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Interpretation of Secularism

 Interpretation of Secularism


The primary interpretation of secularism is that there is a separation between state and religion. Politics is considered a public domain and is needed to be separated from religion. There is no official religion of the sate. To take the example of France, in French secularism, there is a complete disjuncture between public life and religious life of people. The religious activities are confined to private sphere and it is considered a crime if a person displays his religion in public. Example: Muslim women are not allowed to wear Burkha outside their homes as it is considered public display of religion.

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While talking about western secularism, where French completely discourage intermingling of state and religion, in America, as far as religion is concerned, there is demonstration of public liberty. There is no rule which prohibits display of symbols in public. On one hand, display of private life in public is allowed but on the other hand, the oath for the public post such as President is taken in the name of Bible, which shows how now religion is placed above the other. 

Whenever, we talk about secularism, there are two interpretation: the first is dharm-nir-pekshta i.e. passivity on the part of state. In this, the state is blind to the religion and does not take into consideration any religious affiliations of the people while making laws and policies and implementing them. This is applicable in the context of France.

And the second is Sarv-dharm-samabhav which means that equal regard is given to all faiths. Active consideration towards all religion to unsure equitable treatment. This fits in the Indian scenario. There is no official religion of state here and state has made special provisions such as Art.  25-28, Art. 29 and Art. 30 for minorities to provide differentiated treatment to different religions in order to maintain equality. For example in India, Hindu temples and Hindu educational institutions like Ved Pathshalas are governed by the government whereas minority religions are given protection under Section 29 of Indian Constitution to open their own institutions.

State should not be blind towards the religious faiths of its citizens but actively engage in the same as in India religion is not understood as it is perceived in the context of western countries. In India, there is a debate whether dharm-nir-pekshta can be interpreted as secularism,  but the very idea is that, Hinduism cannot be treated as a religion because it does not have one book, one progenitor or an organised structure of religion. Dharma is not limited to private or religious affairs but includes a question of morality and duty. Hence, an individual owes duty to every citizen and government and is not limited to the private sphere. The closest alternate term that can be used for religion is Sampradaya or Panth. Panth means a way or paths of worship and Sampradaya is the organised structure which believes in a particular path of worship.


The rightist wing in India, is propagating the use of term Sampradaya-nir-pekshta or Panth-nir-pekshta instead of Sarv-dharm-samabhav as it is not practical because all the religions cannot be treated equally. Hindutava argues that what we see around us in the name of equality is rather peace amongst different religions.


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