indian secularIndian Politics 

Secularism in India

Secularism is a much-discussed topic nowadays. Every political party in India is trying hard to present itself as a messiah sent to protect the political fabric of India.

But what is secularism in the Indian context, and how it is practiced is a lesser known fact. In this article, we will look at the meaning of secularism.

History :

Ancient India was known to be a very secular. Many religions lived in harmony with each other at that time. Before the arrival of Islamic leaders in 12 century in India, mostly all leaders were religiously tolerant.

But this scene was changed after the arrival of Islamic leaders. Mostly all Islamic leaders were intolerant, excluding Akbar who was known to be most tolerant of them all.

After their fall, a special law situation was created( as Muslims followed their own special laws called “sharia law”) and during British time they tried to fill this gap.

After India gained its independence, Nehru wanted a secular state. He believed that state and religion must remain separate.

But he was not able to fully implement this idea.

In 1978 a case started a political debate in India, let’s look into that.

Shah Bano case:

Shah Bano case image

Shah Bano was a 62-year-old Muslim Indian who was divorced by her husband of 44 years in 1978. Indian Muslim Personal Law required her husband to pay no alimony. Shah Bano sued for regular maintenance payments under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1978.

Shah Bano won her case, as well appeals to the highest court. Along with alimony, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India wrote in his opinion just how unfairly Islamic personal laws treated women and thus how necessary it was for the nation to adopt a Uniform Civil Code.

The Chief Justice further ruled that no authoritative text of Islam forbade the payment of regular maintenance to ex-wives, but this created outrage since Muslim men were not able to live with it.

Shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Indian government with Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister enacted a new law which deprived all Muslim women, and only Muslim women, of the right of maintenance guaranteed to women of Hindu, Christian, Parsees, Jews and other religions. (source: Wikipedia )

Ironically this act of selective bias against Muslim women to appease Muslim men was seen as an act of secularism by Indian Muslim men.

So what is secularism in India context?

General Definition:

  • It means to have no religious bias
  • It also means that Indian law should have final authority over religious laws
  • Moreover, it also means that lawmakers should make laws targeting all people as a whole, and not for a specific community.

But looking at the present condition it is not the case. Most politicians are looking to appease the minority.

So what is the solution? since in a country like ours finding middle ground is a very difficult task.

Some people suggest that Uniform civil code must be followed for all citizens, while others are concerned that treating everyone using the same lens might have adverse effects.

So let’s look at both arguments one by one :

1. In favor of Uniform code :

Uniform civil code is an ongoing debate in India, Apart from being an important issue regarding secularism in India & fundamental right to practice religion contained in Article 25.

It became one of the most controversial topics in contemporary politics during the Shah Bano case in 1985. The debate then focused on the Muslim Personal Law, which is partially based on the Sharia law and remains unreformed since 1937.

The need for the uniform code was started during British time, their method of unification was to include most laws of Hindu society with few modifications but they were a failure to most extent.

After British gave up, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar stood up to remove practices like “sati” from the society. After this many acts were legally passed to further improve the society.

After independence, a debate was also held but it was a failure to some extent as it only resulted in some improvements in personal laws.

The points put forward by the followers of uniformity are:

  • Since India is a secular state. Laws must be applied equally irrespective of religion.
  • Equal laws will result in a uniformity in society and better governance for all.
  • It will also improve women’s condition since some personal laws are against women.

but there are other’s too who are critical of this equal treatment.

2. Against Uniform code:

A significantly large portion of the population is also against the uniform civil law. Some points from their perspective are:

  • Move against secularism: Although India is secular. It does not mean equal treatment. It means to respect the diversity and the uniform code will actually hurt the secular fabric.
  • Religious laws: Religion is a very deep-rooted sentiment in the Indian population, and when uniform civil code will be applied it will harm those sentiments since some religious laws will collide with uniform laws.
  • Moral ground: Uniform civil code claims to be morally good for all community but many communities have a clashing definition for good and bad. which creates a problem in unification.


What is your stand on this debate? and what are your thoughts about Indian secularism?

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