Sei sulla pagina 1di 13


National law institute university, Bhopal

Project on

India and the idea of secularism

Political science i


Amit dubey DR raka arya

2013 B.A.ALL.B.45 assistence PROFESSOR( pol. Sc.)

3rd Trimester

Table of content

1. Acknowledgment03
2. Introduction 04
3. Meaning of secularism.05
4. Indian idea of secularism.06
5. Western idea of secularism..07
6. India as a secular state07
7. Secular principles of the Indian Constitution.08
8. Conclusion..12
9. Bibliography13


I am very glad that I got an opportunity to learn and imbibe so many things while making
this project. It helped to a great extent in developing researching skills which are very
important for a student of law. First and foremost, I would like to Dr.Raka Arya for giving
us this opportunity and always being such a great support. Secondly, I would like to thank
my friends and family who are always there for me and without whom I wont be
successful in achieving anything in life.

Thank you


India has been declared a secular state by its written constitution and it is every Indians
duty to stand by and believe in this declaration. And yet recent political and social events
have questioned this declaration. Is India a secular country only on paper or does
secularism actually exist in India; or is in the form of pseudo- secularism, a term the BJP
and its allies seem to repeatedly harp on.
Now days, it has been a debatable point whether India is a secular state in its true sense or
not. In light of the recent happenings and the states interference with the religious affairs
of the country has made it more complex. Before every elections, be it general election or
any state election, it has become trend to appease a particular community in name of
their development and thus all parties trying to mobilize that community. In name of the
secularism, the politics of appeasement is being played and none can question it because
India is a secular state. But the here question arise is that whether in India the secularism is
practiced in its true sense or is only a tool of the exploitation of a particular community.
The prime minister of our country says that the Muslims have the first right over the
countrys resources, or the other leader says that all Muslims are progeny of Hindus and
thus should consider themselves as Hindu. And at the same time grass violation of
fundamental rights is being done in name of the secularism and state is unable to prevent
them. The demand of Uniform Civil Code1 by a section of political arena has also been
ignored by the secularists and thus the very fundamental constitutional principle of equality
has been ignored.
The emergence of extremist group has also questioned Indias secular principles. Today,
the biggest challenge to the Indian nation is coming from forces claiming to represent the
mainstream majority. There is an emergence of extremist voices that claim to speak for
Hindus and they are laying down demands that threaten the very idea of a secular India.
The biggest area of concern is that the state has emerged to be complicit, as an actor and
player in mounting this challenge to Indian pluralism, which goes under the name of

. A uniform civil code administers the same set of secular civil laws to govern all people irrespective of their
religion, caste and tribe.
A legal principle as a result of the great French revolution, which means all are equal and should be treated
equally before the law irrespective of their caste, creed, class and religion
A word coined by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, is the set of movements advocating Hindu Nationalism.
According to a 1995 Supreme Court of India judgement (in Manohar Joshi v. Damodar Tatyaba @ Dadasaheb
Rupwate [(1991) 2 SCC 342] ) the word Hindutva could be used to mean "the way of life of the Indian people
and the Indian culture or ethos

Meaning of secularism
A term used for the first time about 1846 by George Jacob Holyoake to denote "a form of
opinion which concerns itself only with questions, the issues of which can be tested by the
experience of this life4". More explicitly, "Secularism is that which seeks the development
of the physical, moral, and intellectual nature of man to the highest possible point, as the
immediate duty of life which inculcates the practical sufficiency of natural morality apart
from Atheism, Theism or the Bible which selects as its methods of procedure the
promotion of human improvement by material means, and proposes these positive
agreements as the common bond of union, to all who would regulate life by reason and
ennoble it by service5". And again, "Secularism is a code of duty pertaining to this life
founded on considerations purely human, and intended mainly for those who
find theology indefinite or inadequate, unreliable or unbelievable6.

Oxford dictionary defines it as not connected with religious or spiritual matters while
Marriam-Webster dictionary defines it as indifference to or rejection of exclusion of religion
and religious considerations. The term Secular derives from the Latin word saecularis
meaning of a generation, belonging to an age. The Christian doctrine that God exists outside
time led medieval Western culture to use secular to indicate separation from specifically
religious affairs and involvement in temporal ones. This does not necessarily imply hostility
to God or religion, though some use the term this way. Martin Luther used to speak of
"secular work" as a vocation from God for most Christians Secularity is best understood, not
as being "anti-religious", but as being "religiously neutral" since many activities in religious
bodies are secular themselves and most versions of secularity do not lead to religiosity.
Secularism is an assertion or belief that religious issues should not be the basis of politics,
and it is a movement that promotes those ideas (or an ideology) which hold that religion has
no place in public life. According to Pt Jawahar Lal Neharu7, secularism does not mean
absence of religion, but putting religion on a different plane from that of normal political and
social life.

Secularism is a principle that involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation
of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and
beliefs are equal before the law. In political terms, secularism is a movement towards the
separation of religion and government (often termed the separation of church and state). This
can refer to reducing ties between a government and a state religion, replacing laws based on
scripture (such as the Torah and Sharia law) with civil laws, and eliminating discrimination
on the basis of religion. This is said to add to democracy by protecting the rights of religious

English Secularism, 60
Holyoake; Principles of Secularism, 17
English Secularism,35

Jawaharlal Nehru 1983: 330-331

Indian idea of Secularism

Indian idea of secularism can be traced as early as in writing of Vedas and thus is as old as
the Human civilization. The Vedic idea of Advait or non-dualism is the basis of Indian
secularism which says that the truth is one; sages call it by various names8. This is what has
made Hinduism as the most tolerant religion in the world. India has been practicing
secularism in its sacred form since time immemorial. The Indian idea of secularism is based
on the principle of sarva dharma sambhav that all religions are equally true and the goal of
all religions is same i.e. moksh or salvation. None are bad; all are good so respect alls. But in
India, the state has never been free from religion, it has always been considered as a part of
state and politics. The king has always been bound by his Rajdharma 9and has always been
considered as a novel authority. The promotion of dharma (law, duty, morality, and religion)
was regarded as the foremost aim of the state. The king was expected to encourage piety and
virtue and to aid religious institutions. Government was not based on dogma, and
considerable impartiality was evidenced in the treatment accorded the various sects.
Nevertheless, the religious orientation was very pronounced. The conception of dharma in
relation to the state indicated that the latter was ultimately tied up with the final goal of

The broad mind-set of Indian people with regard to religion has made India great. The idea of
vasudhaiv kutumbkam10 and sarve bhavantu sukhinah11 reflects the deep rooted Indian
idea of secularism. This basic trait of Sanatan dharma is what keeps India together despite the
fact that India has not been a mono-religious country for over two millennium. A Hindu
Nationalist school of thought also proclaims that with Sanatan Dharma being the spirit of
India, the very concept of western secularism is redundant and badly imposed.
By giving refuge to Israeli Jews when they were being persecuted by their native race in
Israel, India set an example of religious tolerance in as early as 2nd century BC12. Besides
Jews, India has given shelter to many other sects, be it Tibetan Buddhists or Bahais.

Moreover, in ancient India the state has been free from all types of pure religious activities.
Though, he (king) was bound by his rajdharma and was guided by Amatya or Purohit, the
state, unlike England, has never been an instrument in hands of priest and has always been
free from religion. In fact, in India, dharma has been understood as sacred duty prescribed

Ekam satvipra bahudha vadanti, rigveda 1:164:46
Duty of a king or ruler prescribed by law.
ayam bandhurayam neti ganana laghuchetasam I
udaracharitanam tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam || V.3.37 of Panchatantra (3rd c. BCE),
Sarve bhavantu sukhinah, Sarve santu niramayah, Sarve bhadrani pashyantu, Ma kaschit dukha bhag-bhavet.

Let all be happy. Let all be free from disease. Let all see the Truth. May no one experience suffering.
Brihadaranyaka Upanishat 1.4.14
Ralphy Jhirad , The Heritage of Bene Israel of India;

by God-dharyati yasya dharmah which can be adopted. A conception of the two Powers
the temporal and the spiritual existed from earliest times, and was supported by a divinely
ordained social order. The Kshatriya alone was responsible for the governance of state and
Brahmin was supposed to be priest13. Though the Brahmin was spiritually superior to
Kshatriyas, his superior position gave him no direct authority in matters of government. This
tradition supports one aspect of secularism.

Western idea of secularism

The secular state had its origin in the West. The rise of Christianity led to the problem of
Church and the State. From the beginning Christianity recognised the basic duality: the
temporal and the spiritual. However, the Christians' loyalty to the state came into conflict
with the loyalty to the church. The first great step towards the freedom of religion was taken
with the issue of the Edict of Milan (312 AD) which said: Liberty of worship shall not be
denied to any, but that the mind and will of every individual shall be free to manage divine
affairs according to his own choice.

The history of secularism in the western world is very old. In the Medieval period, when the
divine theory of state came the state was considered as inseparable from religion and thus,
the administration of state came under the authority of church. At that time, king was
considered as the messenger of god where it was said that obey the king means obey the
god. But after the renaissance of west, authority of church over the administration of state
was challenged. And after the industrial revolution and rise of capitalism, the notion of
secularism came into being.

Thus the Western concept of secularism developed in the last two centuries. This was the
period of Capitalism and was started with the goal of removing any obstacle in the way of the
growth of Capitalism. Religion and spirituality were considered impediments towards the
unbridled growth of Capitalism because they promoted the values of moderation, austerity,
humility, and restraint. These qualities prevent people from becoming good consumers.
Capitalism needs the exact opposite values to be successful: extravagance, arrogance,
selfishness, and greed in order to make people better consumers. Therefore from its inception,
Capitalism has tried to attack religion and spirituality under the pretext of promoting
secularism. Capitalism used hypocrisy and double standards towards religion. In the
Capitalist countries, Capitalism cut the power of the Church by insisting on the separation
between the state and the church. However in the colonial countries it lined up with
Christianity to colonize other countries. The colonialists conquered other countries with a
sword in one hand and a bible in the other.

India as a secular state

With the recent socio-political development in country, the question has been raised, and
becomes inevitable, about the secular nature of our country. On 26th January 1950, India i.e.

Rigveda (Purushsukta) X:90

Bharat became a sovereign, democratic republic 14and since then it has ensured the
fundamental rights of its citizen. In 1976, by the 42nd constitutional amendment, the word
secularism was introduced in our constitution and India became a sovereign, socialist,
secular, democratic republic15 and thus the very fundamental right of religion16 was made
clearer than ever. But every now and then, the question with regard to secular nature of
Indian state has been raised by certain section of society and many attempts were made to
address the issue, but it never could be addressed in its pure sense. Be it the demolition of
Babri Mosque or 1984 Sikh riots or Godhara and its post happening of 2000 in Gujrat. The
political game is being played by various interest groups and things are being manipulated in
their favour. The politics of appeasement is in its zenith, and the communal forces are playing
with the emotions of people. The secular model of Indian state has been questioned, and the
demand for declaration of India as a Hindu state is being raised. But, in spite of all this,
India remains united at every time, and is still being cherished. The Judiciary has been very
clear in this matter and every time, it has come forward to protect the fundamental rights of
its citizen with keeping mind the constitutional principle.

Finally, the conclusion can be drawn about the secular nature of Indian state that so far the
result has not been very good but the hope is still there. Sometimes it has been able to protect
the rights of minorities and sometimes it has ignored the interest of majority. But still, it has
been able to keep its unity in diversity.

Secular principles of the Indian Constitution

On 15th of August 1947, India got independence, and on 26th January 1950, as its preamble
declares, it became SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC. And also ensured number of
Fundamental rights to its citizen irrespective of their caste, creed, gender and place of birth
with a strong enforcement agency i.e. Supreme Court and High Courts and enforcement of
the same itself was made a fundamental right17. Besides it, it provides a long list of directive
principles 18and number of democratic principles, like liberty, equality and justice and thus
ensured rights of every individual.

The concept of secularism as embodied in the Constitution of India cannot be viewed in the
sense in which it is viewed in the West, but in the context of the following provisions of the
Constitution: the Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience, freedom to profess, practice
and propagate religion and also freedom to establish religious institutions and manage or

Preamble, constitution of India
42nd constitutional amendment, Preamble of the constitution of India.
Article 25, Constitution of India.
Article 32 of Indian constitution-right to constitutional remadies.
Part IV of Indian constitution

administer their affairs19. It prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion 20and guarantees

equality to all by providing for equality before law and equal protection of laws 21, prohibiting
discrimination with regard to places of public importance and providing for equal opportunity
in matters of public employment22. The Constitution also guarantees religious minorities the
right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice and to conserve their
script, language and culture23.

The provisions would naturally indicate that the Constitution of India endeavours to build up
in India the philosophy of secularism on freedom, equality and tolerance in the field of
religion. And viewed in this context it is clear that tie Constitution does not build a wall of
separation between the state and religion. The essence of secularism is that the state is non-
part ion in its relations to citizens, no matter to whatever religion bier belong

Thus, the distinguishing features of a secular democracy as contemplated by the constitution


(i) that the state will not identify itself with or be controlled by any religion;
(ii) That while the state guarantees to everyone the right to profess whatever religion
one chooses to follow (which includes also the right to be an agnostic or an
atheist), it will not accord any preferential treatment to any of them;
(iii) that no discrimination will be shown by the state against any person on account of
his religion and faith;
(iv) That the right of every citizen, subject to any general condition to enter any office
under the state will be equal to that of his fellow citizens. Political equality which
entitles any Indian citizen to seek the highest office under the state as opposed to
what is found of secularism as envisaged by the Constitution.

Although the term secularism was not in the original text of the Constitution, secularism was
a subject of animated discussion when the Constituent Assembly look up for consideration
the provisions dealing with the freedom of religion.

Explaining the secular character of die Indian Constitution the Supreme Court observed:
"There is no mysticism in the secular character of the state. Secularism is neither anti-God
nor pro-God; it treats alike the devout, the agnostic and the atheist. It eliminates God from the
matter of the state and ensures no one shall be discriminated against on the ground of

The basic outlines of the secularism are enshrined in the following Articles of the

1. Preamble: It is true that the word 'secular' did not first occur either in Article 25 or 26 or in
any other Article or Preamble of the Constitution. By the Constitution (42nd Amendment)

Article 25-30, constitution of India
Article 15, constitution of India
Article 14, constitution of India
Article 16, constitution of India
Article 30, constitution of India
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Act, 1976, the Preamble was amended and for the words 'Sovereign Democratic Republic' the
words 'Sovereign, socialist, secular, Democratic Republic' were substituted.
2. No State Religion: There shall be no 'state religion' in India. The state will neither establish
a religion of its own nor confer any special patronage upon any particular religion24.

It follows from that:

1. The state will not compel any citizen to pay any tax for the promotion or maintenance of
any particular religion or religious institution25.
2. No religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly run by state
3. Even though religious instruction be imparted in educational institutions recognised by
state or receiving aid from the state, no person at lending such institution shall be compelled
to receive that religious instruction without the consent of himself or of his guardian. In short,
while religious instruction is totally banned in state-owned educational institutions, in other
denominational institutions it is not totally prohibited but it must not be imposed upon people
of other religions without their consent26.

3. Freedom of Conscience: Every person is guaranteed the freedom of conscience and the
freedom to profess, practise and propagate his own religion, subject only:

1. To restrictions imposed by the state on the interest of public order, morality and health (so
that the freedom of religion may not be abused to commit crimes or antisocial acts, e.g., to
commit the practice of infanticide, and the like);
2. to regulations or restrictions made by state relating, to any economic, financial, political or
outer secular activity which may be associated with religious practice, bill do not really
related to the freedom of conscience;
3. to measures of social reform and for throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a
public character to all classes and sections of Hindus. Subject to above limitations, a person
in India shall have the right not only to entertain any religious belief but also to practise the
obligations dictated by such belief, and to preach his belief to others27.

4. Freedom to Manage Religious Affairs: Individual will not have only right to pro fess,
practise and propagate his religion, there is also the right guaranteed to every religious groups
or denominations:

1. to establish and maintain institutions (or religious and charitable purposes.

2. to manage its own affairs in matters of religion;
3. to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and
4. to administer such property in accordance with law 28.

In Ayodhya Case the Supreme Court has summarised the true concept of secularism under
the Constitution as follows:

Dr Durga Das Basu, constitution of India
Article 27, constitution of India
Article 28, constitution of India
Article 25, constitution of India
Article 26, constitution of India
11 | P a g e

"It is clear from the constitutional scheme that it guarantees equality in the matter of ail
individuals and groups irrespective of their faith emphasizing that there is no religion of slate
itself. The Preamble of the Constitution read in particular with Article 25 to 28 emphasizes
this aspect and indicates that it is in this manner the concept of secularism is embodied in the
constitutional scheme as a creed adopted by the Indian people has to he understood while
examining the constitutional validity of any legislation. The concept of secularism is one
facet of the right to equality woven as the central golden thread in the fabric depicting the
pattern of the scheme in our constitution".

It is amazing that some Christian leaders assert that the word 'propagates' in Article 25(1)
gives them a fundamental right to convert people of other faiths into Christianity, by any
means. The Supreme Court while examining the MP and Orissa Acts in 1977 held that "if any
such right to convert be conceded, such right would belong to every religion, so that there
would inevitably be a breach of public peace if every religious community carried on a
campaign to convert people belonging to other faiths, by the use of force, fraud, inducement
or allurement , therefore, constitutionally authorized to maintain public order by prohibiting
and penalizing conversion (including attempt to convert) if force, inducement or allurement
was used by the person-on- persons advocating conversion in any particular case".

Moreover, in its preamble, which has been declared as a part of the constitution 29, the
principle of secularism has been endorsed.

Liberty, of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship30

And thus constitution has given liberty to every citizen to profess any religion.

Keshavnand Bharti v UoI AIR 1973 SC 1461
Preamble, constitution of India
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This strength of the Hindu religion is now viewed as a weakness. Secularism in the Indian
context should imply respect for pluralism and a non-coercive and a voluntary recourse to
change. Respect for diversity not only embodies the democratic spirit, it is the real
guarantee of unity. We should value democratic, not fascistic, unity. No democratic society
can downgrade diversity and pluralism in the name of unity. Secular ethics can be
strengthened only when the acts of vandalism are sternly dealt with and the guilty are made
to pay for it. With secularism that insists on the inalienable rights of the citizens and a due
process of law, it will be easier to mount public pressure against sectarian killers and those
who promote hatred. The battle of secularism and democracy has also to be fought at the
grass root levels where a set ideals generating strong idealism is required to mobilize and
prepare the masses for struggle.

Secularism has to play a decisive role at present stage of Indian democracy. It is so because
today when the Indian democracy seems to face the challenge of narrow divisive trends and
tendencies, a rational and scientific approach which is the basis of secularism has become a
matter of utmost importance. Communal disturbances which have distinguished the public
life in the recent past, as well the birth and growth of narrow and divisive trends and
obscurantist theories are mainly the result of ignorance can be fought not by legislation alone,
nor by a negative fiat alone, but by education, and in the process of educating the traditional
Indian mind, secularism and all that it stands for the political leaders have to play an
important role.

In the end, secularism begins in the heart of every individual. There should be no feeling of
"otherness" as we all have is a shared history. India being a traditional society that contains
not one, but many traditions owing their origin in part to the different religions that exist here,
has so far managed to retain the secular character of its polity. Ours is a society where Sufis
and Bhakti saints have brought in a cultural acceptance for each other. Are we going to let it
all go to waste and listen to people who have concern for their careers as politicians or leaders
rather than our welfare at heart? Let us instead concentrate our efforts at making India a
powerful and progressive nation.
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V.N.Shukla, constitution of India

Durga Das Basu, constitution of India
Radhkrishnan, Indian philosophy vol.I and II
Holyoak, principle of secularism
Secularism in India-a brief study by Kamaluddin Khan