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Meaning of Secularism

Secularism is a principle which advocates the separation of religion from politics. It is the principle of separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries. Thus, religion should be separate from aspects of state and governance.

It promotes freedom within religions and equality between, as well as, within religions. It also includes separation between the state and religion.

Difference Between Western Concept of Secularism and Indian Secularism

Indian secularism Western secularism
Equal protection by the state to all religions. It reflects certain meanings. First secular state to be one that protects all religions, but does not favour one at the cost of other and does not adopt any religion as state religion. Separation of state and religion as mutual exclusion it means both are mutually exclusive in their own spheres of operation.
The idea of inter-religious equality is at the core of Indian secularism. Equal focus has been given on the inter-religious and the intra-religious equality. It not only deals with the religious freedom of the individuals but with the minority communities also. There is a mechanism for the intra-religion equality in the western notion of secularism, not of inter-religion equality thus state maintains an arm’s length distance from religion in all matters.

In the context of India, it is sometimes argued that the concept of secularism has been imported from the west. But it is clear from the above differences that in the west, strict church and state separation is the main area of focus; while in India peaceful co-existence of all religions is the focus.

Constitutional Provisions Regarding Secularism in India

In India, freedom of religion is a Fundamental Right and is guaranteed through the following provisions:

• Article 25: guarantees freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.

• Article 26: every religious denomination has the freedom to manage its religious affairs.

• Article 27: Freedom from payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion.

• Article 28: Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions.

Other Constitutional safeguards regarding religion include the following:

• Article 15: Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

• Article 16: Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment and no citizens shall be ineligible for employment on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth.

• Article 29: Protection of distinct language, script or culture of minorities

• Article 30: Rights of all minorities, whether based on religion or language, to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

• The Preamble of India states that India is a secular country (added after 42nd Amendment Act, 1976).

Some Judicial Pronouncements Regarding Secularism in India

• Secularism has been deemed as one of the pillars of “Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution”. The Supreme Court in the Keshavanada Bharati case (1973) held that the basic structure of the Constitution cannot be altered by the Parliament.

• In the S. R Bommai vs Union of India case (1994), the Supreme Court observed the following, “Notwithstanding the fact that the words ‘Socialist’ and ‘Secular’ were added in the Preamble of the Constitution in 1976 by the 42nd Amendment, the concept of Secularism was very much embedded in our constitutional philosophy” Thus, secularism which was implicit in the Constitution was made explicit.

Contemporary Issue

In contemporary times, various issues regarding secularism and freedom to practice and administer religion have come to the forefront. These include the following:

  1.  Uniform Civil Code (UCC)

Article 44 of the Constitution states that “the State shall endeavour to secure for citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” It essentially means a common set of laws governing personal matters for all citizens of the country, irrespective of religion.

Positive aspects of Uniform Civil Code include

• It will divest religion from social relations and personal laws and will ensure equality in terms of justice to both men and women regardless of the faith they practice.

• There will be uniform laws for all Indians with regard to marriage, inheritance, divorce etc.

• It will help in improving the condition of women in India as Indian society is mostly patriarchal

• Informal bodies like caste panchayats give judgements based on traditional laws. UCC will ensure that legal laws are followed rather than traditional laws.

• It can help in reducing instances of vote bank politics. If all religions are covered under same laws, politicians will have less to offer to communities in exchange of their vote.

Challenges in Implementing Uniform Civil Code Include

• Implementation of UCC might interfere with the principle of secularism, particularly with the provisions of Articles 25 and 26, which guarantee freedom relating to religious practices.

• Conservatism by religious groups, which resist such changes as it interferes with their religious practices.

• It is difficult for the government to come up with a uniform law that is accepted by all religious communities. All religious groups- whether majority or minority have to support the change in personal laws.

• Drafting of UCC is another obstacle. There is no consensus regarding whether it should be a blend of personal laws or should be a new law adhering to the constitutional mandate.

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The monk who shaped India’s secularism

India is the nation with the third-highest number of Muslims in the world. Its ability to consolidate democracy and surrounded by unprecedented diversity could teach a lesson or two even to advanced industrial economies that have operated along the lines of a classic monocultural nation.

The country’s secular ideals have their roots in its Constitution, promulgated by its people, a majority of whom are Hindus.

Indian mode of Secularism:

  • Indian secularism has always attempted, however imperfectly, to respect the credo of sarva dharma sama bhava (all religions lead to the same goal), which translates to an equal respect for all religions.
  • However, the early-day Hindu nationalists were clearly at odds with the idea. This was the reason Nathuram Godse assassinated one of its strongest proponents, Mahatma Gandhi.
  •   Indian Secularism having its roots from Swami Vivekananda Ideology

Tolerance and Universal acceptance had propounded by Swami Vivekananda:

  • Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu has said that tolerance and universal acceptance have been two of the most noteworthy aspects of the Indian culture.
  • As Swami Vivekananda said in his inaugural speech at Chicago on September 11, 1893, ours is a country that has “taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance.” India believes “not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true.”

 Important Facets of Hindu Life:

While in Chicago, Vivekananda stressed three important and novel facets of Hindu life.

  •  acceptance of “all religions as true”.
  •  Hinduism was incomplete without Buddhism, and vice versa.
  •  ‘Help and not fight’; ‘Assimilation and not destruction’, and ‘Harmony and peace and not dissension’.

Religion and rationality go hand in hand appreciated by Vivekananda:

  • Vivekananda’s interpretation of India’s past was radical and, when he returned from the West, he had with him a large number of American and European followers.
  • These women and men stood behind his project of establishing the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897.
  • Vivekananda emphasised that India needed to trade Indian spirituality for the West’s material and modern culture and was firmly behind India’s scientific modernisation.
  • He also invited Irish teacher Margaret Noble, whom he rechristened ‘Sister Nivedita’, to help uplift the condition of Indian women.
  • When she inaugurated a girls’ school in Calcutta, Vivekananda even requested his friends to send their girls to this school.
  • Vivekananda also inspired Jamsetji Tata to establish the Indian Institute of Science and the Tata Iron and Steel Company.

Vivekananda’s Influence on Gandhi, Nehru:

  • Vivekananda made a remarkable impact on the makers of modern India, who later challenged the two-nation theory, including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose.
  • He used the term ‘Daridra Narayan’ to imply that ‘service to the poor is service to god’, many years before Gandhiji addressed the socially oppressed as ‘Harijan’ (children of god).
  • The Mahatma in fact opined that his love for India grew thousand-fold after reading Vivekananda.
  • It is for these reasons that the Vivekananda’s birthday was declared as the National Youth Day.


  • True nationalism is the preservation of this invaluable heritage.
  • India needed a secular monastery from where scientific and technological development would uplift India’s material conditions, for which his ideals provided a source of inspiration.
  • Paying rich tributes to Swami Vivekananda, Naidu said that it was the former’s speech that helped the world at large to know the significance of the tenets of the Hindu religion.
May 2024