Hivos International

The idea of secularism and the supreme court of India

The Supreme Court of India had to address, among others, issues of secularism from the very beginning of the independent constitution. Justice Alam’s perceptive and insightful paper lucidly presents this long history of judicial engagement regarding questions of secularism as they emerged over time in India. Although the paper primarily draws from the judgements of the Supreme Court of India, it also provides a larger analytical grid when referring to decisions of the Apex Court on minority issues. Justice Alam's observations could be significantly important for other democratic societies and are interesting to compare to emerging experiences elsewhere in the world.

This paper presents a perspective on the role of the Supreme Court of India in upholding the ideal of secularism while balancing the interests of a deeply plural society like India. I will try to cover, very broadly, three areas; one concerning community based rights or minority rights and how in recent years the Court has tended to give priority to individual rights and freedom over community based rights; two how the Court has perceived secularism and how in some of its later decisions it has tended to take a mono-culturist rather than a pluralist view of secularism and third, how the Court has tried to regulate the State’s intervention in religious affairs and in the process has itself assumed a highly interventionist role.

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