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Secularism in India

Updated: Jun 29

Authored by - Ms. Sonia Kamboj

Designation - Assistant Professor, SDDLC Panchkula


Religion is a concept of a man’s personal relation with god and state should not play any role with it as it is a matter of faith for that person. Concept of secularism dictates that the state should not have religion and should be free from any influence ascertained by it as it is duty of the state to be neutral. From ancient times to modern world, the state has had differences with religious figures such as the crucifixion of Jesus by Roman Empire to stop the spread of theism in the state and when the state was influenced by the religion, the drastic episodes such as Holocaust in Germany or the forceful conversion of Hindu’s into Islam under Mughal Rulers. Hence, the concept of Separation of Church and State was adopted in England and it got spread to the world to safeguard rights of citizen who basically constitute as a minority in the state. Secularism means that state should see each and every of its citizen as equals and not otherwise.


We need to focus on the concept of Secularism in India and the reasons why it is failing whether due to lack of proper legislation or loopholes in the law or due to intervention of politics in the law making authorities. The question we need to raise is whether the constitutional provisions are being met by.


The word Secular is derived by Latin word “Saeculam”. Secularism state that the state should be neutral towards the citizens and all the citizens irrespective of their religion should be held equal in the eyes of the state. The concept of secularism has certain ingredients such as, no interference of Religion into matter of state[1] and that all citizens to be treated as equals or that the head of the state would not be a religious figure such as what happened in Medieval Europe when Pope of the Church ruled Papal Churches of Europe[2] and to cite examples of recent times, Taliban or Islamic State controlled territory.



From earlier times, the seeds of Religions are embedded deep within that of State, as in history of Egypt, Kings or Pharaoh’s were supposed to be messenger of Gods[3], in Medieval Europe, Kings were anointed by the Priest and they ruled with the authority given to them by the Gods as their birth right. In Mughal dynasty, Kajis were supposed to issue (fatwa) guidelines or judgement for the state to follow[4].


With the religion in the roots of the state, the policies of the state become autocratic and sometimes rights of the minorities are violated just on the grounds that they are not of the same religion as of majority. Some examples of atrocities happened on the name of religion by the state are Holy Crusade of 13th Century[5], Anglo-Saxon wars which continued from 5th Century to 11th Century[6] and to quote recent conflicts, Israeli- Palestinian conflict[7], Separation of India and Pakistan because All India Muslim League wanted a separate nation[8], Saudi Arab – Iran Conflict[9].


That is why it is necessary for the state to separate religion out of its matters to ensure democracy and for its citizen to exercise their fundamental rights. State should have no opinion over religion and should not force religious teaching or practice of it over any of its citizen. Everyone is entitled to same benefits or schemes of the state without any ground of discrimination.


India being getting official title of Secular in 1975 and with supporting Constitutional Provisions, India is yet to become a Secular state as there is no express or even implied provision that defines the relationship of Religious Institution with the state, or explicitly directs the state not to adopt a state religion or not to let religious institution in the affairs of the state. In a hypothetical scenario, what if the leader of a majority religion, contests in a general election and get majority in the Lower House and then he can constitute his government on religious basis, in this case too, Religious leader or head became the head of the State, which provision is there to stop this from happening, which provision states that the Head of the State should not be the head of a religious Institution? Failure by every government till date to implement provision of Uniform Civil Code enshrined under Constitution shows the intent of legislature to avoid the UCC and manipulate people on the basis of their religion.


Legislation or politician’s intent could be further shown by the case study of Shah Bano Case[10], here the Supreme Court ruled that every women despite of their religion could seek Maintenance from there husband under Code of Criminal Procedure[11], which was prohibited by Muslim Personnel Law, which enraged Muslim population and to gain the votes and trust of Muslims, government enacted The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce)[12] which basically nullified the judgement given under the case of Shah Bano. This episode clearly shows intention of the government to keep rights of the Muslim women separate as that given to women of any other religion.

[1] Rajeev Bhargava, States, religious diversity, and the crisis of secularism, open Democracy, 27/03/2011, available on (Last visited on https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/states-religious-diversity-and-crisis-of-secularism-0/ 18/04/2020) [2]Frank J. Coppa, Papcy: Roman Catholicism, Britannica, 18/02/2020, available on https://www.britannica.com/topic/papacy (Last visited on 18/04/2020) [3] Jack L., The Pharaohs of Egypt were considered to be descendants of whom?, World History, 27/01/2018, available on https://socratic.org/questions/the-pharaohs-of-egypt-were-considered-to-be-descendants-of-whom (Last visited on 18/04/2020) [4] The Amman Message, Declaration 153, The Issuance of Fatwas: Rules and Conditions. [5] Thomas F. Madden, Gary Dickson and Marshall W. Baldwin, Crusades, Britannica, 25/10/2019, available on https://www.britannica.com/event/Crusades (Last visited on 18/04/2020) [6] History extra, 10 things you (probably) didn’t know about the Anglo-Saxons, History Extra, 28/03/2020, available on https://www.historyextra.com/period/anglo-saxon/facts-anglo-saxons-dates/ (Last visited on 18/04/2020) [7] Al Jazeera, Holy Land Grab: The Battle for Jerusalem, Al Jazeera, 15/08/2019, available on https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/rewind/2019/08/holy-land-grab-battle-jerusalem-190807132838545.html (Last visited on 18/04/2020) [8] The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, Muslim League, Britannica, 09/07/2014, available on https://www.britannica.com/topic/Muslim-League (Last visited on 18/04/2020) [9] Jonathan Marcus, Why Saudi Arabia and Iran are bitter rivals, BBC News, 16/09/2019, available on https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-42008809 (Last visited on 18/04/2020) [10] Mohd. Ahmed Khan vs. Shah Bano Begum (1985) 1 SCALE 767; 1985 (3) SCR 844; 1985(2) SCC 556; AIR 1985 SC 945. [11] The Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 (Act 2 of 1974), sec 125. [12] The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986 (Act 25 of 1986)

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