General Studies Paper 1 (Indian Society): Secularism

Secularism in India

IAS Junior Mains Answer Writing June-Sep 2019 Schedule (Click Here)


Syllabus: General Studies Paper 1 (Indian Society)


Discuss the concept, constraints and prospect of secularism in India.



Secularism in India refers to the equal status and treatment of all religions. The word “Secularism” is used to mean impartiality or non-interference by the Government of the country in matters of religion . As a philosophy, secularism seeks to interpret life on principles taken solely from the material world, without recourse to religion. In political terms, secularism is the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institution and religious dignitaries.


Concept of Secularism

The concept of secularism evolved in India as equal treatment of all religion. In spite of the fact that the subcontinent was partitioned and Pakistan was formed in the name of religion, the founding fathers of the nation were bound by their commitment that all religions of post- Independence India would be treated equally by the State. Secularism is not merely desirable but essential for the healthy existence of a pluralist society such as ours.

Indian diversity has been the strength and basis of modern India, the country’s inclusive nature is what sets it apart from any other country in the world. Secularism plays an important role in a complex social fabric like India where since time immemorial different religions have come from various parts of the world and lived cohesively with occasional quarrels. The concept of secularism was missing from the Indian Constitution until 1976, when the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution was adapted and enacted.


Important features of Secularism in India:

Secularism is based on the concept of “live and let live” and that you may belong to any caste or creed but that has nothing to do with the matters of the state. Hence in light of this following are the features of secularism:

  • Let an individual practice his beliefs and rituals but the person should ensure that his acts don’t create hurdles for others.
  • Guarantee freedom of speech but ensure that no one is allowed to spew venom or say things against any religion, community caste etc in the name of freedom of speech.
  • Ensures that everyone has the right to freely practice, profess and change his or her beliefs without any fear from any one.
  • Equal honor and regard for all faiths by the nation.
  • No prejudice sponsored by the state between residents on religion basis.
  •  India follows the policy of non-interference in the functioning of any faith by the state.
  • Moreover, the 42nd Constitutional Amendment of the Indian Constitution states that India is a secular country, thus, there is no relationship between religion and state. However, India pays respects to all religions but it did not recognize any national religion.
  • Indian Secularism equally opposed oppression of dalits and women within Hinduism. It also opposes the discrimination against women within Indian Islam or Christianity and the possible threats that a majority community might pose to the rights of the minority religious communities.
  • Indian Secularism has made room for and is compatible with the idea of state- supported religious reform.
    • For example- Indian constitution bans untouchability under Article 17. There is also abolition of child marriage and lifting the taboo on inter-caste marriage sanctioned by Hinduism.


Constraints of Secularism in India:

  • Religious practice is being challenged based on reasoning and modern society
    • For example, Women entry allowed by court in Sabrimala temple, Instant Triple talaq is ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
  • Superstitions of a religion which indirectly affects the other section of the society. 
  • Uniform Civil Code
    • No progress has been made in the evolution of a uniform Civil Code.
    • There are deep religious sentiments prevailing among different religious communities.
    • It limits the path to a truly secular society in India
  • Non–separation of politics from religion
    • The Supreme Court had observed in the Bommai case that if religion is not separated from politics, the religion of the ruling party tends to become the state religion.
    • Political parties use religion and caste factor for the promotion of their political interest despite a ban on communal electorates.
  •  Continued wide spread of Communal violence
    • Increasing violence between people of different communities or religions.
    • Rise of fringe elements threatens India’s history of communal harmony and peace.
    • Instances like demolition of the Babri Masjid, anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and other places in 1984 are on the rise.
  • Rise of fundamentalism and obscurantism
    • Religious entities have taken up the radicalisation of youths to promote their religion.
    • This poses grave threat to the harmony and security of the nations.
  • Failure of the Government in Evolving a Just Economic Order
    • The failure of the government to evolve a just economic order and eliminate poverty also is a setback to secularism.
  • Minority Group Perceptions
    • Apart from education and jobs, prejudice and discrimination are perceived as operating in the matter of intergroup violence and conflict.
  • Faulty at education institution
    • Schools today have become havens of social isolation where children of similar economic and social backgrounds are unaware of the kind of social diversity that exists outside their little worlds.


Way forward:

The essence of secularism lies in to build friendships with varied social groups and overcome xenophobia that is destructing the social fabric of the Indian society.

  • Interventions made by the Supreme Court is seen as removing superstition, bring gender equality etc.
  • Measures can be taken to develop more Radical thinking among the people by means of education, which will make the people more ‘Tolerant’ to towards the different sections of peoples who lives in the same society.
  • Setting up of a commission on secularism for ensuring adherence to the constitutional mandate on secularism.
  • Separation of religion from politics. It is of such urgency that no time should be wasted in bringing this about.
  • Harmony programmes like street plays and skits can be used to spread the awareness of brotherhood.
  • The state’s role also needs to curtailed and focus on forging deep rooted ties not only between different religions but also amongst different cultural groups, ethnic, regional, linguistic, and caste.



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. 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. Supreme Court rulings over the years have also ensured that the secular ethos of India is maintained, and that religion does not interfere or impinge upon the fundamental rights guaranteed to the individuals. In a wider canvas like India where differences exists in terms of different religions and cultures it is necessary to strike at the root of xenophobia instead of focusing on the way the state deals with such religious differences.


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