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Is India really a 'Secular Country'?

The Constitution (Forty-Second Amendment) Act, 1976 inserted the words SOCIALIST and SECULAR in the Preamble of the Constitution of India. This amendment was brought about by Indira Gandhi and the irony is that Jawaharlal Nehru and the chairman of the Drafting Committee, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar both opposed the idea of including the aforementioned words. Why Indira Gandhi had a different stand is a topic of debate for a different day. Topic for today is ‘whether India is really a secular state’?

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary Secularism is defined as "the belief that religion should not play a role in government, education, or other public parts of society", the most widely accepted definition of Secularism is "separation of religion and state". In accordance with the above mentioned definitions here is the set of arguments which go on to suggest that India may not actually be a Secular state in the true sense.

Argument #1

Different set of laws governing matters of different religion: In a secular state people irrespective of their religion should be governed by one common set of laws. However, in India each community has their own separate law governing their respective civil matters. For example, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists are governed by the Hindu code bills (Hindu Marriage Act, Hindu Succession Act etc.), Muslims have their own Muslim Personal laws and Christians are governed by Christian Personal laws. So, people belonging to different religion inherit property differently, have variance in set of rules for marriage, divorce and adoption etc. This clearly dilutes the concept of a secular state. This is why Uniform Civil Code is a necessity (Read about the need for the Uniform Civil Code here).

Argument #2

Government control over Hindu Temples: While the Hindu temples are under the government’s control, Mosques and Churches are totally autonomous. The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act, 1951 empowers the state governments to take over the temples and control their properties & assets. Strangely, the state government can utilize the money generated by a temple on such things and purposes that has no connection with the temple, other temples, Hindus or even Hinduism! However, none of this applies to mosques, churches or gurudwaras. The government is not legally authorized to take over the management when it comes down to a non-Hindu place of worship.

Argument #3

Different set of laws for majority run schools and minority run schools: Even though the schools being run by the so called minorities (not all) receive money from the government in the form of grants and aid, they are not obligated to comply with the regulations of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. While the government has thrown even the private schools that receive no money from the government, within the ambit of Right To Education regulations that raises obligation with respect to schools to reserve 25 per cent of their seats for children belonging from economically weaker backgrounds (which is reimbursed by the govt.). But, the governments have not dared to go anywhere near minority run schools.

No such exemption is provided when it comes to Hindu or the majority run schools. This clearly depicts that India is a secular country just on paper and not in practice.

Argument #4

Classification in terms of minority and majority not a part of a secular state: A secular state is can be defined as a state which is or purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. When the talk of neutrality is raised it simultaneously gives rise to equality in treatment. Hence, the classification in terms of minority and majority to provide state sponsored benefits to the minority class goes against the very idea of neutrality and equal treatment. In a secular country where each and every religion is same and equal, there can be no scope for classification and bifurcation based on the concept of ‘head count’.

Unfortunately, in India, we don’t practice secularism in its actual form. We are just carrying out the act of discrimination in the garb of secularism.

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