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Understanding Secularism In Indian Democracy: Concept, Crisis And Fate

SYNOPSIS

The term secularism in India means that the state shall provide equal treatment to all religions. Secularism demands a doctrine where all religions should be given equal status, support as well as recognition from the state or it can also be termed as a doctrine that promotes separation of state and religion. This article particularly focuses on the concept of secularism in Indian democracy, the various threats against the concept of a secular state and the fate of secularism in India along with some significant judgments pronounced by the apex court of the country.

INTRODUCTION

India is a land of religions i.e. it is a multi-religious country. India is a federal nation consisting of people of different religions and religious groups. Though there exists various religious groups in the country, India does not recognize any religion as a State’s religion. Neither the Constitution of India nor it’s the laws of the nation define the relationship between religion and state. The laws in its implicit terms require the state and its institutions to recognize and accept all religions; enforce laws made by the Parliament instead of religious laws, and respect pluralism. India is a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic system of government as enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution. The Preamble of India states that is a secular state and it treats all religions equally. The Preamble declares the resolution of the people to secure to all its citizens liberty of...belief, faith and workshop’. Articles 25 to 28 of the Constitution of India guarantee to every person the freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practise and propagate religion.

The word 'secular' was not there initially in the Preamble. It was introduced in the Preamble by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment enacted in 1976. The 42nd Amendment Act is also called the mini Constitution and was introduced by the Congress government headed by Smt. Indira Gandhi during the continuance of the National Emergency in India. This emergency was declared by the then Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi on account of internal disturbance on 26 June 1975 and it continued for a stretch of 18 months. The modern India is always inspired by the concept of secularism. India’s secularism does not separate religion and state which is not in the case of the notion of secularism in the Western world. The Indian Constitution has permitted widespread interference of the state in religious affairs. The concept of secularism as embedded in the Indian Constitution was only implicit before 1976, the year in which it became explicit. The objective behind its insertion was to expressly declare the high ideas of secularism and the need to maintain the integrity of the nation.

DEFINITION OF SECULARISM

  • The word "secularism" is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion or religious considerations.
  • The definition provided by the Cambridge Dictionary states that secularism is the belief which supports the separation of the religion and the common social and political conduct of a country.
  • The definition given by the Encyclopedia Britannica states that secularism is any movement in society which follows a direction distinct from the worldly affairs of life on earth.
  • The Collins dictionary defines secularism as a system of social organization and education where religion is not allowed to play a part in civil affairs.

SECULARISM AND THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA

The various constitutional provisions contain all the basic principles of secularism which are as follows:

  • The Forty-Second Constitution Amendment Act of 1976 incorporated the term ‘Secular’ in the Preamble of the Constitution which declares India as a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic.
  • The Preamble emphasizes that India is a secular country with no State religion and also that the state shall recognize and accept all religions, not support or favour any particular religion as a State religion.
  • Article 14 guarantees equality before the law and equal protection of the laws to all whereas, Article 15 extends the periphery of secularism by prohibiting discrimination on grounds of religion, caste, class, creed. race, sex, or place of birth.
  • Article 16 (1) guarantees equality of opportunity to all citizens in matters of public employment and declares that there would be no discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them.
  • Article 25 says, ‘‘all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health. ’’
  • According to Article 26 of the Constitution, all religious denominations or any segment thereof shall have the right to establish as well as maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, to manage its own religious affairs, to own and acquire both movable and immovable property. It shall also have the right to administer such property as per the law.
  • Article 27 states that the state shall not compel any person to pay any taxes, the proceeds of which are specifically appropriated in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any specific religion or any subgroup thereof.
  • Article 28 authorizes educational institutions maintained by different religious groups to impart religious instruction.
  • Article 29 and Article 30 guarantee certain cultural and educational rights to the minorities. Article 29 states that there shall be no discrimination among citizens on the ground of religion, race, caste, language, or any of them. Article 30 states that all religious or linguistic minorities shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
  • Article 51A i.e. Fundamental Duties provides that it shall be the duty of all the citizens to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic, and regional or sectional diversities, to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India and to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.

VARIOUS THREATS TO SECULARISM IN INDIAN DEMOCRACY

Despite the Constitution of India declaring India’s position as in neutral in respect of all religions, our society has been involved with religion. The various threats to Indian secularism are as follows:

1. Communalism: The growing communal politics is a threat to the growth of real secularism in India. Communalism operates through creating communal disharmony, communal violence, and political violence and also by creating division on the basis of caste, class and/or religion, by spreading myths and stereotypes against minority communities. Many of the incidences that have already taken place are Demolition of Babri Masjid, Godhra Massacre, Mumbai Terror Attack, and Malegaon explosions are the results of communal tension and violence.

2. Religion and Politics: During the election campaign, the political parties have tended to use different religious communities or group communities and castes for their individual political gains which have greatly diluted the concept of a secular state. Few of the political parties are also identified as parties that are promoting the interests of specific religions or communities. For instance, the BhartiyaJanta Party is identified as a ‘Hindu’ political party, Congress is identified as party for minorities. Republic Party of India is considered as the political party favouring Dalits and backward classes and so on. After Independence, political parties in India and politicians started mobilizing voters through elementary identities like religions, communities and castes. These are considered easy ways of strengthening their vote banks. In this way, communalism supported political parties constitute a major threat to the unity of the nation, secularism, and also the concept of democracy.

In Abhiram Singh v Commachen , the election in 1990 of Abhiram Singh to the No. 40, Santa Cruz Legislative Assembly Constituency for the Maharashtra State Assembly was successfully challenged by the rival candidate Commachen in the Bombay High Court.It was challenged for making communal statements during the election. The appeal challenging the Bombay High Court’s decision in this matter was heard by a three-judges Bench who laid down that the subject, scope and the acts which can be termed as a corrupt practice as per the wordings of Section 123(3) or 123(3A) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 is required to be clearly stated to avoid a judicial error in interpreting the term ‘corrupt practice’. The Bench was of opinion that the appeal requires to be heard and decided by a larger constitutional bench of 5 judges of this Court.

3. Failure of the Government in Evolving a Just Economic Order: The failure of the government machinery to evolve a just economic order and eradicate poverty is also a danger to secularism. The common people suffering from deprivation and poverty could not build up any faith within in respect of the political structure which could not provide them with the bare necessities of life and as a consequence thereof, these people did not think much about the importance of secular values.

4. Limited interpretation of secularism: Due to the limited interpretation of secularism, as being confined to State policy only, the religious identities and other sub-cultural differences of Indian citizens have continued to remain strong. In societal structures where such distinctions are prevalent, people of different groups and communities maintain distance from each other.

5. Perceptions Operating in Minority Group: Except in the opportunities and benefits in the sector of education and jobs, the evils of prejudice and discrimination are perceived to be operating in the matter of inter-group violence and conflict. In recent times, numerous evidence shows that sometimes the State administrative machinery does not operate in an impartial manner during the occurrence of communal riots.

6. The Faulty Educational System: The defective faulty and ill-functional educational institutions which have made believe to be a part of groups and communities, have drastically failed to cultivate critical thinking and a universal humanitarian approach among the young people. Schools, colleges, and universities have failed to inculcate the concept of secularism in the minds of the young educated people, the thirst for knowledge and truth and a mutual feeling of respect.

7. Religious intolerance: Religious intolerance is gradually increasing. The increasing demand for Hindu Nationalism has resulted in violent mob lynching on merely being suspected of cow slaughtering and beef consumption. The recent Delhi riots are also an example of religious intolerance spread across the country.

CASE LAWS

The Supreme Court of India has time and again differently interpreted the concept of secularism as embedded in the Constitution.

In the case of Sardar Taheruddin Syedna Saheb v. State of Bombay (AIR 1962 SC 853, 871), the secular character of the Constitution was for the first time pronounced by the Supreme Court by Ayyangar, J. who observed that the Articles 25 and 26 under the Constitution lays down the theory of religious tolerance which is a striking feature of the civilisation in India since the ancient times. This characteristic feature was seen absent in certain times due to temporary deviation. They serve to give stress the secular character of the democracy prevalent in India which the founding fathers visualized as the very basis on which our Constitution stands.

In the landmark judgement of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala (AIR 1973 SC 1461), the Supreme Court reiterated that secularism forms a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. In this case, Sikri, C.J. noted "secular character of the Constitution" as one of the basic features of the Constitution. Shelat and Grover, JJ observed that the secular and federal character of the Constitution constituted the essential ingredients of the basic structure in the Constitution. Jaganmohan Reddy, J. was of the opinion that "Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and workshop" are part of the basic features enumerated in the Constitution and as such could not be amended by the Parliament.

In another significant case of S.R. Bommai v. Union of India (AIR 1994 SC 1918), the Supreme Court while upholding that a State Government cannot follow any particular religion, discussed at length the concept of Secularism. The top court was of the view that one of the basic features of the Constitution is Secularism which stands for equal treatment of all religions. The Court while commenting on the importance of secular State in a democracy, further observed that the State is neither anti-religious or pro-religious and it maintains its neutrality towards any particular religion and gives all religions equal protection.

Recently, a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court seeking to remove the words "socialist" and "secular" which were added to the Preamble of the Constitution through the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act. The plea was filed on the viewpoint that the 1976 amendment in the Constitution was negating the constitutional canons and also the theme of India, both historical and cultural. The plea stated that the said amendment was as such against the law for being violative of the fundamental rights such as the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India and the fundamental right to freedom of religion guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution. The idea of state as perceived by the communist theory cannot be applied to the Indian context in view of the socioeconomic and religious sentiments prevailing in the country. The petition prayed for the issuance of appropriate directions for the removal of the words 'Socialist' and 'Secular' inserted in the Preamble of the Constitution by section 2 (a) of the Forty Second Constitution Amendment Act, 1976. It also prayed for a direction to the Union of India for declaring that the concept of 'socialism' and 'secularism' referred to the character of the republic of India and was limited to the working of the sovereign function of the State and also that the concepts of socialism and secularism should not be applicable to the citizens, the political parties and the social organizations.

FATE OF SECULARISM IN INDIA

The fate of the country's secularist ideology has time and again been questioned after the coming into power of the Bhartiya Janta Party with its commitment to Hinduism. The modern India treats communalism as their nemesis and is not concerned much about religion. In spite of having people with ethnic, linguistic and religious differences, our country has been able to preserve the concept of democratic rule. At the time of independence and its initial years post of independence, India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru along with the Indian National Congress advocated in support of secularism. However since the BJP’s win in the 2014 election, differences of ideologies between two major political parties were clearly visible in their respective political manifestos, slogans and political rallies. Therefore, this party-political secularism vicious doctrine practised by all major political parties and their leaders in order to attain political gain and support from their voters. The emergence of this concept of secularism is totally different from the earlier notion of secularism where all religions were respected and treated equally. The politics revolving around elections and ballot boxes has greatly undermined the earlier view on secularism. In order to survive as a democratic nation, India should follow the principle of secularism or state neutrality. No one shall face discrimination on the ground of place of birth, class, creed, caste, gender, or religious community etc and everyone should be treated equally in the eyes of the laws. The citizens of the country should raise their voices against the increasing abuse and misuse of the concept of a secular society that was originally designed by the collective efforts of Mahatma Gandhi, B.R. Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel. The state should constantly thrive to imbibe the values of religious tolerance, communal harmony, unity in diversity and the spirit of Hindu Muslim Sikh Isai Aapas mein sab bhai bhai.

CONCLUSION

The concept of secularism as such is difficult to define and thus the Indian Constitution did not provide any definition for secularism. Thus the statement that there is no State religion in India means that the state does not support or favour any particular religion and treats all religions and religious groups equally. Therefore, the basis of the Indian Constitution is that all religions are equal and the religion of citizens has no bearing in socio-economic matters. Secularism forms the basic feature of the Indian Constitution according to the Supreme Court of India. There is a need to implement a Uniform Civil Code in order to bring about the national integrity of people belonging to different religious groups. The concept of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) i.e., one law for the entire territory of India in matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption is provided under Article 44 of the Constitution. There is a need to develop a favourable environment and gather socio-political consensus in order to implement the common Code. There is an urgent requirement to formulate a common framework and a shared set of values to incorporate people belonging to diverse groups and help them to live together harmoniously. In education, everyone should seek the best way to live together. Schools, colleges, and universities should promote value-education and a humanitarian approach to make the younger students understand and religious traditions of each and every religion in the country. The State should grant assurance to every individual irrespective of their religious barriers that he has the right to freely profess, practise, and propagate his religion and freedom of conscience as per the law of the land.

 

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