Understanding Secularism

The root cause of the attack of one religion on the other is religious intolerance. Subtle forms of discrimination also continue to persist against non-Christians in several parts of Europe. Secularism refers to separation of religion from the state. It opposes all forms of inter-religious and intra-religious domination. India has its own examples of religious discrimination and exclusion – the 1984 Sikh massacre, Kashmiri pandits forced to leave their homes and massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. In a democratic country, it is important to separate religion from state power. All the countries of the world have more than one religious group living in them. There will be one religious group that is in a majority. Discrimination of minority religious groups by the majority religious group is a violation of Fundamental Rights. Untouchability practiced by Hindus is another form of discrimination. Dalits are at the receiving end of it.

According to the Indian Constitution, India is a ‘Secular State’. Indian secularism does not focus only on church-state separation. Idea of inter-religious equality is more important to the Indian conception. It preaches tolerance towards other religions. Indian secularism also opposes oppression of women and Dalits. The Constitution specifies ‘Cultural and Educational Rights’ of the minorities as a Fundamental Right.

American model of secularism is based on separation of religion and state. No interference of State in affairs of religion. No interference of religion in affairs of the state. Western secular states are neither theocratic nor do they have a state religion. In Turkey, Kemal Ataturk came to power after First World War. He put an end to the institution of Khalifa in the public life of Turkey and aggressively promoted secularism. Earlier, he had changed his own name from Mustafa Kemal Pasha to Kemal Ataturk (Ataturk translates as Father of the Turks).

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