VYETH Student Magazine

India- A Secular State: Myth or Reality?


Zain Zahoor

B.A. LLB 6th Semester Student 

Vitasta School of Law & Humanities

“WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULARDEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;

LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;

And to promote among them all

FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;

IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.”

Secularism has thus been accepted as a founding stone of the Indian Constitution. Secularism means a state which does not recognize any religion as a State religion. It treats all religions equal. Even before the 42nd Amendment of the constitution in 1976 by which the expression “Secular” was inserted in the Preamble of the constitution, the concept of Secularism was already implicit in the constitution, liberty of belief, faith and worship as Articles 25-28 of the constitution guarantee to every person the freedom in terms of conscience and the right to profess, practice and propagate any religion. 

    In St. Xavier college Vs State of Gujarat (1974), the supreme court has said, 

“Although the words ‘secular state’ are not expressly mentioned in the constitution but there can be no doubt that constitution makers wanted to establish such a state” and accordingly articles 25-28 have been included in the constitution. A secular state being the concept of secularism means a state which claims to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting religion nor irreligion. 

A secular state also claims to be treating all the citizens equal in matter of their religion, they are free to opt for any religion and no question will be raised or no limitation will be forced on the citizen. India calls itself a secular state and the word “secular” was inserted in the preamble of the constitution in 1976 when the 42nd amendment was made. The 42nd amendment also known as the “mini constitution” inserted few words in the preamble namely:-

  • Sovereign
  • Secular
  • Democratic Republic
  • Unity and Integrity of the Nation

Secularism in India means equal respect for all religions and non-interference of religion in the affairs of the state. According to Article 25 of the Indian Constitution all those who reside in India are free to profess, practice and propagate any religion of one’s choice subject of course to social health, law and order. The Supreme Court in the case S.R. Bommai V/s Union of India (1994) held that, 

Secularism is an integral part of the basic structure of the constitution. 

Dr. Radha Krishan, former President of India, has in his book “Recovery of faith” Page-184, explained secularism in the country as follow:-

“When India is said to be a secular state, it does not mean that we reject the reality of an unseen spirit of the relevance of religion to life or that we exalt irreligion. It does not mean that secularism itself becomes a positive religion or that the state assumes divine prerogatives. We hold that not one religion should be given preferential status. The view of religious impartiality, or comprehension and forbearance, has a prophetic role to play within the national and international life”.

   Most important components of secularism are as under:

  • “samaanta” (equality) is incorporated in article 14;
  • prohibition against discrimination on the ground of religion, caste, etc., is incorporated in articles 15 and 16;
  • freedom of speech and expression and other important freedoms of all the citizens are conferred under articles 19 and 21;
  • right to practice religion is conferred under articles 25-28;
  • fundamental duty of the state to enact uniform civil laws treating all the citizens as equal, is imposed by article 44;
  • sentiment of majority of the people towards the cow and against its slaughter was incorporated in articles 48.

An eminent writer D. D. Basu has described the expression “secular” as vague.

Evidences of “Secularism” in India

India claims to be a secular country; theoretically its true but practically things are way different.

1969 Ahmedabad riots: Communal riots between Hindus and Muslims erupted in Ahmedabad in 1969. At least 1000 people died during these riots. At the time there was a dispute over the leadership of the Congress party between Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai. There were suggestions that violence was deliberately engineered to discredit the chief minister of Gujarat who was a supporter of Mr Desai.

They were followed by riots in Uttar Pradesh with periodic violence erupting elsewhere.

Hindu-Muslim riots broke out in Jamshedpur and Aligarh in 1979 and in Moradabad in 1980.

1984 Sikh riots: The assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984 sparked riots that lasted 15 days. Several inquiries were on the basis of which, eight people were convicted. The politicians and police got away.

The mayhem began at about 6 p.m. shortly after the death of Indira Gandhi was announced at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi. The news set the tone for a communal massacre that India hadn’t quite witnessed since Independence. Chaos reigned on the streets and locality after locality in the capital echoed with the shrieks of the dying and burning people. A fortnight of carnage saw over 2,700 dead and many thousands injured.

“President Zail Singh wanted the army to act, but it didn’t. The then prime minister and home minister did not take his calls,” recalls Tarlochan Singh, who was Zail Singh’s press secretary.

The worst affected areas were the ones that had elected Congressmen HKL Bhagat and Sajjan Kumar to the Lok Sabha. Yet the police could do nothing to lay their hands on them.

1987 Merrut riots: The riots began on May 21, 1987 and continued for two months. The state police conducted a probe but all cases were later withdrawn by the state. The armed personnel accused went scot free.

As with most riots, there are conflicting versions on what set this one off: burning of mills or a reaction to the carnage by the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) personnel. A majority claim it was the armed police.

The PAC men wanted to arrest a man from the Hashimpura area but were stopped by a mob. When the uniformed men tried to force their way in, the crowd became violent. The PAC called in reinforcements and retaliated instantly. About 40 bodies were later found floating in the canal near Maliana village. This ignited communal passions and Meerut was soon on fire. Within hours, over 350 shops in the city and three petrol pumps had been burnt. In the following two months, 350 people were killed, among them prominent residents including a doctor from Hapur and an army captain.

Rationality took the backseat as one set of residents instigated massacres against another. It took several weeks for a 13,000-strong army detachment to restore peace in Meerut. The Uttar Pradesh government, under pressure from the Rajiv Gandhi government, withdrew hundreds of cases from district courts in Meerut. As a result, there were no convictions. The PAC, having terrorized a large section of Meerut, was the biggest gainer-and justice the biggest loser.

1989 Bhagalpur riots: On October 23, 1989 began the month-long riots triggered by police atrocities. Of the 864 cases filed by the police, 535 were closed and most accused acquitted for lack of evidence.

Following police atrocities in 1989, the silk city of Bhagalpur saw massacre and arson in which over 1,000 people died, nearly 50,000 were displaced and 11,500 houses torched.

In the carnage, an army major herded 100 men, women and children to a house at Chanderi village and posted the local police for their protection. The next morning, however, he found the house empty. Four days later, 61 mutilated bodies were found in a nearby pond, among them a live Malika Bano whose right leg had been chopped off. Bano narrated a story that continues to haunt Bhagalpur.

On the night of October 27, a frenzied mob took over the house from the police, slaughtered the people hiding inside and tossed their bodies in the pond. Of the 864 cases registered by the Bihar Police, charge sheets were filed in only 329 cases. In 100 of these, the accused were acquitted for want of evidence. Chanderi was no different. Of the 38 accused, only 16 were convicted and sentenced to rigorous life terms, while 22 were acquitted.

The Babri masjid demolition set off riots between December 1992 and January 1993. The Sri Krishna panel examined 502 witnesses, but no police officer has yet been punished.

1992 Mumbai riots: Hours after the demolition of the Babri masjid, Mumbai riots erupted. For five days in December 1992 and then again for a fortnight in January, the city witnessed unprecedented riots. As many as 1,788 people were killed and property worth crores of rupees destroyed.

On January 25, 1993, the Maharashtra government set up the Sri Krishna Commission of Inquiry, which recorded the evidence of 502 witnesses and examined 2,903 exhibits. But three years later, on January 23, 1996, the BJP-Shiv Sena government wound up the commission, only to reinstate it later under public pressure. The commission finally submitted its report on February 16, 1998. Of the 17 police officers who were formally charged in mid-2001, not one has been arrested so far. Even departmental action has not been initiated against them. In April this year, former city police commissioner RD Tyagi and eight serving police officers accused of killing nine people, were discharged by a Mumbai sessions court.

2002 Gujarat riots: On February 27, 2002 suspected Muslim mob attacked a train carrying activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) back from the disputed holy site of Ayodhya. The attack left 58 Hindu activists dead.

The episode resulted in major riots, which left many Muslims dead in Gujarat.

I have mentioned the “reported” and the incidents which were covered by the media. Numerous other riots have gone un-noticed under the umbrella of Vague term of “Secularism”. A vast country like India cannot be secular completely as the number of religions being followed is numerous, and the role of the state has also been dubious.

{A hero is born among a hundred, a wise man is found among a thousand, but an accomplished one might not be found even among a hundred thousand men)

-Plato