This article deals with Secularism’ . This is part of our series on ‘Society’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here.

What is Secularism ?

  • Secularism is defined as the principle of separation of state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries .
  • But nature and extent of separation may take different forms depending upon different values it intends to promote.

Three models of Secularism


1 . US Model

  • US Model is of the view that , religion is private affair of person and state passively respects all religions .
  • In this model , ‘ARM LENGTH DISTANCE‘ is maintained between state and religion

2. French Model

  • It is also known as Laicite / Militant Secularism .
  • In France, due to long battle against religious influence on laws and government, Laicite was introduced. 
  • There is total separation between religion and state (i.e. religious activities and symbols are banned in public sphere). 
  • But , French secularism has come under criticism that rather than promoting diversity, freedom of thought and multi-culturism , it is interfering with the basic right to religious self expression . Recently, this model came in controversy due to backlash by Islamists against Charlie Hebdo’s publication of objectionable cartoons of Prophet Mohammad and denial of French government to condemn such acts.

3. Indian Model

  • The Indian idea and practice of secularism although was inspired by western ideas yet it is rooted in India’s unique socio-historic circumstances like religious diversity and support for all religions .
  • Features of Indian secularism are as follows
    • Wall of separation between state and religion is porous i.e. state can intervene in religion to promote progressive voices within every religion . Eg : Abolition of untouchability (among Hindus) and Abolition of Triple Talaq (among Muslims) .
    • However, religion is strictly prohibited to interfere in state matters hence disallowing mobilisation of electoral support on religious lines  .

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 is the focus.

Provisions regarding Secularism in India

  1. The Preamble of India states that India is a secular country .
  2. Articles 25 to 28 : Deals with freedom of religion to all. 
    1. Article 25: guarantees freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.
    2. Article 26: every religious denomination has the freedom to manage its religious affairs.
    3. Article 27: Freedom from payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion.
    4. Article 28: Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions.
  3. Articles 14 (Equality before law and equal protection of law) , Article 29 (Protection of distinct language, script or culture of minorities ), Article 44 (Uniform Civil Code) and 51A, by implication prohibit the establishment of a theocratic state.
  4. Judicial pronouncements regarding secularism
    1. In the Kesavananda Bharati case, the Supreme Court had declared secularism as a part of the basic structure of the Constitution.
    2. Rev Stanislau vs. State of MP held that forcible conversions is not included in right to propagate religion as it may disturb public order.
    3. In the Church of God (Full Gospel) in India vs K. K. R. Majestic Colony Welfare Association (2000) , it was held that as the right to religion is subject to public order, no prayers  should be performed by disturbing the peace of others .
    4. Ismail Farooqui vs Union of India (1994) : Supreme Court held that “the concept of secularism is one facet of the right to equality .
    5. Doctrine of Essential Practices pronounced by Supreme Court .
  5. Section 123(3) of Representation of Peoples Act 1951  prohibits political parties to ask for votes on religious lines .

Challenges to Secularism

  • Frequent recourse to revivalist events such as Ghar Wapsi etc. breeds fear amongst the minorities  .
  • Incidents of lynching especially of Muslims in the name of cow vigilantism .
  • Charges of ‘Love Jihad‘ by far right Hindutva groups in case of inter-religion marriages. BJP ruled states like UP and MP are bringing laws against so called Love Jihad .
  • Communal Riots and Targeted Violence .
  • Religious hate speech,  falsification of history and dissemination of wrong information .
  • International events such as rise of ISIS (Daesh), instigation by foreign agencies such as ISI etc.

Previous year UPSC questions on Secularism

  • How do the Indian debates on secularism differ from the debates in the West?

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