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This article explores and elaborates on the relationship between the state or country and religion is something which is very complex . Such relationship is best described under heads like Theocracy , Secularism and Religious Pluralism . Theocracy favours the rule of the divine and considers religion to be the guiding light for all matters of State . Secularism on the other hand completely disallows of any interference by religion in worldly matters . Religious Pluralism means acceptance of all religions and policy of peaceful co-existence in the society . Secularism and Religious Pluralism are different and yet no secular nation exists which does not incorporate within itself certain principles of Religious Pluralism . Similarly , no democracy exists which does not adhere to Religious Pluralism . Secularism is something which adapts or molds itself as per the needs of the society adopting it . The article covers Secularism and Religious Pluralism in context of India . The Constitution of India clearly mentions India as being a secular country in its preamble . However , Indian Secularism is different from Western form of Secularism as religion is something which many a times affects the decision of the country though maybe directly or indirectly . The article in depth covers all these concepts .


Since ages , the relation between the state and religion has been an evergreen topic of research and debate among the public at large . The viewpoints on this relation vary across the globe and do not remain static with time . Such diverse view points gave rise to concepts like Theocracy , Secularism , Religious Pluralism , etc . Each country by virtue of its societal structure , legal framework and popular viewpoint adheres to the principles of such aforesaid concepts . Theocracy is a form of government whereby a deity or a divine ruler is considered as the supreme ruling authority of the country which gives divine guidance to the human intermediaries who are responsible for managing the every day affairs of the government[1]. This concept is completely different from the concepts of secularism and religious pluralism . Countries like Pakistan , Qatar , Judaism and Saudi Arabia are some examples of Theocratic States .

In layman’s language, Secularism is that order of government which recognizes no state religion or does not unduly favour any religion . Jean Bauberot understands the concept of secularism under three dimensions which are: complete separation of state from religion that is no interference and domination of the religion in the political and governmental domain , freedom of religion whereby everyone had the right to change or manifest their believes as per their choice and equal treatment of all irrespective of their religious or non-religious viewpoints [2]. Various scholars agree to the fact that Secularism can have more than one meaning as Secularism in actual practice adapts itself as per the needs and nature of the society concerned . The most widely referred secular countries United States of America and France have innumerable differences in the way governance takes place in these countries and how the matters of religion are dealt with by the government .

Religious Pluralism refers to the ideology and attitude regarding the peaceful co -existence of the plethora of religious belief systems in a society . Religious pluralism promotes the belief that no single religion is the sole or exclusive path to truth and salvation . It acknowledges the existence of a certain iota of truth in other religions[3] . In simple terms , it means that all religions lead to salvation though the modes might be different . Many religions recognize the concept of Religious pluralism . Hinduism is one such religion which excepts the plurality of other religions . However , religions like Islam , Christianity and Judaism do not recognize religious pluralism . India has been largely a pluralistic society as it is the home to all the major religions of the world . Moreover, it is also the birthplace of religions like Sikhism , Jainism , Buddhism and Hinduism .

Religious Pluralism and Secularism are often used interchangeably by people though the two are different and unique concepts . Over the centuries , Secularism in itself has developed and evolved as per the changing rationality of the society at large with the passage of time . Also , Secularism molds itself as per the region adopting it as the order of its society . No two secular so cieties today can be said to be having the same order of secularism applied in their society nor can any state in the present times be said to be a true secular state .


Secularism is based on the idea of separation of religion from the affairs of the world . It is important to understand that Secularism does not recognize any religion . Religious Pluralism on the other hand recognizes the existence of multiple religions . Thus the central difference between the two is regarding the recognition of religion in the public sphere . Secularism in its purest form does not mean that one takes the best of all religions for the management of worldly affairs , rather it focuses on the management of worldly affairs taking no cue from any religion . Taking cue from any particular religion for running a country meanwhile respecting other religions is not Secularism in the truest form . It is rather the acceptance of the plurality of religions existing in the society . It is essential to comprehend that Religious Pluralism is neither a form or extension of the idea of Theocracy or Secularism . It is rather a concept unique from the two . It neither denied the involvement of divine ruler in the worldly affairs like secularism nor does it stringently believe in the involvement of religion in the worldly matters .


India is an ancient land which has been the home to all the major religions of the world . Our country is well known for its religious , linguistic and cultural diversity . India has a total of 28 states and 8 Union Territories . Hinduism is the predominant religion in almost all these states and Union Territories, its followers comprising of 80 percent of the total Indian population of 130 Crore[4]. Muslims form the second largest religious group in India with a population of 160 million approximately . Many other religions like Christianity , Sikhism , Jainism also reside in India in considerable numbers . Majority of Indian have been against the existence of Theocracy in the country . However , some forces have always suggested of some involvement of religion in the affairs of the state . The Indian War for Independence was fought by Indians on the plank of equality for all until the beginning of the 20th century . After this , the demand for separate countries were made by the leaders of the two major religions stating reasons of their own . Ultimately the partition took place in 1947 whereby the country was divided into India and Pakistan on the basis of religion .

The Constitution of India does not declare any State Religion or any privileged faith or tradition . Under Article 25 to Article 28 of the Indian Constitution , religious freedom has been granted to all the citizens as a fundamental right . These provisions depicted India as a secular nation . However until the year 1976 , the word secular was not even mentioned in the constitution . It was by the 42 nd Amendment passed in the year 1976 that the word secular was inserted in the Preamble of the constitution . Thereby , it can be clearly inferred that the Indian form of Secularism is unlike its western counterpart . In India , religion has no role to play in the matters of state but on the other hand there is no bar on its the
ceremonial role in the government functions and official events of state . On the other hand , the State is allowed to interfere in matters of religion which affect the aims and aspirations of the Indian
Constitution .

In S.R. Bommai v Union of India[ 5 ], secularism is more than a passive attitude of religious tolerance ; it is a positive concept of equal treatment of all religions . It was asserted by the Apex Court that merely because the State allows its citizens to profess and practice religion of their own choice , it cannot be implied that the citizens are allowed to introduce religion in any matters which are either non-religious or related to the state .

At no place in the constitution it has been mentioned that religion can be the basis of any law in the state . However , when any religious practice exists and takes place which is in contravention with the provisions of the constitution namely the fundamental rights , the state can in such a case formulate such legislatures so as to prohibit or regulate the practice . Religion is something in which the State can very well interfere in case when the constitutional principles and religion do not fall in the same line . The most recent examples can be that of the Triple Talaq and entry of women in certain places of worship . Judicial pronouncements and legislation have been enacted accordingly in these matters . The Supreme Court in Shayara Bano v Union of India[6] struck down the the practice of Triple Talaq prevalent in Muslims as being unconstitutional and in contravention with Article 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India . In Indian Young Lawyers’ Association v State of Kerala[ 7] allowed to women between the age of twelve to fifty to enter into the inner sanctum of Lord Ayappa’s Sabrimala Temple for purposes of prayers . The Court in cases related to religion makes a difference between the essential and non-essential practices of a religion . The Constitution protects the former but not the latter . Much recently , the Allahabad High Court in Afzal Ansari v State of Uttar Pradesh[8] held that Azaan is an integral practice to the Islam but use of loudspeakers is not . Hence Azaan by way of loudspeakers is not protected under Article 25 of the Constitution .

Minority religious groups have been protected in our country by the law since the very beginning . Article 29[9] and Article 30[10] establish certain rights for the religious and linguistic minorities so that they can profess and follow their religion without any fear of the majority or otherwise . This clearly indicates towards the intention of the framers of our constitution to maintain the religious diversity in our country in such a way that everyone is free to practice religion of his or her choice . Hereby we can clearly see the intention of the framers of our constitution of upholding an essential feature of Religious pluralism which is the acceptance of diversity in a society .

Certain provisions in our constitution regulate certain religious practices and beliefs of the majority in India that is the Hindus . Article 17[11 ]prohibits the practice of Untouchability which was once a largely followed religious practice or rather social order of Hindus . Under Article 48 of the Constitution , the state has been endowed with the expectation of prohibiting cow slaughter and formulating measures such as to promote the well being of the cow and cattle . Prohibition on cow slaughter is often considered to be an indirect ban on the consumption of beef in the country which is a part of the diet of certain minorities and even a few sub-communities of Hindus . Cow slaughter in India has been a topic of controversy in our country since times immemorial . Article 48 was inserted in the constitution after much debate which initially began with the economic benefits of cow slaughter prohibition and later took a religious turn . Whatever the case might be , whether intended or not intended , this directive principle to the government seems to be unduly protecting the religious interests of the majority population of the country . This is interpreted by many as being against the secular and pluralistic nature of the country .


India is a land of religion and culture . all religions have found a safe abode in India . The Republic of India is a Secular State largely however elements of religious pluralism also exist here . The Preamble of the Constitution clearly states that India is a “ Sovereign , Socialist , Secular and Democratic Republic” . India is undoubtedly the largest democracy in the world . An essential principle or feature of any democracy is the right to equality which is provided to all irrespective of any irrational prejudices like those of religion . So in order to keep up with the democratic principles of the constitution , religious pluralism is accepted in our society but not in the matters of governance . Religious Pluralism means recognition of all religions and tolerance among the different communities for the other communities .

Secularism does not favour any religion between the State and religion . However , in any democratic country , the government and the legal system has to interfere in the matters of religion occasionally when it is considered that such a matter of religion is not in contravention with the principles of a democracy . Numerous instance have taken place in India whereby State has interfered in the matter of religion but for the rights and benefits of the citizens at large .In India , it cannot be said that there is complete separation of religion from State matters . Constitution has protected the rights of minorities and it further allows the government to make laws and provisions for their betterment . Cow Slaughter Prohibition laws have been made by various state governments . The Government has the right to formulate regulations affecting various pilgrimages to be carried out by the citizens whether within or outside the Indian Territory .

What one needs to comprehend is that no country is truly secular nor is it ever possible for a democratic county to a perfect secular State . this also does not mean that democratic States should adhere to the tenets of theocracy . It simply means that in a democratic nation the betterment and good of the citizens is matter of paramount importance . for this very purpose , the state can even manage religious matters when required . The Indian democracy recognizes religion but does not let it interfere in worldly matters . The fact remains that secularism as a concept molds itself as per the requirements of the society which is adapting it even when it means imbibing features of religious pluralism in it .


1 The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica , Theocracy:Political System , Encyclopedia Britannica , ( 27 May 2020 , 12:00 pm )
2 Andrew Copson , “ Secularism – Politics, Religion, and Freedom “ ( 1st Edition Oxford University
Press , 2017 )

3 Mark Silk , “Defining Religious Pluralism in America: A Regional Analysis” , The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 612 , July 2007 : Pg 64 – 71


5 (1994) 3 SCC 1
6 Writ Petition (C) No. 118 of 2016
7 Writ Petition (CL) NO. 373 OF 2006
8 2020 SCC OnLine All 592

9 The Indian Constitution 1950
10 Ibid
11 Ibid

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