Secularism is a normative doctrine that seeks to realise a secular society, i.e., one devoid of either religious or intra-religious domination. It promotes freedom and equality between, as well as within, religions.

It maintains a clear distinction of religion from such spheres of life as political and economic systems such that each religion is to be respected and practiced privately. 

Features of the secular state

The salient characteristics are:

  1. Religious groups must not run the state: To prevent domination by any religious group and have harmony, freedom and equality among different religious groups. The heads of any religion must not run a State. Religious institutions and state institutions must be separated.
  2. The state should protect both believers and non-believers: Secularism seeks to ensure and protect freedom of religious belief and practice for all citizens.
  3. The state should maintain democracy and fairness: In a secular democracy, all citizens are treated be equally before the law and parliament. All people irrespective of their religious affiliation are treated as citizens with the same rights and obligations.

Hence a secular state must be committed to peace, religious freedom and freedom from religiously grounded oppressions, discrimination and exclusions and inter-religious and intra-religious equality.

Indian secularism Versus Western Secularism

Western Model of SecularismIndian Model of Secularism
Separation of religion and state is understood as mutual exclusion: The state will not intervene in the affairs of religion and religion will not interfere in the affairs of the state.

Politics and religion have a separate sphere of its own with independent jurisdiction.

Individuals’ religion is a private matter, not a matter of state policy or law.

The state cannot aid any religious institution. It cannot give financial support to educational institutions run by religious communities. 

The state cannot hinder the activities of religious communities if they are within the broad limits set by the law of the land. For example, if a religious institution forbids a woman from becoming a priest, then the state can do little about it.  If a religious community excommunicates its dissenters, the state can only be a silent witness. If a particular religion forbids the entry of some of its members into the sanctum of its temple, then the state has no option but to let the matter rest exactly where it is.

There is little scope for community-based rights or minority rights.
It does not erect a wall of separation between state and religion. This allows the state to intervene in religions, to help or hinder them without the impulse to control or destroy them.

It is not entirely averse to the public character of faith.

Although the state is not identified with a particular religion, there is official public recognition granted to religious communities.

It is concerned with inter-religious domination as it is with intra-religious domination. It also ushered ideas of inter-community equality to replace the notion of hierarchy. Indian secularism equally opposed the oppression of Dalits and women within Hinduism, the discrimination against women within Indian Islam or Christianity, and the possible threats that a majority community might pose to the rights of the minority religious communities.

It has a place not only for the right of individuals to profess their religious beliefs but also for the right of religious communities to establish and maintain educational institutions.

Challenges Before Indian Secularism

Communalism– it divides the people of society on religious grounds and they turn into antagonists toward other religious communities.  Communal riots are the worst form of manifestation of communalism.


Casteism– The policies in India, especially at the state level, cannot be understood without the study of the caste in that particular state. There are some political parties that are organized to represent castes. Thus, caste consciousness has become the very core of Indian politics and it has become the greatest roadblock to the furtherance of secularism in our polity.

Politicisation of religion– Some of the political parties in India are organized on communal lines. These parties represent the interests of a particular region or a particular group. Some of the regional parties even desire and struggle for a separate independent State. They play communal politics for achieving and safeguarding their political interests. It has been remarked, that the known secular parties are not very secular in terms of composition and working

Majoritarianism– It is the idea at the numerical majority of a population (in terms of religion, race, caste, language, culture etc.) should have the final say in determining the outcome of a decision. For example, demand for making Hindi a national language even against the will of south Indians, selective implementation of the law like the Kafeel Khan case (invalid imposition of NSA)

Obscurantism– The Indian people in general whether Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs etc. are traditional in their outlook, and see many of the things in their traditions and customs. Thus, obscurantism is a great hurdle in the way of secularism in Indian society.

Contemporary Issues

In contemporary times, various issues regarding secularism and freedom to practice and administer religion have come to the forefront. These include the following:

Uniform Civil Code (UCC) Article 44 of the Constitution states that “the State shall endeavour to secure for citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” It essentially means a common set of laws governing personal matters for all citizens of the country, irrespective of religion.

Positive aspects of the Uniform Civil Code include

  • It will divest religion from social relations and personal laws and will ensure equality in terms of justice to both men and women regardless of the faith they practice.
    • There will be uniform laws for all Indians with regard to marriage, inheritance, divorce etc.It will help in improving the condition of women in India as Indian society is mostly patriarchal whereby old religious rules continue to govern the family life and subjugate women.Various personal laws have several loopholes, which are exploited by those who have the power to do so. Due to uniformity, such loopholes will cease to exist or will be minimisedInformal bodies like caste panchayats give judgements based on traditional laws. UCC will ensure that legal laws are followed rather than traditional laws.It can help in reducing instances of vote bank politics. If all religions are covered under the same laws, politicians will have less to offer to communities in exchange for their votesIt will help in the integration of India as a lot of animosities are caused by preferential treatment by the law in favour of certain religious communities.

Challenges in Implementing Uniform Civil Code Include

  • Implementation of UCC might interfere with the principle of secularism, particularly with the provisions of Articles 25 and 26, which guarantee freedom relating to religious practices.
    • Conservatism by religious groups, which resist such changes as it interferes with their religious practices.It is difficult for the government to develop a uniform law that is accepted by all religious communities. All religious groups- whether majority or minority- must support the change in personal laws.
    • The drafting of UCC is another obstacle. There is no consensus regarding whether it should be a blend of personal laws or a new law adhering to the constitutional mandate.
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