“Western dictionaries define secularism as absence of religion but Indian secularism does not mean irreligiousness. It means profusion of religions.” -Shashi Tharoor
Secularism or Secular State means “A State, which does not recognize any religion as State religion, but treats all religions equally”. Secularism is the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries. Secularism means asserting the right of the people to be free from religious rule and teachings, or residing in a state declared to be neutral on matters of belief, from the imposition by government of religion or religious practices upon its people. Another feature of secularism is that the public activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be uninfluenced by religious beliefs and/or practices.
According to Webster’s dictionary the word ‘secularism’ means a sprit or tendency especially a system of political or social philosophy that rejects all forms of religious faiths or worship or the view that the matters of civil policy should be conducted without the influence of religious beliefs:
Oxford Dictionary defines the word ‘secular’ as concerned with the affairs of this world, worldly not sacred, not monastic, not ecclesiastical.
In the words of Asgar Ali Engineer, Secularism means liberation of politics from the hegemony of religion.
The term "secularism" was first used by the British writer George Jacob Holyoake in 1851. According to Holyoake "secularism" means promoting a social order separate from religion, without actively dismissing or criticizing religious belief.
Secularism in India:
In the West, the word secular implies three things: freedom of religion, equal citizenship to each citizen regardless of his or her religion, and the separation of religion and state. Everyone is equal under law, and subject to the same laws irrespective of his or her religion, in the West.
Secularism in India means equal treatment of all religions by the state. Secularism in India does not mean separation of religion from state. Instead, secularism in India means a state that is neutral to all religious groups. India does not have an official state religion. The people of India have freedom of religion, and the state treats all individuals as equal citizens regardless of their religion. In India the laws implicitly require the state and its institutions to recognize and accept all religions, enforce religious laws instead of parliamentary laws, and respect pluralism.
Secularism – Constitutional Provisions In India:
Recently the BJP led NDA Government conducted a two-day debate to commemorate the adoption of the Constitution in the Constitute Assembly on Nov, 26th 1949. Union Home Minister Raj Nath Singh questioned the manner in which secularism is being used in contemporary discourse; Congress President Sonia Gandhi argued that the principles enshrined in the Constitution were under deliberate attack. It is true that the Constitution originally had no reference to secularism, and the word was introduced only in 1976. Yet in terms of the emphasis it gave to religious freedom, freedom of conscience, equality and non-discrimination, the constitution was indeed imbued with the secular spirit, the 42nd Amendment merely made it explicit.
Secular means the relationship between the government and the people which is determined according to constitution and law. Secularism is the basic structure of the Indian constitution. The Government respects all religions. It does not uplift or degrade any particular religion. There is no such thing as a state religion for India. In S.R. Bommai vs UOI (1994) The SC of India held "A state which does not recognize any religion as the state religion, it treats all religions equally". Positively, Indian secularism guarantees equal freedom to all religion. it stands for the right to freedom of religion for all citizens. Explaining the meaning of secularism as adopted by India, Alexander Owics has written, "Secularism is a part of the basic of the Indian Constitution and it means equal freedom and respect for all religions."
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) Act, 1976, the Preamble was amended and for the words ‘Sovereign Democratic Republic’ the words ‘Sovereign, socialist, secular, Democratic Republic’ were substituted. The Constitution declares India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality, and liberty, and endeavors to promote fraternity among them. .With the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution of India , the Preamble to the Constitution asserted that India is a secular nation.
Various provisions of Indian Constitution contemplate the secular nature of India. Article 14,15,16,17 along with Article 25-28 and 44 sufficiently provides intention of the framers of the Constitution.
1.No discrimination on the basis of religion-
Art. 14 grants equality before law and equal protection of law and provide that the State shall not discriminate against any person on the ground of religion.
Art. 15- Article 15(1) provides that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
Article 15(2) provides that “no citizen on the ground only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them………….” thus, Article 15 promotes the notion of Secularism.
Article 16 prohibits discrimination on the ground religion in public employment.
Article 17 prohibits untouchability and provides bedrock of secularism.
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 religion.
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 institution (Article 27).
2. No religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly run by state funds.
3. Even though religious instruction is imparted in educational institutions recognized 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 consent (Article 28).
3. Freedom of Conscience:
Every person is guaranteed the freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess, practice and propagate his own religion-Article 25
4. Freedom to Manage Religious Affairs:
Every religious groups or denominations has the right to
To establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes.
To manage its own affairs in matters of religion.
To own and acquire movable and immovable property; and
To administer such property in accordance with law-Article 26
5. Cultural and Educational Rights: Under Article 29 and 30 certain cultural and educational rights are guaranteed.
Article 29 guarantees the right cf any section of the citizens residing in any part of the country having a distinct language, script or culture of its own and to conserve the same
Article 30 provides that all minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice”.
Most Important components of secularism in Indian Constitution are as under :
Samantha (equality) is incorporated in article 14;
Prohibition against discrimination on the ground of religion, caste, etc. is incorporated in articles 15 and 16;
Freedom of speech and expression and all other important freedoms of all the citizens are conferred under article 19 and 21;
Right to practice religion is conferred under articles 25 and 28;
Fundamental duty of the state to exact uniform civil laws treating all the citizens as equal, is imposed by Article 44;
Sentiment of majority of the people towards the cow and against its slaughter was incorporated in articles 48.
Sarva Dharma Sambha
Supreme Court of India observed in the case of Aruna Roy v. UOI when it said Indian secularism means “Sarva Dharma Sambhav” and not “Sarva Dharma abhav” meaning “equal feeling for all religions” and not “no feeling for any religion”.
Legal position of Secularism in India
Although the term secularism was not in the original text of the Constitution, secularism was a subject of animated discussion when the Constituent Assembly looks up for consideration the provisions dealing with the freedom of religion.
Explaining the secular character of the 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 religion. Justice Reddy said that the constitutional commitment to secularism is to a great extent a commitment to the pursuit of ‘Social Justice’ and ‘Equality of Status and Opportunity.’
In Bommai case the Supreme Court declared it as the “basic feature” of the Constitution. The Apex Court has declared secularism as the basic feature of the Indian Constitution in the landmark case of Kesavananda v. State of Kerala. This view was crystallize in S.R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994) and thus made unamendable.
Secularism is a cardinal principle enshrined in the preamble and body of the Indian Constitution, adopted as a key feature and the cornerstone of the strategy of nation-building. Any step inconsistent with the constitutional policy is, in plain words, unconstitutional
Theory and Practice of Secularism in India
When Jawaharlal Nehru framed the objective Resolution of the Constitutor secularism figured as an important aspect of Constitution. Nehru associated secularism with modernity and considered sentiments based on caste and religion as backward and a belief from the past. He felt that religious tolerance, an essential aspect of secularism was a characteristic of Indian culture. Nehru described secularism as “an act of faith” in India’s future.
According to Nehru, A secular state, therefore, is not an anti-religious state but a state without a religion. It involves the concept of religious freedom for all faiths living within the state. Secularism is not only a characteristic of the state but involves the concept of religious co-existence and the concept of equal citizenship rights It also characterizes an attitude of mind which must be shared by the minority and majority religious communities living within the state.
Secularism as practiced in India, with its marked differences with Western practice of secularism, is always a controversial topic in India. Secularism is one of the major instruments for building a modern polity. It is one of the fundamental values of our national life, emphasized by the national movement and the Founding Fathers of the Republic. Secularism introduces science and rationalism in the society and forms the basis of a modern State. In 1976 the concept of secularism was apparently adopted as India’s path to political modernity and national integration
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 only. Secularism is India's national ideal, recognized as the only way to unify a diverse nation.
· Indian Constitution
· HKHSOU-Study Material
· Secularism in the Indian Context – S.Banerji
· Legal Services india.Com
· Legal desire.com