Secularism in India: An Overview


Secularism way that everybody enjoys the entire religious freedom due to this that Government will now not compel all people to adopt any unique faith. Religious freedom is our critical right and is written in our constitution. Everybody has the freedom to publicize any religion, to espouse any religion or acquire any non-secular building. No particular religion is probably a concept in college textbooks.

India is a country of diverse religions and to offer freedom to religion to everyone, and for equality of faith, India changed into declared a Secular country. The word secular modified into brought into the preamble with the aid of way of the 42nd Amendment (1976). As in step with the written Constitution of India, India is an earthly state (India), and we as residents of India have to stand for it.[1]

Keywords: Secularism, State, Religion and Constitution


When do we say that India is secular? State and religion are independent of each other, the state is supreme in their matters while religion is supreme in their matter. We will try to conceptualize the meaning of Secularism in the true sense if possible, then we will portray the difference between Indian secularism and western secularism then we will also talk about false criticism of Indian secularism. Secularism is an idea that originated from Western culture, but it is very much prevalent in India more than any other western country.

Meaning of Secularism

In the Indian context, secularism means the state has no religion of its own, the state will not aid any religion at the same time state shall respect all religions equally. While some eminent scholars argue Secularism is a bane for India, India must be a Hindu Rashtra. While on the other hand, some scholars say Secularism gives more strength and unites India as in India there is religious diversity, so if the state professes and aid one Religion only it can result in violence by other religious minorities. Some scholars also say we cannot generalize the definition of secularism as there can be thousands of ways to define secularism. The second thing we need to understand why we need secularism in the first place. For this we need to go deep into the empirical study of religion and by the fact we know there are 80% Hindus and rest 20% includes minorities (Muslims, Sikhs,  Jain, Parsi), so just examine if state professes Hindu religion what will to happen to minorities, there will be oppression, partiality to minorities which is not a good sign of huge democratic republic like India.

According to Donald Eugene Smith,’ The secular state is a state which guarantees individual and corporate freedom of religion deals with the individual as a citizen irrespective of his religion is not constitutionally connected to a particular, nor does it seek either to promote or interfere with religion upon closer examination it will be seen that the conception of a secular state involves three distinct but interrelated sets of relationships concerning the state, religion and the individual.[2].

Secularism and Indian Constitution

If we go through the preamble it mentions India is a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. The word ‘socialist ‘ and secular ‘ were added in preamble through the 42nd amendment in the Constitution of India. India believes in the principle of ‘ Unity in diversity’. Supreme court held ‘secularism’ is the basic feature of the Constitution. India is a ‘secular state’ i.e. a state which observes an attitude of neutrality and impartiality towards all religion. The idea behind the secular state is a man and man relationship. The state shall treat all religious groups and religions equally and with equal respect without interfering in thus individual right of religion, faith, and worship. Indian secularism and western secularism are different while secularism is a western idea. Indian secularism is all about giving freedom to all religions, while western secularism is all about having no religion either of its own. Some Constitutional features profess secularism as an institution itself – it mandates State shall not identify any religion of its own.

The state will not give any preferential treatment to any religion in any manner. The state shall not discriminate any person on his account of practicing religion or faith.

There has been the topic of debate over state supremacy and religion, but in the Indian context, it is quite simple as the state will be neutral towards religion. India is a country of many religions, languages, rituals, and customs and there has been a debate for a while about a uniform civil code which will lead to the quashing of all personal laws, but for a state to be secular the state must protect rights of every person who have faith, believe and worship any idol.

Case laws – Precedents which set out India as a secular state:

  1. Bal Patil and Anr. v. Union of India[3]

In this particular case, the court decided that State has no religion, the state must respect all religions equally, it means that no political party can form based on religion and the state cannot interfere with individual rights to practice any religion, faith, and worship.

  • S.R. Bommai v. Union of India[4]

In this particular case, the court decided that secular not only meant that the state should have no religion of its own, but also that political party which sought to come into power, the religion would come into capture the power, religion would come to acquire a secondary or less favourable position.

  • Indrav. Raj Narayan[5],

The basic feature of the secularism was explained by the hon’ble supreme court which held that, secularism means’ that state shall have no religion of its own and all persons of the country shall be equally entitled to the freedom of their conscience and have the right freely to profess, practice and have the right freely to profess, practice and propagate any religion’’.

The Indian Model v. Western Model of Secularism

Indian model does not grant freedom to practice religion to individuals only but also gives the right to establish educational institutions to minorities under articles 29 and 30, Whereas Article 29 talks about the protection of the interests of minorities. It elaborates if any person has a distinct language, script, or culture that person shall have the right to conserve the same. It further elaborates that no citizen shall be denied admission to any educational institution maintained or funded by the government based on race, religion, caste, language, or any of them. Whereas Article 30 specifically deals with the right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions. It mentions all minorities whether religion or language-based shall have the right to administer educational institutions.

Further to elaborate more about secularism in India, so Indian secularism is not extreme as in western culture, in western modern, they don’t believe in God’s existence so in the religion, in simple words, they prefer the religion of humanity over any immaterial things. While in the Indian context, the state does interfere in the matter of religion in a restrictive manner, for example – abolition of triple talaq, the abolition of untouchability and caste system, ban of slaughtering of a cow on the occasion of Eid because in one case it was held that cow slaughtering on the occasion of Eid is not the essential practice of Islam, so it was banned. So, from here it is clear that the state will not interfere in essential practices of religion but which are oppressive, against the fundamental rights of individual, unethical, discriminatory will be declared unconstitutional and should be banned.


Indian state works as a facilitator of fundamental rights and investigates minority rights, interreligious rights for example – segregation of women in society, untouchability, “Sati Pratha”, the caste system. As our first prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said ” secularism means equal protection to every religion” so it means the state cannot favour a single religion, it is more concerned about group rights while in western modern, there is no focus on group rights, Indian secularism works as a reformative principle for religions, it shows Indian secularism is flexible but not weak in any manner.


  1. Aniketsmi, Secularism and constitution of India, Legal services  (sep. 23, 2020, 1:16 AM),
  2. Only IAS YouTube lecture 1 (Secularism) under Society

[1]Bhavya Gupta and Arush Agarwal, Secularism as an Ideology: A Global and Indian Perspective (November 16, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

[2]Aniketsmi, Secularism and constitution ofIndia, Legal services (sep. 23, 2020, 1:16 AM),

[3]Bal Patil and Anr. v. Union of IndiaAppeal (civil) 4730 of 1999.

[4]S.R. Bommai v. Union of India,  AIR1994SC 1981.

[5]Indrav. Rajnarayan ,1975 AIR SC 2299.

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