Freedom Of Religion Amidst Religious Pluralism In India

Freedom Of Religion Amidst Religious Pluralism In India

Ujjawal Vaibhav Agrahari_JudicateMe


This Blog is written by Ujjawal Vaibhav Agrahari | Column Editor



India, commonly known as the land of spiritual beliefs, metaphysical thought, history, has also been the birthplace of a number of religions, some of which still exist in this period. ‘Religion’ is a matter of preference, of interpretation, and of belief. People in this country have deep confidence and reliance because they believe that religion brings value and purpose to their lives when it comes to their religion. When it comes to people who are highly committed to their faith, they do not leave any stone unturned in displaying great devotion to their faith. It ponders the interest of each section of society and ensures overall care. Religion had always played a special role in Indian society and have a huge impact on the lives of most of the Indians and to their public life. In the everyday life of a person, ceremonies, worship, and other religious practices are very prominent; it is also a significant organizer of social life.

In the times of kings, religion was given importance and political decisions were always influenced by religious belief.  The identification of the major belief systems touches only the surface of the incredible diversity of religious life in India. Since independence government has remained separate from religion and given equal status to all religions thereby giving space to religious tolerance. It is laws and customs that led to religious diversity and religious tolerance in the country.

Meaning of religion[1]

1. Rudolph Otto: “Religion is that which grows out of, and gives expression to, the experience of the holy in its various aspects.”

2. George Bernard Shaw: “There is only one religion, though there are hundreds of versions of it.”

3. Sigmund Freud: “Religion is comparable to a childhood neurosis.”


The word “dharma” has many meanings depending on the context it is used in. The Sanskrit-English Dictionary of Monier-Williams mentions many of them, including behavior, obligation, law, justice, virtue, morality, faith, religious merit, good work according to a right or statute, etc. Dharma has the Sanskrit root dhri, meaning “that which upholds” or “that without which nothing can stand,” or “that which preserves the universe’s peace and harmony.” Every object in the universe has its own unique dharma, from the electron to the clouds, planets, plants, insects, and, of course, man. Man’s interpretation of the inanimate dharma of things is what we now call physics.


Satisfying the objective of the prodigious constitution and religious sentiments of people, the provision of the Right to freedom of religion was added to the constitution under Article 25-28. Article 25 states that “all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to believe, practice and spread religion freely subject to public order, morality and safety. [2]” Furthermore, Article 26 states “Freedom to manage religious affairs Subject to public order, morality, and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right (a) to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes; (b) to manage its own affairs in matters of religion; (c) to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and (d) to administer such property in accordance with law[3].”

India is a secular country, and this right eventually entitles every Indian citizen and gives him the freedom to preach and spread his choice of religion. This right gives freedom to preach about his religion, gives him the opportunity to spread it among all without any fear of governmental vengeance, and also gives him the assurance that he will practice it in a friendly manner within the country’s jurisdiction.

Article 27 says, “ Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion: No person shall be compelled to pay any taxes, the proceeds of which are specifically appropriated in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religions denomination. [4]

Article 28 says, “Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions (1) No religion instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of State funds (2) Nothing in clause (1) shall apply to an educational institution which is administered by the State but has been established under any endowment or trust which requires that religious instruction shall be imparted in such institution (3) No person attending any educational institution recognised by the State or receiving aid out of State funds shall be required to take part in any religious instruction that may be imparted in such institution or to attend any religious worship that may be conducted in such institution or in any premises attached thereto unless such person or, if such person is a minor, his guardian has given his consent thereto Cultural and Educational Rights. [5]

India has a system of personal laws in family affairs, i.e. Hindu Hindu Law, Muslim Law for the Muslims, etc. Many of these laws have been amended by statutes; some of the laws like Muslim Law has been left unamended, such as Islamic Law. Challenges to these laws were not recognized on the basis of religious distinction, or on the basis of men-women discrimination.


The 42 Amendment of the Constitution of India passed in 1976, affirms that India is a secular country. Officially, India was always inspired by modern secularism. Unlike Western perceptions of secularism, the Indian view on secularism does not distinguish religion and state. The Indian Constitution has allowed the massive intervention of the state in religious activities. Often do both realm state and religion interact and intervene in each other’s affairs within the legally prescribed and judicially settled manner.[6]


Though freedom is given, and the state is called secular too but often do both realm state and religion interact and intervene in each other’s affairs within the legally prescribed and judicially settled manner. Indian secularism does not entail a complete banishment of religion from the affairs of a society or even of the State.  Moreover, no freedom is absolute, correspondingly there are some limitations imposed on freedom of religion too. For responsible government freedom of religion is significant, but correspondingly significant is the society and its peace and orderly behavior. The state is equally responsible for curbing unwanted objectionable practices withstood in a society.

Freedom of religion envisaged by the constitution is not mere freedom but also responsibility to practice religion keeping in mind public order and public health etc. Here are the few grounds on which government can interfere or restrict freedom of religion.

1. Public order

To secure rights and enjoy them a conducive peaceful environment is necessary and hence the state has been given the power to maintain peace in the society. The state is authorized to use its power to keep an eye over religious meetings or processions in public places and regulate them. Article 19 (1) (c) which states “freedom to assemble” which also includes “religious assemblies” has a clause for conditions necessary for such assembly which is “Restrictions upon the Freedom of Religion”.

Hurt to religious sentiments of any person is also made punishable through Sections 295 to 298. There is also provision for cow-protection and laws prohibiting propagation of religion for the purpose of conversion, by inducement, force, or allurement, and all these things are done to maintain public order.

2. Morality

State legislation can validly prohibit immoral practices on the grounds of morality, even though they may be approved by religion. The Hindu religion has sanctioned certain practices that seem immoral. In South India, many orthodox Hindus believed that the dedication of girls to temples could achieve religious merit. Sati’s practice (by which a widow burned herself to death on her husband’s funeral pyre) was also regarded as having a religious basis. Once again, gambling during the Deepavali festival (i.e. light festival) is deemed to have Hindu religion approval.[7] All these things are prohibited through the provision of the constitution empowering the state to curb such activities.

3. Public Health

It is a civilized state’s supreme obligation to have legal protection to protect the lives of individuals and to preserve the human being’s good health. However, certain religious beliefs and practices may be contrary to this life-saving objective of the State. Death by starvation or self-inflicted punishment to achieve spiritual ends is likewise an offense under the Indian Penal Code. [8] Consequently, the law prohibits suicide even if the act is motivated by religious intention.

If the State allows people to practice and confess their faith, it does not encourage them to incorporate faith either directly or indirectly into non-religious and secular State operations. The freedom and acceptance of faith are only to the degree that it permits the development of a spiritual existence that is distinct from secular life. This latter comes within the State’s exclusive sphere of affairs.

Given the right to freedom of religion, the State may pass laws providing for social protection and reform, and may also regulate or limit any secular cultural, financial and political activity, etc.[9] In past, freedom of religion and power of interference has helped people, as the government prohibited any type of exploitation of Dalits and women within Hinduism, violence against women within Indian Islam or Christianity, and perceived challenges to the rights of minority religious groups by a majority group.[10]

Despite the right to equality, the State can provide special measures for women and children and to advance any socially and educationally backward class of citizens or the Scheduled Castes and Tribe[11]

Religious freedom has helped resolve not only individual freedom of worship but also the religious freedom of minority groups. Equally, religious minorities do have the freedom to live and maintain their own cultural and educational institutions. Because a secular state has to be equally concerned with intra-religious hegemony, freedom of religion has provided space for and is consistent with the State-backed concept of religious reform. Thus, the Indian constitution prohibits untouchability, child marriage, etc..[12]

Interference of state has helped the state to wipe out wrong practices going on in the society. A live example of it is women’s entry into the Sabrimala temple. Earlier women between the age of 10-50 weren’t allowed[13]. Sensing the utter discrimination within the religious institutions, the apex court ordered their entry.


Taking a dig over the past, The Hindu nationalists claimed that Indian heritage was embodied in Hinduism because Hindus formed the majority community of the country. Then emerged Muslim communalism, which led to the division of India. After independence, Nehru considered Hindu communalism as the country’s top envy; his fears were boosted after Nathuram Godse—a man from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Hindu nationalism’s ideological body, killed Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. From 1950s-70s Secular model worked well with Religious minorities representation in assemblies. Nehru kept an eye over Indian politics over religious polarization and punished those found guilty.

During Indira Gandhi’s rule, i.e. 1975-1977, the Supreme Court acceded to uphold the Emergency, the important decisions of the Indian court proved the constitutional guardianship of Indian courts. But India’s past has seen many instances of fairly fragile democracy and numerous challenges[14]. Beginning with the 1980s Indian secularism came under a very difficult situation. Shrewdly the Congress Party started to pander more freely to one religious’ community after another, resulting in significant harm to Indian secularism. Second, Indira Gandhi, the prime minister, tried to capitalize on religious differences in several overtly cynical ways. Also, she endorsed Aligarh Muslim University as a minority institution; supported separatist, secessionist Sikhs like Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to weaken Akali Dal, a rival political party in Punjab; and inaugurated the Bharat Mata Mandir, a temple established in 1983 with the help of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

Adding more vigor to shedding secularism her son Rajiv Gandhi in 1984, while dealing with Shah Bano case[15], to appease Muslims and get votes, he Involved sharia as a framework for Muslim religious law in India. Through these acts, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi have weakened India’s history of secularism and have opened the door to Hindu nationalism to achieve wider political salience.

In the 1980s, the Hindu nationalist group known as the RSS initiated the Ayodhya movement and requested that a Ram Temple be rebuilt in place of the Babri Masjid Mosque because once there was a temple demolished by Aurangzeb and with it they tried to mobilize the majority community which led to riots that divided voters along religious lines and helped the BJP win the 1991 Uttar Pradesh state elections.

Under the leadership of Manmohan Singh, the Congress Party realized how they and other parties miserably kept country’s developments at stake to remain in politics in past years and how important was for the country and government to remain secular. They created many commissions, most notably the Sachar Commission[16], which reported significant Hindu-Muslims inequalities. But it was too late, from the late 1980s to 2014, the Congress Party could see its political supremacy starting to erode as India was governed by many multiparty coalition governments, including coalition governments headed by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) of the Hindu right[17]. Since 2014 a new process has started, BJP has dominated elections not only at the center but also in states.


Religion in Indian society has a great role to play and this has been acknowledged by the constitution itself by providing rights. But from a few decades’ freedom of religion and ideals of secularism are deteriorating and are on the verge of decline. Though India signed the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to follow the guidelines given in it with respect to human rights, still the deterioration continues. United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has released its annual report and has mentioned restriction and challenges faced by religious minorities while exercising freedom of religion in India such as the rise of Hindu nationalism in India has led to riots, violence, and intimidation against Muslims, Dalits, Christians, etc. Anti-conversion and anti-cow slaughter laws, for example, are primarily used to discriminate against religious minorities, or to justify extrajudicial killings, abuse, and forced conversions of non-Hindus to Hinduism. These rules adverse the enjoyment of the right to freedom of faith or belief in society.

In a democratic country like India, the government forgets the victims of atrocities so easily, thereby faith in such a democratic system has been losing in the past few decades. Justice has become dreams for suppressed and minorities in the country. Thus, a series of events as such has piled us a sense of mistrust in minorities against the government. This plethora of resentment amid minorities wouldn’t lessen until the government address such religiously motivated violence and catches the nerves of such violence.

Cow Vigilantism and Mob lynching

The cow is considered sacred in Hinduism and hence special mentioning of protection of cow is given in the constitution and also 21 states in India have banned cow slaughtering and made it a punishable offense. Past 10 years have been very hard for India has several cases of cow vigilante has been seen where a group of people addressing themselves protector of ‘Gau Mata’ and ‘Hindu nationalist’ have taken law and order in their hands by brutally beating and killing people under the assumption that the killed person has killed a cow or they heard rumor of him killing a cow or eating it. Under the name of freedom of religion, nobody is allowed to make laws in their hands. It is the court who decides that the person is guilty or not.

A Muslim man’s widely reported lynching in Uttar Pradesh in 2015, following (unfounded) rumors that his family had killed and eaten a cow during the Muslim Eid holiday. There has been much criticism of the government after this incident. Nobody intimated even to make a law banning such mob lynching in the name of protection of religion till

The issues are piling up for religious minorities in India. In order to ensure that everyone enjoys the right to freedom of religion or belief, India needs to put in place an urgent and comprehensive response. Cases of religiously motivated violence or violence against religious minorities need to be fully investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. Victims of such atrocities need to be provided with assistance. The anti-conversion laws need to be repealed to give full effect to India’s international law obligations.

Kashmiri Pandit and Unredressed grievance

Kashmiri Hindus in India’s Muslim-majority region of the Kashmir Valley are a numerically small yet historically privileged ethnoreligious minority. After their exodus from the Kashmir Valley in 1990, the group has been caught up in highly politized national debates regarding secularism in terms of elections, governance, and the duty of the state towards its people. Via ethnographic exposure to Kashmiri Hindu migrant vendors in New Delhi, I investigate how secularism as a philosophy and culture forms group mobilization, contact between people and states, and the development of political subjectivity in contemporary India. Approaching secularism as a historical mode of government, my study reveals how secular values, traditions, and attitudes in contemporary India are related to specific political intervention and consumerist liberalization.


[1] Various Definitions of Religion <,holy%20in%20its%20various%20aspects.%22> as accessed on 31st May 2020.

[2] Constitution of India.

[3] Constitution of India.

[4] Constitution of India.

[5] Constitution of India.

[6] V.M.V. Naval Kishore, “Implementation of Secularism related laws depends on collective conscience of the people” in Secularism and Law 47 (National Foundation for Communal Harmony, New Delhi, August, 2010).

[7] Dhirendra K. Srivastava, “Religious Freedom in India – A Historical and Constitutional Study” (Deep & Deep Publications, New Delhi, 1983).

[8] Sections 306, 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

[9] Article 25(2).

[10]Ganesh Prasad and Anand Kumar, “THE CONCEPT, CONSTRAINTS AND PROSPECT OF SECULARISM IN INDIA” Indian Political Science Association (The Indian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 67, No. 4 (OCT. – DEC. 2006), pp. 793-808).

[11] Article 15(4).

[12]Ganesh Prasad and Anand Kumar, “THE CONCEPT, CONSTRAINTS AND PROSPECT OF SECULARISM IN INDIA” Indian Political Science Association (The Indian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 67, No. 4 (OCT. – DEC. 2006), pp. 793-808).

[13] Supreme court observer, “Sabarimala Temple Entry” <> as accessed on 1st June 2020.

[15] Mohamed Ahmad Khan v Shah Bano Begum (1988) 1 SCC 530: 1988 SCC (Cri) 182.

[16] Priya Parker, ‘Summary of Sachar Committee Report (December 7, 2006)’, as accessed on 28 May 2020.

[17] Yogendra Yadav, “Electoral Politics in the Time of Change: India’s Third Electoral System, 1989–1999,” Economic and Political Weekly 34 (1999): 2393–239.

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