Legal Articles

Religious Education and Secularism

The polity assured to the people of India by the Constitution is described in the Preamble wherein the word “secular” was added by the 42nd Amendment. It highlights the fundamental rights guaranteed in Articles 25 to 28 that the State shall have no religion of its own and all persons shall be equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion of their own choice. In brief, this is the concept of secularism as a basic feature of the Constitution of India and the way of life adopted by the people of India as their abiding faith and creed.

Clause (1) of Article 28 prohibits imparting of ‘religious instructions’ in educational institutions fully maintained out of State funds. The words “religious instructions” have been held as not prohibiting education of religions dissociated from “tenets, the rituals, observances, ceremonies and modes of worship of a particular sect or denomination”. The academic study of the teaching and the philosophy of any great saint such as Kabir, Guru Nanak and Mahavir was held to be not prohibited by Article 28(1) of the Constitution1.

A distinction, thus, has been made between imparting “religious instructions” that is teaching of rituals, observances, customs and traditions and other non-essential observances or modes of worship in religions and teaching of philosophies of religions with more emphasis on study of essential moral and spiritual thoughts contained in various religions. There is a very thin dividing line between imparting of ‘religious instructions’ and ‘study of religions.’ Special care has to be taken of avoiding possibility of imparting ‘religious instructions’ in the name of ‘religious education’ or ‘study of religions’.The English word ‘religion’ does not fully convey the Indian concept of religion. Hindus believe in Vedas. The word ‘Dharma’ has a very wide meaning. One meaning of it is the ‘moral values or ethics’ on which the life is naturally regulated. Dharma or righteousness is elemental and fundamental in all nations, periods and times. For example, truth, love, compassion are human virtues. This is what Hindus call Sanatan Dharma meaning religion which is immutable, constant, living, permanent and ever in existence. Religion, in wide sense, therefore, is those fundamental principles which sustain life and without which the life will not survive. Rig Veda describes Dharma as Athodharmani Dharayan. In this concept of religion or Dharma, different faiths, sects and schools of thoughts merely are different ways of knowing truth which is one. The various sects of religious groups are understood as Panth or Sampradaya. In Western world particularly in Britain, religious education has been understood as nearly identical with the religious instructions. India which is wedded to a secular philosophy by its Constitution; ‘Religious education’ to distinguish it from ‘religious instructions’ can mean approaching the many religions of the world with an attitude of understanding and trying to convey that attitude to children. This distinction between ‘religious instructions’ and ‘religious education’ has to be maintained while introducing a curriculum of religious education and implementing it. This would

require a constant vigil on the part of those imparting religious education from primary stage to the higher level otherwise there is a potent danger of religious education being perverted by educational authorities whosoever may be in power, by imparting in the name of ‘religious education’, ‘religious instructions’ in which they have faith and belief. Modern philosopher and educationists particularly those who belong to the schools of thought which encourage free thinking and an independence of choice to be given to the children in the matter of inculcating human values and philosophy based on their individual liking or inclination, are very sceptical about imparting religious instructions or religious education by traditional methods. They see that in teaching religions, there is a possibility of indoctrination or brain-washing of the children and thus, curbing their inquisitiveness and free thinking in the name of religion. Indoctrination of children in a particular faith or belief has to be avoided.

Religious education, therefore, even if permitted to be imparted should consist of “understanding the child as he is without imposing upon him an ideal of what we think he should be”. Howsoever highly educated, one may be but without deep integration of thought and feeling, his life is incomplete, contradictory and torn with many fears; and as long as education does not cultivate an integrated outlook on life, it has very little significance.

True religion is not a set of beliefs and rituals, hopes and fears; and if we can allow the child to grow up without these hindering influences, then perhaps, as he matures, he will begin to inquire into the nature of reality. That is why, in educating a child, deep insight and understanding is necessary.

True religious education is to help the child to be intelligently aware, to discern for himself the temporary and the real, and to have a disinterested approach to life; and would it not have more meaning to begin each day at home or at school with a serious thought, or with a reading that has depth and significance, rather than mumble some oft-repeated words or phrases. To educate the student rightly is to help him to understand the total process of himself; for it is only when there is integration of the mind and heart in everyday action that there can be intelligence and inward transformation.

An educator is not merely a giver of information; he is one who points the way to wisdom, to truth. Truth is far more important than the teacher. The search for truth is religion, and truth is of no country, of no creed, it is not to be found in any temple, church or mosque. Without a search for truth, society soon decays2.

Democracy cannot survive and Constitution cannot work unless Indian citizens are not only learned and intelligent, but they are also of moral character and imbibe the inherent virtues of human-beings such as truth, love and compassion. Thinkers and philosophers strongly recommend introduction of teaching of religions in education. There may be some difference of opinion between them as to at what stage, of education it should be introduced. Whether it should be introduced right from the primary stage, may be a subject of debate but it is not for the courts but for the educationalists and academicians, to assist the government in formulating a sound Educational Policy for primary education.

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