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Secularism - and What it Stands for

Secularism refers to this separation of religion from the State; that is, every citizen, irrespective of which religion he or she follows, is equal in the eyes of the laws and policies that govern the Nation.


Let us apply the above statement to the Indian Political setup.

  • An important component of the Indian constitution is the ‘Fundamental Rights’ given to all the citizen of India.
  • The 4th point of the ‘Fundamental Rights’ is. 
Right to Freedom of Religion:
  1. Every person has the right to practice, profess and propagate the religion of their choice. 
  • In essence the Indian Constitution contains Fundamental Rights that protect its citizens against State power as well as against the tyranny of the majority.
  • The Indian Constitution allows individuals the freedom to live by their religious beliefs and practices as they interpret these.
  • In India the power of the state and the right to religious practices are two different identities.

Importance of Separating Religion from the State

We have come to understand that Secularism is separating religion from the state power.

  • Secularism is very essential for the smooth functioning of a democratic country.
  • In today’s world people go to other countries to work or do business. So you will find that people of different religions live in the same locality.
  • In the event of people of different religions living together in the same locality there is a possibility that people belonging to one particular religion being in the majority.
  • If this majority has access to State power, there is likelihood that it will use it to discriminate and dominate the minority group which practices another religion.
  • In a secular democratic country any form of domination or tyranny, based on religion is in violation of the rights that a democratic society guarantees to each and every citizen irrespective of their religion.
  • Therefore it is important not to allow any one religion, even though it may be the majority, to violate the fundamental rights of all citizens. If this right has to be maintained it is vital to separate the power of the state from religious practices.

Let us look at another reason why it is important to separate the power of the State from religion.

  • People should have the freedom to leave the religion they have been practicing and join another religion.
  • They should also have the freedom to interpret religious teachings differently.

To understand the statement ‘freedom to interpret religious teachings differently’ let us look at the practice of untouchability.

Untouchables is a term for a member of the hereditary Hindu class that was formerly segregated and regarded as ritually unclean by the four castes, and performed tasks that were considered polluting. Gandhi's alternative term Harijan meaning "children of God" has also been rejected by many in favour of a term Dalit meaning "the oppressed."

Untouchability refers to the social practice of excluding a minority group (untouchables) by regarding them as "ritually polluted" and segregating them from the mainstream by social custom.

  • Most Indians today dislike this practice of ‘untouchability’ within Hinduism and therefore, want to reform it.
  • If those who support untouchability have the power of the State in their hands, they will not want to change the practice of untouchability.
  • The people who support untouchability will insist that the only way to interpret Hinduism is practicing untouchability, as it was in existence for a long time. This does not give room for those in the same religion to who dislike the practice to eradicate it.
  • So, Religion should be separated from the powers of the state so that people have freedom to interpret religious teachings differently.

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