Secularism - Facts for UPSC [GS-II]

What is Secularism? It means the separation of religion from political, economic, social and cultural aspects of life, religion being treated as a purely personal matter.

  • The term “Secular” means being “separate” from religion or having no religious basis. Religion is open to one and all and is given as a personal choice to an individual without any different treatment to the latter.
  • The ‘secularism’ is akin to the Vedic concept of ‘Dharma Nirapekshata’ i.e. the indifference of the state to religion.
  • Secularism calls for a doctrine where all religions are given equal status, recognition and support from the state or it can also be defined as a doctrine that promotes separation of state from religion.
  • A secular person is one who does not owe his moral values to any religion. His values are the product of his rational and scientific thinking.
  • Secularism stands for no discrimination and partiality on grounds of religion and equal opportunities to follow all religions.

The term in itself is important for IAS Exam, Aspirants can be asked questions on Secularism under Main GS I, GS II, essay and Polity optional in the examination.

This article will provide you with all relevant facts about Secularism, the definition of Secularism in India and its constitutional significance. You will also read the difference between Indian Secularism and Western Secularism. Aspirants can also download the UPSC notes PDF on secularism for the upcoming exam.

Secularism in India – History

The tradition of Secularism is inhibited in the deep roots of the history of India. Indian culture is based on the blending of various spiritual traditions and social movements.

Secularism in Ancient India

  1. Before the arrival of Islam in the 12th century, followed by Mughal and colonials, Indian religions are known to have co-existed and evolved together for many centuries.
  2. In ancient India, the Santam Dharma (Hinduism) was basically allowed to develop as a holistic religion by welcoming different spiritual traditions and trying to integrate them into a common mainstream.
  3. The development of four Vedas and the various interpretations of the Upanishads and the Puranas clearly highlight the religious plurality of Hinduism. Check out the Difference between Vedas and Upanishads on the given link.
  4. The Ellora cave temples – built next to each other between the 5th and 10th centuries, for example, show coexistence of religions and a spirit of acceptance of different faiths.
  5. Emperor Ashoka– was the first great emperor to announce, as early as the 3rd century B.C., that the state would not prosecute any religious sect.
  6. Ashoka in his 12th Rock Edict appealed not only for the toleration of all religious sects but also to develop a spirit of great respect toward them.
  7. Secularism in India is as old as the Indus Valley civilization. The cities of lower Mesopotamia and Harappa civilization were not ruled by priests. Dance and music were secular in these urban civilizations.
  8. The quest for religious toleration and coexistence of different faiths continued even after the advent of Jainism, Buddhism and later Islam and Christianity on the Indian soil.
  9. The people in ancient India had freedom of religion, and the state granted citizenship to each individual regardless of whether someone’s religion was Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, or any other.

Secularism in Medieval India

  1. In medieval India, the Sufi and Bhakti movements restored the secular character of Indian society. They spread the different facets of secularism like tolerance, a sense of brotherhood, universalism, harmony, and peace in society. 
  2. The leading light of these movements were Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, Baba Farid, Saint Kabir Das, Guru Nanak Dev, Saint Tukaram, and Mira Bai.
  3. Religious toleration and freedom of worship marked the State under mughal emperor Akbar in medieval India.
    • Number of Hindus worked for him as his minister, he abolished the Jizya tax and forbade forcible conversions.
    • The promulgation of ‘Din-i-Ilahi’ or the Divine Faith is most prominent evidence of his tolerance policy. Din-i-ilahi had elements of both Hindu and Muslim faith.
    • The construction of Ibadat Khana (house of worship) in Fatehpur Sikri was done to nurture religious harmony by allowing different religious leaders to express their opinions in the same place. The participants in this assembly included theologians from amongst Brahmins, Jains and Zoroastrians.
    • He emphasized the concept of ‘sulh-i-kul’ or peace and harmony among religions.

Secularism in Modern India

  1. India came into control of the East India Company and the British Raj, after Aurangzeb.
  2. British East India Company pursued the policy of divide and rule, even then the spirit of secularism was strengthened and enriched through the Indian freedom movement. 
  3. The policy of “divide and rule” to some extent contributed to communal discord between various communities.
    • The Partition of Bengal in 1905 took place in accordance with this policy.
    • Through the Indian Councils Act of 1909, separate electorates were provided for Muslims.
    • The provision was extended to Sikhs, Indian Christians, Europeans and Anglo-Indians in certain provinces by the Government of India Act, 1919.
    • Separate electorates further extended the principle of communal representation by providing separate electorates for depressed classes (scheduled castes), women and labor (workers) through the Government of India Act 1935.
    • However, the Indian freedom movement was marked by secular tradition and ethos right from the start.
    • The formation of Indian National Congress in 1885 with secular values united the people from all sects and took the freedom movement on a constructive and successful path.
    • Nehru gave a detailed report (1928) which called for the abolition of the separate electorate to found a secular state.
    • Gandhiji’s secularism was based on a commitment to the brotherhood of religious communities based on their respect for and pursuit of truth, whereas, J. L. Nehru’s secularism was based on a commitment to scientific humanism tinged with a progressive view of historical change.

In the present scenario, in the context of India, the separation of religion from the state constitutes the core of the philosophy of secularism.

What is Indian Secularism?

  1. In India, the first face of Secularism is reflected in the Preamble of India where the word ‘Secular’ is read.
  2. Indian Secularism is also reflected in its fundamental rights (Article 25-28) where it guarantees each of its citizens the right to practice any religion.

In the words of P B Gajendragadkar, a former Chief Justice of India, secularism is defined as ‘The State does not owe loyalty to any particular religion as such: it is not irreligious or anti-religious; it gives equal freedom to all religions.

Also, read about:

Secularism and Indian Constitution

Various provision of the Indian constitution clearly incorporates the basic principles of Secularism.

With the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution of India (1976), the Preamble to the Constitution asserted that India is a “secular” nation. The meaning of a secular state is that it does not prioritize any one religion for the country and its people. Institutions started to recognize and accept all religions, enforce parliamentary laws instead of religious laws, and respect pluralism.

Articles of Indian Constitutions Provision for secularism
Article 14 and Article 15 The former grants equality before the law and equal protection of the laws to all while the later enlarges the concept of secularism to the widest possible extent by prohibiting discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
Article 16 (1) Equal opportunity to all citizens in matters of public employment and reiterates, no discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth and residence
Article 25** ‘Freedom of Conscience’, that is, all persons have equal right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion.
Article 26 Every religious group/ individual has the right to establish and maintain religious and charitable institutions and to manage its own affairs in matters of religion.
Article 27 the state shall not compel any citizen to pay any taxes for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious institution.
Article 28 allows educational institutions maintained by different religious groups to impart religious instruction
Article 29 and Article 30  Provides for the cultural and educational rights to the minorities
Article 51A obliges all the citizens to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood and to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.

Secularism & Article 25 of the Indian Constitution

Indian Constitution guarantees to its citizens six fundamental rights, one of which is the right to freedom of religion. Article 25 of the Indian Constitution gives each citizen:

  • Freedom of Conscience
  • Right to Profess any religion
  • Right to Practice any religion
  • Right to Propagate any religion

Note: Article 25 covers not only religious beliefs (doctrines) but also religious practices (rituals). Moreover, these rights are available to all persons—citizens as well as non-citizens. However, there are reasonable restrictions on the fundamental rights of the citizens and central government/state government, in time of need, can interfere with the religious affairs of the citizens.

Read more about Right to Freedom of Religion in the linked article.

Indian Secularism – Philosophy

  1. Indian philosophy of secularism is related to “Sarva Dharma Sambhava”(literally it means that the destination of the paths followed by all religions is the same, though the paths themselves may be different) which means equal respect to all religions.
  2. This model of secularism is adopted by western societies where the government is totally separate from religion (i.e. separation of church and state).
  3. No official religion – India does not recognize any religion as official. Nor does it owe allegiance to any particular religion.
  4. India does not have an official state religion. However, different personal laws – on matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, alimony varies with an individual’s religion.
  5. There is neutrality in religion, India does not intercept the affairs of any specific religion. It respects all religions on par with one another
  6. It assures religious freedom to the members of all religions. Citizens are free to choose and abide by their religions
  7. Indian secularism is a means to address religious plurality and is not an end in itself. It sought to achieve the peaceful coexistence of different religions.

Secularism – Facts for UPSC

The list given-below mentions a few important facts about Secularism for UPSC 2021.

  • The word ‘Secular’ was added in the Preamble of India by the 42nd Amendment Act
  • Fundamental Rights of India strengthen the secular fabric of the country
  • Secular character of the Indian Constitution stands as a basic feature of it and cannot be amended by any act
  • In the Bommai Case 1994, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of ‘Secularism’ as the basic feature of the Constitution
  • Secularism is sometimes understood with two concepts:
    • Positive
    • Negative
  • The negative concept of secularism is the Western concept of secularism. It connotes a complete separation between the religion (the church) and the state (the politics).
  • This negative concept of secularism is inapplicable in the Indian situation where the society is multireligious
  • The positive concept of secularism is reflected in India. The Indian Constitution embodies the positive concept of secularism, i.e., giving equal respect to all religions or protecting all religions equally.
  • Secularism is a fundamental reality of India’s fabric hence any state government pursuing anti-secular politics is liable to action under Article 356

Secularism in India Vs. Secularism in West

The difference between Indian Secularism and Western Secularism is given in the table below:

Secularism in India  Secularism in West
Indian citizens are given a fundamental right to religion however, this right is subject to public order, morality and health. In the West, typically The USA, the state and religion are separated and both don’t interfere in affairs of each other
There is no one religion that dominates Indian society as a citizen is free to practice, profess and propagate any religion Christianity is the most reformed, caste neutral and single dominant religion in the state
India, with its outlook, focuses on intra-religious aspects and try to remove the stigma (if any) attached with any religion on the society West doesn’t focus on intra-religious aspects of Christianity and let the religion act on the society as it is
Due to accessibility to many religions, there are inter-religious conflicts and the Indian government has to intervene to maintain peace and harmony Since Christianity is the one dominant religion, the focus is less on inter-religious conflicts
In India, due to the presence of multiple religions and multiple communities, the government has to focus on both. Example, Article 29 grants protection to both religious minorities as well as linguistic minorities. West, by far, focuses on the equality and harmony among the people of the same religion
With the presence of multiple religion, the role of religious bodies also gets enhanced and it furthers their role in Indian politics The role of religious bodies is very small in national politics
Indian states can aid religious institutions States don’t aid religious institutions in the West

Secularism Examples:

Aspirants should just know how to related the definition of Secularism with the Secularism examples:

  1. India is a secular country – It doesn’t attach its politics with any religion.
  2. Indians celebrate all festivals or they have entire freedom to celebrate any religion in the country regardless of their caste and creed.

Secularism – UPSC Notes:-Download PDF Here

Also read:

To know more in detail about the UPSC Syllabus, candidates can visit the linked article. For more preparation materials related to the Civil Services examination, visit the links given in the table below:

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