Communalism has been one of the most disturbing problems. It has continued to be a threat to national integration. It is true that traditionally, the Indian society has been non-communal. Since centuries it has been absorbing and assimilating many religions and cultures. But it was during the British rule that communalism was used as a tool to divide Indians.
The colonial rulers created situations to convince Indians that primarily they were members of different religious communities and they must think and act differently. The Constitution makers had sensed the negative potential of communalism. That is why, the Constitution declares India to be a secular State.
Although the original Constitution had many provisions to promote secularism, the continued reappearance of communalism demanded reassertion. Consequentially, it was made one of the basic pillars of Indian democracy and the word ‘secular’ was inserted into the Preamble of the Constitution by the Forty-Second Amendment in 1976.
Secularism does not mean being irreligious or anti-religious. The term pseudo-secularism is used only for political purposes. Secularism implies equality of all religions and religious tolerance.
It may be appreciated in two contexts: state context and individual context. In the state context it means that India does not have an official state religion. The government must not favour or discriminate against any religion. It must treat all religions with equal respect. All citizens, irrespective of their religious beliefs are equal in the eyes of law. No religious instruction is imparted in government or government-aided schools. But the general information about all established world religions may be imparted, without giving any importance to any one religion or the others.
In the individual context, it means sarva dharma samabhava, equal respect for all religions. Every person has the right to preach, practice and propagate any religion they choose. Every citizen must treat all religions with the same respect as he or she has for his or her religion. No religion permits individuals to ignore or hate others.
Various provisions of the Constitution ensure India to be a secular State. The Indian constitution through its Preamble and particularly through its chapters on Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles has created a secular state based on the principle of equality and non-discrimination.
Along with the principles of social and economic democracy, secularism has been held to be one of the ‘Basic Structures’ of Indian Constitution. It has been reflected in the Constitution primarily as a value in the sense that it extends support to our plural society. Secularism aims at promoting cohesion among different communities living in India.
Despite the constitutional provisions and safeguards it is unfortunate that all Indians are yet to be truly secular. India has to experience communal riots at regular intervals. Even a very insignificant reason leads to communal tension and violence. But secularism is essential not simply for maintaining communal harmony and peace, but for the very existence of our nation.
India has a plural society. Therefore, it is essential that all the people develop respect towards one another and practice peaceful co-existence.