Why India rejected the word ‘Secular’?

Dear friends, I am back with another post on constitutionalism, law, and polity.

Many of you might know that the word ‘secular‘ got added to the preamble of the Indian constitution by an amendment in 1976. Does that mean India was not secular before 1976? You might wonder then why this word found no mention in the original constitution. Many of our National leaders were self-proclaimed secular, yet they rejected the addition of the word ‘Secular’ in the Indian constitution. They also rejected the non-establishment clause which provided that the state shall not seek to promote, patronize and establish any religion (CAD). Was it a pure mischief or a deliberate move calculated to achieve something else? Read this to know all of that-

Oxford dictionary describes secularism as a principle of separation of state from religious institutions. This idea of secularism got prevalent in Europe after the Renaissance because of the turbulent relationship between two well-established institutions-The Church and the State. These two institutions entered a tacit understanding of not interfering in each other’s affairs.

At the time of independence from British rule and during the making of the Indian constitution, many prominent Indian leaders claimed to have been deeply influenced by the idea of secularism yet they were cautious about its wholesale import into India due to varied reasons.

Indian leaders wanted to initiate a state-sanctioned reform of the Hindu Religion to cure the horrible evils Hindu society was grappling with at that time including untouchability, caste-system, flagrant subordination of women etc (CAD). They did not think it wise to leave Hinduism at its own peril given that majority of Hindus were Shudras and were incapable of catching up with the rest of the society on their own because of their centuries of subordination and exploitation at the hands of their upper-caste brethren. Adopting a European style secularism in such a situation would have rendered the Indian state helpless to initiate social reforms amongst Hindus on a priority basis.

Does that make sense? Eminent constitutional expert Rajeev Bhargava in his essay ‘The Distinctiveness of Indian Secularism‘ writes that this interference in Hindu Religion even if for social reforms may be interpreted to undermine or promote Hinduism.

Today many of our right-wing friends do not take those Congress Leaders kindly and complain that Hinduism was not given its due honor in India after Independence. But they fail to realize that if not for those state-sanctioned reforms and farsightedness of the then Indian leadership, the fate of Hinduism would be in much peril today. If not for these reforms, assurances, and concessions like reservations etc, many Shudras (lower caste Hindus) might have converted to other religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam and thereby immensely altering the Indian demography. Proselytic tendencies of Christianity and Islam are still feared by many especially the Hindu right wing or the Hindu upper castes who are the beneficiaries of the Hindu system.

Also, if we look at the practices and conduct of the Indian state since independence, we can easily find its soft corner for Hinduism and its direct or indirect patronization. Be it the enthusiastic reconstruction of Somnath Temple and its inauguration by President Rajendra Prasad, Sanskritisation of Hindi, the Hindu social and personal law reforms, restricting the benefits of reservation largely to Hindus only, Hindu friendly judgments by Indian courts or not doing enough to stop the demolition of Babri Mosque. All of this has directly or indirectly aided the consolidation and entrenchment of Hinduism.

All this could have been very difficult to achieve if not entirely impossible if there were express provisions on Secularism and Establishment clause in the Indian constitution as in the United States. But one important question that often gets lost in this carefully constructed and nurtured binaries of secular versus non-secular, India versus Pakistan, Hindus versus Muslims and indigenous versus foreign is who exactly are the beneficiaries and losers of this construction of main-stream which sidelines the genuine reforms and helps the Hawks in taking over the reign and the mantle.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to express the musings of your mind on this issue in the comments below.

With Peace!


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62 thoughts on “Why India rejected the word ‘Secular’?

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