Religious Intolerance : The Constitutional Perspective

Author: Pawanpreet Singh

B.A., LL.B. Hons. (Gold Medalist), Advocate, Pursuing LL.M. (Criminal Law), UGC-NET Qualified

ISSN: 2581-8465

Abstract :

When we look back upon the religious ideologies and philosophies spread by some of the great Social reformers and preachers of the Ancient and Medieval India like Buddha, Jain or Guru Nanak Dev, the central point of their preaching was to show respect towards the religious identity and ideology of the other persons of the society. The division of undivided India into two separate nations on the basis of religion was the seed of communal hatred, the fruits of which both the countries are bearing in the form of different violations of International Law, violence and other such elements every then and now. If we talk about present-day India, it is undoubtedly witnessing an upsurge of what can be referred to as neither desirable nor required: Religious Intolerance. Karl Marx has rightly remarked that ‘Religion is the opium of the masses’[1] and the practical and live example of how this opium is well marketed in the name of Politics and Selfish interests and how society has got addicted to this drug can be easily cited and identified in the present scenario in India. In the last few decades, there has been a huge rise in the shocking and mass religious intolerant activities, which has incited hatred, violence, killings, uproar etc., some of which to mention could be the Gujarat Riots, Ayodhya Dispute or Dadri Lynching, Desecration of Shri Guru Granth Sahib in the recent time. This all has to lead us to reconsider, rethink and re-examine our religious thoughts and understand the very principle that following a religious ideology, identity or movement should and must mean to give respect and dignity to the religious opinions of other persons of the society for the sake of a better and vigilant society.

Keywords : Communal Hatred, Upsurge, Intolerance, Riots.

Introduction :

There is no denying the fact that Indian Culture and traditions have rich values and are very ancient and historic. As our traditions and culture flourished, so did our religion, ethics, ideas, idols, philosophies, contexts, purview, and overall thinking. In the ancient and historic times as the Indian Civilization began, Hinduism followed and people started worshipping various gods, goddesses, idols, incarnations and had a deep faith in the institution of religion. Towards the later Vedic age, there was the rise of Buddhism and Jainism and the ideas spread by Buddha, Jain, and the other contemporary religious philosophers and preachers were also appreciated by the people for the sake of betterment of their lives and the existing society. Later on, in the medieval era, there was a vast spread of ideas of Islam as the Mughal Empire conquered India and established their rule in India. For a long series of many years and centuries, they kept on ruling the nation and spread Islamic ideas. During the same time, certain regional religious ideologies like Sikhism also flourished. Following the Mughal Rule, the Britishers established trading relations and then ruled the nation. During the British regime, there was a spread of ideas of Christianity through various Christian Missionaries, set up for the specific purpose of spreading and propagating Christianity. But, one element which can never be forgotten or ignored in the light of the above-said context is that people in a different era, different regimes, different limelight, and different religious contexts have shown and kept their religious unity and have always appreciated the religious thoughts possessed by others.

The Contributions of Sufi Saints and Bhakti Movement can also never be forgotten too. The Great Revolt of 1857 was fought in the name of Hindu-Muslim unity to attain freedom from the hands of British Imperialism and Colonialism. So, Indian Culture and traditions have incorporated the principles of appreciating ideas of respecting the religious views of other people of the society as well. In the present day, the Constitution of India acts as an institution of uniting the people and strengthening the secular fabric of the country as propagated and incorporated in the Preamble to the Indian Constitution.

Defining Religious Intolerance :

India today is home to six prominent Religions i.e. Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and various other small religious minorities and groups. In our country, out of all 121.09 crores, Hindus amount to 96.63 crores (79.8%), Muslims amount to 17.22 crores (14.2%), Christians amount to 2.78 crores (2.3%), Sikhs amount to 2.08 crores (1.7%), Buddhists amount to 0.84 crore (0.7%), Jains amount to 0.45 crores (0.4%), Other Religions & Persuasions 0.79 crores (0.7%) and those who have not stated religion are 0.29 crores (0.2%).[2] Though the ideals, philosophies, traditions of these religions may differ, but the basic moral and ethical teaching of kindness and living a dignified life can be found in all of them. But, in the recent times, the spread of religious intolerance across the planet has separated the religious thought to such extent that followers of one faith or path go on finding the loopholes in other’s faith and keep on criticizing their beliefs, trying to prove their faith superior to the others. When we rise above the religious intolerance discussion and try to understand the very basic situation of our society, most of us being the vigilant citizens of the society have our own faiths, beliefs, traditions and we are expressly or impliedly following one particular religion. This is one of the basic freedoms enjoyed by the citizens of the country, as prescribed in the Indian Constitution under Article 25[3]. But, this freedom gets exploited when the element of hypocrisy hits it and the religious element turns orthodox.

Today, one of the most surrounding and often used words, which we have witnessed through the medium of newspapers, television, social media or other forms of media is ‘intolerance’, specifically religious. If we put it simply and try to understand what intolerance means it can be said that intolerance is non-willingness or not wanting the religious ideas, views, beliefs, faiths, behavior of other persons or individuals of the society to be appreciated and liked. To put it in a little complex sense, we can reach the meaning that Religious Intolerance is incapacity or indisposition to bear or endure religious ideas of other persons, groups of persons or a particular religious community (majority or minority) at large.

Differentiating Religious Tolerance and Intolerance :

Before discussing the contemporary circumstances of Religious Intolerance and putting forward the idea of legal dimension to Religious Intolerance, we need to completely understand and differentiate between Religious Tolerance and Intolerance. Practically, it might be hard on the part of the individuals and citizens to place all religions on the same footing as they place their own religious ideas, faiths, beliefs, customs etc. except a particular class of people, who understand and believe in secularism in true sense. But, keeping in mind the form of ‘secularism’ adopted and incorporated in our Constitution, respecting the distinguished religious ideas, faiths, beliefs, customs, denominations will be something which can be said as religious tolerance. Giving due regard to let the religious faith of others flourish will be something, which can be marked as true form of religious tolerance. We need not to go in search of understanding a philosophical definition and meaning of what religious tolerance is or how it can be differentiated from religious intolerance. The freedom, which Constitution of India grants to its citizens under Article 25[4] as to conscience and the right which it imparts as to freely profess, practice and propagate any religion should be understood in true sense in order to get a clear and relative meaning of religious tolerance. In addition to this, the ambit of Religious Tolerance should also mean and must be understood as to establishing and maintaining religious institutions, managing own affairs in matters of religion and as to owning, acquiring and administering movable and immovable property in accordance with law as prescribed in our Constitution[5] under title Freedom to Manage Religious Affairs. Now, what our society needs to understand in a better sense is that freedom to manage religious affairs is not restricted only to manage our own religious affairs, but also letting others manage their religious affairs. As the Constitution itself provides the exceptions i.e. (subject to public order, morality, and health), there exists no right of any individual, religious denomination or any section to interfere in the religious affairs of another individual. On the other hand, what is expected from every citizen is to cherish, respect and appreciate the way how an individual manages his religious affairs and chooses to profess, propagate and practice his religion and religious ideas.

In addition to this, we must not forget that religion is only a part of an individual’s life, one such activity, wherein he tries to understand the unanswered questions about life and learns to live a dignified, peaceful and happy life. The more we will try to make the institution of religion complex and complicated in the light of proving our own religious ideas, ideology, beliefs, faith, traditions, and customs better and superior to the others, the more we are likely to suffer the outcomes in the form of communal hatred, intolerance, violence and above all a disturbed state of mind, society, and nation. So, the point of utmost importance here is before making opinions about various religious matters, we need to understand the very institution and dimension of religion and recalling what would have been the circumstances which would have lead humans to start the institution of religion. It is often said that we should not always perceive things with a complex and complicated approach, sometimes, the simple understanding and interpretation is capable of giving us the best possible meaning of it. The same approach must be adopted in understanding and appreciating the very institution of religion.

Are our Religions really Intolerant ? :

As mentioned and discussed above, India is home to a variety of religions, religious denominations, minorities, and majorities. Besides being a place where secularism is appreciated, there exists no official religion of the State, where every religion gets equal opportunity to be propagated and the people get the freedom to choose, convert, re-convert, flourish and spread any religion, India is also the place of origin of great religions of the world like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. If we try to analyze and find the real essence of some prominent religions practiced in India, we will indeed come to the conclusion that no religion teaches hatred and specifically communal hatred. The principle of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, which is one of the prominent and basic foundations of Hinduism, literally means that indeed the whole earth or world is nothing but a family. Such great ideas of religious harmony were preached by the great persons and preachers of various religions at various times. Buddhism too lays deep stress on maintaining peace and harmony in society. The essence of Buddhism is self-analysis, eliminating useless desires and above all killing hatred among ourselves. Ashoka, the great emperor of the Mauryan dynasty, who is also given credit for revival and spread of Buddhism in India, is an example of uplifting religious harmony in the society. An edict of Ashoka reads, “Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought ‘let me glorify my own religion,’ only harms his own religion. Therefore contact between religions is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others.”[6]

Jainism further considers that anger is not good for living a dignified and happy life. Jainism considers that a good human being will tolerate anything, but won’t tolerate anger. Moreover, it is based on some great principles and philosophies of Karma, Dharma, Ahimsa, Moksha, Aparigraha etc.

Like all other religions, Islam and Christianity too propagate ideas of compassion, doing righteous deeds, loving mankind and honoring each other. Quran says, “O mankind! We created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you.[7]” One of the newer religions in India as compared to other religions, Sikhism too propagates the idea of oneness and unity. Shri Guru Granth Sahib contains many examples of this unity like under Rag Sorath, Page 611 – “There is one father (our guru or god), and we all are His children.”[8]

After considering the ideals which have been incorporated in various holy texts of various religions, one can easily conclude that religions are not bad, neither do they teach hatred. The way we have interpreted them or the way we are practicing them or the way we are trying to prove our religion or religious identity superior to and better than those of others is the actual root cause of the problem. There is often a common saying that if all the religions of the world teach peace, why there is so much bloodshed, violence, and hatred in the world? We need to understand our respective religions in the right manner and must consider that unless and until we start respecting the religious view of others, we do not understand our own religion properly.

Contemporary Circumstances :

So far, the ideology of religions appreciating communal harmony, peace and security in the society and religion as a means of living a dignified life has been discussed. But, the way our society has put religion to practice is really horrifying and terrible. Lakhs of people were killed and assaulted during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 on the basis of religion. Our generations to come will keep on asking one question to us, was the partition really inevitable and necessary? The genocide in the name of religion has always been questioned by the vigilant, peace-loving, egalitarian, educated and intellectual citizens of both the nations. The way politics and religion got intermixed during the partition is the proof of how disastrous the results could be, the outcome of which, both nations are paying today in the form of sectarian strife and bloodshed. Besides, the partition stigma which exists on both the countries and the leaders of both the countries, The Gujarat Communal Riots of 1969 and the Anti-Sikh Riots of 1984 can never be forgotten by the people of the nation and it has acted as paving a path of communal hatred in the society as an outcome of mass violence, killings, assaults, etc. The massacre of civilians, attacks upon the minorities, bomb attacks on crowded and public places, the assassination of a number of political leaders in the past have to lead us to rethink and re-evaluate the institution and version of religion we are following. The Babri Mosque issue, The Bombay Riots, The Godhra Riots in Gujarat, The Kashmiri Hindus Problem in Jammu and Kashmir, The separatist issues in North-Eastern parts of India, Muzaffarnagar Riots, Dadri Issue, Desecration of Shri Guru Granth Sahib are some of the major highlighted issues in the recent Indian scenario as far as religious intolerance is concerned. Despite communal violence, often the statements made by various film stars, actors, authors and artists towards the issue have also incited strong public response, opinion building by the public and mass protests against them, which has also been sometimes put into the category of religious intolerance on the part of such artists and on the society as well.

So, whether we accept it or not, religion has become chaos in the Indian society, keeping into consideration its interlinking to politics and various other social, political, economic and cultural dimensions existing in the society. The important and most vital question to address in the years to follow is certainly not how much advancement India achieves or attains in the field of science, technology and development, but to what extent Indian politicians, leaders, administrators, intellectuals, artists and off course the common man contribute towards putting an end to communal hatred and religious intolerance, which is existing in the society and which must be eliminated and dealt with at priority basis in order to put an end to it.

Legal Framework and Possibilities :

The Constitution of India is the foundation of India’s political, democratic, administrative and legal framework. Through various Articles and provisions, the Constitution of India tries to cover the institution of Religion, making India a ‘Secular[9]’ State as prescribed in the Preamble to the Indian Constitution[10]. Moreover, the landmark Judgement of S.R. Bommai vs. Union of India[11] has also relied upon the purview that “Secularism is one of the basic features of the Constitution and the honorable Supreme Court has described that Secularism is a positive concept of equal treatment of all religions.” The Constitution also prohibits discrimination on certain grounds and the first and foremost ground is religion under Article 15 of the Constitution[12]. Articles 25-28 in Indian Constitution as well provide and guarantee Freedom of Religion to the citizens of the country and assure its enforcement by incorporating it as one of the six Fundamental Rights of citizens enshrined in Part III of the Constitution. The legal framework of the Indian Constitution also says that in case of violation of any Fundamental Right, the aggrieved person can directly approach the Supreme Court under the Constitution[13] in order to get justice and his Right to Freedom of Religion is thus safeguarded under the Constitution of India.

As far as violence and riots are concerned, various provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 deal with the same and take strict action against committing riots and violence. Indian Penal Code describes rioting as “the force or violence used by an unlawful assembly, or a member thereof, in the prosecution of the common object of such assembly.”[14] Section 146-158 under Chapter 8 of the Indian Penal Code defines, prescribes punishment and explains the related offences and elements of rioting in particular. But, as Jacob F. Roecker puts, “The Greatest Threat to our Constitution is our own ignorance of it”, the important element which needs to be discussed is how far have we given practical colors to various provisions of Constitution giving Freedom of Religion to our individuals and how far the citizens are vigilant and aware of the Fundamental and Constitutional Rights.

Another legal element and dimension which cannot be ignored is the Uniform Civil Code enshrined under the Directive Principles of State Policy in Part- IV of the Indian Constitution[15]. Constitution of India provides that “The State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” The debate on the Uniform Civil Code in the country is endless and has attained a massive amount of media and public attention. Various Scholars and intellectuals at various times have given their views and ideas about the institution of the Uniform Civil Code and the possibility of bringing practical legislation, in order to give effect to Article 44 of the Constitution. Directive Principles of State Policy, though obligatory on the part of the State to enforce and bring into practice have been converted into the practical regime as far as various socio-economic legislations and policies are concerned.

But, when it comes to Uniform Civil Code, certain circumstances have arisen in the constitutional and administrative history of the nation because of which giving a practical regime to Uniform Civil Code has proved fatal. Uniform Civil Code basically ends the institution of having different and separate personal laws with regard to respective religions and proposes a common set of principles and provisions governing personal laws of the individuals. So far our country is concerned; the State of Goa is the only state to have a Uniform Civil Code. Uniform Civil Code is a vast principle incorporated in the Constitution of India by its makers which broadly covers certain key concepts like marriage, divorce, succession, inheritance, adoption, maintenance etc.  Father of Indian Constitution and First Law Minister of the country Dr. B.R. Ambedkar has strongly favored for Uniform Civil Code during the Constitutional Assembly debates. During the Constitutional Assembly debates, he had also criticized the delegates from various religions showing their opposition towards the same. Through his efforts, at least it became obligatory on the part of the State to secure to the citizens a Uniform Civil Code and the society is hopeful that in the years to follow, the dream of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar will be given a practical shape and colour, when it will be implemented throughout the country. Except, Dr. Ambedkar, a significant number of politicians, scholars, social reformers, intellectuals, authors, etc. have expressed their favor and support towards having a Uniform Civil Code in the country. To mention some recent instance, an example of our former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam can be mentioned who once said, “We are a billion-strong population and any law has to be uniformly applicable.[16]” In October 2015, a Supreme Court bench of Justice Vikramjit Sen and Justice Kirti Singh has also advocated for bringing a Uniform Civil Code in the country and asked the Government about its stand on implementing the same.[17] The utmost need of the hour is to give a practical shape to the Uniform Civil Code in order to lessen down the existing complexities in the name of religion from the legal point of view and for the sake of uplifting the principle of ‘equality before the law and equal protection of the law.’

Possible Solutions, Suggestions and Recommendations to curb Religious Intolerance :

In order to protect our country from communal hatred and violence in the name of religion in the years to come, it becomes very important to analyze and assess certain possible solutions that could be brought into the limelight to tackle the situation. Above all the hypothetical and Utopian solutions and suggestions which might look attractive and promising, the most important element is understanding the very institution of religion, understanding and appreciating in the real sense, the role played by religion in the lives of individuals and rising above the narrow prejudices of spreading hatred in the name of religion, which obviously no religion teaches. We should try to learn that even before religion, something which should be given importance and priority is community and humanity. No religion should be considered as something above community or humanity. The day when we will start appreciating such thought of wisdom, we would have already taken the path of endless prosperity, safety and security in the society and nation.

Moreover, it is evident from various sources that often a class of society without having knowledge of what circumstances and outcomes could turn out to be, deliberately or in deliberately becomes part of the mob, riots, and unwanted violence. The only solution to this major problem is imparting them knowledge and wisdom. Government, corporates, intellectuals and egalitarian persons of the society can play a significant role as to this by conducting district, state and central level seminars, competitions, discussions, etc. on religious tolerance, wherein the subject matter of intolerance should not be touched at all. Additionally, the teachings of one particular or specific religion should not be part of such activities. Positive things and beliefs should become part and parcel of such activities and events.

Another element which must be given a significant amount of stress and importance is giving a practical color and a practical shape to the Uniform Civil Code as discussed in the earlier part of the paper. Bringing into reality the Uniform Civil Code will bring all religions on equal footing in terms of personal laws and will certainly complete the remaining task of strengthening the secular fabric in the country. Uniform Civil Code, if brought into practice, is likely to lessen down the complexities and complications as regards to personal laws of different religions followed across the country, which has been a matter of criticisms and questions quite a few times. Considering and keeping into mind the success story of the State of Goa[18], where Uniform Civil Code exists and is applicable on the citizens, it should be put into practice at a bigger and larger scale, giving a practical color to the principles enshrined within Article 44 of the Constitution of India. In order to bring the Uniform Civil Code into practice, a number of elements, agencies, and governmental bodies must work as a group and a new strategy must be framed and incorporated. All the three organs of the Government i.e. Legislature, Executive and Judiciary can play their respective roles as it will highly affect and change the complete outlook of our existing and present-day society and on the same hand, the relative legal concepts and notions will undergo a new interpretation in the light of the amended provisions of the personal laws.

Yet another element which should not be ignored in the recent time is the return of respective awards and honors as a form of protest or opposition against rising intolerance in the society and the country by a specific class of distinguished, renowned and established poets, writers, authors, and other artists. This is something that has always confused the intellectual and law-abiding citizens of the country. The great authors of the time who try to protest against the rising religious intolerance in the society by returning their respective awards, on the other hand, must keep doing something, because of which they have earned respect and recognition: sharing ideas through their writings. We can never forget the role of writers, authors, and artists behind the success stories of the American Revolution, French Revolt of 1789 and Indian Struggle for Independence, etc. Writers should write even more often and specifically on the possible solutions and suggestions to such important issues and matters so that they can play even a better role in the nation-building. Writers should take the responsibility of showing the society a good path instead of stepping back or stepping down by way of showing protest and opposition by way of returning their awards and honors.

Lastly, on the top of everything suggested and recommended, if there is a lack of political and social will among the citizens of the country to eliminate religious intolerance to the minimum, all such measures are fatal. There should be the creation of such an inner self within the individuals which teaches how to respect and regard the religious sentiments and viewpoints of others. Until and unless such internal willingness will be developed within the mindset and personality of the individuals, there are very fewer chances that various measures to check the religious intolerance will attain success and prove beneficial for the society. It becomes very important in the modern scenario that for the development of such inner self, an individual should not be taught what is right and wrong, but before that he should be taught how to differentiate between right and wrong and what could be the possible outcomes and consequences of choosing right or wrong. It is expected that when the individuals living in a particular society start adopting a rational, peaceful, logical and intellectual approach towards various elements and institutions, they are likely to contribute in the making of a progressive society, which ultimately will turn out to be a great nation. Thus, in the light of above-mentioned solutions, suggestions, and recommendations, Indian society can eliminate or at least place a check on religious intolerance, which should be tackled and dealt with at the priority in order to protect the generations to come from its ill effects and hatred in the name of religion.

Conclusion :

It becomes the prime duty of the State to regulate its functioning in such a way or manner that individual interests, specifically the religious interests of every individual must be respected and regarded. India, being a ‘secular’ state has shown great unity in diversity since the ancient era, which can be found even today. But with various developments and rise of various social elements and institutions, the society has not remained aloof from activities like religious intolerance, which further has emerged as the root cause of various riots, violence, and other inhuman activities in the contemporary era. Various legal provisions and dimensions are present in our society which places a check on such inhuman activities, but still, there is an urgent need to create such a society that respects and regards the religious viewpoint of every other person. Distinguished members of society like authors, writers, intellectuals, politicians, public figures and even common man can help in the creation of such sort of mental setup and building of such opinion in the society, which serves the religious viewpoint of every person with utmost respect and regard. Above all, we need to understand the very institution of religion in its true sense and recall how and why the institution of religion came into existence. Humanity, community, and equality should be placed higher than the very institution of religion as the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso defines the very essence of religion as, “The whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, and forgiveness.[19]

[1] KARL MARX, A Contribution to the critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, (Dec. 1843-Jan.  1844),

[2] Press Information Bureau, RGI releases Census 2011 data on Population by Religious Communities, Government of India, (Aug. 25, 2015, 05:38 PM)

[3] DR. J.N. PANDEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW OF INDIA, 350, (51st ed. 2014, Central Law Agency).

[4] Ibid.

[5] DR. J.N. PANDEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW OF INDIA, 364, (51st ed. 2014, Central Law Agency).

[6] Ashoka’s Rock Eddicts, LIVIUS (2004),

[7] The Holy Quran, Chapter 49, Verse 13,

[8] DR. FATHI OSMAN, Sikh Scriptures Highlight Human Rights & Human Dignity,

[9] Inserted by the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976.

[10] DR. J.N. PANDEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW OF INDIA, 30, (51st ed. 2014, Central Law Agency).

[11] S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, A.I.R. 1994, SCC (3) 1 (India).

[12] DR. J.N. PANDEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW OF INDIA, 128, (51st ed. 2014, Central Law Agency).

[13] INDIA CONST. art. 32.

[14] Section 146, Indian Penal Code, (1860).

[15] INDIA CONST. art. 44.

[16] Rahul Singh, President Kalam votes for uniform civil code, THE TIMES OF INDIA (Sept. 29, 2003, 10.29 PM),

[17] Utkarsh Anand, Uniform Civil Code: There’s total confusion, why can’t it be done, SC asks govt, INDIAN EXPRESS (Oct. 13, 2015, 09:41 AM),

[18] MS. CHITRALOUNGANI, Uniform Civil Code in Goa, (Aug. 22, 2016),


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