RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN INDIA: A MYTH OR A REALITY?
This article has been written by Reet Babbar, a second year student of University of Petroleum and Energy Studies.
“Religion is the life of India, Religion is the language of this country, the symbol of all its movements” this quote by Swami Vivekananda exemplifies the centrality of religion in our existence and how it lingers with us as a constituent of our identity from the time of an individual’s birth till the time of his death. This is certainly relevant in a nation like India where an individual cannot be perceived in isolation from his religious ideology. We all have the power to decide, perform and express our strongly held beliefs because religious freedom is a fundamental human right that provides our lives with moral integrity and significance. It serves as a foundation or framework that enables people of many religions and beliefs to be able to coexist when no particular religious community’s belief becomes sufficiently dominant enough to contribute in making the other religions run subordinate to its dominance. Every person, regardless of their religion, must have validation from the State that they are legally protected in their right to proclaim, practice, and spread their beliefs. But the question still remains: Do we effectively have religious freedom in our country, autonomous of any external interference, or do nevertheless there persist any biases, disparities amongst individuals who belong to any specific religion in real-world situations? This is because we equate the institution of religion with each and every political matter arising in societal structure or any current disruptions in the nation’s sovereignty and tranquility.
The concept of Secularism
India is a religiously diverse nation. Despite the fact that there are many different religious communities in the nation, the Constitution of India upholds a secular state. The Preamble of the Constitution was amended by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment in 1976 and included the term “Secular” in it. The addition was made with the intention of emphasizing the need of upholding secularism’s progressive principles and the nation’s unity, both of which have been under intense threat from influential groups that wish to push their own agenda interests at the expense of the collective benefit. Thus as a consequence of it, to avoid such prevailing circumstances, India now neither has a state-recognized religious doctrine nor an established state religion. The state in no way advocates or embraces any particular religion. The state is expected to respect all faiths and religious communities impartially so that no one’s religion disqualifies them from holding office.
The Indian Constitution grants all people in India specific rights regarding religious freedom in Articles 25 to 28. These rights apply to both citizens and non-citizens. These constitutional protections safeguard religious freedom to religious organizations as well as individuals. The freedom of conscience and the free exercise, professing, and propagation of religion are included in Article 25. It is apparent that the rights granted to individuals and religious bodies under Article 25 are not absolute, and that the article is subject to a number of reasonable constraints. The state doesn’t intervene with someone’s or a group’s religious activities, however it may be challenged when those initiatives violate conditions outlined in constitutional laws, such as public order, health, and morality; and should also not be in violation with other fundamental rights guaranteed by constitution otherwise, any such violation would be condemned and would invalidate the practice. To form and maintain institutions for religious reasons, to operate their own activities, and to regulate their assets, religious denominations or sections are guaranteed freedom under Article 26. Article 26 is a correlative to Article 25 since there must also be freedom to establish and administer religious institutions for there to be any real religious freedom. Article 27 addresses the freedom to pay taxes for the propagation of any specific religion and ensures that the income generated by levies will not be utilized to further the interests of any one religion or denomination in particular. Last but not least, Article 28 forbids religious instruction in educational institutions that are entirely funded by the State. Every individual shall have the right to choose not to engage in religious teaching or worship in the case of other institutions that the State recognizes and maintains; in other words, the state will not be permitted to compel anybody to attend religious services that may be held at any institution.
Even though the constitution grants an individual the right to exercise his or her religion publicly and to exist according to the dictates of her conscience, and the state is not vested with the power to interfere in this way, we have seen instances when some religious activities had to be curtailed because they are irreconcilable with the fundamental rights that we all possess. Such restrictions were not in any way an impediment to religious freedom in India, but rather a necessary measure to halt actions that, if permitted, undermined another person’s equality within society.
For instance, the Supreme Court abolished the practice that forbade women of menstrual age from entering the temple to worship Lord Ayyappa in the historic Indian Young Lawyers Association v. State of Kerala [(2019) 11 SCC 1] case. It was determined that while this practice was religious, it was not particularly necessary and it violated Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution, leading to sex-based discrimination. Similar to this, the triple talaq practice of Muslims was contested in the case of Shayara Bano v. Union of India [AIR 2017 9 SCC 1 (SC)]. According to the doctrine of essentiality, it was determined that it was not an essential religious practice because it violated numerous other fundamental rights owing to its irrevocable nature.
Is it a myth or a reality?
The implementation of any provisions of a legislation, while also taking into account the consequences it has while being realistically applicable, is more important than their mere existence. Religious freedom in India, in my perspective, continues to be a myth despite numerous constitutional safeguards and judicial pronouncements.
Religion can easily be considered to be the weak point of the people of our nation, to a point that more than their own identity, their religious background and religious forefront is considered to be of higher importance. When it comes to the relationship between a person’s religion and the state, it is transparent from analyzing the political history of our nation that political parties frequently capitalize on religious inclinations in order to prevail in elections and sustain widespread approval. They frequently associate their party with a particular dominant religion in exchange for this support, and every once in a while they pass policies that, in the shadow, significantly affect a certain religious ideology.
We continue to encounter and notice concerning acts of religiously extremist fueled violence, such as mob lynchings of members of various religious communities, on a regular basis. The relationship between any prolonged political matter and religious dogma is so intense that, even before a violent act or dilemma is started to look into, the religion of the alleged perpetrator and the victim is taken into account by society, which causes an individual’s horrendous acts to tarnish the identity of an entire religious community. As a consequence, each and every matter becomes more focused on the controversy between religious communities compared to what it basically seemed to be.
The only obstacle standing between India’s constitutionally mandated rights to religious diversity and practical religious freedom is the acceptance, tolerance and respect that each individual ought to have for equally his or her own religion and the religion of others, encouraging all faiths to flourish in a spirit of fraternity. Only religious extreme groups are susceptible to being swayed by outside pressures to become resentful of the tenets of other religions. Since the state is not permitted to intervene with an individual’s right to practice their religion, no one can cause another person to grieve as they profess a different belief system than their own. Thus it becomes immensely valuable for us as a diverse society to recognize this and proceed embracing the religious privileges that were already provided to us through the laws directly.
- Indian Constitutional Law, M.P. Jain, LexisNexis Publication.
- Introduction to the Constitution of India, Dr. Durga Das Basu, 20th Edition Reprint 2011, LexisNexis Butterworths Wadhwa Nagpur Publication.
- Constitutional Law, Mamta Rao, Eastern Book Company, Lucknow.
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