This article is written by Bushra Malik student of BA LLB (Hons.) from Galgotias University. The article discusses the secular meaning and the construct of secularism

“Notions of rationality cannot be invoked in matters of religion”

-Justice Indu Malhotra


The understanding of ‘Religion’ is based upon one’s personal beliefs and values that is why religion is considered as a Fundamental Right under the Indian Constitution. Every citizen of India is known to the ‘Right to Freedom of Religion’ mentioned under Article 25 to 28. Accepting and adopting the same essentially defines the secular meaning and tells what being secular is about. To demystify the concept, start with the definition of “Religion or Belief”: The word “Religion” which comes from Latin word ‘Religare’ which means ‘to tie or to bind fast’. After considering it, the ability to explain the power, a person or community of a particular belief has favored by many wherever they live.

It is not always associated with a particular system following by faith and worship of a transcendent deity or deities. While the Human Rights Committee addressed the term “Religion” which also supports the right to non-religious beliefs that is atheism or agnosticism. The Human Rights Committee in the year 1993 was selected through a process of the United Nations which is an independent body, including 18 experts, described religion or belief as“theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief.”


The term secularism was coined by the British Reformer “George Jacob Holyoake” in the late 18th Century. He described it to promote social order distant from religion, without dismissing or criticizing religious belief. The ideological concept in India was regarded by the multiculturalist views of Gandhi, Nehru & Tagore:

  • This concept was given by Mahatama Gandhi correlated with ‘Sarva Dharma SamaBhava’ which means ‘Equality of all religions’ and all religions should be treated equally whereas his belief stands on two things-
  • Firstly, India has a profoundly religious society and it is not easy to part it from public life which means there should be a role of religion in Public life; State and Religion will go hand in hand. We cannot consider it entirely a private matter.
  • When Religion is important to a person then he will understand & respect other religions also.
  • Pandit Nehru believed “Dharma Nirpekshta” where he meant that religion is a private matter of an individual.
  • Now a particularistic view of Hindu Right-Wing: There is a difference between Western and Indian Society. Because of which it is not possible to entirely adopt the western concept of secularism. A Western Society believes in individualization whereas, in India, there is a vivid sense of common identity that came from religion only.
  • Post-Independence: The views of Nehru & Gandhi were parallel to each other and the Indian state adopted-
  • The state shall permit freedom of practicing any religion.
  • The state shall not associate with any particular religion.
  • The state will honor all faiths equally – It is an innovation to the Indian Secularism.

The concept of secularism was inserted in the Indian Constitution’s Preamble, which declares the people’s determination to secure “freedom to thought, belief, faith and worship” for all their citizens. The 42nd Amendment Act, 1976, introduces the ‘Secular’ culture into the Preamble. This Amendment was intended, simply,  to point out the Indian Constitution’s definition of ‘secularism’. The secular character of the state is without mysticism. A Secular State in India has never been known as an irreligious or atheistic state. It just means it is neutral in matters of religion. In India, it is the ancient doctrine that the state protects all religions but does not interfere with any iterates the true secular meaning.

In S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, the Supreme Court has held that:

  1. Secularism is a part of basic structure and therefore cannot be amended.
  2. The power of secularism derived from the Cultural Principle of Tolerance which ensures equality to the religions (Sarva Dharma SamaBhava).
  3. No religion will be at risk in Secular India because the government will not promote any religion selectively.
  4. Justice Ramaswamy ruled that there is an essential connection between secularism and democracy; the need for the concept of the secular state is to facilitate the smooth functioning of democracy. It is important to be the secular state for fulfilling the needs of economic benefits to the marginal groups. Democracy will be under threat if the realization of social and economic needs hampered by the state.


Article 25 gives power to the government to intervene equally in all religions in pursuit of social reform. In Shah Bano Case, a 62 years old Muslim woman divorced her husband in 1978 and filed a petition in Supreme Court and won a right to alimony but the government reversed it by legislation after the pressure coming from the Islamic orthodoxy. Then demonstrations increased between right and left, as the right wanted to secure the basic rights of women and put a concept of UCC (Uniform Civil Code) in the whole of India. While left considered it as a violation of gender justice and rejected the bill by saying it regressive.


It was observed that the petition does not deserve to be entertained and it is not for the courts to determine which religious practices are to be struck down except in issues of social evil. The Sabrimala temple and the deity are protected by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution and the practices followed by different religions should not be solely tested based on Article 14.


United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (hereinafter referred to USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan U.S. based federal government commission dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad. It reviews the facts and circumstances of violations made towards religious freedom and makes the policy recommendations. Recently, it has downgraded India’s position by lowest ranking in “Countries Particular Concern” (CPC) in its 2020 Report on religious freedom. For this, reasons are:- India took a sharp downward turn in 2019 when it is in the Tier- II category.

A special concern was raised about the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) which is internationally criticized for passing such legislation in Parliament. Other countries considered it to be discriminatory to the Muslims. They also raised concerns about the proposed National Register for Citizens, Anti-Conversion laws, and the situation in Jammu & Kashmir. They criticized the Indian Government for using the Parliamentary majority, therefore, making it easy for the government to pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Parliament. It is easy to institute national-level policies, mentioned earlier, violating the freedom of minorities.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) had also criticized the Indian Government for mounting “Islamophobia” in the Country. Islamophobia means developing hatred/prejudice towards Islamic followers. Now, Steps suggested to the U.S to take strict action towards India under the “International Religious Freedom Act,1998” (IRFA). It was passed to promote religious freedom to ensure the principles of the foreign policy of the United States. The purpose is to promote greater religious freedom in the countries which faced violations of religious freedom and to advocate on behalf of the individuals persecuted for their religious beliefs and activities in foreign countries. Also, all those agencies and officials of the Indian government who are responsible for severe violations of religious freedom will have to face the imposition of targeted sanctions whereas the Indian Government has rejected the USCIRF Report and termed it as “biased and tendentious”.


The government should maintain the balance between the inter-religious groups so that there will not be any discrimination. Therefore, equality will be maintained between different religious groups. The modern-day challenges of secularism came from religious groups instead of personal faith or religion. It challenges democracy by throwing a threat to it like there is any denial of secularism in issues such as when minorities not treated as equals.


  1. (2016). Freedom of Religion or Belief. [online] Available at:
  2. ([1994] 2 SCR 644 : AIR 1994 SC 1918 : (1994)3 SCC1).
  3. Prasad, G., and Kumar, A. (2006). THE CONCEPT, CONSTRAINTS, AND PROSPECT OF SECULARISM IN INDIA. The Indian Journal of Political Science, [online] 67(4), pp.793–808. Available at:
  4. 1985 (1) SCALE 767: 1985 (3) SCR 844: 1985 (2) SCC 556: AIR 1985 SC 945.
  5. Masroor Ahmad v. State of U.P., 2020 SCC OnLine All 43.
  6. Devika (2020). All HC | Re-installing of amplifiers and loudspeakers for “Azaan” — denied; Arts. 19(1)(a) and 25 of the Constitution have to be read together | SCC Blog. [online] SCC Blog. Available at:
  7. United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. (2020). 2020 Annual Report. [online] Available at:
  8. Roche, E. (2020). India rejects report by USCIRF on religious freedom in the country. [online] Livemint. Available at:
  9. Dr. R.I. Parikh (2018), Uniform Civil Code –The Need of hour, International Research Journal of Management Sociology & Humanity ( IRJMSH ), Vol 9 Issue 12. Available at: