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This article ‘Secularism in India’ written by Aman Kumar, Sourav Chakraborty & Md Tauhid Karim discusses the concept, history, threat, positives and criticisms associated with Secularism in India.
Secularism in India
If we look up the meaning of the word ‘Secular‘ anywhere, the resultant answer would come up as being separate from religion or more elaborately someone who is not biased on the basis of religion. A secular person’s thinking and morals are not founded on the bias of any religious textbook or ideology rather than his own conscious, scientific thinking and education.
Secularism demands that religion is not mixed with politics, economics, and social life so as to exploit and gain profit or to create unrest. If we talk about the importance of ‘secularism’ in terms of a sovereign state.
A secular state disassociates itself from all religious affairs of any kind and leaves it upon the discretion of the people and does not discriminate its subjects on the basis of religion nor does it associate itself with any religion and provides everyone an equal opportunity irrespective of their origin.
History of Secularism in India
Secularism as a concept is nothing new in India, if we flip through the pages of history we come to realize that the roots of secularism are rooted deep within our culture. The ‘Sanathan Dharma‘ talks about the inclusion of various ideologies in itself and enlisting their goodness as your own. The various religious scriptures from Vedas, Puranas to Upanishads also state the same and clearly mark that no religion is inferior or superior to the other and only asks the people to do good for themselves and the society and treat no one with ill will.
Emperor Ashoka who belonged to the Maurya dynasty was the first king who stated that the state shall not prosecute any religion and gave equal importance to all. The 12th rock erection made by Emperor Ashoka talks about tolerance against other religions and working towards a greater cause of humanity, and even after the advent of various religions throughout various time frames such as Jainism, Parsis the introduction of Islam by the rulers who ruled India the cultural and societal integrity of India remained intact and people co-existed peacefully.
Mughal Emperor Akbar who ruled India during the Medieval period also proactively advocated for religious tolerance and to achieve that he abolished the ‘Jaziya’ tax which applied to Hindus and also did away with forceable religious conversion and also diversified his core committee of ministers known as ‘Navratan‘ by including from various religions and on the basis of their knowledge and expertise thus promoting Secularism.
He also chartered religious debates of what were known as ‘Ibadat Khana‘ so that he could understand what good all the religious propagated. Mughal Emperor Babur who founded the Mughal dynasty had also advised his son Humayun to treat all religions equally so that the state could function peacefully and not to prosecute or favor anyone on the basis of religion.
The British who came in as traders and slowly and steadily started to work their position as colonial masters tried to break India through the policy of ‘Divide and Rule’. To achieve this they began sowing the seeds of communalism within the people of India and asked them to acknowledge their religious identity on top of their national identity, they started to make them believe that Hindus and Muslims can never live together peacefully and in lieu of this policy, Bengal was divided into two parts East and West Bengal on the basis on Muslim majority and minority.
If this wasn’t enough to further alienate Muslims from the mainstream. The Muslims were given separate electoral via the Indian Council Act, 1909. The Britishers left no stone unturned to divide the country on the basis of religion as they very well knew ‘United we stand; Divided we fall‘. But in spite of all their efforts, the struggle for India’s freedom was characterized by the united stance of all the religions across the line.
Even during the last phases of independence, the Britishers did not back off from the idea of dividing India on the basis of religion and hence divided United India into two states which are now known as ‘India‘ and ‘Pakistan‘ on the basis of religion.
Secularism now in India
As we discussed earlier the roots of secularism had been deep sown in our society as it can be seen from our Vedic texts and the same had been followed in our Constitution. Even though Gandhi’s secularism was based upon religious brotherhood among the different religions whereas Jawahar Lal Nehru’s idea of secularism was based upon scientific humanity mixed with historical context and future progression.
When the Constitution was formed the word secular was not embedded into it was enshrined during the 42nd amendment in 1976. To further enhance this feeling of secularity among its people. India has no official religion and it does not endorse any religion nor does it discriminate upon any. The word ‘secular‘ in itself is not the ends and means in India is merely a way to enhance religious plurality among the people in the country.
To ensure that the feeling of secularity is still intact within the Constitution and the people of India the Constitution guarantees certain rights to its people.
- Article 15 ensures that there will be no discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, caste, place of birth, or descent in any manner whatsoever.
- Article 16(1) promises that equal opportunity will be provided to each and every citizen without any discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, sex, place of origin, birth, or descent.
- Article 25 promises the right to profess and practice any religion.
- Article 26 gives the right to any individual to open up an institution for the welfare and maintenance of his/her religion.
- Article 27 states that no person can be made to pay a tax for professing or practicing a religion.
- Article 28 gives the right to the minority people to open up institutes for the educational benefit of their community, for e.g. – Aligarh Muslim University (AMU)
- Article 29 and 30 provide educational and cultural benefit to the minorities in the widest ambit possible.
Threats to Secularism
The biggest threat to secularism is ‘religion‘. Secularism was curated to counter the boundaries created due to the differences within the various religions and to bring prosperity within the communities, but people nowadays see secularism as a threat to their own religion.
People do not understand that secularism can work as a helping hand in joining two religions whilst each respecting the other. Rather than they see it as a sword that is hung upon them and is trying to cut short their religion instead of using ‘Secularism’ the way it should be and create bridges people are using it to create boundaries.
The people of this country have to rise above this toxicity and see each other as fellow human beings and not through the eyes of religion, as walls only create shadows of fear and disparity whereas bridges connect us to new vistas.
Is Secularism a basic feature of our country?
A strict majority in India makes secularism vital to be available in India. India needs to fall back on pluralism to keep itself coordinated. Secularism as a philosophy attempts to keep the country united on non-strict fronts like the monetary turn of events, better education, and so forth. These move the focal point of people from religion to other significant things that could change the present for a superior and more promising time to come.
Article 11 of the Constitution engages Parliament to control the right to citizenship inside the protected system yet doesn’t present the ability to mess with any of the arrangements or its central thoughts. Secularism is one such primary thought. The Christians and Muslims who inhabit the country have also shed their blood in post-independence wars for India, as a result, religious pluralism is a strength of Indian society. India is frequently known as solidarity in variety, in light of the fact that there is the presence of different ethnic gatherings living respectively in a similar country.
As per census 2011,” India is the birthplace of four major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism have all originated from India.” As we can see the segment state of India is that the Hindu people group has a greater part of the populace and different networks have a minority.
In this manner, Secularism turns into an apparatus to check whether one local area is ruling or attempting to stifle another local area. The contention among this religion is ordinary, this contention is mostly identified with the individuals who have a higher status in the public arena, accordingly to settle it and furthermore to make a serene and agreeable society-secularism has assumed a pivotal part in tackling all struggles.
India is a majority rule country, and the partition of religion from the law has been the sign of each equitable country. This peculiarity is known as Secularism. Secularism implies the state ought not to have its authority religion however treat all religions similarly. Secularism involves the state treating all religions similarly. The western idea of secularism depends on agnosticism however Indian secularism implies that the state will have no authority religion.
Moreover, religion won’t control the political framework which clearly mirrors that secularism is one of the essential components of Indian culture. There are some landmark judgments that reflect the importance of Secularism in India.
- In the matter of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, The Supreme Court of India held that secularism is a piece of the essential construction of the Constitution. Further, it was held that components that establish the essential structure of the Indian Constitution can’t be revised by the Parliament.
- In the matter of S.R Bommai v. Union of India, The Supreme Court cleared the uncertainty over the word ‘secularism’ in the Constitution. The Court held that a mainstream nature of a general public doesn’t make it a skeptic culture. Secularism makes society more heterogeneous. The law of a mainstream country gives equivalent status to all religions and doesn’t lean toward or oppress anybody or doesn’t give power and dominance to any particular religion or community.
- In the matter of Ahmedabad St. Xavier’s College v. State of Gujarat, The Supreme Court held that secularism neither means hostile to God nor favorable to God. It guarantees that no one will be victimized on the basis of religion. Secularism, in this way, takes out the idea of God in issues of the state.
Positives of Secularism
Secularism is vital for India since in such a case India turns into a strict and religious state it will prevent us from sharing novel considerations and learning about various religions and we’ll lose our investigating capacity and logical viewpoint and legislative issues will be commanded by the administrative class which is exceptionally hazardous for any country since pastorate will harm the country by their over the top activities and spreading disdain against one another.
So it is always better to keep religion separate from the state. Secularism looks to guarantee the opportunity of ‘religious conviction practice and customary qualities for all and regard to others’ religious beliefs which implies no strict transformation by lecturing or driving others, no destruction, ruin, and insolence for strict spots, icons, or images, no strict obstruction in undertakings of state.
Another benefit of secularism is that it advances harmony between different religions and advances the turn of events and solidarity among different religious groups. This kind of practice reduces the hatred between two religious communities and increases a sense of brotherhood between them.
Secularism also prohibits the legislation to make laws against any particular religious system and promotes equal treatment of religious beliefs practiced in India rather than being supportive of any one particular religion. Every citizen living in a secular state gets the right and liberty to practice, pronounce, and engender the religion according to their own discretion as this is their fundamental right.
Secularism helps in achieving constitutional goals as a whole by promoting religious tolerance because if there is a sense of respect among different religions then it will enable people coming from different communities to work together in achieving bigger goals for the country. One of the important features of Secularism is that it promotes religious tolerance which enables thinking among individuals that we respect everyone’s way of life without thinking that our way is superior and this is the simple and clear objective of the word Secularism.
Criticism of Secularism
Secularism in the Indian setting would not mean the state staying away from religion. Rather it would mean keeping up with equidistant from all religions. Sadly, that equidistance won’t ever occur. Throughout the long term, the trial of secularism came to be if India’s minorities saw the activity as common.
Secularism is reprimanded by expressing that it is hostile to religion and it suggests a total partition between the religion and the state. This negative idea of secularism is unimportant in the Indian circumstance where the general public is multi-religious and the public authority will, in general, mediate in some religious issues.
Another analysis is that Secularism doesn’t permit us to have a religious identity. In any case, this assertion can be very much protected as Secularism permits us to have a strict personality. In India, a resident can have a strict personality, so he/she can address his/her strict establishment at whatever point needed to save and foster it. Ultimately, it is generally contended that Secularism has a western-Christian beginning and It isn’t reasonable for India.
This analysis is viewed as obvious due to the way that India is a multi-social and strict society. Accordingly, it is important to guarantee equivalent treatment to all gatherings both inside and between various religions to keep up with an agreement and coordinate the nation as a whole.
India is one of the 96 common countries that gives equivalent assurance to all religions. It empowers and helps its residents in clinging to a religion and its practices. There are examples when it is important to meditate and execute helpful changes by the state government for the improvement of society.
Secularism is a piece of the Constitution’s established system, as recently said. As a Secular State, it isn’t just the State’s obligation yet in addition individuals, to regard the religious privileges of different occupants.
In case we are not fit for keeping up with the soul of secularism, we ought not to announce ourselves a common country. A state doesn’t become Secularism just by utilizing “Secularism” in its constitution. Practically speaking, the state should hold fast to the standards of secularism. It is additionally the obligation of any individual dwelling in India’s domain to hold fast to those qualities and legally practice their right to religious freedom.
We the People of India have seriously consented to establish India into a Secular country,” says the Indian Constitution’s Preamble. Accordingly, it is the obligation of each and every resident living in India to put forth attempts to change India into a Secular country where everybody is treated with equivalent nobility, opportunity, and openings paying little mind to their confidence.
In such fragile conditions, tight management on the state’s mediation in strict undertakings should be kept to guarantee that the infringement is made to support individuals and not so much for some other explanation. The common culture is fundamental for the existence of a Secular state. India has consistently been and will keep on being a Secular society. Not as a result of the rule, but of the idea of culture.
The day will come when civilization and the state will win over this murkiness and lead the way to the daylight of secularism, whose beginnings will be entirely solid, to the point that no tempest of contention can at any point evacuate it. What is generally anticipated of the state and local area is a more mindful and sensible way to deal with debate goals and satisfy the possibility of Secular India into a reality.
Author(s): Aman Kumar, Sourav Chakraborty and Md Tauhid Karim
Christ University, Delhi NCR
 AIR 1973 SC 1461
 AIR 1994 SC 1918
 1974 AIR 1389