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2. Understanding Secularism

This chapter tells us about secularism and Indian context of secularism.

Secularism means separating religion from the state. The Indian Constitution allows individuals the freedom to live by their religious beliefs & practices as they interpret these. In keeping with this idea of religious freedom for all, India also adopted a strategy of separating the power of religion & the power of the State.

2.1              Importance of separating Religion from the State

It is important to separate religion from State, so that a country can function democratically. Almost all countries of the World will have more than one religious group living in them. One of these would be a majority religious group.

  • If this majority religious group has access to State power, then it could quite easily use this power & financial resources to discriminate against & persecute persons of other religions.
  • This tyranny of the majority could result in the discrimination, coercion & at times, even the killings of religious minorities.
  • The majority could quite easily prevent minorities from practicing their religion. Any form of domination based on religion is in violation of the rights that a democratic society guarantees to each & every citizen irrespective of their religion.

It is important to separate religion from the state in democratic societies also because we need to protect the freedom of individuals to exit from their religion, embrace another religion or have the freedom to interpret religious teachings differently.

2.2              What is Indian Secularism?

The Indian Constitution mandates that the Indian state be secular as only a secular state can realize its objectives to ensure

  • that one religious community does not dominate another,
  • that some members do not dominate other members of the same religious community,
  • that the State does not enforce any particular religion nor take away the religious freedom of individuals.

2.2.1 The Indian State works in various ways to prevent the dominatioN

  1. First, it uses a strategy of distancing itself from religion. In India, government spaces like law courts, police stations, govt. schools & offices are not supposed to display or promote any one religion.
  2. Second, the Indian secularism works to prevent the domination through a strategy of non-interference. This means that in order to respect the sentiments of all religions & not interfere with religious practices, the State makes certain exceptions for particular religious communities. Ex Sikhs do not have to wear a helmet as the Indian state recognizes that wearing a turban is an important part of their religion.
  3. Third, Indian Secularism prevents the domination through a strategy of intervention.

In order to prevent the religion-based exclusion & discrimination of ‘lower castes’, the Indian Constitution bans untouchability.

The intervention of the State can also be in the form of support. Ex – The Indian Constitution grants the right to religious communities to set up their own schools & colleges & also gives them financial aid on a non-preferential basis.

2.3.      In what way is Indian Secularism different from that of other democratic countries?

  • In a democratic country like USA, the US Constitution prohibits the legislature from making laws ‘respecting an establishment of religion’ or that ‘prohibit the free exercise of religion’. This means that the legislature cannot declare any religion as the official religion.
  • In Indian Secularism, the State can intervene in religious affairs.
  • In Indian Secularism, though the State is not strictly separate from religion, it does maintain a principled distance vis-à-vis religion. This means that any interference in religion by the State has to be based on the ideals laid out in the Constitution.
  • The Indian State is secular & works in various ways to prevent religious domination.
  • The Indian Constitution guarantees Fundamental Rights that are based on these secular principles.
  • The knowledge that such rights exist makes us sensitive to their violations & enables us to take action when these violations take place.

Q 1: List different types of religious practice that you find in your neighbourhood.

Different types of religious practices take place in our country as different religious are practiced.

  • Hindus perform puja in temples & muslims offer namaaz in masjids.
  • Hindus sing bhajans in temples, Sikhs sing shabad in Gurudwars & Christians offer prayers in Chruch.
  • Sufi music is enjoyes by all people alike as ghazals & bhajans

All the above examples indicate freedom of religious practice.

Q 2: Will the government intervene if some religious group says that their religion allows them to practice infanticide?

Yes, the government will intervene if some religious group will practice female infanticide because

  • Killing of a girl child is a crime & it is a violation of Fundamental Rights.
  • The government will interfere to stop this domination of male members. Therefore, in order to prevent this religion based discrimination, the state will interfere in the religion to put an end to this practice.

Q 3: Complete the following table

Objective Why is it important? Example of a violation of this objective
One religious community does not dominate another It is important, as this ensures that people from all religious can practice their religion as they want to Example of a violation of this objective Minority community is not allowed to offer prayers openly by the majority
The State does not enforce any particular religion nor take away the religious freedom of individuals It is important as this ensures that every person is free to embrace any religion of their choice People are sometimes forced to change their religion


That some members do Not dominate other members of the same religious community It is important as if it happens, it will violate the Fundamental rights of the people who are being dominated Religion based discrimination of ‘lower castes’ by ‘upper castes’ as in untouchability



Q 4: How many holidays in your annual holiday calendar pertain to different religions?

The holidays in the annual calendar of schools pertains to different religions, as we have Janmashtami & Diwali holidays for Hindus, Id for Muslims, Guru Parb for Sikhs & Chirstmas holidays for Christians.

This indicates that all the students studying in the school, irrespective of their religion, get a holiday to celebrate their religions ceremonies.

Q 5: Find out some examples of different views within the same religion

Among Muslims, many people believe in ‘Parda system’, whereas many do not approve of it & see it as interference in the freedom of women.

Q 6: Discuss how Indian State both keeps away from religion as well as intervenes in religion.

  1. The Indian State distances itself from the religion and it is not rules by a religious group & nor does it support any one religion.
  2. Equal respect is given to all the religions. In order to prevent domination by one particular community, the state may interfere in the religion.
  3. State may interfere in the religion to ensure that all the religions are treated equally.
  4. Sometimes, the State may have to intervene in the religion based on ‘personal laws’ of the communities to ensure that laws relating to equal inheritance are protected.

Q 7: “Peace is a never-ending process. It cannot ignore our differences or overlook our common interests”. What does this convey?

‘Peace is a never-ending process. It cannot ignore our differences or overlook our common interests.’

The above sentences say that for all the communities to stay together, it is very important that each religious community should respect the other, their interests & their religious practices. We should not feel bound by any law that we need to respect the other religion, whereas, we should work towards decreasing the differences amongst religious communities & work towards brining peace in the society as a civilized society. Only then, we will be able to enjoy the co-existence of different religious in the society.

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