What can France learn from the Indian Constitution’s approach to secularism? (10 Marks)

Mentors Comments:

  • https://www.civilsdaily.com/secularism/
  • It’s a direct question.
  • It wants you to compare two aspects: Indian and French Constitution and Indian and French Secularism.
  • In recent times, France has been the target of various terror attacks and subsequently, France has banned various religious insignias and dresses. While France follows the rigid principle of secularism whereas Indian secularism is equal respect to all religions. 
  • In the intro, discuss the basic differences between Indian and French secularism.
  • Then in the 1st part of the main body, mention the challenges and issues with the French version of secularism.
  • Highlighting the recent events of terrorism and subsequent banning on many religious activities in France, mention what can France learn from India in terms of secularism and maintaining harmony in a multi-religious and multicultural society. Highlight how accommodating our constitution is in the form of Fundamental rights 25-28, Education (Gurukul system, Christian convent, Islamic education), Subsidies for Pilgrimages (Haj, Amarnath) etc.
  • Discuss, though briefly, some of the issues with Indian secularism as well before ending the answer on an optimistic line.


The French model of secularism separates the state from religion. The state does not support religious activities but also not interfere in private religious practices. It a tough stand and prohibit any visible religious symbols in public space. India secularism is more inclusive and positive. It supports all religion and culture. Muslims are given Haj subsidy, the state spends and help arrange Kumbh Mela, Amarnath Yatra etc. Recently slaughtering of meat was banned in Maharashtra during Jain festival. Hence India secularism is all about balancing the rights of all religion and culture.

Problems with French Secularism 

  • Due to the lack of support from the state in western secularism minorities get marginalised. 
  • For instance, recent Hijab and Burkini ban in France has created anxiety among minorities. 
  • If religious women forbid a woman from becoming a priest, then the state cannot do anything. Like this, if a particular religion forbids the entry of some of its members in the sanctum of its temple, then the state has no option but to let the matter rest exactly where it is.
  • So in France, religion is a private matter, not a matter of state policy or law. This model interprets freedom and equality in an individualistic manner. Liberty is the liberty of individual. Equality is equality between individuals. There is little scope for community-based rights or minority rights.
  • On the other hand, the drawbacks of this model can be seen as, such states focus on intra-religious domination by the strict separation of state from church to realise among other things individual freedoms, issues of inter-religious (and therefore minority rights) equality are often neglected. 
  • This model leaves no scope for the idea of the state-supported religious reforms.

What can France learn from Indian Secularism:

  • While in France, laws are made in isolation from religious principles, in India, the law seeks to accommodate the multiple religious principles that followers of different religions adhere to.
  • Indian Secularism opposed the oppression of Dalits and women within Hinduism. It also opposes the discrimination against women within Indian Islam or Christianity and the possible threats that a majority community might pose to the rights of the minority religious communities.
  • Indian Secularism deals not only with the religious freedom of individuals but also with the religious freedom of minority communities. 
  • 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. 
  • For example, the Indian constitution bans untouchability under Article 17. There is also the abolition of child marriage and lifting the taboo on inter-caste marriage sanctioned by Hinduism.
  • The Indian state may engage with religion negatively to oppose religious tyranny. It may also choose a positive mode of engagement. 
  • Thus, the Indian Constitution 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 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 should go without saying that no state’s approach to religion is perfect, and India faces its own significant problems with diversity and integration, from religious violence to the persistence of the caste system. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing for France to learn. Current political debates in the West, especially in France, need to open up to solutions that go beyond secularism, from places like India and from elsewhere. They need to embrace differences with policies for integrating minorities into education, the labour market and overall public life.


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