NCERT Class 8 Civics Chapter 2 - Understanding Secularism Notes

Chapter 2 - Understanding Secularism Notes

1. History provides us with many examples of discrimination, exclusion and persecution on the grounds of religion.

2. Jews were persecuted in Hitler’s Germany and several millions were killed. The Jewish State of Israel treats its own Muslim and Christian minorities quite badly. In Saudi Arabia, non-Muslims are not allowed to build a temple, church etc., and nor can they gather in a public place for prayers.

3. A country which doesn’t promote any religion as its country’s religion is a secular country. India is one of the example.

4. India adopted a policy to separate the power of religion and the power of the State.

5. Secularism refers to this separation of religion from the State.

6. The Indian Constitution allows the individuals the freedom to live by their religious beliefs and practice it.

7. Why is it important to separate religion from the State?
• This is important for a country to function democratically. Almost all countries of the world will have more than one religious group living in them.
• The tyranny of the majority and the violation of Fundamental Rights that can result in one reason is, why it is important to separate the State and religion in democratic societies.
• Another reason that it is important to separate religion from the State in democratic societies is because we also need to protect the freedom of individuals to exit from their religion, embrace another religion or have the freedom to interpret religious teachings differently.

8. What is Indian Secularism?
The Indian Constitution mandates that the Indian State be secular. According to the Constitution, only a secular State can realise its objectives to ensure the following:
• That one religious community does not dominate another
• That some members do not dominate other members of the same religious community
• That the State does not enforce any particular religion nor take away the religious freedom of individuals.

9. The Indian State works in various ways to prevent the above domination.
• First, it uses a strategy of distancing itself from religion. The Indian State is not ruled by a religious group and nor does it support any one religion. In India, government spaces like law courts, police stations, government schools and offices are not supposed to display or promote any one religion.
• The second way in which Indian secularism works to prevent the above domination is through a strategy of non-interference. This means that in order to respect the sentiments of all religions and not interfere with religious practices, the State makes certain exceptions for particular religious communities. For example, a Sikh man can wear a pagri (turban) instead of helmet.
• The third way in which Indian secularism works to prevent the domination listed earlier is through a strategy of intervention. Untouchability is a good example of this, where members of the same religion (‘upper-caste’ Hindus) dominate other members (some ‘lower castes’) within it. In order to prevent this religion-based exclusion and discrimination of ‘lower castes’, the Indian Constitution bans untouchability. In this instance, the State is intervening in religion in order to end a social practice that it believes discriminates and excludes, and that violates the Fundamental Rights of ‘lower castes’ who are citizens of this country. Similarly, to ensure that laws relating to equal inheritance rights are respected, the State may have to intervene in the religion-based ‘personal laws’ of communities.
• The intervention of the State can also be in the form of support. The Indian Constitution grants the right to religious communities to set up their own schools and colleges. It also gives them financial aid on a non-preferential basis.

10. In what ways is Indian secularism different from that of other democratic countries?
• The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the legislature from making laws “respecting an establishment of religion” or that “prohibit the free exercise of religion”. Here the word ‘establishment’ is means that the legislature cannot declare any religion as the official religion. Nor can they give preference to one religion.
• In the U.S.A. the separation between State and religion means that neither the State nor religion can interfere in the affairs of one another.
• There is one significant way in which Indian secularism differs from the dominant understanding of secularism as practiced in the United States of America. In American secularism, there is a strict separation between religion and the State. Whereas in the Indian Secularism, the State can intervene in religious affairs.

11. In the United States of America, most children in government schools have to begin their school day reciting the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’. This Pledge includes the words “under God”. It was established more than 60 years ago that government school students are not required to recite the Pledge if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. Despite this, there have been several legal challenges objecting to the phrase “under God” saying that it violates the separation between church and State that the First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees.

12. In February 2004, France passed a law banning students from wearing any conspicuous religious or political signs or symbols such as the Islamic headscarf, the Jewish skullcap, or large Christian crosses. This law has encountered a lot of resistance from immigrants who are mainly from the former French colonies of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. In the 1960s, France had faced a shortage of workers and, therefore, had provided visas for these immigrants to come and work in the country. The daughters of these immigrants often wear headscarves while attending school. However, with the passing of this new law, they have been expelled from their school for wearing headscarves.

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