VIII NCERT – Social and Political life – 2

What is Secularism?

The Indian constitution allows individuals the freedom to live by their religious beliefs and practices as they interpret these. In keeping with this idea of religious freedom for all, India also adopted a strategy of separating the power of religion and the power of the State. Secularism refers to this separation of religion from the State.

Why is it important to separate religion from the state?

  • The most important aspect of secularism is its separation of religion from State power. This is important for a country to function democratically. Almost in all countries of the world, there will be some majority religious groups and minorities. This tyranny of the majority could result in the discrimination, coercion and at times even the killing of religious minorities. The majority could quite easily prevent minorities from practicing their religions. Any form of domination based on religion is in violation of the rights that a democratic society guarantees to each and every citizen irrespective of their religion. Therefore, the tyranny of the majority and the violation of Fundamental Rights that can result is one reason why it is important to separate the State and religion in democratic societies.
  • There is a need to protect the freedom of individuals to exit from their religion, embrace another religion or have the freedom to interpret religious teachings differently.

What is Indian Secularism?

The Indian Constitution mandates that the Indian State be secular. According to the Constitution, only a secular State can realize its objectives to ensure the following:

  • that one religious community does not dominate another;
  • that some members do not dominate other members of the same religious community;
  • that the State does not enforce any particular religion nor take away the religious freedom of individuals.

The various ways in which Indian state works to prevent these dominations:

  • India uses a strategy of distancing itself from religion.
  • The Indian State is not ruled by a religious group and nor does it support any one religion.
  • In India, government spaces like law courts, police stations, government schools and offices are not supposed to display or promote any one religion.
  • Through a strategy of non-interference.
  • This means that in order to respect the sentiments of all religions and not interfere with religious practices, the State makes certain exceptions for particular religious communities.
  • through a strategy of intervention
  • the state intervenes in religion in order to end a social practice that it believes discriminates and excludes, and that violates the Fundamental Right of ‘lower castes’ who are citizens of this country.
  • to ensure that laws relating to equal inheritance rights are respected, the State may have to intervene in the religion-based ‘personal laws’ of communities.
  • to ensure that laws relating to equal inheritance rights are respected, the State may have to intervene in the religion-based ‘personal laws’ of communities.

In what way is Indian secularism different from that of other democratic countries?

  • unlike the strict separation between religion and the State in American secularism, in Indian secularism the State can intervene in religious affairs.

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