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Secularism and Communal harmony

  • Categories
    Society: Diverse Elements
  • Published
    7th Jun, 2022


“Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.” Mahatma Gandhi

  • The term ‘secularism’ is known to have originated in late medieval Europe coined first by English secularist, co-operator, and newspaper editor George Jacob Holyoake and was modelled on the theory that governments ought to have no religious connection, nor indeed anything to do with matters of religious belief or ritual.
  • Secularism, socio-communal harmony and tolerance have been the essence of India. India is the world's hub of spiritual values and that is why it is the biggest secular democracy in the world.

Meaning of Secularism:

  • It is necessary to understand that secularism does not mean being irreligious or anti-religious. The term pseudo-secularism is used only for political purposes. In fact, secularism implies equality of all religions and religious tolerance. It may be appreciated in two contexts: state context and individual context.
  • State context: In the state context it means that India does not have an official state religion. The government must not favour or discriminate against any religion. It must treat all religions with equal respect.
  • All citizens, irrespective of their religious beliefs are equal in the eyes of law. No religious instruction is imparted in government or government-aided schools. But the general information about all established world religions may be imparted, without giving any importance to any one religion or the others.
  • Individual context: It means ‘sarva dharma samabhava’, equal respect for all religions. Every person has the right to preach, practice and propagate any religion they choose. Every citizen must treat all religions

Secularism in the Constitution:

  • Various provisions of the Constitution ensure India to be a secular State. The Indian constitution through its Preamble and particularly through its chapters on Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles have created a secular state based on the principle of equality and non-discrimination.
  • Along with the principles of social and economic democracy, secularism has been held to be one of the ‘Basic Structures’ of the Indian Constitution. It has been reflected in the Constitution primarily as a value in the sense that it extends support to our plural society. Secularism aims at promoting cohesion among different communities living in India.
  • At the outset of the making of the Constitution, the concept of secularism was not expressly mentioned in the Indian Constitution. However, the Indian Constitution has spelt out several provisions in Part III (Articles 14, 15, 16, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30), Part IV (Article 44), and IVA (clause (e)) that reflects the existence of secularism.
  • The conjoint reading of all these Articles makes it evident that the intention of the Constitutional fathers was neither to oppose religion nor to promote rationalization of culture.
  • The Constitution makers had sensed the negative potential of communalism. That is why the Constitution declares India to be a secular State. Although the original Constitution had many provisions to promote secularism, the continued reappearance of communalism demanded reassertion. Consequentially, it was made one of the basic pillars of Indian democracy and the word ‘secular’ was inserted into the Preamble of the Constitution by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act in 1976.

What is the 42nd Amendment Act in the context of Secularism?

  • The 42nd Amendment Act is considered to be a milestone in the context of Secularism as well as the Indian Constitution. At the beginning of the Indian Constitution, India was considered to be a Sovereign, Democratic and Republic state.
  • Three words are added through the 42nd Amendment Act namely, ‘Secular’, ‘Socialist’ and ‘Integrity’. These three words have changed the basic structure of the Constitution of India.
  • The phrase ‘Unity of the Nation’ is also changed to ‘Unity and Integrity of the Nation’. India was considered to be a Secular State from the beginning. However, the word ‘Secular’ is added officially to the Constitution of India by the 42nd Amendment Act.

There are two main concepts of secularism:

  1. Western concept:
    • The Western concept of secularism is based on the ideas of Thomas Jefferson. He had said in 1908, "erecting the wall of separation between Church and State is absolutely essential in a free society". According to him, there ought to be a separation between religious institutions from the institution of States.
    • Freedom of conscience for individuals circumscribed only by the need for public order and respecting other individuals' rights is a guiding principle. Meaning that if one religion is practised by an individual and this practice infringes upon the rights of followers of other faiths, restrictions can be imposed on the former. Thomas Jefferson held the opinion that there should not be any discrimination against individuals on the basis of their religion.
    • The western conceptualization of secularism began in the 19th century. The term secularism was coined by British reformer Jackob Holyoke in 1851. He used this term to describe his views of promoting a social order separate from religion without criticizing religious beliefs.
  1. Indian concept: The Indian constitution mandates that the Indian state be secular. After independence, a new concept of secularism emerged, which was closer to the views of both Gandhi and Nehru. Independent India adopted the following ideas of secularism:
    • The State shall permit freedom of practising any religion.
    • The State shall not associate with any religion.
    • The State shall honour all faiths of equality.

The first two are similar to the western concept, whereas the third one is the innovative idea for Indian secularism.

Indian Secularism Different From that of Other Democratic Countries:

  • The basic difference is the dominant nature of understanding Secularism as practised in the United States of America. Religion is strictly separated from the state in the case of American Secularism.
  • On the other hand, religious affairs can be intervened by the state in the case of Indian Secularism. This is the most significant difference between the Indian Secularism and the Secularism of other democratic countries.

Why is it Important to Separate Religion from the State?

The most important aspect of secularism is its separation of religion from state power. This is important for a country to function democratically.

  • It enables the country to function democratically.
  • The people belonging to the minority communities can otherwise be harmed by the domination of the majority and there can be an infringement of their Fundamental Rights.
  • Individuals can exit from their religion and another religion can be embraced by them through Secularism. According to the law, people can interpret religious teachings in different ways.

Secularism in the History of India

  • Secular traditions are very deep-rooted in the history of India. Indian culture is based on the blending of various spiritual traditions and social movements.
  • The development of the four Vedas and the various interpretations of the Upanishads and the Puranas clearly highlight the religious plurality of Hinduism.
  • Emperor Ashoka was the first great emperor to announce, as early as the third century B.C. that, the state would not prosecute any religious sect.
  • In his 12th Rock Edict, Ashoka appealed not only for the toleration of all religious sects but also to develop a spirit of great respect toward them.
  • Even after the advent of Jainism, Buddhism and later Islam and Christianity on the Indian soil, the quest for religious toleration and coexistence of different faiths continued.
  • In medieval India, the Sufi and Bhakti movements bond the people of various communities together with love and peace.
  • The leading lights of these movements were Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, Baba Farid, Sant Kabir Das, Guru Nanak Dev, Saint Tukaram and Mira Bai
  • In medieval India, religious toleration and freedom of worship marked the State under He had a number of Hindus as his ministers, forbade forcible conversions and abolished Jizya.
  • The Indian freedom movement was characterized by secular tradition and ethos right from the start. The constitution drafted by Pandit Moti Lal Nehru as the chairman of the historic Nehru Committee in 1928, had many provisions on secularism as: ‘There shall be no state religion for the commonwealth of India or for any province in the commonwealth, nor shall the state, either directly or indirectly, endow any religion any preference or impose any disability on account of religious beliefs or religious status.

In the present scenario, in the context of India, the separation of religion from the state constitutes the core of the philosophy of secularism.

Steps Taken to Protect Secularism in India:

The following steps are taken by Indian State to protect Secularism in India:

  • Various strategies are taken to keep a distance from religion. No religion is displayed or promoted in government offices such as law courts, police stations, government schools, etc.
  • The strategy of non-interference is adopted by the Govt. According to the above-mentioned fact, religions of all religious communities are given equal respect. There are a few exceptions in this case.
  • A strategy of intervention is also adopted. The laws related to equivalent legacy rights are respected and the religion-based ‘personal laws’ of communities can be intervened by the State to ensure the same.
  • The intervention of the State can also be in the form of assistance. One example of it is the establishment of schools and colleges by the religious communities and the fact that they are mostly granted by the Government of India. Financial aid is also given to these communities on a non-preferential basis.

Understanding Communalism:

  • Communalism is described as an ideology stating the division between states (people, groups of people or communities) based on ethnicity, religion, beliefs, values, etc. The difference of two or more religious, ethnic and social communities can sometimes produce clashes in the society. Communalism essentially has the following main features.
  • It is based on orthodoxy.
  • It is exclusive in outlook; a communalist considers his own religion to be superior to
  • other religions.
  • It is based on intolerance.
  • It also propagates an intense dislike of other religions.
  • It stands for the elimination of other religions and their values.
  • It adopts extremist tactics including the use of violence against other people
  • Communalism has been one of the most complex problems that India has been facing. This is generated when individuals belonging to one religion develop an excessive affinity to their religion and hatred towards other religions.
  • This kind of feeling promotes religious fundamentalism and fanaticism and proves to be dangerous for the unity and integrity of the country. It is more so for a country like India where people practise all the major religions of the world.
  • India has been suffering from communalism since independence. As we know, we faced the worst kind of communal riots on the eve of independence, and even after. There have been many communal riots in various parts of the country, inflicting immense suffering on the people.
  • The ideology that rises from the religious pluralism, and is to be considered as a social menace. Communalism can also be defined as a tool that is given rise to, in the presence of diverse religions, to gain political benefits in a state. The issues attached to Communalism are:
  • It is a threat to national integrity
  • It is a catalyst for political and social tensions in the state
  • It leads to divisions between the people, groups of communities or groups of states in the country
  • It is attached to the rivalry of one religion, beliefs, values etc. against another’s.
  • Active hostility or opposition toward others’ religions and beliefs often leads to issues in society.

Religious pluralism is the state of being where every individual in a religiously diverse society has the rights, freedoms, and safety to worship, or not, according to their conscience.

  • Communalism has divided our society for a long. It causes belief in orthodox tenets and principles, intolerance hatred of other religions and religious groups, distortion of historical facts and communal violence.

Sometimes, the concept ‘Communalism’ is defined in three ways:

  1. Political Communalism: To survive in the sphere of politics, leaders tend to implicitly promote the idea of divisions among the communities. This gives rise to political communalism where different sets of people are divided into political lines and ideologies.
  2. Social Communalism: When the societies’ beliefs divide these into different groups and lead to rivalry among each other, it further leads to Social Communalism.
  3. Economic Communalism: The difference in economic interests of the groups of people or communities, leading to further clashes in the society, can be termed as Economic Communalism.

Factors Responsible for Communal Violence:

  • Divisive Politics – Communalism is often defined as a political doctrine that makes use of religious and cultural differences in achieving political gains.
  • Economic Causes – Uneven development, class divisions, poverty and unemployment aggravate insecurity in the common men which makes them vulnerable to political manipulation.
  • History of Communal Riots – The probability of recurrence of communal riots in a town where communal riots have already taken place once or twice is stronger than in a town where such riots have never occurred.
  • Politics of Appeasement – Prompted by political considerations, and guided by their vested interests, political parties take decisions which promote communal violence.
  • Isolation and Economic Backwardness of Muslim Community – The failure to adopt scientific and technological education and thus, insufficient representation in the public service, industry and trade etc has led to the feeling of relative deprivation among Muslims. The resurgence of Hindu-Muslim economic competition, especially among the lower- and middle-class strata has fuelled the communal ideology.
  • Administrative Failure – A weak law and order are one of the causes of communal violence.
  • Psychological Factors – The lack of interpersonal trust and mutual understanding between two communities often result in the perception of threat, harassment, fear and danger in one community against the members of the other community, which in turn leads to fighting, hatred and anger-phobia.
  • Role of Media – It is often accused of sensationalism and disseminates rumours as "news" which sometimes resulted in further tension and riots between two rival religious groups.
  • Social media has also emerged as a powerful medium to spread messages relating to communal tension or riot in any part of the country.

Consequences Of Communalism:

  • Voters generally vote on communal lines. After getting elected, the representatives try to safeguard the interests of their community and ignore national interests. These conditions hinder the progress of democracy in the country.
  • It becomes a threat to the unity and integrity of the nation as a whole. It promotes only the feeling of hatred in all directions, dividing society into communal lines.
  • Communalism is an obstacle in the development of the country. Communal activities occurring frequently do harm the human resource and economy of the country and act as a barrier to the development of the nation. India has a legacy of unity and diversity which has to be maintained through the promotion of communal harmony.
  • The investment attitude towards the country from foreign investors would be cautious; they tend to avoid the countries with a highly communal country, for not take the risk of ending up losing their investment.
  • The flow of labour from productive activities is diverted to unproductive activities; there is massive destruction of public properties to spread the ideology.
  • It causes hatred among different religious sections in society and disrupts the peaceful social fabric of our society.

Communal Harmony:

  • India is a country of a multi-ethnic culture where people belonging to different religious, racial, cultural and lingual identities live together harmoniously. However, in the present time, various untoward incidents are affecting communal harmony in different parts of the country.
  • Communalism is the most serious threat to our sovereign, secular, socialist and democratic polity. The number of communal incidents is increasing day by day, which is not a good sign for our democracy. India is known for communal harmony which has to be maintained. Communal harmony is the hallmark of democracy in a country governed by the rule of law.
  • Rule of law pervades over the entire field of administration and every organ of the state is regulated and governed by the Rule of law. It is an eternal value of constitutionalism and the inherent attribute of democracy and good governance has to be maintained.

Gandhian perspective on Communal Harmony:

  • Gandhi had faith in the Vedantic doctrine of Unitism, which says all ‘men are part of one universal existence. All men are essentially one member of one family. So, an individual who wants to realize his true self must regard the good of all as his own good and dedicate himself to the service of all. The Father of the Nation said that the essence of true religious teaching is that one should serve and befriend all.
  • Mahatma Gandhi was a champion of communal harmony and wanted all Indians, be they of any religion, to unite against the colonial government. He never found serious differences between the Hindus and Muslims and other minority communities like the Christians and the Sikhs or Parsis. Gandhiji saw an inviolable harmony existing in all creation enshrined in all religions, and it was this principle that led him to accord equal respect to all faiths. He stressed upon universal peace, brotherhood, and reverence for all life.

Initiatives Taken by Government for Maintaining Peace and Harmony:

  • National Integration Council (NIC): In 1960 the Government constituted the National Integration Council (NIC) as well as in 1992, the National Foundation for Communal Harmony was set up under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 as an autonomous organisation for promoting and strengthening communal harmony, national integration as well as fostering unity through collaborative social action, awareness programmes, reaching out to the victims of communal violence, encouraging interfaith dialogue for India’s shared security, peace and prosperity.
  • The Religious Institutions (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1988: It was enacted by the Parliament for maintaining the sanctity of religious places and to prevent their misuse for political, criminal, subversive or communal purposes. Under this law, it is the duty of the manager to inform the police in the event of misuse of the place of worship. The Act also prohibits the storage of arms and ammunition inside any place of worship.
  • The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991: It was passed to prohibit conversion of any place of worship and to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August 1947.

The ongoing row over the Gyanvapi Masjid that is situated adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, has again brought to the fore the controversy around The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 after the Ayodhya Ram Janmabhoomi Verdict.

  • Guidelines on Communal Harmony, 2008: The Ministry of Home Affairs issued a guideline to prevent and avoid communal disturbances/riots and in the event of such disturbances occurring, action to control the same and measures to provide assistance, relief and rehabilitation to the affected persons.
  • Communal Violence Prevention Bill, 2010 is yet to see the daylight as the bill has been pending for years now. If passed and enacted, it could help control the menace of communal violence.


  • In a pluralistic society, the best approach to nurture secularism is to expand religious freedom rather than strictly practising state neutrality. It is incumbent on us to ensure value education that makes the younger generation understands and appreciates not only its own religious traditions but also those of the other religions in the country.
  • There is also a need to identify a common framework or a shared set of values which allows the diverse groups to live together. The prerequisites to implementing the social reform initiative like Uniform Civil Code are to create a conducive environment and forging socio-political consensus.
  • There is a need to maintain communal harmony is the country. In this regard, police reform is necessary because, after every communal riot, questions have been raised about whether our police are neutral or communal.
  • Communal harmony is paramount in any country that has multiple religions and communities. We must strive hard to train and educate people in harmonious cohabitation. Where it is necessary, we may introduce some laws and regulations also. There is also a need to teach mutual tolerance and harmony so that every citizen of the country governed by the rule of law can live in peace and harmony. But all that should promote harmony.

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