Secularism In India

With the Forty-second Amendment of the Constitution of India enacted in 1976, the Preamble to the Constitution asserted that India is a secular nation. However, the Supreme Court of India in S. R. Bommai v. Union of India established the fact that India was secular since the formation of the republic. The judgement established that there is separation of state and religion. It stated “In matters of State, religion has no place. And if the Constitution requires the State to be secular in thought and action, the same requirement attaches to political parties as well. The Constitution does not recognize, it does not permit, mixing religion and State power. That is the constitutional injunction. None can say otherwise so long as this Constitution governs this country. Politics and religion cannot be mixed. Any State government which pursues nonsecular on policies or nonsecular course of action acts contrary to the constitutional mandate and renders itself amenable to action under Article 356”. Furthermore, constitutionally, state-owned educational institutions are prohibited from imparting religious instructions and Article 27 of the constitution prohibits using tax-payers money for the promotion of any religion. Officially, secularism has always inspired modern India.] However, India’s secularism does not completely separate religion and state. The Indian Constitution has allowed extensive interference of the state in religious affairs such as constitutional abolition of untouchability, opening up of all Hindu Temples to people of ‘lower caste’ etc. The degree of separation between the state and religion have varied with several court and executive orders in place since the birth of the Republic. In matters of law in modern India, personal laws – on matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, alimony – varies if you are a Muslim or not (Muslims have an option to marry under secular law if he/she wishes). The Indian Constitution permits partial financial support for religious schools, as well as the financing of religious buildings and infrastructure by the state. The Islamic Central Wakf Council and many Hindu temples of great religious significance are administered and managed (through funding) by the federal and the state governments in accordance with The Places Of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, and the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, which mandates state maintenance of religious buildings that were created before August 15, 1947 (date of Indian independence) while also retaining their religious character. The attempt to respect religious law has created a number of issues in India such as acceptability of polygamy, unequal inheritance rights, extra judicial unilateral divorce rights favorable to some males, and conflicting interpretations of religious books.

Secularism as practiced in India, with its marked differences with Western practice of secularism, is a controversial topic in India. Supporters of the Indian concept of secularism claim it respects “minorities and pluralism”. Critics claim the Indian form of secularism as “pseudo-secularism“. Supporters state that any attempt to introduce a uniform civil code, that is equal laws for every citizen irrespective of his or her religion, would impose majoritarian Hindu sensibilities and ideals. Critics state that India’s acceptance of Sharia and religious laws violates the principle of Equality before the law.

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