ESSENTIAL PRACTICES DOCTRINE: PART 1

The larger debate regarding State and Religion is always-What is the best policy; exclusion or intrusion? The definition of ‘Secular’ in Merriam-Webster focuses on indifference, exclusion and to an extent- rejection of religion. The Indian model of secularism is inclusive and is based on the principle of equal respect to all religions thereby ruling out discrimination in the name of religion. Religious plurality in India makes secularism very important. This distinct meaning of secularism in the Indian context has been called Indianism by Ashish Nandi.[1] It focuses on sarvadharma samabhava and dharm nirpekshata. The Indian Constitution combines freedom of religion clauses with a mandate to the state to intervene in religious affairs. Article 25 allows the state to regulate or restrict any ‘economic, financial, political, or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice’.

The word secularism was added to the preamble of the constitution by the 42nd amendment. It implies that the state has no official religion. Since secularism pervades its provisions people have the opportunity to profess, practice and propagate any religion of their choice(A.25), subject to public order, health and morality.[2] The constitution not only guarantees people the right to freedom of religion and conscience, it also scrupulously restrains the state from discriminating on grounds of religion. As observed by the members of the constituent assembly, ‘A secular state is not a Godless State. It is not a state which is pledged to eradicate or ignore religion. It is not a state which refuses to take notice of religious belief in this country.’ Further, it is not mere tolerance, but equal respect for all religions.

To understand the Indian model of secularism, it is important to analyse the Court’s understanding and interpretation of the same. The discussion around what constitutes as essential practices under a particular religion, thereby being off limits for State intervention, and what is ‘ex­traneous or unessential’, thereby permissible for the State to interfere, led to the establishment of the essential practices doctrine.[3] The most striking aspect of the essential practices doctrine is the attempt by the Court to fashion religion in the way a modernist state would like it to be, rather than accept religion as represented by its practitioners.[4] It is derivative discourse of the doctrine of justice, equity and good conscience. First, the Court has taken recourse to this test to decide which religious practices are eligible for constitutional protection. Second­, the Court has used the test to adjudicate the legitimacy of legislation for managing re­ligious institutions. Finally, the Court has employed this doctrine to judge the extent of in­ dependence that can be enjoyed by religious denominations.


[1] Rizvi MMA, “Secularism in India: Retrospect and Prospects” (2005) 66 The Indian Journal of Political Science <https://www.jstor.org/stable/41856174?seq=2#metadata_info_tab_contents&gt; accessed June 29, 2021 

[2] ibid.

[3]“Secularism and Religious Freedom” in Sujit Choudhry, Madhav Khosla and Pratap Bhanu Mehta (eds), The Oxford handbook of the Indian Constitution (Oxford University Press 2016) <https://jguedu-my.sharepoint.com/personal/apagedar_jgu_edu_in/Documents/Consti%20Sec%20D/Article%2025-28%20Religion/Essential/Secularism%20and%20Religious%20Freedom.pdf?CT=1623944855886&OR=ItemsView&gt; accessed June 24, 2021 

[4] ibid.

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

Do follow me on FacebookTwitter  Youtube and Instagram.

The copyright of this Article belongs exclusively to Ms. Aishwarya Sandeep. Reproduction of the same, without permission will amount to Copyright Infringement. Appropriate Legal Action under the Indian Laws will be taken.

If you would also like to contribute to my website, then do share your articles or poems at adv.aishwaryasandeep@gmail.com

We also have a Facebook Group Restarter Moms for Mothers or Women who would like to rejoin their careers post a career break or women who are enterpreneurs.

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