Last Update: June 2023 (Secularism)


This article deals with Secularism’ . This is part of our series on ‘Society’ which is an important pillar of the 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 the different values it intends to promote.

Three models of Secularism


US Model

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

French Model

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

Indian Model

The Indian idea and practice of secularism, although inspired by western ideas yet, is rooted in India’s unique socio-historic circumstances like religious diversity and support for all religions. 

Features of Indian secularism are as follows:-

  • The Wall of Separation between state and religion is porous, i.e. state can intervene in religion to promote progressive voices within every religion. E.g., Abolition of Untouchability (among Hindus) and Abolition of Triple Talaq (among Muslims). 
  • However, religion is prohibited from interfering in state matters, disallowing the mobilization of electoral support on religious lines. 
Indian Model of Secularism

It is sometimes argued that the concept of secularism has been imported from the west. But it is clear from the above differences that strict church and state separation is the central area of focus in the West, while in India, peaceful co-existence is the main focus.

Provisions regarding Secularism in India

Provisions regarding Secularism in India
  • 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 to attend religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions. 
  • 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. 
  • 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 the State of MP held that forcible conversions are not included in the 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 the right to religion is subject to public order, and 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. The Doctrine of Essential Practices pronounced by Supreme Court.
  • Section 123(3) of the Representation of Peoples Act 1951  prohibits political parties to ask for votes on religious lines. 
  • Places of Worship Act, 1991: The act prohibits conversion of any place of worship and provides for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August, 1947.

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 the rise of ISIS (Daesh), instigation by foreign agencies such as ISI etc. 

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