7 PM Editorial |Future of Indian Secularism|12th August 2020

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Future of Indian Secularism


Secularism in India has come under focus in the recent event of the Prime Minister attending the inauguration of Ayodhya temple under official capacity. It is argued that this is against the principle of secularism where the state cannot promote any one religion and must treat all religions equally.

Constitutional secularism in India:

Secularism as a principle is that religion cannot be a basis for discrimination of citizens. This is incorporated in Indian constitution through various provisions like

  • Preamble promising secular state
  • Right to equality(Articles 14, 15,16)
  • Right to religious freedom(Articles 25,26,27,28)
  • No religious restrictions for any secular executive posts like President, Vice president etc.

Principled distance to all religions is a unique feature of Indian secularism.

  • Critical respect for all religions.Criticality ensures that practices which do not promote social equality, liberty and fraternity are not tolerated.
  • Intervention when needed to promote constitutional values. Untouchability abolition, Triple Talaq abolition are examples. But such intervention cannot be discriminatory.

In the case of western concept of secularism, there is a strict separation of state and religion. State cannot interfere in matters of religion.

Constitutional secularism needs collective action from all stakeholders – Judiciary, civil society, media and citizens.

Evolution of party-political secularism:

Communal politics have resulted in the morphing of constitutional secularism into party-political secularism.

Features of party-political secularism:

  • Political opportunism for votes and power. Values of equality, liberty and fraternity are not considered. Rather vote considerations inform support to religious groups.
  • Appeasement of religious communities. Both majority and minority appeasement is seen. Shah bano case is an example.
  • Inciting communal disharmony and violenceto polarize communities. Recent Delhi assembly election is cited by critics as one of the most communally charged campaigns. Delhi riots which followed are the result of polarization.
  • Greater voice to extreme elementsin religions rather than moderate reformist elements.

This leads to a vicious cycle of political conflict and social alienation. Extreme communalism during the 1940’s was due to this phenomena. Also, due to perceived need to safeguard culture from threats, polarization prevents dissenting reformative voices inside the communities.

Today, this is one of the reasons for increasing incidents of intolerance in the country like mob lynchings and riots. Further it leads to the rise of majoritarianism.

Path ahead for Indian secularism:

India’s pluralist traditions of social harmony will ensure that constitutional secularism will remain alive despite opportunistic politics.

Steps to promote secularism in right spirit are:

  • Shift to a socially driven movement for secularismfrom a politically driven movement
  • Shift of focus from inter religious issues to intra religious issues.
    • All religious practices must be tested against constitutional values of equality, liberty and justice
    • Gender and caste based oppression must be addressed in all religions. This was the objective of 19th century socio-religious movements and must be pursued now.
    • Reform must come from within for effectiveness. Sole outside critique will not yield results when communities perceive it as threat to their way of life

These will ensure a bottom up building of peaceful and democratic secularism.

More focus on intra religious issues will ensure that inter religious issues won’t worsen further. It will give breathing space for evolving new forms of socio-religious tolerance which promote secularism, inclusion and democracy


India must pursue the spirit of constitutional secularism while opposing opportunistic secularism which evolved due to communal politics. A civil society led bottom up approach is needed to reinforce the pluralist traditions of India.

Source: https://www.thehindu.com

Mains question:
  1. What is secularism? How is Indian secularism different from western secularism? Critically discuss the role of political parties in promoting secularism in India? [15 marks, 250 words]
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