NCERT Textbook - Secularism Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev

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 Page 1


Secularism
Secularism
Political Theory
111
Chapter 8
Secularism
When different cultures and communities exist within the same country, how should a
democratic state ensure equality for each of them? This is the question that emerged in
the previous chapter. In this chapter we will try and see how the concept of secularism
may be applied to answer that concern. In India, the idea of secularism is ever present in
public debates and discussions, yet there is something very perplexing about the state
of secularism in India.  On the one hand, almost every politician swears by it.  Every
political party professes to be secular.  On the other hand, all kinds of anxieties and
doubts beset secularism in India.  Secularism is challenged not only by clerics and
religious nationalists but by some politicians, social activists and even academics.
In this chapter we will engage in this ongoing debate by asking the following  questions:
o What is the meaning of secularism?
o Is secularism a western implant on Indian soil?
o Is it suitable for societies where religion continues to exercise a strong influence on
individual lives?
o Does secularism show partiality? Does it ‘pamper’ minorities?
o Is secularism anti-religious? 
At the end of this chapter you should be able to understand and appreciate the
importance of secularism in a democratic society like India, and learn something about
the distinctiveness of Indian secularism.
Overview
2015-16
Page 2


Secularism
Secularism
Political Theory
111
Chapter 8
Secularism
When different cultures and communities exist within the same country, how should a
democratic state ensure equality for each of them? This is the question that emerged in
the previous chapter. In this chapter we will try and see how the concept of secularism
may be applied to answer that concern. In India, the idea of secularism is ever present in
public debates and discussions, yet there is something very perplexing about the state
of secularism in India.  On the one hand, almost every politician swears by it.  Every
political party professes to be secular.  On the other hand, all kinds of anxieties and
doubts beset secularism in India.  Secularism is challenged not only by clerics and
religious nationalists but by some politicians, social activists and even academics.
In this chapter we will engage in this ongoing debate by asking the following  questions:
o What is the meaning of secularism?
o Is secularism a western implant on Indian soil?
o Is it suitable for societies where religion continues to exercise a strong influence on
individual lives?
o Does secularism show partiality? Does it ‘pamper’ minorities?
o Is secularism anti-religious? 
At the end of this chapter you should be able to understand and appreciate the
importance of secularism in a democratic society like India, and learn something about
the distinctiveness of Indian secularism.
Overview
2015-16
Secularism
Secularism
112
Political Theory
8.1 WHAT IS SECULARISM?
Though Jews faced discrimination for centuries throughout Europe,
in the present state of Israel, Arab minorities, both Christian and
Muslims, are excluded from social, political and economic benefits
available to Jewish citizens.  Subtle forms of discrimination also
continue to persist against non-Christians in several parts of
Europe.  The condition of religious minorities in the neighbouring
states of Pakistan and Bangladesh has also generated considerable
concern.  Such examples remind us of the continuing importance
of secularism for people and societies in today’s world.
Inter-religious Domination 
In our own country, the Constitution declares that every Indian citizen
has a right to live with freedom and dignity in any part of the country. 
Yet in reality, many forms of exclusion and discrimination continue
to persist. Consider three most stark examples:
o More than 2,700 Sikhs were massacred in Delhi and many other
parts of the country in 1984. The families of the victims feel that
the guilty were not punished. 
o Several thousands of Hindu Kashmiri pandits have been forced
to leave their homes in the Kashmir valley; they have not been
able to return to their homes for more than two decades.
o More than 1,000 persons, mostly Muslims, were massacred
during the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat in 2002. The surviving
members of many of these  families could not go back to the
villages in which they lived.
What do these examples have in common? They all have to do
with discrimination in one form or the other. In each case members
of one community are targeted and victimised on account of their
religious identity. In other words, basic freedoms of a set of citizens
are denied. Some might even say that these incidents are instances
of religious persecution and they reflect inter-religious domination.
Secularism is first and foremost a doctrine that opposes all such
forms of inter-religious domination. This is however only one crucial
aspect of the concept of secularism. An equally important dimension
2015-16
Page 3


Secularism
Secularism
Political Theory
111
Chapter 8
Secularism
When different cultures and communities exist within the same country, how should a
democratic state ensure equality for each of them? This is the question that emerged in
the previous chapter. In this chapter we will try and see how the concept of secularism
may be applied to answer that concern. In India, the idea of secularism is ever present in
public debates and discussions, yet there is something very perplexing about the state
of secularism in India.  On the one hand, almost every politician swears by it.  Every
political party professes to be secular.  On the other hand, all kinds of anxieties and
doubts beset secularism in India.  Secularism is challenged not only by clerics and
religious nationalists but by some politicians, social activists and even academics.
In this chapter we will engage in this ongoing debate by asking the following  questions:
o What is the meaning of secularism?
o Is secularism a western implant on Indian soil?
o Is it suitable for societies where religion continues to exercise a strong influence on
individual lives?
o Does secularism show partiality? Does it ‘pamper’ minorities?
o Is secularism anti-religious? 
At the end of this chapter you should be able to understand and appreciate the
importance of secularism in a democratic society like India, and learn something about
the distinctiveness of Indian secularism.
Overview
2015-16
Secularism
Secularism
112
Political Theory
8.1 WHAT IS SECULARISM?
Though Jews faced discrimination for centuries throughout Europe,
in the present state of Israel, Arab minorities, both Christian and
Muslims, are excluded from social, political and economic benefits
available to Jewish citizens.  Subtle forms of discrimination also
continue to persist against non-Christians in several parts of
Europe.  The condition of religious minorities in the neighbouring
states of Pakistan and Bangladesh has also generated considerable
concern.  Such examples remind us of the continuing importance
of secularism for people and societies in today’s world.
Inter-religious Domination 
In our own country, the Constitution declares that every Indian citizen
has a right to live with freedom and dignity in any part of the country. 
Yet in reality, many forms of exclusion and discrimination continue
to persist. Consider three most stark examples:
o More than 2,700 Sikhs were massacred in Delhi and many other
parts of the country in 1984. The families of the victims feel that
the guilty were not punished. 
o Several thousands of Hindu Kashmiri pandits have been forced
to leave their homes in the Kashmir valley; they have not been
able to return to their homes for more than two decades.
o More than 1,000 persons, mostly Muslims, were massacred
during the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat in 2002. The surviving
members of many of these  families could not go back to the
villages in which they lived.
What do these examples have in common? They all have to do
with discrimination in one form or the other. In each case members
of one community are targeted and victimised on account of their
religious identity. In other words, basic freedoms of a set of citizens
are denied. Some might even say that these incidents are instances
of religious persecution and they reflect inter-religious domination.
Secularism is first and foremost a doctrine that opposes all such
forms of inter-religious domination. This is however only one crucial
aspect of the concept of secularism. An equally important dimension
2015-16
Secularism
Secularism
Political Theory
113
of secularism is its opposition to intra-religious domination. Let  us
get deeper into this issue.
Intra-religious Domination
Some people believe that religion is merely the ‘opium of the masses’
and that, one day, when the basic needs of all are fulfilled and they
lead a happy and contented life, religion will disappear.  Such a
view comes from an exaggerated sense of human potential.  It is
unlikely that human beings will ever be able to fully know the world
and control it. We may be able to prolong our life but will never
become immortal.  Disease can never be entirely eliminated, nor
can we get rid of an element of accident and luck from our lives.
Separation and loss are endemic to the human condition. While a
large part of our suffering is man-made and hence eliminable, at
least some of our suffering is not made by man.  Religion, art and
philosophy are responses to such sufferings. Secularism too accepts
this and therefore it is not anti-religious.
However, religion has its share of some deep-rooted problems.
For example, one can hardly think of a religion that treats its male
and female members on an equal footing.  In religions such as
Hinduism, some sections have faced persistent discrimination. For
example dalits have been barred from entering Hindu temples. In
some parts of the country, Hindu woman cannot enter temples.
When religion is organised, it is frequently taken over by its most
conservative faction, which does not tolerate any dissent. Religious
fundamentalism in parts of the US has become a big problem and
endangers peace both within the country and outside. Many religions
fragment into sects which leads to frequent sectarian violence and
persecution of dissenting minorities.
Thus religious domination cannot be identified only with inter-
religious domination.  It takes another conspicuous form, namely,
intra-religious domination. As secularism is opposed to all forms of
institutionalised religious domination, it challenges  not merely inter-
religious but also intra-religious domination.
We now possess a general idea of secularism. It is a normative
doctrine which seeks to realise a secular society, i.e., one devoid of
2015-16
Page 4


Secularism
Secularism
Political Theory
111
Chapter 8
Secularism
When different cultures and communities exist within the same country, how should a
democratic state ensure equality for each of them? This is the question that emerged in
the previous chapter. In this chapter we will try and see how the concept of secularism
may be applied to answer that concern. In India, the idea of secularism is ever present in
public debates and discussions, yet there is something very perplexing about the state
of secularism in India.  On the one hand, almost every politician swears by it.  Every
political party professes to be secular.  On the other hand, all kinds of anxieties and
doubts beset secularism in India.  Secularism is challenged not only by clerics and
religious nationalists but by some politicians, social activists and even academics.
In this chapter we will engage in this ongoing debate by asking the following  questions:
o What is the meaning of secularism?
o Is secularism a western implant on Indian soil?
o Is it suitable for societies where religion continues to exercise a strong influence on
individual lives?
o Does secularism show partiality? Does it ‘pamper’ minorities?
o Is secularism anti-religious? 
At the end of this chapter you should be able to understand and appreciate the
importance of secularism in a democratic society like India, and learn something about
the distinctiveness of Indian secularism.
Overview
2015-16
Secularism
Secularism
112
Political Theory
8.1 WHAT IS SECULARISM?
Though Jews faced discrimination for centuries throughout Europe,
in the present state of Israel, Arab minorities, both Christian and
Muslims, are excluded from social, political and economic benefits
available to Jewish citizens.  Subtle forms of discrimination also
continue to persist against non-Christians in several parts of
Europe.  The condition of religious minorities in the neighbouring
states of Pakistan and Bangladesh has also generated considerable
concern.  Such examples remind us of the continuing importance
of secularism for people and societies in today’s world.
Inter-religious Domination 
In our own country, the Constitution declares that every Indian citizen
has a right to live with freedom and dignity in any part of the country. 
Yet in reality, many forms of exclusion and discrimination continue
to persist. Consider three most stark examples:
o More than 2,700 Sikhs were massacred in Delhi and many other
parts of the country in 1984. The families of the victims feel that
the guilty were not punished. 
o Several thousands of Hindu Kashmiri pandits have been forced
to leave their homes in the Kashmir valley; they have not been
able to return to their homes for more than two decades.
o More than 1,000 persons, mostly Muslims, were massacred
during the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat in 2002. The surviving
members of many of these  families could not go back to the
villages in which they lived.
What do these examples have in common? They all have to do
with discrimination in one form or the other. In each case members
of one community are targeted and victimised on account of their
religious identity. In other words, basic freedoms of a set of citizens
are denied. Some might even say that these incidents are instances
of religious persecution and they reflect inter-religious domination.
Secularism is first and foremost a doctrine that opposes all such
forms of inter-religious domination. This is however only one crucial
aspect of the concept of secularism. An equally important dimension
2015-16
Secularism
Secularism
Political Theory
113
of secularism is its opposition to intra-religious domination. Let  us
get deeper into this issue.
Intra-religious Domination
Some people believe that religion is merely the ‘opium of the masses’
and that, one day, when the basic needs of all are fulfilled and they
lead a happy and contented life, religion will disappear.  Such a
view comes from an exaggerated sense of human potential.  It is
unlikely that human beings will ever be able to fully know the world
and control it. We may be able to prolong our life but will never
become immortal.  Disease can never be entirely eliminated, nor
can we get rid of an element of accident and luck from our lives.
Separation and loss are endemic to the human condition. While a
large part of our suffering is man-made and hence eliminable, at
least some of our suffering is not made by man.  Religion, art and
philosophy are responses to such sufferings. Secularism too accepts
this and therefore it is not anti-religious.
However, religion has its share of some deep-rooted problems.
For example, one can hardly think of a religion that treats its male
and female members on an equal footing.  In religions such as
Hinduism, some sections have faced persistent discrimination. For
example dalits have been barred from entering Hindu temples. In
some parts of the country, Hindu woman cannot enter temples.
When religion is organised, it is frequently taken over by its most
conservative faction, which does not tolerate any dissent. Religious
fundamentalism in parts of the US has become a big problem and
endangers peace both within the country and outside. Many religions
fragment into sects which leads to frequent sectarian violence and
persecution of dissenting minorities.
Thus religious domination cannot be identified only with inter-
religious domination.  It takes another conspicuous form, namely,
intra-religious domination. As secularism is opposed to all forms of
institutionalised religious domination, it challenges  not merely inter-
religious but also intra-religious domination.
We now possess a general idea of secularism. It is a normative
doctrine which seeks to realise a secular society, i.e., one devoid of
2015-16
Secularism
Secularism
114
Political Theory
either inter-religious or intra-religious domination.  Put positively,
it promotes freedom within religions, and equality between, as well
as within, religions. Within this larger framework, let us now consider
a narrower and more specific question, namely : What kind of state
is necessary to  realise these goals? In other words, let us consider
how a state committed to the ideal of secularism should relate to
religion and religious communities.
8.2 SECULAR STATE
Perhaps one way of preventing religious discrimination is to work
together for mutual enlightenment.  Education is one way of helping
to change the mindset of people.  Individual examples of sharing
and mutual help can  also contribute towards reducing prejudice
and suspicion between communities. It is always inspiring to read
stories of Hindus saving Muslims or Muslims saving Hindus in the
midst of a deadly communal riot.  But it is unlikely
that mere education or the goodness of some persons
will eliminate religious discrimination.  In modern
societies, states have enormous public power.  How
they function is bound to make a crucial difference to
the outcome of any struggle to create a society less
ridden with inter-community conflict and religious
discrimination. For this reason, we need to see what
kind of state is needed to prevent religious conflict
and to promote religious harmony.
How should a state prevent domination by any religious group?
For a start, a state must not be run by the heads of any particular
religion. A state governed directly by a priestly order is called
theocratic. Theocratic states, such as the Papal states of Europe in
medieval times or in recent times the Taliban-controlled state,
lacking separation between religious and political institutions, are
known for their hierarchies, and oppressions, and reluctance to
allow freedom of religion to members of other religious groups.  If
we value peace, freedom and equality, religious institutions and
state institutions must be separated.
Some people think that the separation of state and religion is
sufficient for the existence of a secular state.  This does not appear
List some of the ways in
which you feel communal
harmony could be
promoted.
LET’S DO IT
Do
2015-16
Page 5


Secularism
Secularism
Political Theory
111
Chapter 8
Secularism
When different cultures and communities exist within the same country, how should a
democratic state ensure equality for each of them? This is the question that emerged in
the previous chapter. In this chapter we will try and see how the concept of secularism
may be applied to answer that concern. In India, the idea of secularism is ever present in
public debates and discussions, yet there is something very perplexing about the state
of secularism in India.  On the one hand, almost every politician swears by it.  Every
political party professes to be secular.  On the other hand, all kinds of anxieties and
doubts beset secularism in India.  Secularism is challenged not only by clerics and
religious nationalists but by some politicians, social activists and even academics.
In this chapter we will engage in this ongoing debate by asking the following  questions:
o What is the meaning of secularism?
o Is secularism a western implant on Indian soil?
o Is it suitable for societies where religion continues to exercise a strong influence on
individual lives?
o Does secularism show partiality? Does it ‘pamper’ minorities?
o Is secularism anti-religious? 
At the end of this chapter you should be able to understand and appreciate the
importance of secularism in a democratic society like India, and learn something about
the distinctiveness of Indian secularism.
Overview
2015-16
Secularism
Secularism
112
Political Theory
8.1 WHAT IS SECULARISM?
Though Jews faced discrimination for centuries throughout Europe,
in the present state of Israel, Arab minorities, both Christian and
Muslims, are excluded from social, political and economic benefits
available to Jewish citizens.  Subtle forms of discrimination also
continue to persist against non-Christians in several parts of
Europe.  The condition of religious minorities in the neighbouring
states of Pakistan and Bangladesh has also generated considerable
concern.  Such examples remind us of the continuing importance
of secularism for people and societies in today’s world.
Inter-religious Domination 
In our own country, the Constitution declares that every Indian citizen
has a right to live with freedom and dignity in any part of the country. 
Yet in reality, many forms of exclusion and discrimination continue
to persist. Consider three most stark examples:
o More than 2,700 Sikhs were massacred in Delhi and many other
parts of the country in 1984. The families of the victims feel that
the guilty were not punished. 
o Several thousands of Hindu Kashmiri pandits have been forced
to leave their homes in the Kashmir valley; they have not been
able to return to their homes for more than two decades.
o More than 1,000 persons, mostly Muslims, were massacred
during the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat in 2002. The surviving
members of many of these  families could not go back to the
villages in which they lived.
What do these examples have in common? They all have to do
with discrimination in one form or the other. In each case members
of one community are targeted and victimised on account of their
religious identity. In other words, basic freedoms of a set of citizens
are denied. Some might even say that these incidents are instances
of religious persecution and they reflect inter-religious domination.
Secularism is first and foremost a doctrine that opposes all such
forms of inter-religious domination. This is however only one crucial
aspect of the concept of secularism. An equally important dimension
2015-16
Secularism
Secularism
Political Theory
113
of secularism is its opposition to intra-religious domination. Let  us
get deeper into this issue.
Intra-religious Domination
Some people believe that religion is merely the ‘opium of the masses’
and that, one day, when the basic needs of all are fulfilled and they
lead a happy and contented life, religion will disappear.  Such a
view comes from an exaggerated sense of human potential.  It is
unlikely that human beings will ever be able to fully know the world
and control it. We may be able to prolong our life but will never
become immortal.  Disease can never be entirely eliminated, nor
can we get rid of an element of accident and luck from our lives.
Separation and loss are endemic to the human condition. While a
large part of our suffering is man-made and hence eliminable, at
least some of our suffering is not made by man.  Religion, art and
philosophy are responses to such sufferings. Secularism too accepts
this and therefore it is not anti-religious.
However, religion has its share of some deep-rooted problems.
For example, one can hardly think of a religion that treats its male
and female members on an equal footing.  In religions such as
Hinduism, some sections have faced persistent discrimination. For
example dalits have been barred from entering Hindu temples. In
some parts of the country, Hindu woman cannot enter temples.
When religion is organised, it is frequently taken over by its most
conservative faction, which does not tolerate any dissent. Religious
fundamentalism in parts of the US has become a big problem and
endangers peace both within the country and outside. Many religions
fragment into sects which leads to frequent sectarian violence and
persecution of dissenting minorities.
Thus religious domination cannot be identified only with inter-
religious domination.  It takes another conspicuous form, namely,
intra-religious domination. As secularism is opposed to all forms of
institutionalised religious domination, it challenges  not merely inter-
religious but also intra-religious domination.
We now possess a general idea of secularism. It is a normative
doctrine which seeks to realise a secular society, i.e., one devoid of
2015-16
Secularism
Secularism
114
Political Theory
either inter-religious or intra-religious domination.  Put positively,
it promotes freedom within religions, and equality between, as well
as within, religions. Within this larger framework, let us now consider
a narrower and more specific question, namely : What kind of state
is necessary to  realise these goals? In other words, let us consider
how a state committed to the ideal of secularism should relate to
religion and religious communities.
8.2 SECULAR STATE
Perhaps one way of preventing religious discrimination is to work
together for mutual enlightenment.  Education is one way of helping
to change the mindset of people.  Individual examples of sharing
and mutual help can  also contribute towards reducing prejudice
and suspicion between communities. It is always inspiring to read
stories of Hindus saving Muslims or Muslims saving Hindus in the
midst of a deadly communal riot.  But it is unlikely
that mere education or the goodness of some persons
will eliminate religious discrimination.  In modern
societies, states have enormous public power.  How
they function is bound to make a crucial difference to
the outcome of any struggle to create a society less
ridden with inter-community conflict and religious
discrimination. For this reason, we need to see what
kind of state is needed to prevent religious conflict
and to promote religious harmony.
How should a state prevent domination by any religious group?
For a start, a state must not be run by the heads of any particular
religion. A state governed directly by a priestly order is called
theocratic. Theocratic states, such as the Papal states of Europe in
medieval times or in recent times the Taliban-controlled state,
lacking separation between religious and political institutions, are
known for their hierarchies, and oppressions, and reluctance to
allow freedom of religion to members of other religious groups.  If
we value peace, freedom and equality, religious institutions and
state institutions must be separated.
Some people think that the separation of state and religion is
sufficient for the existence of a secular state.  This does not appear
List some of the ways in
which you feel communal
harmony could be
promoted.
LET’S DO IT
Do
2015-16
Secularism
Secularism
Political Theory
115
to be so.  Many states which are non-theocratic continue to have a
close alliance with a particular religion.  For example, the state in
England in the sixteenth century was not run by a priestly class
but clearly favoured the Anglican Church and its members.  England
had an  established Anglican religion, which was the official religion
of the state.  Today Pakistan has an official state religion, namely
Sunni Islam.  Such regimes may leave little scope for internal dissent
or religious equality.
To be truly secular, a state must not only refuse to be theocratic
but also have no formal, legal alliance with any religion.  The
separation of religion-state is, however, a necessary but not a
sufficient ingredient of a secular state. A secular state must be
committed to principles and goals which are at least partly derived
from non-religious sources. These ends should include
peace, religious freedom, freedom from religiously
grounded oppression, discrimination and exclusion,
as also inter-religious and intra-religious equality.
To promote these ends the state must be separated
from organised religion and its institutions for the sake
of some of these values. However,  there is no reason to
suggest that this separation should take a particular
form. In fact  the nature and extent of separation may
take different forms, depending upon the specific values
it is meant to promote and the way in which  these
values are spelt out. We will now  consider two such
conceptions: the mainstream western conception best
represented by the American state, and an alternative
conception best exemplified by the Indian state.
8.3 THE WESTERN MODEL OF SECULARISM
All secular states have one thing in common: they are neither
theocratic nor do they establish a religion. However, in most commonly
prevalent conceptions, inspired mainly by the American model,
separation of religion and state is understood as mutual exclusion:
the state will not intervene in the affairs of religion and, in the same
manner, religion will not interfere in the affairs of the state.  Each
Learning more about
other religions is the
first step towards
learning to respect and
accept other people and
their beliefs. But that
need not mean that we
should not be able to
stand up for what we
feel are basic human
values.
LET’S DEBATE
“ ”
2015-16
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