Secularism: Features & History| Secularism in Indian Constitution

By Ritesh|Updated : July 29th, 2022

Secularism is the principle that makes a state neutral in the matter of religion. The word Secularism also means the separation of religion from cultural, political, social, and economic aspects of life, and religion is treated as a personal matter. The meaning of Secularism is similar to the Vedic concept ‘Dharma Nirapekshata' which means the indifference of the state to religion.

The Secularism concept is important for the UPSC exam, and questions about Secularism will be asked in the GS I, GS II, and Polity optional, and essay papers of the UPSC Examination. That's why candidates must have an in-depth understanding of Secularism while preparing for the UPSC exam.

Table of Content

What is Secularism?

The meaning of Secularism is being separate from religion or having no religious basis.

  • It also means that all religions are given equal status, recognition, and support from the state.
  • It can also be defined as the doctrine that promotes the separation of state from religion.
  • No discrimination and partiality should be given on the basis of religion.
  • The 42nd Amendment of the Indian Constitution (1976) states that India is a Secular' nation. Due to this the institution started to accept all religions, and enforce parliamentary laws.
  • A secular person is one who does not own his moral values to any religion.
  • India is a secular country which means it gives equal status to all religions.

>> Download Short Notes on Secularism

Features of Secularism

The features of Indian Secularism are as follows:

  • Equal respect and recognition of all religions by the state.
  • No interference in the functions of any religion by the state.
  • No discrimination by the state based on religion,
  • There is no official religion in India
  • As per Article 25 of the Indian constitution, an individual has the right to practice, profess and propagate any religion in India.

History of Secularism

Secularism is very deep-rooted in Indian History. Let's take a look at Secularism during the ancient, medieval, and modern periods.

Secularism in Ancient India

India had various religions, and they have co-existed and evolved together for centuries.

  • The development of the four Vedas and interpretations of the Upanishads are Purans highlight the concept of Secularism in Hinduism.
  • In ancient India, Hinduism was allowed to develop as a holistic religion by welcoming various spiritual traditions.
  • There are many temples built in ancient times that show the coexistence of different religions and faiths.
  • Emperor Ashoka was the first emperor to announce that the state would not prosecute any religious sect.
  • Secularism in India is not a new concept at all, and it is as old as the Indus Valley Civilization.
  • The quest for the coexistence of different religions continued even after the appearance of Buddism, Jainism, Christianity, and Islam on Indian soil.
  • In ancient India, people had freedom of religion, and the state granted citizenship regardless of religion.

Secularism in Medieval India

Bhakti Movements and Sufi restored secularism in India in the Medieval period. They spread the positives of Secularism such as brotherhood, tolerance, peace, universalism, and harmony in society.

  • The leaders of these movements were Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, Guru Nanak Dev, Baba Farid, Kabir Das, Mira Bai, and Saint Tukaram.
  • Religion toleration and freedom of worship marked the state under Akbar. The evidence of his tolerance policy was this promulgation of Divine Faith, which had elements of both Hindu and Muslim faith.
  • Another example was the construction of Ibadat Khana where different religious leaders were allowed to express their opinions.
  • Akbar had several Hindus as his ministers as well.

Secularism in Modern India

After Aurangzeb, India came under the control of the East Indian Company and the British Raj, and in this period Secularism was strengthened through the freedom movement of India.

  • The Divide and Rule' policy contributed to communal discord between various communities. Separate electorates were provided for the Muslims during the British Raj, through the Indian Councils Act of 1909.
  • The separate electorates further extended the principle of communal representation.
  • But the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 with secular values helped to unite the people from all sects.

Secularism in India

The term Secularism' is first reflected in the Preamble of India. In India, Secularism is similar to the Indeifferencce of State to religion.

  • The government is separate from the religion
  • Philosophy of India Secularism is related to Sarva Dharma Sambhava', and this concept is promoted by personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and Vivekananda.
  • India doesn't have an official state religion. However different personal laws on matters like divorce, marriage, inheritance, and alimony vary with one's religion.
  • Indian Secularism is all about achieving the peaceful coexistence of various religions.
  • India respects all religions on par with one another.

Secularism in the Indian Constitution

The term Secular' was added to the preamble by the 42nd Constitution Amendment Act of 1976. It states the fact that constitutionally, India is a secular country without any state religion. And it also says India shall accept all religions and not favour any particular religion.

  • Article 14 and 15- Article 14 grants equality before the law, and protection of all laws to all religions, and 15 prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, religion, sex, caste, or place of birth.
  • Article 16 (1)- guarantees equal opportunities to all citizens in case of public employment and state there won't be any discrimination based on sex, religion, caste, descent, birthplace, and residence.
  • Article 25- provides Freedom of Conscience
  • Article 26- every religious group has the right to maintain and establish institutions for religious purposes.
  • Article 27- the state won't compel ant citizen to pay extra taxes for the maintenance or promotion of any religious institution or religion.
  • Article 28- allows educational institutions maintained by different religious groups to impart religious instruction
  • Articles 29 and 30 provide educational and cultural rights to minorities.
  • Article 51 A- obliges that all citizens of India promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood to value and preserve the rich heritage of the composite culture.

Secularism and Article 25 of the Constitution of India

The Constitution of India guarantees six fundamental rights to its all citizens, and one of these rights is freedom of religion. Article 25 provide

  • Freedom of Conscience
  • Right to Practice any Religion
  • Right to Propagate any Religion
  • Right to Profess any Religion

Article 25 covers religious beliefs, and religious practices as well. And these rights are available for citizens and non-citizens as well.

Threats to Secularism

As we have mentioned above, the Indian constitution is absolutely neutral to all religions. However, there are a few factors that have put Indian Secularism in danger.

  • Communal polities spread myths and stereotypes against the minorities
  • The politicization of any one religious groups is also one of the major factors behind inter-religious conflict.
  • Communalism has proved to be a big threat to Secularism in the recent past,
  • Rising Hindu Nationalism in recent years has also created various problems.
  • Additionally forced the closure of slaughterhouses, campaigns against love jihad', and reconversion reinforces the communal tendencies in India.
  • In recent years Muslim youth being inspired by the groups like ISIS is a very unfortunate event for both India and the world.

Indian Secularism vs. Secularism in the West

Over the years India has created its own concept of Secularism which is different from the western concept of Secularism.

Indian Secularism

Secularism in the West

All religions get equal protection from the state

The state is separate from the religious groups or institutions functioning.

There no clear demarcation between religion and state in India

Here Secularism refers to the complete separation between religion and the state

Provides partial financial support for religious schools

The western model doesn't give financial support to any religious institution

The rights of religious communities and individuals are protected

The focus given to the Individual rights

The role of religious bodies is big and contributes to Indian politics

The role of religious bodies is small in national politics.

No one religion dominates Indian society

Christianity is the most reformed and single dominant religion in the state.

Secularism - Way Forward

The best way to nurture secularism is to expand religious freedom rather than practise state neutrality. There is a need to identify a shared set of values that allows diverse groups to live together. Education is the best way to educate the younger generation about the value of their own religious traditions and also other religions in the country.

Secularism UPSC

As Secularism is part of the UPSC Syllabus, questions can be asked about it in the both UPSC Prelims and UPSC Mains exams. That's why candidates need to have in-depth knowledge of Secularism. In that case, candidates can follow this article that covers all the facts and information on Secularism which would be beneficial for UPSC preparation. Apart from the Secularism UPSC Notes candidates need to follow the right UPSC Books, and glance through the UPSC Previous Year Question Papers for a better understanding of questions asked on this topic.

>> Download Secularism UPSC Notes PDF

Other Important UPSC Notes
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International OrganizationsLokpal and Lokayukta Act 2013
Women EmpowermentRepresentation of Peoples Act 1951
Brahmo SamajBattle of Plassey 1757
Asia Pacific Economic CooperationCentral Vigilance Commission
Atal Pension YojanaArya Samaj
CommunalismDemographic Dividend
Mid Day Meal SchemePegasus Spyware

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FAQs for Secularism in India

  • The term secular means having no religious basis. The meaning of Secularism is the separation of religion from economic, political, social, and cultural aspects of life. Here religion is treated as a purely personal matter.

  • Article 25 of the Indian constitution gives each citizen Freedom of Conscience, and right to profess any religion, and the right to practice any religion.

  • The three core principles of secularism are institutional separation, no discrimination on grounds of religion, and freedom of belief.

  • The features of secularism are equal respect and recognition for all religions by the state, no discrimination by the state on basis of religion, there is no official religion in India, non-interference in the functioning of any religion by the state, and an individual has the right to profess, practice and propagate any religion.

  • Yes, the 42nd amendment of the Indian constitution was enacted in 1976, the preamble to the constitution asserted that India is a secular nation.

  • Secularism allows people from various religions to live peacefully without any fear of the majority. It ensures peace, and harmony, and safeguards democracy by limiting the powers of the majority.

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