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Constitutional Basis of Secularism in India


India is a vast country; where society is Multireligious practising different activities of their religious beliefs. The Indian Constitution provides for a secular state. In which, the preamble of the Indian Constitution talks of constituting India into a secular State. The preamble of India provides a secular fabric and provides that every citizen has the right and freedom to choose and practice their religion. The Constitution of India protects the role of religion in the life of the people and hence, Articles from 25 to 28 enumerated under part III of the Constitution provides for the right to freedom to profess religion.



Secularism

We often hear the word ‘Secularism’ in news, religious conflicts, etc., it’s the most controversial topic ever. Now, what the term ‘Secularism’ is? So, the term ‘Secularism’ signify Separation of religion from political, social, economic and cultural aspects of life, by word secularism means, religion should be treated as a person purely personal matter, no role of the state; the state should be neutral in the matter of religion and does not uphold any particular religion as the state religion. A secular state doesn’t treat or designate any one religion for the country and its people.

The origin of the word Secularism can be traced back to ancient times. For that reason, in 1948 during the session of the constituent assembly, a demand was made by the KT shah to include the essence of ‘ Secularism’ and incorporate it in the preamble, but it wasn’t added to the preamble.

Though the word Secularism wasn’t added to the preamble crystal clear but the essence of Secularism was silently specified in part III of the Constitution under Articles 25 to 28, as fundamental rights to the citizens.

Afterwards, in 1976 the term ‘secular’ was added by the ruling party of Indira Gandhi, by enacting the 42nd amendment Act, 1976.

In one of the landmark case, SR Bommai v. Union of India (1994), the bench of nine judges featured the term ‘Secularism’ by declaring that religion and politics cannot be jumbled and mixed together, freedom of religion as a Fundamental right is guaranteed to all the citizens of India but for a state religion, faith and belief are immaterial. The state has no biased role to play in religion and couldn’t declare any particular religion as an official religion.


Constitution provisions

Constitution is the leading light law, contains various provisions that reveal the secular fabric of the Indian state, let’s look into:

  • Article 14, equality before the law. This article specifies equality before the law and equal protection of the laws to all individuals.

  • Article 15, broads the concept of Indian Secularism to the large extent by prohibiting and restricting discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

  • Article 16, protects and provides equality of opportunity to all Indian citizens in matters of Public employment and states that there would be no discrimination on the grounds of religion, caste, race, descent, place of birth, sex and residence.

  • Article 25, talks about ‘ freedom of conscience’ i.e., about moral sense, which means all persons are equally entitled to benefit of freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and practice their religion.

  • Article 26, states that every religious follower has the right to establish and maintain their religious institutions.

  • Article 27, provides that the state shall not force and pressurize any individual to pay taxes for the promotion and maintenance of any particular religion.

  • Article 28, this article reveals the true nature of Secularism by stating that no religious order shall be made by the state in any education providing institution.

Judicial pronouncement

As time rolling, the supreme court of India has been interpreting the concept of Secularism differently mentioned in the Constitution of India,

In Kesavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala, the apex court reiterated that Secularism was a part of the Constitution, Sikri C.J stated Preamble is the basic structure of the Constitution and it can’t be affected.

In one more case, Ziyauddin Burhanuddin Bukhari v. Birjmohan Ram das Mehra, Hon’ble Supreme Court defined the concept of Secularism in the dominion of Philosophy and in utilitarian terms. The court set the role of the state to be impartial and neutral in matters of religion.

Afterwards, In Indra Sawhney Case v. union Of India (1992), J. Kuldip, indicated that Secularism envisages adherence, unified and casteless society and caste constitutes a serious threat to Secularism and to the Integrity of the country.


Conclusion

The Indian Constitution reflects and presents the positive concept of Secularism. The Indian Constitution provides equal respect to all religions or protects all religions equally, no religion is above the state, the state looks at all the religious groups similarly. Indian secularism is a fundamental reality no one can disrespect it. Therefore, Constitution also provides a liability provision under Article 356, which says if any state pursues anti-secular activities will be liable for their actions.

References:

Indian Polity by M Laxmikanth (6th edition)

Indian Constitution -Durga Das

The Constitution of India, 1950 (Bareact, Universal)

www.indiankanoon.org



This Essay has been written by Varsha Chauhan.

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