ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Supreme Court's Tryst with Secularism and Hindutva

In February this year, the Supreme Court held that although Muslim personal law permits a man to marry four women, this does not offer protection against service rules that prohibit more than one spouse. This article looks at a number of significant judgments on secularism down the years and traces how they defined a term whose correct interpretation continues to elude us.


India is home to eight major religions of the world. A necessary concomitant for peaceful coexistence then in such a diverse state is equality before law for all religions. The first document which spoke about “equal treatment of all religions” was the proclamation by queen Victoria issued in 1858 just after the Sepoy Mutiny. This document in the long run proved to be the sanjeevani booti (herb of immortality) for the British policy of divide and rule. The expression “Hindutva” was first used by V D Savarkar in his essay “Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu?” written in 1923. Interestingly, while notifying the Constitution, the founding fathers did not deliberately declare the country as secular. It was only in 1976 when the then ruling establishment through the 42nd constitutional amendment added the word “Secular” to the Preamble. However a definition of either “secularism” or “religion” was not supplied.

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