Secularism normally means that religion is a personal matter and state has nothing to do with it. But in the Indian Constitution secularism means that the state cannot promote any particular religion or discriminate between different religions. The areas of religion and of policy are not totally separated.
The state has to treat all religions as equal. It can even interfere in religion to bring about social reform. In this sense Indian secularism is Sarva Dharma Sama Bhavana: equal respect to all religions and not neutrality in religion. Thus the ideals of secularism also support the democratic principle of equality and freedom.
Secularism does not mean rejection of religion. A religion has two aspects. One is the philosophic or ideological aspect and the other is the ritualistic aspect. The philosophic aspect deals with the belief system and the ritualistic
aspect with various practices. However scholars believe that there is a great unity between all religion and they perform the some social function all over the world.
The ethical values and moral codes of all religions do not differ from each other and that is why there is unity in mankind. The secularism looks at religion from this angle and therefore gives equal respect to all religion
Various rights provided to citizens of India under Constitution in this regard are:
(1) Each citizen is guaranteed full freedom to practice and preach his own religion.
(2) All citizens irrespective of their religious faith will be equal. This indicates that in a secular society, followers of different religions can continue to believe in and practice their religious principles. No outside agency including the state can interfere in legitimate religious affairs.
The two important features of a secular state are:
a) Complete separation of state and religion.
b) Full liberty for the followers of all religion as well as “atheists and agnostics” to follow their respective faiths.
In our modem times, concept of secularism has become quite popular. It is believed that secularism is completely opposed to religion. A person who is secular cannot be religious. But that is not true at all. Secularism means all religions are equal and all enjoy equal respect. There will be no distinction on the basis of religion; capabilities and ability of individual will not be decided on the basis of religion.
Secularism believes that religion is a private affair of every individual and it is for the individual alone. Every advanced state today believes in the philosophy of secularism. Gone are the days when the State took pride in promoting a particular religion at the cost of another religion.
Secularism as a concept is catching the imagination of the world. Religious minorities are given some constitutional rights and guarantees. There are several religious minorities like the Jains and the Jews and minority sects such as Muslims, Khojas who belong to the Muslim faith but are regarded as a minority within a minority.
A religion however does not remain at the personal, private level. It gets institutionalized. Then it is not just a matter of personal faith, piety or inner experience. Once it is institutionalized it gets interested in maintaining its hold on the people and other establishments that are declared binding upon its members. In this process often it gets into conflict with other religious group.