Indian Secularism and France Secularism

Context: Recently, the French government announced that the practice of wearing abaya would be banned in state-run schools as it violated the principle of Laïcité, which is the French idea of secularism.


In simple terms, Secularism is the concept which advocates that government, and its entities should exist separately from religion.

It can be defined as a normative doctrine which seeks to realise a secular society, i.e., one devoid of inter-religious domination or intra-religious domination. it promotes freedom within religions, and equality between, as well as within, religions.

In keeping with this idea of religious freedom for all, India also adopted a strategy of separating the power of religion and the power of the State. 

Laïcité: The French Secularism 

In today’s context Laïcité is a complicated and politically charged term. It originated in France and involved complete removal of religious values from the public sphere and their replacement with secular values such as liberty, equality, and fraternity. 

Origin of Laïcité

Laïcité, a product of the struggle of anti-clerical Republicans against the power of the Catholic Church, was an abstract idea following the French Revolution in 1789.

It took concrete shape and legal backing after the Law of 1905. 

  • The Law of 1905 guarantees freedom of conscience and freedom of worship except when it clashes with public order.
  • It states that the Republic would neither pay for nor subsidise any form of worship.


  • It is understood as a formal separation of the State and Church.
  • Its goal is to implant tolerance and assimilate people.
  • Its objective is that religion remain confined to private spheres.
  • The state plays an important role in ensuring that affairs are run according to the principle of Laïcité.

Development happened in Laïcité

  • In 1989, the Supreme Court of France ruled that the headscarf was not incompatible with the principle of Laïcité.
  • France passed a law in 2004 prohibiting the wearing of ostentatious symbols that have a clear religious meaning, such as a Catholic dress, a Jewish kippah, or a Muslim headscarf, in public spaces. In 2011, France banned the wearing of face-covering veils in public places.
  • In a survey in 2022, 36% of French people said that they believe that secularism was “rather not sufficiently” being defended in France, while 21% said it was “not at all” being defended.

Indian Secularism: The Positive form of Secularism 

The Forty-Second Constitution Amendment Act of 1976 incorporated the term ‘Secular’ in the Preamble of the Constitution which declares India as a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic.

The introduction of the word “secular” by the 42nd amendment simply made the secular nation of the Indian Constitution more apparent. No religion is given special status in India as a state. There is no such thing as an Indian state religion. This distinguishes it from theocratic regimes such as the Islamic Republic of Iran and other Islamic countries. 

Overview of Indian Secularism 

  • There is no strict separation between state and religion in India. 
  • Secularism is a fundamental principle of the Indian Constitution’s basic structure.
  • As a secular state India is committed to principles and goals which are at least partly derived from non-religious sources including peace, religious freedom, freedom from religiously grounded oppression, discrimination and exclusion, as also inter-religious and intra-religious equality.
  • its objectives to ensure the following:
    • That one religious community does not dominate another.
    • That some members do not dominate other members of the same religious community.
    • That the State does not enforce any particular religion nor take away the religious freedom of individuals.

Difference Between Indian and Western idea of Secularism 

Western Indian 
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.Indian secularism does not focus only on church-state separation and the idea of inter-religious equality is crucial to the Indian conception.
Under this concept no policy of the state can have an exclusively religious rationale and no religious classification can be the basis of any public policy.Indian secularism allows for principled state intervention in all religions.
State cannot aid any religious institution. It cannot give financial support to educational institutions run by religious communities.The Indian Constitution grants the right to religious communities to set up their own schools and colleges, state can also give them financial aid on a non- preferential basis.
State cannot hinder the activities of religious communities, if they are within the broad limits set by the law of the land.Indian secularism is compatible with the idea of state-supported religious reform.
This conception interprets freedom and equality in an individualist manner, there is little scope for community-based rights or minority rights.Indian secularism deals not only with religious freedom of individuals but also with religious freedom of minority communities.

Constitutional Provisions related to Secularism 

Article 14: It ensures equality before the law and equal legal protection for all individuals. 

Article 15: It prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth, ensuring access to public facilities and services. 

Article 16: It guarantees equality of opportunities in employment, preventing discrimination in employment based on religious grounds. 

Article 19: It grants fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and expression, peaceful assembly, and the right to choose one’s profession, subject to reasonable restrictions. 

Article 25: This article guarantees freedom of conscience and the right to practice, profess, and propagate any religion. It emphasizes that religious conversion cannot be forced. 

Article 26: It protects the rights of religious denominations to manage their religious affairs, provided they meet certain criteria like common faith, distinctive name etc.

Article 27: It ensures that no one is compelled to pay taxes for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religious denomination. 

Article 28: It restricts the teaching of religion in state-funded educational institutions but allows religious instruction in institutions formed under endowments or trusts. 

Article 44: This article aims at a Uniform Civil Code, ensuring secular civil laws for all citizens regardless of their religion, caste, or tribe. 

Article 51A: Fundamental Duties provides that it shall be the duty of all the citizens to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic, and regional or sectional diversities, to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India and to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.

Court Cases Related to Secularism

Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala

In this case, the Supreme Court declared secularism as part of the Constitution’s basic structure, making it immune to parliamentary amendments. 

S.R Bommai v. Union of India

In this case supreme court clarified that secularism does not imply atheism but rather ensures equal status for all religions. 

Ahmedabad St. Xavier’s College v. State of Gujarat

In this case, the supreme court emphasized that secularism neither promotes nor opposes religion but prevents discrimination based on religion. 

Indian Young Lawyers Association v. State of Kerala

In this case, the supreme court highlighted that established religious practices can be challenged based on constitutional principles of equality.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 20 MB. You can upload: image, document, archive, other. Drop files here

Online Counselling
Table of Contents
Today's Current Affairs
This is default text for notification bar