Secularism in India
According to Encyclopedia Britannica secularism is “nonspiritual, having no concern with religions or spiritual matters.” There are three main schools of thought Western, Indian and Communist. The Western concept of secularism was intended to separate church from state. The state does not follow a particular religion. Church will not interfere in the working of the state. In the Western concept, the state and church i.e. religion remain separate and parallel. The Indian concept of secularism is entirely different from the Western concept because the socio-historical heritage of India has been entirely different from that of Europe.
The concept of secularism in India is predicated on “Sarvadharma Samabhava” i.e. equal status for all religions. It means India isn’t anti-religious or irreligious. It allows all religions of India to flourish, the role of the state being neutral to the religious activities of all religious communities. To Gandhiji and Ambedkar secularism meant that the state would not impose any particular religion upon its citizens.
Secularism in India means the rejection of quasi-theocracy and affirmation of non-religion based on democracy. It proclaims that religion is a private affair. The citizens of India are equal and free, irrespective of caste, creed, and religion. The Indian culture emphasizes equal respect and tolerance for all religions. The communist concept of secularism is based on the Marxian perspective of religion which implies “religion is the sigh of the oppressed, heart of the heartless world and opium of the people.”
The Indian constitution has given supreme importance to secularism in India. The word Secularism was included in the Preamble after the 42nd Amendment in 1976. Articles 25 to 30 provide for the freedom of religion and protection of cultural and educational rights of minorities. Article 16 (2) states that “no citizen shall on grounds only of faith, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for any office under the state.”
Articles 25 to 28 clearly define the nature of the secular state in India. There shall be no state religion in India. The state will neither establish a faith of its own nor confer any special patronage on any particular religion. The state will not compel any citizen to pay taxes for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion. No religious instruction shall be provided in any institution, maintained out of state funds. Every person is guaranteed freedom of
conscience and therefore the freedom to profess, practice, and propagate his own religion. The Directive Principles also provide equality for all. Article 44 states that the state shall endeavor to secure a uniform civil code.
The working of Indian secularism has been confronted with many challenges. In the pre-independence era, the national movement mobilized the support of all classes of society against British rule. The policy of “divide and rule” followed by the British with the intention of prolonging their rule in India, led to intolerance among Indians. The British regarded the emergence of nationalism transcending religious barriers as a threat to their dominance over India.
The creation of the Muslim League and the blatant efforts by the British to create and widen the rift between the Hindu and the Muslims ultimately led to the partition of the country. According to educationist Moonis Raza, “Pakistan is an Islamic theocratic state, India signifies Hindu theocracy, Muslim theocracy, Christian theocracy and all the cracies put together.”
Secularism in India can be strengthened only by instilling feelings of brotherhood and friendliness among the people of India. The framers of the constitution imposed the ideals of secularism before successfully secularizing and democratizing the social structure.
There is a need for the development of positive secularism in India, based on humanism and the scientific approach. To evolve a secular state, a secular mind has to be developed. An open and accommodative approach is required to build a secular modern nation. The progress of the country depends on harmony among all the religious communities. Eradication of poverty, illiteracy, and feudal values are essential for secularism.
Persons holding positions in religious institutions should be barred from occupying an office in politics, justice, and public administration. No political party should be permitted to contest elections by appealing to the emotions of a particular religion, caste, language, or sect. Mass media should also present unbiased information. Efforts should also be made to promote liberal social reforms to deal effectively with communalism and the influence of fundamentalists.
Society should be secularized and democratized starting from the lowest levels. The secular force should try to create a society based on humanism and tolerance. The semi-feudal and semi-capitalistic structure of Indian society should be changed.
The people have to accept the fact that Indian’s unity lies in accepting its diversity. The tolerance towards each religion has made India a conglomeration of rich and diverse cultures through the centuries. A few cannot destroy the citadel of communal harmony that is rooted in Indian ethos, culture, and history. Secularism promotes tolerance, social justice, and economic welfare.