This chapter covers the Preamble of the Constitution and attempts to define Secularism.
The Preamble of the Constitution as passed in 1950 read –
‘WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political.
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.
EQUALITY of status and opportunity, and to promote among all;
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of the Nation”
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this 26/11/1949, do HEREBY ADOPT,
ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION’.
The words SOCIALIST & SECULAR were added by the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976. Also added was the word ‘integrity’ of the nation under fraternity. These amendments were introduced by Smt Indira Gandhi.
Now what does the word SECULAR MEAN?
1. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED Vol IX 1978) states that Secularism is the doctrine that morality should be based solely on regard to the well being of mankind in the present life to the exclusion of all considerations drawn from belief in God or in a future state. George J Holyoake to whom has been credited the coinage of the word Secularism issued in 1851 a statement of secularist doctrine proclaiming, “science as the true guide of man, morality as secular not religious in origin, reason the only authority, freedom of thought and speech and that owing to the uncertainty of survival we should direct our efforts to this life only”.
Said Dr Radhakrishnan, former President of India, in his book ‘Recovery of Faith’ page 184. ‘When India is said to be a secular state, it does not mean that we reject the reality of the unseen spirit or the relevance of religion to life or that we exalt irreligion. It does not mean that secularism itself becomes a positive religion or that State assumes divine prerogatives. We hold that not one religion should be given preferential status’. Donald E. Smith, Professor of Political Science in Pennsylvania University provided what he regarded as a working definition of a secular state. This was in his book India as a Secular State. “The secular State is a State which guarantees individual and corporate freedom of religion, deals with the individual as a citizen irrespective of his religion, is not constitutionally connected to a particular religion, nor does it seek to promote or interfere with religion”.
The word Secular has not been defined or explained under the Constitution in 1950 or in 1976 when it was made part of the preamble. A Secular State means that the one that protects all religions equally and does not uphold any religion as the State religion.Unlike in England where the Queen is the Head of the Protestant Church in India there is no provision to make any religion the ‘established Church’. The state observes an attitude of neutrality and impartiality towards all religions.
On the other hand liberty of belief, faith and worship in the preamble is implemented by incorporating articles 25-28 which allows every individual freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion, assure strict impartiality on the part of the State and its institutions towards all religions.
2. The important components of secularism as enunciated by Dr Durga Das Basu and Shri P.M. Bakshi in their books (referred to above) are -
Samanata (equality) as incorporated in art 14.
Prohibition against discrimination on the grounds of religion, caste, art 15+16.
Freedom of speech and expression and all other important freedoms, art19+21.
There shall not be any State Religion. The State will neither establish a religion of its own nor confer any special patronage upon any religion. It follows from this that –
the State will not compel any citizen to pay any taxes for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious institution. (Art 27).
No religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly provided by State Funds.
Even though (b) may not be followed no person attending such institution shall be compelled to receive that religious instruction without the consent of himself or his guardian. (Art 28).
Every person is granted the freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess, practice and propagate his own religious subject to certain restrictions as laid down in Article 25.
Every religious group has a right to establish and maintain charitable institutions, to manage its own affairs in matters of religion etc as laid out in Article 26.
Where a religious community is in the minority, Article 29 states such a community shall have the right to preserve its culture and religions interests etc.
Such a community would have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of its choice etc.
Fundamental duty of the State to enact uniform civil code treating all the citizens as equal is imposed by art 44.
Sentiment of majority of the people towards the cow and against its slaughter was incorporated in articles 48. Quote art 48 of the Directive Principle of State Policy ‘The State shall endeavor to organize agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle’.
The neutrality of the State would be violated if religion is used for political purposesand advocated by political parties for their political ends. An appeal to the electorates on the grounds of religion offends secular democracy. Politics and religion cannot be mixed up.
3. The Supreme Court judgment on the Ayodhya Acquisition Act, 1993, has some thoughts on the subject. Referred to All India Reporter, 1995, S.C. 1-1376. I quote with my comments in brackets -
Pg 627, M C Setalwad in Patel Memorial Lectures – 1985 referring to the Indian concept of Secularism stated thus: “The coming of the partition emphasizes the great importance of secularism, (what the learned person is implying is that if we were a secular country partition might not have happened. Simply put the seeds for partition were sowed in Pan-Islamicism, The Aligarh Muslim Movement started by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the British who created separate electorates for Muslims and Muhammad Iqbal. To know more please read my article on the Aligarh Muslim Movement). Notwithstanding the partition, a large Muslim minority, constituting a tenth of the population of India, continued to be citizens of India. In the circumstances, a secular constitution of independent India, under which all religions could enjoy equal freedom and all citizens equal rights, and which could weld together into one nation the different religious communities, became inevitable”. (If secularism indeed was such a major concern in 1947 why was it not included in the Preamble of the Constitution? In that case why was it not defined? If all religions are indeed equal why did we not have a Uniform Civil Code as enunciated in Article 44 of the Directive Principles of State Policy).
Page 630 quote Ahmadi J: “ Notwithstanding the fact that the words Socialist and Secular were added in the Preamble of the Constitution in 1976 by the 42nd amendment, the concept of secularism was very much embedded in our constitutional philosophy. The term ‘Secular’ has advisedly not been defined presumably because it is a very elastic term not capable of a precise definition and perhaps best left undefined. By this amendment what was implicit was made explicit”. (Friends Ahmadi J was honest enough to admit that secularism was not defined, is an elastic term. It is precisely because the framers of the Constitution and the learned Supreme Court judges have failed to articulate a definition that it is the most abused word in India. If a word cannot be defined what business does it have to be part of the Preamble of the Constitution?)
“Secularism is not anti-majority,” said M N Venkatachaliah, former Chief Justice of Supreme Court.
4. International Benchmarking:
United States - The word secular is not to be found in the Constitution of U.S.A. But the doctrine is embodied in it. Section 3 of the Constitution drafted by the Philadelphia Convention was ratified in 1789 reads ‘The Senators and Representatives before mentioned and all executives and judicial officers, both of the U.S. and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this constitution, but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States’. The key words here are ‘no religious tests’ shall be required to hold an office. In India amongst the first things that its people see is the religion and caste of a person. One of the reasons why the learned Abdul Kalam was appointed President is that he is a Muslim.
Under the secular Constitution of U.S.A. a state-aided school cannot impart religious education. Article 28 (3) of the Indian Constitution provides for religious education to be imparted in a state sponsored school provided the person or his guardian (if he is a minor) has given his consent thereto.
England - In England there is a close alliance between the Church and State. The Church became independent of the Pope in the 16th century and is the official Church of England. The monarch is the head of state (equivalent to the Indian President) and head of the church. Though there is religious freedom, the Church of England has a special status inasmuch as the monarch of England must join in communion with the Church of England. A Catholic or anyone who marries a Catholic cannot be the monarch of England. Barring a few exceptions the State excludes all considerations of religion in dealing with its citizens.
Saying that the Queen is the head of State and Church is like saying that the President of India is the head of say the Chinmaya Mission. Forget the legalities this would never be possible because Hinduism is not an organized religion like Christianity.
Jayant writes in from London “One there is not a written Constitution in England. Two there is nothing like minority or secular. But there would be a Racial Equality Commission, which will ensure that there are no unfair racial cases. There would be Equal Opportunities or Sexual Discrimination commissions. All religions are given equal protection and there is no state interference in religion”.
GERMANY - Parag writes in from Germany.
“The word 'secular' is defined in the German constitution as well as in the constitution of other major countries of interest, though wording of definition can differ slightly.
Secular definition says/implies that Government and Religion are two separate things and must be kept separate. The State has to deal with people irrespective of their faith or religion. All Laws are same for every citizen, either minority citizen of majority one. There are no special laws for special interests of minorities/majority.
200 years ago in Germany Church owned all the land. The basic interpretation from Secularism, which Germans/other Europeans derive, is that secularism means all land to be taken away from church and handed over to local administration.
Germans pay Tax to support the Church - In Germany every Christian pays from 7-9% of the tax to church. Tax percentage varies for different situations of a person if he is married/single/has kids etc. If his tax is 40% of salary, he pays 7-9% of that 40 %( meaning 3-4% of his total tax to the church. If one is not a Christian, he can disclose it and this amount will not be charged. This is basically done for the convenience of both the person and the church so that church does not have to collect the money through alternative channels. Even a Christian can decide not to pay this amount but then he has small social problems like no priest of any church will arrange his marriage in any church. Plus he will have trouble to get his children admitted into some Kinder Garden schools run by Church. That is why Christians here (max.) do pay this amount. This amount is used by the church to make more Churches or development work in Germany or other under-developed countries (read conversion activities). A friend’s friend did not pay this amount to church and his to-be-bride wanted the marriage to take place only in church. So this person had to request a priest several times and paid this so-called church tax for the last 4 years. Only then he could marry in a church”.
Friend’s article 27 of the Indian Constitution clearly states that ‘no person shall be compelled to pay any taxes for the promotion of any religion’. Although Secularism in Germany means separation of religion and state payment of Tax to support Church means payment for promotion and maintenance of the majority religion.
Although the Indian Constitution referred to in the above para clearly prohibits payment of tax for promotion of any religion Indians read Hindu pays tax in a different way though. Donations made by Hindus to temples in most cases go to the State Treasury. For e.g. in a recent interview Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said that out of the Rs 40 crores collected by temples in Karnataka every year only Rs 40 lakhs was spent on their upkeep with balance money going into state coffers. Does not this not amount to payment of a Tax voluntary as it may be? The money is used for administrative expenditure and paid to mosques / madrassas I think the number was Rs 8 crores. While one can argue that there is not a direct relationship between donations by Hindus and grants to madrassas etc that to my mind it is playing cute.
Indeed the Hindus are paying a tax in violation of article 27 of the Constitution. Now what is the case in Germany?
Right to Manage Place of Worship - “Every religious group irrespective of its number has full right to handle its places of worship. Govt. does not and cannot take their money. The religious places of worship also come under general clubs, which include Human Rights Clubs, Environment protections clubs, wildlife protection clubs etc. If someone donates money to these, neither the donor nor the club has to pay any tax for that amount to the govt. This club system and the management thereafter have nothing to do with the question of being a minority, ethnically different or from different faith”.
Friends by the Indian yardstick, Germany are an out and out communal country. One its citizens pay a tax to the Church or face social discrimination by the Church. Two it allows all citizens to manage their religious places of worship unlike India where Hindu temples are subject to government control but Muslim / Christian are not!
Shasa writes in from Germany - “the word secular is quite foreign to me, exc. from India. No one is secular. On the walls of the state schools classrooms in Germany are hanging crosses - symbols of Christianity. On the dollar notes is written "In God we trust". The strongest political parties are called Christian Democrats and Social Christians - without anyone calling them extremists.
Yes, look at the fraudulent use of the term "secular"! When a person is a member of the Church he has to pay Church-tax (since decades that membership is decreasing and decreasing), which is collected by the state. But several services and expenditures of the Church are paid from the general basket of state-taxes, so for e.g. I am not a member of the Church, but still the state uses my tax-money for the salaries of bishops and Cardinals, for the Christian Church Universities, and several more things. Even though I don’t like it - there is no way out.
Church Funding from German Government Budget – Among the number of institutions that are financed from state taxes (even if one is not a member of the Church and does not pay the Church-tax). Here are some numbers taken from the newspaper Mahnmal Aktuell (means Memorial Timely), Nr. 3 / 2001. It is issued by the initiative (means A Memorial for the Millions of Victims of the Church), edited by Mr. Ralf Speis, Theaterstr 25, 97070 Wurzburg, Germany. The newspaper is quoting Mr. Gerhard Rampp who is seated in Augsburg, Germany.
Religious classes at the public schools (4.4 Billion German Marks)
Education of priests and theologians including universities and church owned, 1.1 Billion German Marks.
Financial support acc. to spec contract between the state and the
Church, so called Konkordat – 1.4 billion German marks.
Pastoral care at public institution such as military, police, prisons, hospitals – 130 million DM.
Protection and renovations of monuments such as historic churches and buildings – 270 million DM.
Church broadcasts at public TV and Radio stations (300 Million DM)”.
Now if the Government of India were to either make all Hindus pay a similar tax or fund Hindu institutions like Germany does the world would come call us communal!
France - Here the Constitution is for separation of civil and religious society. A law of separation of State and Church was passed in 1905. The law prohibiting working on Sundays was repealed since it was a Church order. Distinction between the burial grounds of different religions was abolished. The census does not record the religion of the French citizen.
Unlike in India where the State recognizes all religions Hinduism is not recognized in France yet it is considered to be a secular state.
Turkey - How did Kamal Pasha secularize Turkey in 1920’s? He encouraged the wearing of European dress, all monasteries and religious houses were confiscated by the State, Muslim religious schools were abolished and State non-religious schools were started, Shariat Law was replaced by Swiss Civil Code, the Italian Penal Code and German Commercial Code, Polygamy was abolished, A society for defence of women’s rights was established, purdah was abolished and women were persuaded to enter various professions, Latin script replaced Arabian script and Turkish language was purged of Arabic and Persian words.
Two things. One in this case Secularization of Turkey essentially meant taking it closer to the Western model. Two was the ban on religious schools and replacement of the Shariat Law. Clearly point two separated the state from religion. The others like women’s rights – purdah are not linked to secularism but were essential to get society rid of the way Islam treats women.
Now compare Turkish secularism with the Indian one. Religious schools, purdah and polygamy exist. The Shariat Law exists to the extent it suits the Muslims. If we were to compare India with Turkey we are a communal state because manifestations of religious differences are observed and allowed by the State.
It might be worth noting that these countries have a Uniform Civil Code but are yet considered Secular.
Islam - Lets look at it briefly. Koran and Islam do not separate religion from state. What is ordained in Koran has to be implemented by the State. Iqbal argued that Muslims are organized in Ulmma and not in national states.
Syed Muhammad al Naquib al Attar a well-known Islamic scholar of Malaysia addressed the question whether secularism is consistent with Islam in his book Islam and Secularism. Quote “Islam totally rejects any application to itself of the concepts secular as they do not belong and are alien to it in every respect. A revealed religion as we understand it is complete and in its adequacy from the very beginning. The Holy Quran says that Islam is already made complete and perfect for mankind”.
5. Analysis - Friends this is all very fine but!
The words used by Dr Radhakrishnan above are ‘no one religion should be given preferential status’. In India Muslims are given grants for undertaking the Haj, Christians for constructing churches. Is this not preferential treatment? Can we call ourselves secular?
Donald E. Smith referred to above has in his definition of secularism said “The secular State is a State which is not constitutionally connected to a particular religion, nor does it seek to promote or interfere with religion”. Is not the Government of India interfering with the rights of Hindus by managing their temples? Would the man who conned the word Secular call India a secular state?
Germany considers being secular to mean separation of the Church from State. Yet employees have to pay a % of their salaries to the Church. Is it Secular?
Recently the Andhra Pradesh govt gave a huge grant for the construction of the Haj House in Hyderabad. Here the underlying objective of Chief Minister Naidu was getting Muslim votes. Is the State not using religion for political purposes? Would this not mean that the state is providing special facilities to Muslims?
In Punjab the Akali Dal govt headed by Parkash Singh Badal was also controlling the Siromani Gurdurwara Panthic Committee, which is the supreme religious body of the Punjabi Sardars. Why? Because the key to power in Punjab is the SGPC. Friends is not mixing of religion with politics by the State an unsecular Act?
In a recent interview Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said that out of the Rs 40 crores collected by temples in Karnataka every year only Rs 40 lakhs was spent on their upkeep with balance money going into state coffers. This is not the case with offerings received at mosques or churches. If India is indeed a secular state with equal respect for all religions then why must collections in Hindu temples go to the state coffers and not be used for the uplift of fellow Hindus?
In the 1990’s when the Jammu and Kashmir Govt ran out of money to pay salaries they borrowed money from the Vaishnudevi Shrine Trust Board (am not too sure whether they returned it). If we are indeed a secular state, where the State has no role to play in Religion why must we have the government interfering with the management of Hindu shrines?
Friends these are a few instances of the Indian State being involved in religious matters.
Dr Basu has described the expression secular as vague. He states that it would be a correct summary of the provisions of articles 25-30 to say that secular means equal respect for all religions. However, neither the makers of the Constitution nor Smt Gandhi who made it part of the Preamble have defined secularism. Why?
Recently the country went to town over the selection of President Dr Kalam. His candidature was not supported as much because of his contribution to India’s missile program but because he is a Muslim. And there are similar examples dime a dozen. Friends would not such discrimination violate the fundamental right of any other community under Art 16 (2), not to be discriminated against on the ground of religion or like. Instead of safeguarding minority rights, it would deny rights of the majority and other minority communities as has been provided by the Constitution itself. Either neither secularism nor minority rights can be allowed for preference of the minority, or to undermine national unity and strength, for which the confidence of the majority is no less necessary.
In India State funding for construction of mosques and churches is secular. Also educational institutions by Muslims and Christians are subject to minimal government control. That is why even Hindus are clamoring to be declared minorities a la Arya Samaj! Instead of uniting the country it has divided the country into majority and minority communities? Has it lead to the fulfillment of the Preamble ‘ unity and dignity of the Nation’. Friends was this the sort of Secularism that the makers of the Constitution envisaged? Think!
True secularism i.e. separation of religion and state is not practiced by anyone. We allow our religious minorities more freedom than is allowed by most countries. Yet, I wonder, why Indians accept sermons from the West or their Indian counterparts on Secularism!
Religion Chapter 5 What is the definition of Religion? Did it ever exist in India? What is the Indian equivalent of religion? I would urge you to read the article ‘Who is a Hindu’ before you read further, go to section Question and Answers Indian Culture on the site.
Articles 25 to 28 cover Right to Freedom of Religion e.g. freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion. The word ‘Religion’ is used in each article. It has been used to provide rights to a section of the population. But what on earth does religion mean, please define?
1. Definition of Religion?
Quote Sri Aurobindo “There is no word so plastic and uncertain in its meaning as the word is religion. The word is European…. The average Christian believes that the Bible is God’s book, but ordinarily he does not consider anything in God’s book binding on him in practice except to believe in God and go to Church once a week, the rest is meant only for the exceptionally pious. To believe in God is to believe that he wrote a book; only one in all those ages, and to go to Church is the minimum of religion in Europe.
Religion is India is a still more plastic term and may mean anything from the heights of Yoga to strangling your fellow man and relieving him of the worldly goods he may happen to be carrying with him. It would be too long to enumerate everything that can be included in Indian religion. Brieflyhowever, it is Dharma or living religiously, whole life being governed by religion. It means in ordinary practice living according to authority. The authority generally accepted in the Shastra. When one studies the Shastra we realize that Indian life and it have little in common, the Indian governs his life by the custom and opinion of the nearest Brahman. In practice this resolves itself into following certain customs and observances of which he neither understands the spiritual meaning nor the practicality. For e.g. to venerate the scriptures without knowing them, to keep Hindu holidays, to worship all Brahmans without knowing whether they are venerable or not. This in India is the minimum of religion glorified as Sanathan Dharam. If a man has emotional or ecstatic piety, he is a Bhakta, if he can talk fluently about the Veda, Upanishads etc he is a Jnani. If he puts on a yellow robe and does nothing he is a tyagi or sannyasin.
The average Hindu is right in his conception of religion as dharma, to live according to holy rule, but the holy rule is not a mass of fugitive customs, but to live for God in oneself and others and not for oneself only, to make the whole life a sadhana the object of which is to realize the Divine in the world by work, love and knowledge”.
What does Religion mean to the common man? If you were to say ‘I am a Hindu’ what does it mean to you? To an ordinary person, i.e. someone who has not read the scriptures, it means –
rituals + festivals + spirituality in that order for e.g. following some of 16 samskaras like naming - thread - mundan and marriage ceremonies.
belief in the Law of Karma and Rebirth.
you could live the Hindu way of life and yet be a Muslim/Christian.
In India there never existed anything like Religion. As a concept it is alien to us. India has a number of languages and diverse cultures but what united us was a Central Idea called Sanatana Dharma, “the Eternal or Universal Dharma. Dharma means universal law, the fundamental principles behind this marvelous universe like the Law of Karma. Sanatana means perennial, referring to eternal truths that manifests in ever-new names and forms. Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world because it is based on the eternal origins of creation. But it is also the newest religion in the world because it adjusts to new names and forms to every generation and looks to living teachers not old books, as its final authority”. Quoted from Hinduism and the Clash of Civilizations by David Frawley.
Dharma - Quote Swami Rama i.e. explanation to verse 31 and 32 of chapter 2 of the Gita “ Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna that one’s duty is of paramount importance, for it is the means to fulfill the purpose of life. That which supports the fulfillment of one’s duty is called Dharma. Dharma is not comparable to religion; it encompasses all the dimensions of life both within and without. It refers to duties done harmoniously, skillfully, selflessly and lovingly. It supports one in fulfilling the purpose of life and helps one to relate to others and to society in a harmonious way”.
Religion vs. Philosophy- Today a school of philosophy has become synonymous with religion. In India there are different schools of philosophy, the six famous ones are Nyaya, Vaiseskia, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa, Vedanta. If we were to go by the western definition of religion, every philosophy must represent one religion. If Hindus were to accept that there would be so many religions in India. To a Hindu variety in thought comes naturally. Each of these schools of thought is within the fold of Sanathan Dharam.
The Sanskrit word for philosophy is darsana, which means direct vision. The words symbolize the difference between modern Western philosophy, which mainly relies on intellectual pursuit and Indian philosophy that relies on direct vision of truths and pure Buddhi (reasoning). Darsana is divided into two categories namely Astika (believer in the Vedas) and Nastika (non-believer in the Vedas). Astika are Nyaya, Vaisheshik, Sakhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta. Nastika are Carvaka, Jainism and Buddhism. Others are a mixture of the ideas of these systems. Although each school of philosophy is unique some of the Nastika schools are treated as religions today namely Buddhism and Jainism. However, certain common characteristics unite Astika and Nastika schools namely Direct experience, Acceptance of authority, Harmony amongst schools, Parallel growth and co existence of so many schools, open mindedness, support of logic and reasoning, belief of eternity, law of karma, moral and ethical teachings, acknowledgement of suffering, thoroughness, practicality and being inward looking. Have excluded Sikhism because in the words of Khushwant Singh Sikhism is a product of distilled Vedanta and Bhakti movement. To my mind Sikhs are a sect within the Sanathan Dharam fold. In the section ‘Why’ there is an article on why I believe so.
To my mind culture, way of life and characteristics of philosophy are three key parameters that distinguish one religion from another.