Posted on: November 5, 2020 Posted by: admin Comments: 0

Author: Ayushi Jaryal, Law Student, Army Institute of Law


Karl Marx famously said “Religion is the opium of masses”, and to combat this he endorsed the political idea of secularism. In common parlance emerging from to the western understanding of this concept, secularism implies divorce of state and religion and equal opportunities for all citizens irrespective of their religion. However, India adopted a modified version of the same wherein while it abandoned the notion of an official state religion, it did retain or institute certain policies and laws that are applicable as per the religion of the citizen. Secularism is practiced by nation to ensure the rule of law but if this notion is diluted by actions to the contrary, then citizens can lose faith in the governmentt and the State as such.


Although Secularism is a modern concept, its earliest traces can be found in India the Charvaka[1] system of philosophy in the Hindu reformation period. In the western world secularism emerged as a defense against the crippling domination of the Church over the whole of it. As man gradually developed reason over religious faith and he eventually liberated from it dominion and religious superstition. The first semblance of Secularism emerged in the western world was in the classical philosophy and ancient Greece. However, it completely surfaced in the Renaissance[2] and Reformation[3] period through the works of thinkers like Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire, Jefferson and the likes.

Historically, the first secular state was established by Maharaja Ranjit Sikh of the Sikh empire in the 19th century. Under his rule there was no discrimination against any religion he allowed individuals of all religion to participate in his Darbar and had Hind, Muslim and Sikh representatives heading his Darbar. He was also known to make heavy funding of religious institutions of all communities.[4]

The term ‘Secularism’ was first used by a British writer George Holyoake in 1851 to present his views to present his views on how a state should function. An agnostic himself, he was of the view that there should be a social order separate from religion. Moreover, he said that secularism is not an argument against religion but is independent of it.

Inspired by the freedom struggles of the French revolution and the Laïcité in France[5], the United States of America was the first country to become Secular, which completely separated the religious institutions and State, while France officially became secular in the year 1905.


Since, the key policy of the Colonizers in ruling our country was “Divide and Rule”, hence, there was no trace of Secularism during that period whatsoever as a result of which India was divided. So, after independence in attempt to promote the spirit of brotherhood and ensure equality Secularism was adopted. However, it is important to know that the word “secular” was added to the Indian constitution after almost twenty years of independence of our country. It was introduced in the preamble as a part of the Constitution in the Forty-second amendment in the year 1978 which also came to known as the ‘Mini Constitution’ for it also enforced various new sanctions and laws. But even before that, India had always been a Secular country in spirit.


Article 25- 30 of the Indian Constitution safeguards the freedom of religion in our country. Articles 25 and 26 grant freedom of religion to all and the right to form religious institutions, respectively. According to Article 27, no person can be compelled to pay special taxes on the basis of their religion. Article 28 prohibits religious instruction in wholly state-funded educational institutions. Articles 29 and 30 lay down certain cultural and educational rights for minorities, and are aimed at prohibiting discrimination against religious minorities in cultural and educational areas of life.

The state shall do everything in its power to protect the aforementioned rights, for example Article 25(1) provides the right to propagate, profess and practice their religion but in the case of Rev. Stainislaus vs. State of Madhya Pradesh[6], it was incorrectly interpreted as including religious conversion. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court held that right to preach and profess ones religion does not include the right to conversion and the contentions of the father struck in toto.


The notion of Secularism is a rather modified than the traditional one.  The model of secularism in India becomes clear with a Statement given by Pandit Jawaharla Nehru, “Equal protection by the State to all religions’ this statement clearly shows the vision of India on the policy of secularism i.e. the state does not have religion and not participate in the religious ritual but when it come to the disputes or misunderstanding, the state always there to work as the mediator and sort out the problem.”[7]  Its basic facets are as follows:-

No official religion of the State.

  • Freedom of Religion to the citizens.
  • State can make laws for minority religious communities.
  • The State is not to participate in religious rituals.
  • State acts as mediator in matters of religious disputes.

There are various happenings and incidences that cultivate this question in the minds of common individuals. Although rejected but, there was also a recent petition filed before the Supreme Court for the deletion of the word ‘Secular’.  Enumerated below are the reasons to think so:-

  • Politicians and their agendas:-

While the theory of secularism sound excellent on paper, it is not quite so in reality. It is not practical to mix politics and religion as they rely on religious vote banks by dividing the population or appeasing the majority community of that particular area. Therefore, the basic principle of secularism goes out of the window and sometimes might even lead to communalism.

  • Different laws for different communities:-

In a secular state, one law should be an umbrella for all. But in India there are various personal laws serving different communities for example the Hindu, Buddhists and Sikhs are covered under Hindu code bills but Muslims and Christians have personal laws for the same.

  • Condemning Judiciary:-

There have been various incidences when under the garb of secularism people have often criticized the judiciary as well as the government. The most recent example is the Babri Masjid [8]case wherein the verdict was condemned for being against the principles of secularism and was said to destroy the secular fabric of India. Whereas, in the same way when the state intervened in the religious matter of Triple Talaq[9] abolition then the whole country rejoiced in the fact that this case had finally reached a favourable conclusion.

  • State funding of religious pilgrimages:-

The state funding pilgrimages basically means money from the tax payers goes to Government which then is spent by providing funding in religious affairs which is against the spirit of secularism. In 2012 alone a whopping amount of Rs 861 crores was spent[10] on Hajj pilgrimage, while there are no such subsidies given for a trip to Amarnath or even to Israel.

  • Different laws for “minority” schools:-

Even though many minority schools receive money from the government in the form of grants/aid, they need not comply with the regulations of the Right to Education Act. These schools are getting a free pass but the private schools that receive no money from the government, force schools to reserve 25 per cent of their seats for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds (reimbursed by the government).

Recently the Assam Government decided to withdraw funding from Madrassas and that created a whole new political row.

  • Role of Mainstream Media:-

Mainstream media makes all of this even worse by trying to win the favour of minority communities and furthering their interest instead of national interest. Let’s take the unfortunate incident of Dadri lynching, in which a member of the Muslim community was lynched by a mob. The coverage was all over traditional and electronic media. Around the same time animal rights activist Prashant Poojary, was brutally attacked and hacked to death in an equally shameful incident but this news did not gain the same amount of attention or compassion.


The above mentioned are only a handful of the variety of negatives brought about by the state involving itself in religious matter. this only indicates to blatant discrimination instead of affirmative action in the name of secularism For a state to be truly secular, first, it has to detach itself from religion but if it is doing so it needs to make no distinction on the basis of the same. Second, while there is already a Uniform Criminal Code, there should also be Uniform Civil code in place which governs all communities alike. Third, either all places of worship should be under the control of the government or none. Currently, temples are under the control of the government but mosques and churches are completely autonomous. If a country satisfies the above only then should it be called a secular state otherwise it should be ceased to be called so.


India is a complex and diverse country with a population close to 1.25 billion people so it becomes the responsibility of not only the government but also the citizens to ensure a secular society. After considering the above mentioned facts it can be said that India must truly strive to become a secular state and get rid of the factionist mentality and the state should make no distinction  between citizens because at the end of the day we are all Indians.


[1]  Ancient school of Indian materialism.

[2] period in European history

[3] major movement within Western Christianity in 16th-century Europe


[5] constitutional principle of France

[6] 1977 SCR (2) 611


[8] M Siddiq (D) Thr Lrs v. Mahant (1994) 6 SCC 360

[9] Shayara Bano vs Union Of India And Ors


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