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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VIII NCERT – Social and Political Life – 1

Why a country does needs a constitution?

  • First, it lays out certain ideals that form the basis of the kind of country that we as citizens aspire to live in. A constitution helps serve as a set of rules and principles that all persons in a country can agree upon as basis of the way in which they want the country to be governed. This includes not only the type of government but also an agreement on certain ideals that they all believe the country should uphold.
  • The second important purpose of a constitution is to define the nature of a country’s political system. In countries that have adopted a democratic form of government or polity, the Constitution plays a crucial role in laying out certain important guidelines that govern decision-making within these societies. In democratic societies, the Constitution often lays down rules that guard against this misuse of power by our political leaders.
  • Another important function that a constitution plays in a democracy is to ensure that a dominant group does not use its power against other, less powerful people or groups. The constitution usually contains rules that ensure that minorities are not excluded from anything that is routinely available to the majority.
  • The constitution helps to protect us against certain decisions that we might take that could have an adverse effect on the larger principles that the country believes in.

The Indian Constitution: Key Features

  1. Federalism: This refers to the existence of more than one level of government in the country. Under federalism, the states are not merely agents of the federal government but draw their authority from the Constitution as well. All persons in India are governed by laws and policies made by each of the levels of government.
  2. Parliamentary Form of Government: The Constitution of India guarantees universal adult suffrage for all citizens.
  3. Separation of Powers: According to the Constitution, there are three organs of the state. These are the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The legislature refers to our elected representatives. The executive is a smaller group of people who are responsible for implementing laws and running the government. The judiciary refers to the system of courts in this country. In order to prevent the misuse of power by any one branch of the State, the constitution says that each of these organs should exercise different powers. Through this, each organ acts as a check on the other organs of the State and this ensures the balance of power between all three.
  4. Fundamental Rights: the section on Fundamental Right has often been referred to as the ‘conscience’ of the Indian constitution. Fundamental Rights, therefore, protect citizens against the arbitrary and absolute exercise of power by the State. The Constitution, thus, guarantees the rights of individuals against the State as well as against other individuals. The Constitution also guarantees the rights of minorities against the majority. The object of fundamental rights is two-fold. The first objective is that every citizen must be in a position to claim those rights. And secondly, these rights must be binding upon every authority that has got the power to make laws.

In addition to Fundamental Rights, the constitution also has a section called Directive Principles of State Policy. This section was designed by the members of the Constituent Assembly to ensure greater social and economic reform, and to serve as a guide to the independent Indian State to institute laws and policies that help reduce the poverty of the masses.

The Fundamental Rights in the Indian Constitution include:

a) Right to Equality: All persons are equal before the law. This means that all persons shall be equally protected by the laws of the country. It also states that no citizen can be discriminated against on the basis of their religion, caste or sex. Every person has access to all public places including playgrounds, hotels, shops etc. The State cannot discriminate against anyone in matters of employment. The practice of untouchability has also been abolished.

b) Right to Freedom: This includes the right to freedom of speech and expression, the right to form associations, the right to move freely and reside in any part of the country, and the right to practice any profession, occupation or business

c) Right against Exploitation: The Constitution prohibits trafficking, forced labor, and children working under 14 years of age.

d) Right to Freedom of Religion: Religious freedom is provided to all citizens. Every person has the right to practice, profess and propagate the religion of their choice.

e) Cultural and Educational Rights: The Constitution states that all minorities, religious or linguistic, can set up their own educational institutions in order to preserve and develop their own culture.

f) Right to Constitutional Remedies: This allows citizens to move the court if they believe that any of their Fundamental Rights have been violated by the State.

      5. Secularism: A secular state is one in which the state does not officially promote any one religion as the state religion.