 24 out of the 29 states in India. This is definitely not a secular construct. It would be worth while to ask, which other secular nation has implemented a similar set of laws pertaining food consumption? And how is this a form of secularism?

Apparently the separation between state and religion is still partial at best and incomplete. Values of religion still seep deep into the Indian legal system, notwithstanding the promise of secularism. One wonders how can such a country be an example for the rest of us? We shall not be discussing the various sectarian and religious violence that have taken place over the years.

Our homeland has been independent since 1957. Over all these decades of independence, many are yet to be inspirited by the content of the document that found our nation.