I read a few hundred essays on secularism recently. Came away humbled by the experience. Three thoughts about this.
1) The essays flooded in from every corner of this land. Well, I don't recall any from the Andamans or Lakshadweep, but everywhere else. Many from Pune, strangely enough. But truly, every distant and not-so-distant nook and cranny of this country.
2) It's impossible to overstate how much the word, the very concept, seemed to mean to people. This was clear from the passion in their writing; in the postal entries, it was also clear from the way people drew things on their sheets of paper and so on. And this meaning the word had went both ways -- there were enough people who made the passionate case that secularism was dead, or phony.
Nevertheless, there was something moving about the passion. There was a sense of anguish in the essays, a feeling that in the debate over secularism, in the great disillusionment with Indian secularism, we were in danger of losing something essentially Indian, something vital to our idea of ourselves. There was a sense that an emerging India has to have that essentially Indian thing, whatever it is, at its core.
It's impossible to overstate how moving it was to understand this.
3) Many of the essays did not have grand ideas, detailed prescriptions. Instead, they had ordinary, simple ideas. Yet they were no less profound for being simple. That was another glimpse into how much the idea of secularism meant to so many people.
So congratulations again to the winners. Uma has already posted her essay. I will soon put up here the essays of Shashi Warrier and LH Naqvi, and perhaps the other shortlisted ones.