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Systematic breakdown of “Secular” India

Author: Darshi Sharma Guhey, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, Kalinga University, Naya Raipur

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One of the commitments that the people of India gave themselves in our Constitution is “secularism.” This aspect was not included in the initial draft, which was adopted in 1949 but was later amended with the 42nd amendment to the apex law.[1] Secularism is a highly debated topic right from Constitutional assembly debates to date. Mahatma Gandhi rejected the idea of a theocratic state. He believed that “free India will not have raj of Hindus, but it will be an India Raj.” His idea of India was placed on the notion of unity and responsibility. Pandit Motilal Nehru drew the Draft Constitution in 1928 laid down in Article 4 (ix) that “there shall be no religion for the commonwealth of India. “The rule against prejudice based on caste, religion, or creed was also established in the same under Article 4(xiii).[2] The ideology of Jinnah based on “Two nation theory” gave a big blow to the secular character as it resulted in the partition, but the notion revied, and secularism was adopted. Gandhi mentioned it as “Swaraj of my dreams” as, under this, the state aims to respect all religions but forbids having a religion of its own.103 The responsibility of state post-independence increased to maintain and protect cultural identity, which runs in the veins of India.

The concept of secularism could be understood in two ways. The western model is based on the idea of Thomas Jefferson, who referred to it as “erecting wall of church and state.”[3] In simple terms, it refers to the wall of separation between state and religion, a concept introduced by the US. With no substantive role of religion in affairs of the state, the liberty and freedom to profess, practice, and propagate any religion expands. The idea of secularism is distinctive and not unique as the basic premise remains more or less similar, making it a universal normative doctrine.

The definition of secularism is not expressly provided in the Constitution. However, honourable courts in landmark judgments established the crucial pillars which support the secular structure of the country. In 1962, the apex court held that the basis of the Constitution regarding secularism could be traced from Articles 25 and 26, served by the founding fathers of the Constitution.[4] In the revolutionary judgment of Keshvananda Bharati v. State of Kerala[5] the then CJI Sikri commented that “…secular character is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution.” Even Justice Grover mentioned that “the secular and federal nature of the Constitution is the essence of basic structure.” In the case of SR Bommai v. Union of India[6] the court elaborated the scope of secularism, commenting that the neutrality of the state will be violated if religion is used as a political issue. The supreme court in 2002 also held that the essence of secularism is based on the cardinal principle of non-discrimination of people on the basis of their religion.[7]

The Constitution, ensures and guarantees autonomy to its religious minority communities. The provisions establish their protection and freedom. It was a core reason why India was looked upon as the most comprehensive and holistic constitution in international forums. The nature of this law was considered remarkable in terms of its treatment and scale. However, in the recent past, the idea has weakened. With the rise of xenophobic ideologies into the roots of political administration and nationalist principles, freedom and rights are compromised. The Covid-19 phase took an additional test in this regard. The Islamophobic traditions and trends were existing for decades, but the radical increase in discrimination and abuse in the last few years is alarming. The issue of Tablighi jamaat where on the fault of few the entire community was tarnished, they were blamed to purposefully spread covid. The attitude and reflection of media houses during these delicate times were miserable. Another was the Farmer’s bill protests, the issue pertaining to interests of farmers were conveniently given a religious colour with the demand of ‘Khalistan’ coming from brain-washed ignorant viewers in front of biased TV channels. This lack of awareness gives rise to traitors which systematically threatens the secular fabric of India.

The religious prejudice directed around religious minorities specially post the pandemic, in no time ignited the waves of discrimination. This manifestation led to violation of fundamental right enriched under Article 15 of Indian Constitution. The segregation of patients on the basis of religion, boycotting the vendors from a particular community to enter the premise, lynching of individual based on the false narrative circulated against a community to which they belong, were some instances through which the fundamental right of equality and non-discrimination on the basis of religion was violated. This also includes Article 17 which talks about ‘untouchability.’ The term ‘untouchability’ is not defined under the Indian Constitution. It can be referred to as a social practice of looking down upon a depressed class. The apex law forbids untouchability of any kind. The incident from Ghaziabad where a 14-year-old boy from India’s largest minority was brutally beaten up by temple authorities when he entered the premises of the temple to drink water shows the ugly side of extremist authorities. The oath taken by people from a village in Chhattisgarh on boycotting Muslims is an issue that requires immediate government attention and response. The sanctity of the Constitution can only persevere through rapid action against such derogatory practices; sadly, the numb response from the authorities fuels the issue to a greater extent.

The sour relationship between the majority and minority communities in India traces a long history of mistrust. The ongoing waves of communalism now and then weaken the basic structure of secularism. The protests against CAA, the police action at JNU hostel and premises, Markaz issue and now the Khalistan demand. The systematic discrimination and conflicts have been criticized at international forums by United Nations in a number of conferences.[8] The reason behind opting for a secular structure was to avoid communalism, the oppression of minorities from the onslaught of the majority community. Basically, the idea was to avoid a similar massacre, which happened during the partition of the country. The idea of ‘Sarva Dharam Sambahav[9] which ensures equal respect for all religions as propagated by Jawaharlal Nehru is shrinking with each passing day. The authenticity of secularism vanished, and it only acted as a mirage for a few people. The worse phase of secularism was when the idea of “Us v. Them” started penetrating into the society, and the Muslim minority was labelled as ‘others.’ The polarized and political narrative of the ‘Mandir-Masjid’ issue made the discussion more vehement.[10] As the stakeholders of democracy, it is the responsibility of all the citizens of the country to ensure the protection of the secular fabric of the Indian Constitution. Freedom of religion is a very indispensable an intrinsic part of basic fundamental rights. It is considered to be the third most crucial civil liberty after right to life and right to speech. The constitution of India not only acknowledges freedom of religion but gives an individual right to propagate and tractors the religion and belief of one’s choice.







[2] Nehru Report (Motilal Nehru, 1928)

[3] Dreisbach, Daniel L. Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State. NYU Press, 2002. JSTOR, Accessed 22 June 2023

[4] Sardar Taheruddin Syedna Sahib v. State of Bombay (AIR 1962 SC 853)

[5] Keshvananda Bharati v. State of Kerala (Writ Petition (civil)135 of 1970)

[6] SR Bommai v. Union of India, 1994 AIR 1918

[7] Aruna Roy v Union of India (2002 SSC 368)


[8] UN Human Rights, New citizenship law in India ‘fundamentally discriminator: UN Human rights office” (Delhi, 13 December 2019) “

[9] Faizan Mustafa & Jagteshwar Singh Sohi, Freedom of Religion in India: Current Issues and Supreme Court Acting as Clergy, 2017 BYU L. REV. 915 (2017)

[10] Arif Rashid Malik, Crisis in Indian Secularism, The Armchair Journal (May. 4, 2023, 10:30 AM),

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