[Answered] Discuss various features of Indian secularism. Also, mention various threats to secular democracy in India.


Demand of the question

Introduction. Contextual introduction.

Body. Discuss various features of Indian secularism. Mention various threats to secular democracy in India.

Conclusion. Way forward.


Secularism is the principle that makes a state neutral in the matter of religion and hence does not uphold any particular religion as the state religion, for example, USA and India. Principled distance from religion is the essence of Indian secularism. The 42nd amendment of the Constitution of India, amended the Preamble of the Constitution declaring India as a secular nation. In India secularism means the state views all religions as equal.


Various features of Indian concept of secularism:

  1. Positive concept: Indian Constitution embodies the positive concept of secularism, i.e. giving equal respect to all religions or protecting all religions equally. The Western concept of secularism connotes a complete separation between the religion and the state.
  2. Basic feature of Indian constitution: Secularism is one of the basic features of the Constitution. In a landmark judgement in the Bommai case (1994), the Supreme Court upheld that secularism is a ‘basic feature’ of the Constitution. Hence, a state government pursuing anti-secular politics is liable to action under Article 356.
  3. Concurrent power: The 7th schedule of Indian constitution places religious institutions, charities and trusts into concurrent List, which means that both the central government of India and various state governments in India can make their own laws about religious institutions, charities and trusts.
  4. Equality: The Constitution of India does not uphold any particular religion as the official religion of the Indian State. It prevents the State from discriminating against any citizen on the grounds of religion (Article 15).
  5. Focus on Harmony: Indian secularism focuses on harmony among all religions rather than tight separation between state and religion. It allows the state to prevent conflicts on the basis of religion through timely interventions which would have been disastrous for the state if not controlled.
  6. Room for religious reforms: Indian secularism is broader in a sense that it allows state intervention to help reform various evils and superstitions. E.g. Many rules in Karnataka allowed the government to curb superstitions that were against human rights.
  7. Protect rights over religion: By accepting community-based rights for religious minorities, the state can protect the rights of Indian citizens. All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate any religion (Article 25).
  8. Tolerance: By acceptance of all religions rather than tight separation it reflects tolerant attitude of state and its people.
  9. Liberal: Many religiously sanctioned social practices are oppressive by virtue of their illiberal and non-egalitarian character and deny a life of dignity and self-respect. Therefore, Indian secularism helps liberal and egalitarian principles by reforming such practices through state intervention.

E.g. recent Triple Talaq Act.


Various threats to secular democracy in India:

  1. Communalism: The growing communalism has greatly hampered the growth of genuine secularism in India. Communalism of the community poses a threat to secular
  2. Politics and Religion: The political parties in India have tended to use religion and caste factors for the promotion of their political interests and thus greatly undermined the secular values.
  3. Just Economic Order: The failure of the state to evolve a just economic order and eliminate poverty also gave a serious set­back to secularism. The common masses suffering from deprivation and poverty could not develop any faith in the polity which failed to provide them basic necessities and consequently did not attach much importance to secular values.
  4. Limited interpretation of secularism: Due to the limited interpretation of secularism, as being confined to State policy only, the religious identities and other sub-cultural differences of Indian citizens have continued to remain strong. In societies where such distinctions are emphasized, groups and communities remain distanced from one another.
  5. Minority group perceptions: Apart from education and jobs, prejudice and discrimination are perceived as operating in the matter of intergroup violence and conflict. There is now ample evidence to show that at times the administrative machinery of the State does not operate impartially at the time of communal riots.
  6. The Defective educational system: The defective educational system which has encouraged the people to think in terms of groups and communities, has also failed to inculcate secular ideas in the minds of young students and promote a feeling of mutual give and take.
  7. Religious intolerance: Religious intolerance is on rise. Recent Delhi riots are such an example of religious intolerance based on religion.


The essence of secularism lies in accommodation of varied social groups and overcoming tendencies that destructs the social fabric of any society. In India where differences exist in terms of different religions and cultures secularism plays a crucial role. It is evident that Indian secularism since ancient

India embraced many religions, sects, communities showing tolerance and true sense of accommodation, leading to a tolerant nation with social cohesion.

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