By Shayamvar Deb, MATS Law School, Raipur.

The Constitution of India prescribes that the nation is a secular state where each and every citizens are bound to follow this declaration. But many a times, the question arose that are we secular? The heat of communal conflagrations are the demanding questions as far as India is still a traditional home containing societies that pertain their origins to different religious bases which exist here. The policies of carrying out the society are implemented in a better secular pattern rather than manipulating the total attitude in an unconnected religious form. The Indian interpretation of secularism stands as religious tolerance which arises a misconception several times, whereas, the answer probes a very touch of a particular religion i.e., Hinduism being the religion of the majority. The deep polity and dialectics of Hinduism is however ironical as it pretends to be liberal and tolerant but the rigidity stands extreme in the inner. Though it is not the aim to prove that the Hindus are with religious intolerance; hereby the objective stands upon harmonisation of secularism and religious tolerance in India in the recent times where the approach is connected with the ancestral religious beliefs of hardly tolerated beliefs of other religion.[1]

Religious intolerance is an undeniable reality common to all religious groups which is the focus of this present topic. There is hardly any religious group in the world today, other than the Hindus, who are willing to let other religions coexist peacefully without any organized attempt to convert them or coerce them. The wars are still fought in this world more frequently in the name of religion. In the zeniths of debate regarding secularism, the most important part put forward is related to the relationship between Hindu tolerance and secularism as the Hindu tolerance is glorified to sow the seeds of secularism in India.


Dr Ambedkar upheld the ideology of democratic secularism and put it forward in several of his writings and enshrined it in the Indian Constitution. Hereby, democratization in its core is constituted by doing away of the feudal lords, kings and their associates, the clergy. The ununiformed pattern of secularization, the reduction in the hold of clergy on social-political affairs, runs in parallel with the extent of democratic process which stands as more the democratization, lesser the influence-dominance of clergy. The rooting of secularism in countries is not due to any particular religion. It is there due to the elimination and diminution of the powers of landlords or clergies. When it is claimed that Hinduism is tolerant so we have secularism, it has nothing to do with the truth. Secularism stands not only for equal citizenship rights of people of all religions, it also stands for the abolition of caste, class and gender hierarchy. Thus, India became secular through a struggle for democracy; through the efforts for caste and gender equality; through the efforts of those who participated in the freedom movement irrespective of their religion.

Here the irony lies that whether defence of secularism is an appropriate ground to meet the challenge of Hinduism in India or may it simply be fought where any attack raises thereby accordingly as per the duty of a democratic nation stands by virtue of policies of religious toleration?

The very outset however, relies upon a point that secularism in Indian context has a very different meaning other than European opinions. Secularism having a standard use in English language is sometimes cited as confirmation of the ‘inevitable’ difference in the meanings of a concept in two dissimilar cultures. India is not Europe, so secularism in India does not have the same standpoint that has in Europe. And again, the base, ‘inevitable’ brings irony in the modern state of India as there cannot be a secular state as we have a misconception thereby.

Quentin Skinner has opined regarding a ‘new meaning policy’ with a concept that when arguments are not usually supposed by one that it should be applied to a new circumstance it would succeed, but rather when such arguments fail.[2] Thus if it is taken into account that secularism in India having an new meaning, it is not as though the plea of the advocates of secularism that the concept bears application to modern Indian state and society has won general acceptance, and that the concept has thereby taken on a new meaning. If that had been the case, the ‘original’ meaning of the word as understood in its standard sense in the West would have remained unharmed; it would only have widened its range of referents by including within it the specific circumstances of the Indian situation. The reason why arguments have to be made about ‘secularism’ having a new meaning in India is because there are serious difficulties in applying the standard meaning of the word to the Indian circumstances. The ‘original’ concept, in other words, will not easily admit the Indian case within its range of referents. This, of course, could be a good pretext for insisting that Indians have their own concept of secularism which is different from the Western concept bearing the same name; that, it could be argued, is exactly why the Western concept cannot be applied to the Indian case. The argument then would be about a difference in concepts: if the concept is different, the question of referential equivalence cannot be a very crucial issue. At most, it would be a matter of family resemblances, but conceptually Western secularism and Indian secularism would inhabit entirely autonomous discursive domains.[3]

It might prove instructive to do a ‘history of ideas’ exercise for the use of the word ‘secularism’ in Indian political discourse in the last hundred years, but this is not the place for it. What is important for our purposes is a discussion of how the nationalist project of putting an end to colonial rule and inaugurating an independent nation-state became implicated, from its very birth, in a contradictory movement with regard to the modernist mission and of secularization through a view of faith in beliefs.

[1] Ram Puniyani, “Religious tolerance and Secularism”, (12.01.2015); available at (Last visited on March 5, 2015)

[2] Quentin Skinner, “Language and Political Change”, in Terence Ball, James Farr and Russell L. Hanson, (Editors), (Political Innovation and Conceptual Change, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1989, pp. 6-23)

[3] Partha Chatterjee, “Secularism and Tolerance”, 3-4, (Economic and Political Weekly, July 9, 1994, XXIX, no. 28, pp. 1768-77); available at (Last visited on March 7, 2015)