In contrast to most South Asian countries, modern India has always been officially ‘secular’, a word the country inscribed in its Constitution in 1976. Secularism, here, is not synonymous with the French ‘laïcité’, which demands strong separation of religion and the state.
India’s secularism does not require exclusion of religion from the public sphere. On the contrary, it implies recognition of all religions by the state. This philosophy of inclusivity finds expression in one article of the Constitution by which all religious communities may set up schools that are eligible for state subsidies.
India’s secularism, therefore, has more affinities with multiculturalism than with ‘laïcité’. Its emphasis on pluralism parallels the robust parliamentary democracy and federalism that India has been cultivating for 64 years.