Secularism and the Challenges to our Cultural practices in the name of Secularism– Elaborated

Updated December 20, 2022

When we talk about Challenges to our Cultural practices in the name of Secularism, we should first know about “what does Secularism mean? and, what are its principles?”. Secularism can be defined as Separation of religious institutions from state institutions and a public sphere where religion may participate, but can not dominate.

Secularism is also about Freedom to practice one’s faith or belief without harming others’ or to change it or not have one according to one’s own conscience. Ideology of secularism basically works on the principle of equality so that our religious beliefs or lack of them doesn’t put any of us at an advantage or a disadvantage.

This whole topic can’t be wound up with such a small discussion, so the team has tried diving into the issue as to how the Secularism poses challenges in professing your cultural practices.

What is Secularism and How Did It Evolve?

Secularism can be defined in different ways, it depends upon the perspective, experience and condition/state of an individual but simply we can define secularism as the Separation of religious institutions from state institutions and a public sphere where religion may participate, but not dominate OR Freedom to practice one’s faith or belief without harming others, or to change it or not have one, according to one’s own conscience.

To establish secularism in any state or region, the separation of religion and state works as foundation of secularism. Just because it ensures that religious groups don’t interfere in affairs of state, and the state doesn’t interfere in religious affairs. But not every secular country follows the same principle, such as India because India’s secularism does not separate religion and state, it partially separates religion and state. A glimpse that support the above statement can be seen below.

The Preamble to the Constitution asserted that India is a secular nation with the Forty-second Amendment of the Constitution of India enacted in 1976. Modern India has always been inspired by secularism. But, when we compare India with Western countries, in practice, India’s secularism does not separate religion and state, unlike secularism of Western nations. The Indian Constitution has allowed extensive interference of the state in religious affairs.

Indian Secularism vs Secularism of Western

India does not separate religion and state completely, it separates partially. For example, it does not have an official state religion and state-owned educational institutions cannot impart religious instructions. When we talk about the of law in modern India, there is unequal applicable code of law.

And India’s personal laws varies with an individual’s religion on matters like marriage, divorce, inheritance, alimony etc. Hindu, Christian and Sikh Indians live under common law (follow common law) while Muslim Indians have Sharia-based Muslim Personal Law.

Partial financial support is permitted by the Indian Constitution for religious schools, as well as the financing of religious buildings and infrastructure by the state. The Indian government administers and manages the Islamic Central Wakf Council and many Hindu temples of great religious significance .

Acceptability of child marriage, polygamy, unequal inheritance rights, extra judicial unilateral divorce rights favorable to some males, and conflicting interpretations of religious books has created a number of issues in India due to attempting to respect unequal, religious law.

Western practice of secularism has a great difference when compared to Secularism as practiced in India which  is a controversial topic in India. Individuals who Support Indian concept of secularism claim it respects for “minorities and pluralism”. But individuals who Criticize the Indian form of secularism claim it as “pseudo-secularism”. 

It is stated by the Supporters that majoritarian Hindu sensibilities and ideals would be imposed on any attempt to introduce a uniform civil code, that is equal laws for every citizen irrespective of his or her religion. People who criticize India’s practice of Secularism, state that, acceptance of Sharia and religious laws by India violates the principle of Equality before the law.

This is all about secularism on the basis of religions but secularism is not only about making a state free from religious interference. It works on various ways as mentioned below.

What are the Different Ways Secularism Works on?

On closely observing the ideology of secularism, you will get to see that there are certain ways the Secularism works on.

Secularism ensures protection for both believers and non-believers 

Protection for freedom of religious belief and practice for all citizens is granted by secularism. One who follows the concept of Secularism, wants freedoms of thought and conscience equally to all whether they are believers or non-believers. They do not wish to curtail religious freedoms.

It seeks to defend Religious Freedom

It is the duty of Secularism to ensure the absolute freedom to all religious belief, and protect the right to manifest religious belief insofar as it does not impinge on the rights and freedoms of others. The right of individuals for freedom of religion is always balanced by the right to be free from religion and it,s always ensured by the secularism.

Secularism is about Democracy and Fairness

All citizens are equal before the law and parliament in state of secular democracy.  Religious believers are citizens with the same rights and obligations as anyone else. So, political organization or religious does not give any advantages or disadvantages to a particular religion.

Secularism considers human rights as universal and no religious demands is above. Secularism upholds the laws  of equality that ensures  protection of LGBT people minorities and women from religious discrimination. These equality laws ensure that non-believers have the same rights as those who identify with a religious or philosophical belief.

It ensures Equal access to public services

Every citizen use hospitals, schools, the police and the services of local authorities. So, it is essential to ensure that these public services are secular at the point of use or not that no-one could disadvantaged or denied access on grounds of religious belief (or non-belief).

Every school which is managed/administered by government should be non-religious in character, so that the children being educated together could be regardless of their parents’ religion. When a public body grants a contract for the provision of services to an organization affiliated to a particular religion or belief, such services must be delivered neutrally, with no attempt to promote the ideas of that faith group.

Secularism is not about being atheist  

Atheism is a lack of belief in gods and being atheist doesn’t make you secular. Secularism simply provides a framework for a democratic society, it has nothing to do with atheism. Atheists have an obvious interest in supporting secularism because it ensures equality for every religion/faith.

And, being atheist mean every religion belief is equal as nothing for him, but secularism itself does not scrutinize to challenge the principle of any particular religion or belief, neither does it seek to impose atheism on anyone.

Secularism is simply a framework(create a framework) for ensuring equality throughout society such as, in politics, education, the law and elsewhere for both believers and non-believers.

It ensures protection to free speech and expression 

Everyone with any religious belief/ faith has the right to express their beliefs publicly. Religious beliefs, ideas and organizations must not enjoy privileged protection from the right to freedom of expression. In a democracy, all ideas and beliefs must be open to discussion. Individuals have rights; ideas do not.

How does Secularism Pose Challenges to our Cultural practices?

Great Changes taking place in the cultural value of India due to secular values spawn into everyday practices of the Indian citizens. These values not only Change personal lifestyles but also social lifestyle. So, let’s see the challenges to our cultural practices in the name of Secularism.

It affects family values

Respecting elders, belief in stronger marital ties, maintaining family bonds etc are the values to keep on focus by Indian traditional family. But due to Secular beliefs, these values had been undermined by considering them as medieval and backward.  And thought of  being secular has created a sense of illusion in mind of new generation regarding these values.

Thus, all we can observe from the above arguments is that, following cultural practices are considered to be against Indian secularism, which is highly untrue. Instead Indian values provide space for existence of all kinds of practices and beliefs, without discrimination.

It affects food culture

Different religion have different food culture, so, hurting religious feelings of one particular group in the name of secular credentials is highly unwarranted.  And it can be in the form of consuming foods just to prove a point. This can also trigger conflicts between religious groups.

Obstruction in mode of Worshiping

India is a Country with great diversity where highly diverse society & multiple religions co-exist along with different and unique modes of worship. Every religion have different cultural practices which can hurt the sentiments of one-another but, being secular does not mean stopping of cultural/festive practices, instead it must be freedom to practice any mode of worship without any fears. And it is of the major challenges posed by Secularism

Challenges by Secularism also Includes Festivities Barricading

One who follow the concept of secularism think that festive practices are medieval and backward. That is why many secular forces have been trying to undermine religious practices especially festive ones citing it to be against secular spirit of India. Due to such forces, ancient festivities that hold great cultural significance are slowly being eroded.

Thus, it is but obvious that Challenges by Secularism are many that get in the way of our cultural practices. Sometimes by impacting family values, at other times by food culture, yet other time by sanctions at festivals.

Beyond Difficulties by Secularism Under General Studies Reads

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