What can France Learn from the Indian Secularism aka Indian Constitution’s Approach to Secularism?

Updated August 12, 2022

There are many things France can learn from Indian Secularism. We will be diving deep into possibilities with this article. The secularism implies the separation of religion from the political, social, economic and cultural aspects of life and religion will be treated as purely a personal matter. A secular state not only refuses to be theocratic but also has no legal alliance with the religion.

It does not discriminate or show any partiality on the basis of the individual religion but provides equal opportunities for followers of all religions. A secular state must be committed to principles like peace, religious freedom, freedom from religiously grounded discrimination, inter-religious and intra-religious equality. These principles are incorporated in Indian secularism.

French Outlook to Secularism vs Indian

The concept of secularism is defined differently in different parts of the world. One such difference can be seen between India and France’s approach towards the secularism. French secularism model separates the state from religion completely. The state does not support any religion.

The 2010 regulation of France prohibited the individual to display the religious symbol and dress but does not interfere in private religious practices. It guarantees them peaceful co-existence with respect to the laws and principles of the Republic.

While the Indian constitutional secularism is more inclusive and positive. It supports all culture and religion. Citizens have complete freedom to follow any or no religion but there is no official religion Governments treats all religious beliefs and practices with equal respect. Muslims are given Haj subsidy, the state spends and help arrange Kumbh Mela, Amarnath Yatra etc.

Recently, in Maharashtra case, slaughtering of meat was banned during the Jain festival. India recommends active participation in regulating religious affairs while maintaining equal distance from all religion. The Indian constitution adopted a positive connotation wherein all religions are respected and protected equally.

Problems with French Secularism

(a) The French secularism implies complete separation of religion from the state.

(b) The acts of showing signs of preaching one’s religion are ultimately banned in France.

(c) Applying this negative connotation of secularism, France has prohibited to display all the religious symbols or dress in public space. The French secularism fails to recognize that religion is a way of life and restricting the expression of religion is killing of freedom of speech and expression.

(d) Due to lack of support from the state in western secularism the minorities get marginalised. For example, recent Hijab and Burkini ban in France has created anxiety among minorities.

(e) If a particular religion forbids some of its members to enter into its sanctum, then the state has no option but to let the matter rest exactly where it is. So, religion is a private matter, not a matter of state policy or law. The state does not involve in the individualistic religious issue. This is a drawback of the French secularism.

(f) Xenophobia, Islamophobia and rising intolerance are the outcomes of France’s inability to actively regulate religious affairs.

(g) The drawbacks of this model can also be seen as France focus on intra-religious domination by the strict separation of state from religion. Intra-religious domination is the circumstances where particular society or religion commands their own members belonging to its group. The state tramples individual freedoms of expression and does not concern with the issues of inter-religious. Inter religious domination is the situation where one dominant society or its members persecuted the other social groups on the event of their doctrinal identity.

France’s Approach towards secularism is different from Indian Secularism.

What France can Learn from Indian Secularism

In France, laws are made in isolation from religious principles, while in India the law seeks to fit in with the needs of the multiple religious principles that followers of different religions adhere to. For Instance- Indian constitution has given due consideration in the framing of rules and regulations like allowing Sikhs to carry Kirpans and those wearing Pagdi can excuse the administration from wearing helmets while driving two-wheelers

The Indian model of Secularism not only upholds individual religious rights but also community religion rights. The fundamental rights specially protect the rights of religious minorities (Articles 25-30).

France can learn the idea of inter-religious equality. For example, Indian secularism equally opposes the oppression of Dalits and women within Hinduism and discrimination against women within Islam or Christianity.

It can learn from India that every individual has the right to profess the religion of his /her choice. Likewise, religious minorities also have a right to exist and to maintain their own culture and educational institutions.

Indian Secularism has made room for and is compatible with the idea of state-supported religious reform under article 25(2). For Instance, in Sabarimala Case women of all ages are allowed to enter in the Ayyapan Temple.

The Indian state may engage with religion negatively to oppose religious tyranny. It may also choose a positive mode of engagement.

It can learn to preserve religious freedom not only of individuals but of minority communities as well. Thus, the constitution of India grants all religious minorities, the rights to establish and maintain their own educational institutions, which may receive assistance from the state.

So, in India, it is not mutual exclusion, rather it is the principled distance, a complex idea that allows the state to be distant from all religions so that it can intervene or abstain from interference, depending upon which of these two would better promote liberty, equality and social justice.

It would be an absurdity to say that every state’s approach to religion is perfect. There is no perfect state and India have its own significant problems with diversity and integration, from religious violence to the persistence of the caste system.

But there are many things that France can learn from the Indian secularism to build a harmonious society. France can incorporate the many Indian principles of secularism to avoid discrimination. France can use the religion as a binding force and expression of freedom can be experienced by the citizens.

Beyond France as to Indian Secularism Under General Studies Reads

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