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Secularism in India

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Secularism refers to the separation of religion from the political, economic, social, and cultural aspects of life, and religion to be treated as a personal matter.

Indian Secularism

Indian Secularism


Secularism is derived from the term “secular” which means to be “separate” from any religion or any religious inclinations. Religion is an aspect that should be open to all and should be based on the personal choice of any individual, without any differential treatment.

Secularism is akin to the Vedic concept of “Dharma Nirapekshta” which means indifference of the state from religion. Religions are given equal status, support as well as recognition and can be defined as a doctrine that supports the separation of state from religion.

Features of Secularism in India

The features pertaining to secularism in India are as follows:

  1. Equal respect as well as recognition of all religions by the state.
  2. Interference in the functions of any religion by the state is highly avoided.
  3. Discrimination based on religion by the state is strictly avoided.
  4. Article 25 of the Indian Constitution states that an individual has the right to practice and propagate their religion in India.

History of Secularism

The concept of secularism in India has undergone significant changes over the years, with various notable developments taking place throughout its evolution. From constitutional provisions to legal reconfigurations, distinct phases have contributed to the country’s secular outlook.

Secularism has deep roots in India and can take different forms in ancient, medieval, and modern periods. Hence, tracing the roots and modifications that evolved Indian secularism can signify an understanding of its current status. Here are some of the key development and changes in Indian secularism over the years:

Secularism in Ancient India

Indian religions are known to have coexisted and evolved together for many years prior to the entrance of Islam in the 12th century, followed by Mughal and colonial rule. In ancient India, the Sanatan Dharma (Hinduism) was essentially permitted to flourish as a holistic religion by accepting and attempting to merge various spiritual traditions into a single mainstream. Hinduism’s religious diversity is exemplified by the formation of four Vedas, as well as numerous interpretations of the Upanishads and Puranas. The Ellora cave temples, for example, exhibit the coexistence of religions and a spirit of acceptance of diverse faiths. They were built next to each other between the 5th and 10th centuries.

Ruler Ashoka was the first major emperor to vow that the state would not persecute any religious sect as early as the third century B.C. Ashoka recommended not only tolerance of all religious factions but also a deep respect for them in his 12th Rock Edict. Secularism in India dates back to the Indus Valley culture. In these urban civilizations, dance and music were secular. People in ancient India had religious freedom, and the state provided citizenship to anybody who practiced Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, or any other faith.

Secularism in Medieval India

The Sufi and Bhakti movements in medieval India helped to re-establish India’s secular nature. They promote secularism’s various facts in society, such as tolerance, brotherhood, universalism, harmony, and peace. Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti, Baba Farid, Saint Kabir Das, Guru Nanak Dev, Saint Tukaram, and Mira Bai were the forerunners of these movements. The state was known for religious tolerance and freedom of religion under the Mughal ruler Akbar. The Ibadat Khana (house of worship) in Fatehpur Sikri was built to promote religious unity by allowing different religious leaders to express their opinions in one area. This assembly included theologians from the Brahmins, Jains, and Zoroastrians.

Secularism in Modern India

Following Aurangzeb’s death, the East India Company and the British Raj seized control of India. Even though the British East India Company followed a policy of divide and rule, the Indian liberation movement deepened and expanded the spirit of secularism. To some extent, the divide-and-rule approach contributed to communal strife among distinct populations. Here are a few examples:

During the partition of Bengal in 1905, this policy was implemented.
The Indian Councils Act of 1909 established separate electorates for Muslims.
In certain places, the provision was enlarged by the Government of India Act 1919 to cover Sikhs, Indian Christians, Europeans, and Anglo-Indians.

Secularism in the Indian Constitution

Secular was affixed to the preamble by the 42nd Constitution Amendment Act of 1976. India is a secular country without any state religion and India accepts all religions and is not in favor of any particular religion:

  1. Articles 14 and 15- In Article 14, equality before the law is granted, and the protection of all laws for all religions, and Article 15 prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, sex, caste, or place of birth.
  2. Article 16 (1)- Article 16 (1) guarantees equal opportunities for all citizens in case of public employment and also states there won’t be any discrimination which is on the basis of sex, religion, caste, and so forth.
  3. Article 25-  Article 25 provides for Freedom of Conscience.
  4. Article 26- Article 26 states that every religious group has a certain right for maintaining and establishment of institutions for religious purposes.
  5. Article 27- It states that the state won’t push any citizen for paying extra taxes for maintenance or for the promotion of religion or religious institutions.
  6. Article 28- It allows educational institutions to maintain different religious groups for imparting religious instructions.
  7. Articles 29 and 30- These articles provide educational and cultural rights for minorities.
  8. Article 51 A- This article obliges all the citizens of India for promoting harmony and also the spirit of some common brotherhood for the preservation of composite culture.

Importance of Secularism in India

Secularism is important for religious freedom and also for making a state neutral on the subject of religion. It is defined as a separation of religion from that of political, social, cultural as well as economic aspects of life.

  1. Secularism helps to ensure that religion is separated from the state.
  2. Democratic functioning of the country is possible with secularism.
  3. Freedom of an individual for embracing any religion, be it the faith to which they are born is ensured and safeguarded.
  4. Ensuring that the majority doesn’t dominate over the religious minorities as it could lead to misuse of state powers.

Secularism and Article 25 of the Constitution of India

Article 25 provides for the following:

  1. Freedom of Conscience
  2. Right for Practicing Any Religion
  3. Right for propagating any Religion
  4. Right to Profess any Religion.

Threats to Secularism in India

Few factors which can act as threats to secularism in India are listed below:

  1. Communal form of politics leads to the spread of stereotypes in India and the politicization of any religious group leads to inter-religious conflict.
  2. Communalism has proved to be one of the biggest threats to secularism in recent times.
  3. Increasing Hindu nationalism in recent times has led to various problems.

Secularism in India vs Secularism in the West

Indian Secularism Secularism in the West
All religions get equal protection from the state. In secularism in the West, the state is separate from the religious groups. 
Provides for some type of financial support for religious schools. Does not provide any financial support to any religious institutions.
The rights of different religious communities are protected. The focus is mostly given to individual rights.
No one religion dominates Indian society. The role of the religious bodies is very small in national politics.

Secularism in India- Way Forward

One of the best ways for nurturing secularism is by expanding religious freedom rather than just practicing state neutrality. There is a need to identify a shared set of values and to educate the younger generations for valuing their own religious traditions and also for other religions in the country.

Read Also

  1. What is Secularism?
  2. Secularism in India
  3. Article 51 of the Indian Constitution
  4. Equality in Indian Democracy

FAQs on Indian Secularism

Q 1. What is secularism?


Secularism refers to the separation of religion from that of economic, political, social, and cultural parts of life. Secular refers to having no religious basis.

Q 2. Which article of the Indian constitution deals with Secularism?


Article 25 of the Indian constitution deals with citizen Freedom of Conscience, and also the right to profess any religion and also the right for practicing any religion.

Q 3. What are the 3 principles of Secularism?


The 3 principles of Secularism include:

  1. Institutional separation
  2. No discrimination on religious grounds
  3. Freedom of belief

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Last Updated : 08 May, 2023
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