India is a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic as system of government. Indian constitution stressed “We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic 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 unit 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”. Dr. B.R. Ambedar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee speaking on the Hindu Code Bill in 1951 in Parliament explained the secular concept of democracy as follows- ‘It (Secular democracy) doest not mean that we shall not taken into consideration the religious sentiments of the people. All that a secular state means that this Parliament shall not be competent to impose any particular religion upon the rest of the people. This is the only limitation that the constitution reorganization’. It is emphasized secular state of Indian democracy. Thus the state will remain secular as long as its citizens carry out their responsibility of self-government, in which they are aided because India has a political tradition that favours Secularism. Indian Constitution guarantees to all its citizens freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion and assures strict impartiality on the part of the state and its institution towards all religious.
The principles of unity and secularism are under threat due to rise in communalism and casteism. These two elements are powerful means in the hands of political parties and politicians to gain power in the Government. Many of the parties are dividing the Indians on the basis of community, caste and religions to get political power. The present study is made to analyze the impact communalism and casterism as challenges to the secular Indian democracy.
Communalism is a powerful force in India. The challenges of casteism, communalism and religious fundamentalism involving separatism in India are the major threats to our Secular state. They weaken the working and stability of our democratic secular Federal state and militate against the basic principles governing our national life and providing means to our new identity. ‘Casteism’ and ‘Communalism’ are tearing apart the rich and closely-knit fabric of Indian cultural pluralism.
India is a puzzling and complex mix of tribal, feudal and industrial stages of social evolution. This is compounded to low literacy rate, strangle-hold of religion, superstitions, ignorance and poverty. Apart from these and other not so easily identifiable causes of social tension, the democratic process itself is the most potent cause of tension. Each group, community and region is, as it were, up in arms against the Union Government, the only viable unifying force still left in tact. Revivalism of religious fundamentalism has pitted followers of different religions against each other. In Kashmir, it is Islam against Hindu hegemony; in Gujarat, it is Hindutva forces against Muslims and in Punjab it is Sikhs against Hindus. These tensions are not conflicts of divergent cultures; each one of them is potentially and actually a political movement aiming at realizing not a mere cultural or religious objective. Communalism is perversion of religion from a moral order to an arrangement of contemporary political convenience.
Indian democracy is a representative democracy. It is a system of government in which political decision making is done by the elected representatives of the people. For choosing representatives the most common method is elections and voting. Elections may not in themselves be a sufficient condition for political representation, but there is little doubt that they are a necessary condition. In fact elections are the very heart of democracy. It is through free and fair elections, the rulers are called to account and if necessary replaced. Apart from giving an opportunity to citizens to participate in choosing their representatives, elections are also important instruments for political education, informing the people about national problems and placing before citizens various alternatives of policies. Thus, there can be little doubt that elections are a vital part of any democratic process by which people exercise their political choice and their rights as citizens. Therefore, right to vote is provided to make elections meaningful and representative.
The universal adult franchise and suffrage is an important instrument in the hands of all people Indian democracy. But unfortunately, soon after independence, political parties and politicians rather than strengthening democratic traditions of competing on the basis of programmes and ideologies, started looking for easy ways of mobilizing voters. They found in religions, communities and castes easy factors to strengthen their “vote banks”. The law in India does not debar political parties to be organized on the basis of caste or religion.
Communalism and Secularism
Communalism is a multi dimensional, complex, social phenomena. There are social, political, economic, cultural and religious factors which account for the genesis of communalism and communal violence. It has generally been seen that determining role in creating communalism is not played by religion but by non-religious forces. A careful scrutiny of the demands which have been and are made by communal leaders will reveal the true character and objective of communal politics under the mask of religion, tradition and culture. Earlier British imperialism used communalism as a divide and rule policy. The same has been continued by vested interests after independence using various factors.
The roots of communalism are very deep and diversified. Some of the roots lie in the structure and nature of Indian society which is multi-religious, multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-casteist and multi-regional in character. A society divided on these basis helps the growth of communal organizations. It may be asserted that the economic condition of the Hindu and the Muslim and other communities and their different development also contributes to the growth of communalism. It is often that the communalism of the community is a reaction of the communalism of another community.
Secularism, as opposite of communalism was adopted by Indian Constitution, which means respect for all religions and tolerance of all faiths, no State religion and support or favour to any religion by the State. Along with secularism were adopted democracy and commitment to economic development. It was expected that in a secular democratic set up government and people would get involve in economic development collectively, thereby building a new Indian society. What was expected was a new political culture based on full respect of human liberty, justice and equality.
There is no mysticism in the secular character of the State. Secularism is not anti-God; it treats alike the devout, the agnostic and the atheist. It eliminates God from the matters of the State and ensures that no one shall be discriminated against the ground of religion. Dr. Ambedkar states that all the secular State means is that this Parliament shall not be competent to impose any particular religion upon the rest of the people. Secularism is a system of social ethics based upon a doctrine that ethical standards and conduct should be determined exclusively with reference to the present life and social well being without reference to religion. Pluralism is keystone of Indian culture and religious tolerance is the bedrock of Indian secularism. It is based on the belief that all religions are equally good and efficacious pathways to perfection of God-realisation. It is clear from the constitutional scheme that it guarantees equality in the matter of religion to all individuals and groups irrespective of their faith emphasizing that there is no religion of the State itself. The Preamble of the Constitution read with Arts. 25 to 28 emphasises this aspect and also the concept of secularism embodied in the constitutional scheme. The concept of secularism is one facet of the right to equality woven as the central golden thread in the fabric depicting the pattern of the scheme of the Indian Constitution. The term “secular” has not been defined in the Constitution of India, “because it is a very elastic term not capable of a precise definition.” Secularism is one of the basic structures of the Indian Constitution which can neither be abridged nor be defaced.
There are some constitutions in the world which provide for the religion of the State and supremacy of God.
India is a multi religious country. The believers of each religion are very proud of their religion and are concerned about maintaining their religious identity. In this socio-religious context, the functionaries of the secular state have to maintain equal distance from all, and at the same time they have to harmonize inter religious social relations. While the constitutional framework provides a strong basis for the separation of democracy and religion, the actual practice of democracy has revealed that the political parties and governmental functionaries have not been able to internalize the constitutional framework. Religious rituals are being used at State functions.
India is a federal country consisting people professing and practicing different religions. It was therefore imperative for founding fathers of the Indian Constitution t frame a Constitution which must guarantee freedom of religion. Apart from guarantee of freedom of religion in Articles 25 to 28, there are other provisions such as Articles 14,15,16, which prohibit discrimination on the ground of religion. The Preamble also constitutes India a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. In S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, secularism has been held to be a basic feature of the Indian Constitution. A Government, which is anti-secular, cannot be said to be government according to provisions of the Constitution.
Article 25(1) protects the citizen’s fundamental right to freedom of conscience and his right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion. The protection given to this right is not absolute. It is subject to public order, morality and health as Art. 25(1) itself denotes. It is also subject to the laws, existing of future which are specified in Art. 25(2). As regards the grave-yard, though the land is scared and waqf, its acquisition cannot be said to take away of right of any living person to profess, practise or propagate religion. The freedom enunciated in Art. 25 is a personal freedom. It is a freedom which a person can claim for his personal exercise at will; it is not a freedom guaranteeing the preservation of the graves where bodies of some others lie. The real purpose and intendment of Art. 25 is to guarantee especially to the religious minorities the freedom to profess. No doubt, the freedom guaranteed by Art. 25 applies not merely to religious minorities but to all persons. But in interpreting the scope and content of the guarantee contained in this Article, the court will always have to keep in mind the real purpose underlying the incorporation of the provision in the fundamental rights chapter.
(i) Article of faith. Article 25 is an article of faith in the Constitution inco0rporated in recognition of the principle that the real test of a true democracy is the ability of even an insignificant minority to find its identity under the country’s Constitution.
Though Art. 25 is made subject to “public order morality and health” and also “to the other provisions of Part III”, Art. 26 is only subject to “public order, morality and health”. While Art. 25 confers the particular rights on all persons, Art. 26 is confined to religious denominations of any section thereof. Article 19(1) confers the various rights specified therein from (a) to (g) on citizens. A religious denomination or a section thereof as such is not a citizens. In that sense the fields of the two Articles may be to some extent different. Both the Art. 25 and Art. 26 are prefaced with the words “subject to public order, morality and health”. This exception in favour of “public order, morality and health” restricts to some extent the freedom of conscience of a right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion guaranteed under Art. 25(1) and also the right under Art. 26 to establish and maintain institutions, etc. What Art. 25(1) grants is not the right to convert another person to one’s own religion but to transmit or spread one’s own religion by an exposition of its tenets. It has to be remembered that Art. 25(1) guarantees “freedom of conscience” to every citizen, and not merely to the followers of one particular religion, and that, in turn, postulates that there is no fundamental right to convert another person to one’s own religion because if a person purposely undertakes the conversion of another person to his religion, that would impeach on the ‘freedom of conscience’ guaranteed to all the citizens of the country alike.
The most aggressive manifestation, of communalism, casteism, and deteriorating political process in violence. Communal violence, caste violence and political violence in general have attained serious dimension. Many of the incidences have already taken places such as Demolition of Babri Masque, Godhra Massacre, Terrorism, Mumbai and Melegaon blasts, etc are the results of the communal violence. During the elections campaign also each community or group communities are emphasized and preferred by different political parties, so as to attract the votes in the elections. The decade of 1990s has seen an alarming rise in the graph of Hindu-Muslim riots that had been increasing steadily all over India for several years. During election times, communal and caste violence become more aggravated along with general decline in political system. Few of the political parties are also been identified as parties pertaining to specific religions or communities. The agenda of these parties revel the development of these communities only and not the masses. It is noted that Bhartiya Janta Party identified as ‘Hindu’ political party, Republic Party of India is identified the political party for Dalits and backward classes, Congress is identified as party for Minority, backward and dalits and so on. In this way, many of the political parties are encouraging communalism rather secularism. Gradually the Indian society is being dividing due to communalism supported political parties. In this way, communalism has not only become threat to unity of India, but also threat and challenge to democracy. Even though Indian democracy is based on secularism and equality, the communalism developed by the different political parties to gain power has become major challenge.
Indian Constitution emphasized the equality and sovereignty, which indirectly shows the equal opportunities to all the people irrespective of religions, caste or communities. All the adult people are eligible to vote and elect their representatives, as they like. Any kind of influence or coercion is prohibited while voting in the elections, as stated by the rules of the Election Commission. Such rules were made by the Election Commission so as to make free and fair elections. But it is noted that while voting there are various factors such as education, community, religion, caste, gender, etc are influencing the votes f the Indian citizens. As discussed already community and Caste are major influencing factors in Indian democracy. These factors to a greater extent influence the Indian democracy, thereby avoiding free and fair elections. Hence, it is emphasized that communalism and casteism are major challenges to conduct free and fair elections and also successful democratic government.
The successful democratic government lies on the principles of liberty, equality, fraternity, social justice, secularism, fair play and rule of law enshrined in Indian Constitution. To form successful democratic government, the political parties and Indian citizens must play their role to fight against the communalism and casteism in the politics and avoid these elements to act as instruments to get political gain the hands of politicians. Political parties should fight elections and exercise political power on the basis of an ideological perspective, of course, taking care of social, cultural and linguistic interests of various communities in India. There is need on the part of citizens, as they have to understand that the real purposes of communal and caste politics is to keep tem divided. Hence, the educated and the conscious have to protect them from falling prey to communal forces. Communal and caste sentiments are bound to lose their strength in India wit the growth of democratic and humanistic values.
1. Basu, DD (1983): Introduction to the Constitution of India, 1983.
2. Bipin Chandra (1987): Communalism in Modern India, New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1987.
3. Ganesh Prasad and Anand Kumar (2006): The Concept, Constraints and Prospect of Secularism in India. The Indian Journal of Political Science. Vol. 67. No.4. October-December 2006, P. 793-808.
4. Jain, HM (2001): Communalism, Nationalism and Minorities in India. The UP Journal of Political Science. Vol. 8. NO. 1 & 2. January- December 2001. P. 1-12.
5. Jain. MP (2000): Indian, Constitution Law, Agra: Wadhwa and Company, 2000.
6. Pylee, MV (2000): Our Constitution Government and Politics. Delhi: Universal Law Publishing, 2000.
7. Shakir Moin (1980): Politics of Minorities in India. New Delhi: Ajantha Publiscations, 1980.
# Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Allahabad, Allahabad.
# Ahmedabad St. Xavier’s College v State of Gujarat AIR 1974 SC 1389 (para 75).
# Parliamentary Debates, vol. III, Pt. II.
# Webster’s New International Dictionary.
# Valsamma Paul v Cochin University AIR 1996 SC 1011 Ipara 25).
# M. Ismail Faruqui v. Union of India AIR 1995 SC 605 (para 40). See also paras 1 and 2, ibid about the motto of religion as stated by Jonathan Swift (“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another”); Swami Vivekananda (“Religion is not in doctrines……., it is realization”).
# Per A.M. AHMADI, J. (as he then was) in S.R. Bommai v Union of India AIR 1994 SC 1981 (1951).
# Kasavananda v. State of Kerala Air 1973 SC 1461 (para 302).
# Constitution of People’s Republic of Bangladesh (Art. 2A- Islam as State religion); Constitution of Arab Republic of Egypt (Art.2- Islam as State religion); Constitution of Islamic Republic of Iran (Preamble); # Constitution of Republic of Iraq (Art. 4-Islam as State religion); Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan (Preamble); Constitution of Sri Lanka (Art. 7- Buddhism as State religion).
# (Canada) Constitution Act 1982 (Preamble); Constitution of Federal Republic of Germany (Preamble); Constitution of Swiss Confederation (Preamble).
# J.T. (1994) 2 S.C. 215, (1994) 3 S.C.C. 1 AIR 1994 S.C. 1981.
# Shri Govindlalji v State of Rajasthan AIR 1963 SC 1638 (para 56).
# Mohd. Ali Khan v Lucknow Municipality AIR 1978 All 280 (para 10).
# T. Krishnan v G.D.M. Committee AIR 1978 Ker 68 FB (para 36).
# Bijoe Emmanuel v State of Kerala Air 1987 SC 748 (para 17).
# Narendra Presadji v Stateof Gujarat AIR 1974 SC 2098 (paras 25, 26).
# Sant Das v Babu Ram AIR 1969 All 436 (para 10).
# Rev. Stainislaus v State of M.P. AIR 1977 SC 908 (para 19)
The author can be reached at: email@example.com