Communalism has been one of the most disturbing problems. It has continued to be a threat to national integration. It is true that traditionally, Indian society has been non-communal. Since centuries it has been absorbing and assimilating many religions and cultures. But it was during the British rule that communalism was used as a tool to divide Indians. The colonial rulers created situations to convince Indians that primarily they were members of different religious communities and they must think and act differently. The Constitution makers had sensed the negative potential of communalism. That is why the Constitution declares India to be a secular State. Although the original Constitution had many provisions to promote secularism, the continued reappearance of communalism demanded reassertion. Consequentially, it was made one of the basic pillars of Indian democracy and the word ‘secular’ was inserted into the Preamble of the Constitution by the Forty-Second Amendment in 1976.
Meaning of Secularism
What does secularism mean? You may come across with some people who will say, “I am secular, because I do not believe in any religion”. You may also find some politicians who say that what is reflected in the Constitution is not true but “pseudo-secularism”. Pseudo-secularism means false secularism. However, it is necessary to understand that secularism does not mean being irreligious or anti-religious. The term pseudo-secularism is used only for political purposes. In fact, secularism implies equality of all religions and religious tolerance. It may be appreciated in two contexts: state context and individual context. In the state context it means that India does not have an official state religion. The government must not favour or discriminate against any religion. It must treat all religions with equal respect. All citizens, irrespective of their religious beliefs are equal in the eyes of law. No religious instruction is imparted in government or government-aided schools. But the general information about all established world religions may be imparted, without giving any importance to any one religion or the others. In the individual context, it means Sarva dharma samabhava, equal respect for all religions. Every person has the right to preach, practice and propagate any religion they choose. Every citizen must treat all religions with the same respect as he/she has for his/her religion. No religion permits individuals to ignore or hate others.
Secularism in the Constitution
As we have seen above, various provisions of the Constitution ensure India to be a secular State. The Indian constitution through its Preamble and particularly through its chapters on Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles has created a secular state based on the principle of equality and non-discrimination. Along with the principles of social and economic democracy, secularism has been held to be one of the ‘Basic Structures’ of Indian Constitution. It has been reflected in the Constitution primarily as a value in the sense that it extends support to our plural society. Secularism aims at promoting cohesion among different communities living in India.
Secularism: Its Significance
Despite the constitutional provisions and safeguards, it is unfortunate that all Indians are yet to be truly secular. We have to experience communal riots at regular intervals. Even a very insignificant reason leads to communal tension and violence. But secularism is essential not simply for maintaining communal harmony and peace, but for the very existence of our nation. If you look around yourself, you may find that your friends, classmates, neighbours or nearby residents believe and practice religions that are different from your religion. They belong to various castes. How can you interact with them and be a good friend, classmate or neighbour, if you do not respect their religion and they do not do the same? We all know that India has a plural society. It is therefore essential that all the people develop respect towards one another and practice peaceful co-existence.