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  • Writer's pictureK S Deepak

Religion, Secularism and Communalism: The western and Indian Context

With recent happening mottling the social fabric of our country, it is quintessential to understand what religion, secularism and communalism are and to see whether their meaning has changed with the context.

Several scholars have been riddled to understand the Indian society, which has been known to be a “chaotic Karishma”. It is unformed but without uniformity and is diverse but without fragmentation.


Personally, religion is my relationship with my god, but in a societal context, this gets complex with additions of stratifications, rigidities and hierarchies. This concept of religion becomes so powerful that it often seems that one cannot be Indian without being something else.

Another aspect is how religion, religiousness, and religiosity are related. However, diving to those depths would make things complex, so for basic understanding, communalism perpetuates when these three things become intolerant.


The concept of secularism is even interesting as it has become ubiquitous parlance that western countries are flagbearers of secularism. Secularism as a concept indeed may have been developed in western soil with its base in the Principle of Laicise in 1905 France , but it has been part and parcel of Indian society for ages.

These philosophical reiterations testify to the fact that how to live with a difference is a part of our tradition and is often seen as a process and not a product.

The Western and Indian Secularism

To understand the differentiating aspects of secularism, it is essential to understand that it can be seen at three levels: individual, society and state/ polity.

The western concept of secularism is based chiefly on the wall of separation between the state and the church, whereas it is more of a positive concept in the Indian context. In India, the state neither sides with a specific religion nor denies the existence of a religion. It is based on the principle of equidistance.


Communalism is more attractive in the sense that, in its literal form, it refers to an individual’s allegiance to one’s community. However, see the hypocrisy that in the Indian context or south Asian context, it has become a negative concept.

There is a tussle between historians and social scientists regarding the interpretation of communalism as the former sees it as a colonial construct, whereas the latter sees it as a political program. This tussle is brewed from the question that if secularism provided equal respect to all religions, then what would have instigated a religion to dominate others.

Whatsoever may be its theoretical aspect, it is sad that the architects of communalism have played their cards so well that it still functions as a false consciousness being fueled by some and suffered by the whole.

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