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Copyright 1963, by Princeton University Press 
London and Bombay: Oxford University Press 


L. C. Card No. 62-21108 

Printed in the United States of America 
by Princeton University Press at Princeton, New Jersey 



THE RELIGIOUS TEMPERAMENT and outlook of the Indian people 
may have been exaggerated by some writers, but it is nonetheless 
true that religion has been the most powerful single factor in the 
development of Indian civilization. Few would challenge Arnold 
Toynbee's characterization of that civilization as one displaying a 
"manifest tendency towards an outlook that is predominantly re- 
ligious." In the light of this fact, the emergence of India as a secular 
state in the mid-twentieth century must be regarded as a significant 
political, social, and religious phenomenon. 

That India is striving to be a secular state is remarkable not only 
in terms of the contrast with historic Indian civilization but also 
in contrast with the policies of neighboring countries. A quite dif- 
ferent pattern has emerged in the now independent countries which 
were closely linked to India during the period of British rule. 
Pakistan, the new state which was created by the partition of India 
in 1947, later proclaimed itself an Islamic Republic. Its 1956 Consti- 
tution required that the head of state be a Muslim and forbade the 
enactment of laws "repugnant to the Holy Koran." Burma, which 
was a province of British India until 1937, after independence em- 
barked on a course of extensive promotion of Buddhism through 
legislation and state patronage. The Constitution of Burma was 
amended in August 1961 to make Buddhism the state religion. 

In both Pakistan and Burma these vital decisions, made by normal 
constitutional processes, were later reversed by military regimes 
with a more secularist orientation. But when functioning as free 
political societies, both the Pakistanis and the Burmese turned to the 
majority religion as expressive of the national identity and by 
constitutional recognition sought to make it a unifying and integra- 
tive force in the nation. Paradoxically, the majorities in these two 
countries profess international religions, Islam and Buddhism, while 
India has rejected an ethnic religion, Hinduism, as the basis for its 
national development. 

Despite the very different policies of India's immediate neighbors, 
the significance of India as a secular state must also be gauged in 



terms of the very considerable prestige and influence of India among 
other Asian countries. While the idea of India's role as "leader of free 
Asia'' must certainly be interpreted with important qualifications, 
there is a substantial core of hard fact which cannot be denied. 
As the largest and most populous non-communist country, and 
with stable government and democratic leadership, it would be 
surprising if India did not exert considerable influence in South and 
Southeast Asia. From this point of view, any major experiment un- 
dertaken in India, whether it be land reforms, five year plans, gen- 
eral elections with universal adult suffrage, or the development of 
a secular state, will have far-reaching implications for the rest of 
this region. 

The secular state is important to the future of Indian democracy 
itself. It stands or falls as a basic and inseparable component of the 
modern liberal democratic state. The secular state is thus a funda- 
mental aspect of India's democratic experiment, an experiment which 
' might conceivably break down as much by establishing Hinduism 
as the state religion as by eliminating freedom of the press. 

Despite the importance of this subject, no previous work gives 
a comprehensive picture of India as a secular state. Literally thou- 
sands of volumes have been written on church-state relations in the 
West, but none has dealt in any detail with the problem in the 
Indian context. Undoubtedly, it was necessary to allow some time 
to pass after independence so that the new pattern could emerge 
clearly. While it may well be questioned whether the pattern is yet 
completely clear, India's experience since 1947 has provided sufficient 
data to make the investigation both possible and useful. This book 
attempts to deal with the major developments through June 1962. 

The problem of India as a secular state is a complex one. The rich 
diversity of religious life as well as the legacy of communalism and 
partition, the influence of ancient Hindu values as well as the impact 
of the West, the leadership of religious Gandhi and agnostic Nehru, 
the tendency of traditional religions to regulate virtually every aspect 
of life and the tendency of the modern state to do the same all of 
these factors and many others are a part of the complex pattern. 
Problems frequently arise for which there is no clear parallel in 
western experience, which has contributed so greatly to India's 
political evolution in other respects. Indian solutions must be found 
for Indian problems. 



As the table of contents indicates, I have sought to present a broad, 
comprehensive view of the entire subject, rather than to deal inten- 
sively with a segment of it. The chief emphasis is on the development 
of governmental policy in areas which require the interpretation! 
and implementation of the principles of the secular state. In ad- 
dition to providing the basic information on the subject, this study 
attempts to point out relationships, to define issues, to raise questions, 
to present an over-all picture of the implications of the secular state. 
It need hardly be added that the author does not have answers for 
all of the questions he raises. But most readers will probably be 
charitable enough to agree that asking the right questions is in 
itself a useful service. 

I have not hesitated, however, to express my personal opinions on 
debatable issues, for that scholarship which ranges widely in the 
search for facts, but which then consciously draws back from a con- 
clusion, does not fulfill its highest function. My point of view is that 
of one deeply committed to the principle of the secular state. My 
feeling is that this principle is so vital a part of modern liberal democ- 
racy that it is preferable by far to err on the side of a strict inter- 
pretation than to grow careless about it. 

In a sense, the work on this book began in 1954 while I was in 
India doing research on Prime Minister Nehru's political ideas. The 
book which resulted from this research, Nehru and Democracy: The 
Political Thought of an Asian Democrat, published in 1958, con- 
tains one chapter on Nehru's ideas about the secular state. Since 
1956 my spare time has been devoted to the present work. A year 
of intensive work in India, 1960-1961, enabled me to complete this 

During this year, I benefited greatly from conversations with a 
large number of individuals. A few of those interviewed were 
Prime Minister Nehru, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, Professor Humayun 
Kabir, Professor M. Mujeeb, Dr. Arcot Krishnaswami, Dr. B. C. 
Roy, Dr. C. P. Ramaswami Aiyer, Mr. Asoka Mehta, Dr. Tara 
Chand, Maulana Hifzur Rahman, Mr. Hayetullah Ansari, and 
Archbishop Thomas Pothacamury. In attempting to understand all 
points of view on the question of Indian secularism I was helped by 
conversations with members of the Indian National Congress, the 
Praja Socialist Party, the Hindu Mahasabha, the Jana Sangh, the 
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Bharat Sadhu Samaj, the Maha 



Bodhi Society, the Muslim League, the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, the 
Jamaat-e-Islami, the Shiromani Akali Dal, the National Christian 
Council, and professors at the Banaras Hindu University, the Aligarh 
Muslim University, and the Jamia Millia Islamia. One of the most 
fascinating experiences was a day spent in the Gurdwara Sisganj in 
Delhi in November 1960 while the Punjabi Suba agitation was at 
its height. 

I am grateful to Dr. Holden Furber, Dr. Katherine S. Van Eerde, 
Dr. Edward B. Hogan, Flight Lieutenant S. Krishnaswami, and 
Captain S. Ramanujam, all of whom read parts of the manuscript 
and offered valuable suggestions. For guidance and encouragement 
in other ways connected with this research project I am indebted to 
Dr. W. Norman Brown, Dr. Norman D. Palmer, and Dr. A. William 
Loos. A number of people helped me to obtain very useful material 
and in some cases translated it into English. Special mention must 
be made of the valuable assistance rendered in this connection by 
Mrs. Shanti Kacker, Mr. A. Venkataram, Mr. G. Channappa, Mr. 
N. S. Ramachandra, Dr. Earl R. Schmidt, Bishop N. C. Sargant, 
Rev. William Holder, Mr. A. Waheed Khan, and Mr. J. Balarajan. 
I greatly appreciate the helpful contributions of these friends to my 

Grateful acknowledgment is made of the research grants-in-aid 
which I received from the University of Rhode Island during the 
summers of 1957, 1958, and 1959, and of the leave of absence granted 
for the year 1960-1961. The completion of this book in India was 
made possible by a Fulbright research grant, and I am deeply ap- 
preciative of the kindnesses shown by the United States Educational 
Foundation in India in helping me to carry out this project. 

In 1960 the Carnegie Corporation of New York made a grant to 
the Council on Religion and International Affairs for a three-year 
research project under my direction on religion and the state in 
South and Southeast Asia. Arrangements were made to enable me 
to complete the present book during the year in India before actively 
embarking on the new research project. I am very grateful to the 
Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Council on Religion 
and International Affairs for making this special arrangement, and 
for making available funds for Mrs. Smith's travel with me to India 
and Southeast Asia. In a sense, the present book is the first installment 


of the broader study of the relationships between religion and the 
state in this part of the world. 

Finally, a word of deep appreciation to my wife, Viojet Ramanjulu 
Smith, who introduced me to the life of her native India and who has 
continued to lend encouragement and inspiration to my work. 

D. E. S. 






The Concept of the Secular State 3 

Freedom of religion 4 

Citizenship 5 

Separation of state and religion 6 

The Secular State in History 8 

Church and state through the Middle Ages 9 

The Reformation: religious diversity and its problems 12 

The American experiment of church-state separation 15 

Church and state in modern Europe 17 

The Nature of the Major Religions 24 

Hinduism: metaphysical tolerance and social rigidity 25 

Buddhism: social freedom and ecclesiastical power 30 

Islam: decisiveness of history and all-pervasive law 36 

The Role of Religious Minorities 41 

The Colonial Background 44 

American separation of church and state in the Philippines 44 

British religious neutrality in India 45 

French secularism and anticlericalism in Lido-China 46 

The Dutch established church in Indonesia 47 

The Pattern of Nationalism 48 

Buddhism in Burmese and Ceylonese nationalism 49 

Islam in Indonesian nationalism 50 

Religion in Indian nationalism and the Pakistan movement 51 

Turkey as a Secular State 52 




Ancient and Medieval India 57 

Dharma and the Hindu state 57 

Islam and the Muslim State 62 

The British Period 65 

The policy of religious neutrality 66 

Patron and protector of Indian religions 72 

The Church of England in India 78 

Constitutional reforms and separate electorates 84 

Hinduism and Indian nationalism 87 

Religious policies of the princely states 94 

The legacy of history 98 

Freedom of Religion 102 

Individual freedom of religion 102 

Who defines religion? 104 

Limitations imposed by Indian conditions 107 

Collective freedom of religion 109 

Citizenship 115 

No state discrimination on grounds of religion 115 

Applying the non-discrimination principle 119 

Non-discrimination in political functions 123 

Separation of State and Religion 125 

Taxation and religious education 129 

An evaluation of the Constitution 133 



The Theory of Indian Nationalism 139 
The Theory of Hindu Tolerance 146 

Gandhian universalism and the secular state 148 



The Theory of Western Secularism 152 

Materialist and Christian interpretations 155 

A western conception: relevant to India? 159 


Conflicting Views of Propagation 163 

The general Hindu attitude 163 

The Hindu universalist approach 168 

The Hindu communalist position 169 

The Indian Christian stand 172 

The humanist liberal position 175 

State Regulation of Propagation 176 

Regulation before 1950 176 

Provisions in the Indian Constitution 181 

Legislation relating to conversions 184 

Problems of public order 188 

Policies Past and Present 193 

Religious neutrality under the British 194 

The first years of independence 198 

Factors in the formulation of a new policy 201 

The 1955 policy statement 205 

The Niyogi Committee 207 

Findings of the Niyogi committee 208 

Recommendations and reactions 211 

The Issue for the Secular State 214 

Public Safety and the Regulation of Religion 216 

The suppression of anti-social religious practices 217 

The preservation of public order 219 

Restrictions on political involvement 224 



The State as Religious Reformer 226 

The historical perspective 226 

The problem for the modern Indian state 231 


Reform of Religious and Caste Practices 235 

Animal sacrifices and temple prostitution 235 

Temple entry rights for Harijans 239 

Reform of Temple Administration 243 

The Madras legislation 245 

The 1959 version of the endowments law 249 

Alternative approaches to the problem 253 

The central government enters the picture 257 

Regulation of the activities of sadhus 259 



The Problem in Historical Perspective 266 

The secularization of law in the West 266 

The early legal system of British India 269 

Codification and legislation under the British 275 

The Problem in Present-Day India 277 

The Special Marriage Act and the Hindu Code Bill 277 

Hindu marriage, divorce, adoption and succession 281 

Interpretations of Hindu law legislation 286 


Changing Relationships: Caste and Religion 292 

Caste and traditional Hindu religion 292 

Caste, religion, and reform 295 

Changing Relationships: Caste and the State 297 

Caste and the Hindu state 297 

Caste and the British government of India 300 



Problems of Present-Day Policy 304 

Non-recognition of caste 305 

Legislation to protect the individual 306 

Special aid to Harijans 311 

Backward classes to the fore 316 

The problem of Harijan converts 322 

Caste in Indian politics 326 





The Pattern of Education in British India 335 

Early policy decisions 335 

The despatch of 1854 340 

The Commission of 1882 343 

Grants-in-aid and religious instruction . 345 

Religious Instruction in Government Schools 347 

Proposals for religious instruction 348 

The Radhakrishnan report 351 

Religion in basic education 356 

State Control of Private Schools 358 

New aspects of religious instruction 359 

State control of private school administration 361 

The Kerala Education Bill 365 

Trends and countertrends 368 


Interpretations of Indian Culture 374 

Indian culture as Hindu culture 374 

Indian culture as composite culture 377 

The Role of the State 379 

Cultural Policy in Practice 383 

Ancient Indian culture 384 



The Buddha Jayanti celebrations 390 

Contemporary Indian culture 394 

The official language of India 397 



Protection of the Rights of Minorities 405 

The Muslims: Radical Reorientation 411 

Muslims in government 416 

Crisis for Islamic law 420 

The future of Urdu 423 

Cultural values or economic progress? 429 

The Christians: Integration without Syncretism 432 

Christians and the government 435 

Hindu-Christian tensions 437 

The Sit^hs: Religio-Political Conflicts 438 

The politics of gurdwara control 443 
Punjabi Suba or Sikh State? 


The Origin and Development of Hindu Communalism 454 

The Hindu Mahasabha: Ideology since 7947 4^ 

The RSS: Militant Hindu Society in Embryo 465 

The Jana Sangh: Revisionist Communalism 469 

Political Fortunes since Independence 473 

Communalism in the Congress 479 

The Controversy over Cow Slaughter 483 






Major Problems for the Secular State 495 

Is India a Secular State? 497 

INDEX 503 






AN EFFECTIVE WAY of discouraging a hopeful reader is to subject 
him to a series of definitions in the first pages of a book. To devote 
the first half of a chapter to the matter of definition is even more 
deadly. Thus I am not unmindful of the risks involved when I do 
precisely that. One might wish that the definition of the secular state 
could be handled in a footnote, but the term is so little understood in 
its fullness that a more detailed treatment is demanded. 

In this chapter I shall attempt to present, first, a definition of 
the secular state which will provide the theoretical framework neces- 
sary for the consideration of problems dealt with in later chapters. 
Second, in order to give depth and perspective to the discussion, the 
definition is followed by a broad historical survey of the develop- 
ment of the secular state in the West. 


The term "secular state" is commonly used in present-day India 
to describe the relationship which exists, or which ought to exist, 
between the state and religion. This in itself is sufficient reason for 
using the term in this book. In addition, the closest equivalent in 
Anglo-American usage, "separation of church and state," would be 
singularly inappropriate and misleading in discussing a country in 
which the majority religion is Hinduism. 

The ideas which have contributed to the conception of the secular 
state were not produced in a vacuum, as will be shown in the 
historical survey later in the chapter. However, it may be well at 
the outset to indicate in general terms the historical orientation of 
the conception we are expounding. Three brief points will suffice 
to accomplish this. 

First, our conception of the secular state is derived from the liberal 
democratic tradition of the West. It is thus to be distinguished from 


the secularism of the Marxian communist tradition, which is mo- 
tivated by an active hostility to religion as such. Second, while many 
aspects of our conception of the secular state are common to all the 
countries within the liberal democratic tradition, certain aspects 
constitute the particular contribution of the United States of Amer- 
ica. Third, the conception here expounded is essentially that which 
can be derived from the Indian Constitution itself. 

The working definition which I would suggest is as follows: 
The secular state is a state which guarantees individual and corporate 
freedom of religion, deals with the individual as a citizen irrespective 
of his religion, is not constitutionally connected to a particular 
religion nor does it seek either to promote or interfere with re- 
ligion. Upon closer examination it will be seen that the conception 
of a secular state involves three distinct but interrelated sets of rela- 
tionships concerning the state, religion, and the individual. The 
three sets of relations are: 

1. religion and the individual (freedom of religion) 

2. the state and the individual (citizenship) 

3. the state and religion (separation of state and religion) 

It may help to visualize a triangle in which the two angles at the 
base represent religion and the state; the apex represents the in- 
dividual. The sides and base of the triangle represent the three sets of 
relationships mentioned above. We shall now proceed to examine 
these in some detail. 

Freedom of Religion 

This is the relationship between religion and the individual, a 
relationship from which the third factor (the state) is ideally ex- 
cluded. Religion, as the word is used here, refers to organized 
religious groups and also to religious beliefs and practices which may 
or may not be associated with such groups. Freedom of religion 
means that the individual is free to consider and to discuss with 
others the relative claims of differing religions, and to come to his 
decision without any interference from the state. He is free to reject 
them all. If he decides to embrace one religion, he has freedom to 
follow its teachings, participate in its worship and other activities, 
propagate its doctrines, and hold office in its organizations. If the 
individual later decides to renounce his religion or to embrace an- 
other, he is at liberty to do so. 


As noted above, the state is excluded from this relationship. The 
state cannot dictate religious beliefs to the individual or compel him 
to profess a particular religion or any religion. It cannot force him 
to contribute financially toward the support of a religion by taxation. 
However, there is a limited area in which the secular state can 
legitimately regulate the manifestation of religion, in the interest 
of public health, safety, or morals. Thus the prohibition of human 
sacrifices, to use an extreme example, would be upheld even though 
a religion might require such sacrifices. 

I have thus far dealt with freedom of religion from the point 
of view of the individual. The collective aspect of this right is the 
freedom of two or more individuals to associate for religious purposes 
and to form permanent organizations to carry out these purposes. 
In the secular state, freedom of association for religious purposes is 
safeguarded as carefully as the individual's freedom of conscience. 
All religious groups have the right to organize, to manage their own 
affairs in religious matters, to own and acquire property, and to 
establish and administer educational and charitable institutions. 

There are, of course, many other aspects of freedom of religion 
which could be considered, but the above paragraphs will serve our 
present purposes as a step toward the definition of the secular state. 


This is the relationship between the state and the individual, and 
here again the exclusion of the third factor is essential. The secular 
state views the individual as a citizen, and not as a member of a 
particular religious group. Religion becomes entirely irrelevant in 
defining the terms of citizenship; its rights and duties are not affected 
by the individual's religious beliefs. 

Many historical examples could be adduced to show how this 
principle has often been violated. In some cases citizenship itself 
and the right to vote have depended on adherence to the state re- 
ligion. Dissenters were regarded as second-class citizens at best. 
In some cases discriminatory taxation penalized the religious non- 
conformists. The holding of public office and employment in gov- 
ernment service has sometimes been legally dependent on religious 
affiliation. All such discrimination by the state on the basis of 
religion runs directly counter to the conception of the secular state. 

We have now examined briefly two of the three component parts 


of the secular state. The first, freedom of religion, relates the in- 
dividual to religion; the state is excluded from this relationship. 
The second, citizenship, relates the individual to the state; religion 
is excluded from this relationship. Thus the integrity of both of 
these relationships in which the individual is involved depends on 
the possibility of excluding the third factor in each case. And the 
only way this can be done is by maintaining a third relationship, 
separation of state and religion. For the closer the connection between 
the state and a particular religion, the greater the danger that (i) 
religious qualifications will distort the principle of democratic citizen- 
ship, and that (2) the state will interfere with freedom of religion, 
both individual and corporate. If we return to our graphic representa- 
tion of the problem this becomes immediately clear. The two sides of 
the triangle maintain their integrity only by virtue of the third 
which separates them. 

Separation of state and religion 

The underlying assumption of this concept is simply that religion 
and the state function in two basically different areas of human 
activity, each with its own objectives and methods. It is not the 
function of the state to promote, regulate, direct, or otherwise inter- 
fere in religion. Similarly, political power is outside the scope of re- 
ligion's legitimate aims. The democratic state derives its authority 
from a secular source ("the consent of the governed") and is not 
subordinate to ecclesiastical power. 

Separation of state and religion is the constitutional arrangement 
which attempts to give effect to these convictions. Separation involves 
the rejection of the historical pattern of state churches. Some of the 
characteristics of the state church system are : an ecclesiastical depart- 
ment within the government, the requirement that the head of state 
be an adherent of the official religion, the appointment of bishops 
by the government, the use of public funds to pay the salaries of the 
clergy, etc. Aspects of the system which characterized earlier periods 
were the legal enforcement of religious conformity and the distortion 
of the rights of citizenship by religious tests. 

A state religion may be merely a branch of the government and 
completely dominated by the state, a useful instrument of state policy. 
In other cases the state religion may wield the dominant power, and 
the state may be reduced to the position of being the executive arm 


of the church. In still other cases a fairly equal partnership may link 
the two. In any of these three forms the relationship is opposed to 
the principle of the secular state. 

In a secular state all religions are, in one limited respect, sub- 
ordinate to as well as separate from the state. As voluntary associa- 
tions of individual citizens, religious groups are under the general 
laws of the state and responsible for the proper discharge of civil 
responsibilities (payment of taxes, maintenance of public order, 
etc.). In this respect religions are viewed by the state in much the 
same way that it views other voluntary associations based on com- 
mon social, cultural, or economic interests. However, this minor 
qualification does not affect the essential principle of separation of 
state and religion. 

Under the principle of separation, both religion and the state have 
freedom to develop without interfering with each other. Religious 
groups can organize, frame their own creeds and regulations, 
choose their own ecclesiastical officers, found their own educational 
institutions, and finance their own activities, all without interference 
from the state. Such organized religious groups function as auton- 
omous entities, subject only to the general regulations mentioned in 
the preceding paragraph. 

The state, on the other hand, is free from the financial responsibil- 
ity of supporting an official religion, from the troublesome problem 
of deciding religious questions, and from the political meddling of 
vested ecclesiastical interests. The state is free to devote itself to the 
temporal concerns which fall within its proper area of concern, and 
with which it is equipped to deal. Separation of state and religion 
thus seeks to fulfill the ideal formulated by Cavour, "a free church 
in a free state." 

The definition of the secular state in terms of three interrelated 
components freedom of religion, citizenship, and separation of state 
and religion makes explicit the essential elements which are only 
implied in other definitions. The problem is usually approached 
simply in terms of "church and state," with little clear recognition of 
the other relationships involved. But the secular state in the liberal 
democratic tradition surely means far more than the legal separation 
of state and religion. 

The conception of the secular state outlined in this chapter is an 
ideal which is perfectly achieved in no country. The United States 


comes close, but there are still obvious anomalies as well as im- 
portant issues yet to be decided. Any modern state within the liberal 
democratic tradition will have many of the characteristics of a 
secular state. The United Kingdom, for example, can be regarded 
as a secular state in many respects, although the existence of a 
state church goes contrary to one important part of our definition. 
Basically, what has happened is that the pressure of religious 
minorities and the growth of liberal and democratic ideas have 
combined to overthrow the more illiberal aspects of the state church 
system. In the United Kingdom there is today a very vital religious 
liberty and democratic conception of citizenship. The state church 
and the monarchy itself have continued to be venerated as forms 
which link modern England with the past, even though these forms 
are at variance with the liberal democratic ideas on which the 
modern state is built. 

In stressing the total pattern of relationships as necessary to an 
understanding of the secular state, there is no desire to minimize 
the importance of separation of state and religion. It is definitely not 
a matter of indifference. The history of the past hundred years has 
clearly indicated a trend in the direction of church-state separation, 
and for good reasons. Separation of state and religion is especially 
important in the newly independent states of Asia. For while liberal 
democratic traditions have saved modern western states from the 
more dangerous historical implications of the state church system, 
these traditions have been but recently transplanted in Asia and in 
general have not yet taken firm root. The Asian state which adopts 
an official religion may thus be more easily lured into these dan- 
gerous implications. 1 


Having defined the secular state in broad outline, we may now 
turn our attention to its development in history. Our broad survey 

1 This point is well illustrated by the 1953 agitation against the Ahmadis, a dis- 
sident Muslim sect in Pakistan. The Ahmadis were hunted down as heretics by 
other Muslims. The inability of the government to deal effectively with the dis- 
turbances was in part attributable to a basic confusion over what it meant for 
Pakistan to be an Islamic Republic. See Report of the Court of Inquiry constituted 
under Punjab Act 11 of 1954 to inquire into the Punjab Disturbances of 1953, 
Superintendent, Government Printing, Lahore, 1954. 



will attempt to point out the most significant events and ideas which 
have shaped the secular state in the West. 

Church and state through the Middle Ages 

The rise of Christianity produced a new set of relationships un- 
known to the ancient world, and led to the problem of church and 
state. From its inception Christianity recognized and taught a basic 
duality the spiritual and the temporal, each with its appropriate 
loyalties. "Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's; 
and unto God the things that are God's." The distinction between 
church and state in early Christian thought has no clear parallel in 
Hinduism, and certainly none in Islam. The early church, a small 
but increasingly well-organized religious institution in a vast and 
frequently hostile empire, could not be other than separate from 
the state. 

Inevitably, the Christians' loyalty to the state came into conflict 
with their loyalty to God. They could not readily adjust their 
consciences to such mandatory practices as emperor-worship, and 
persecution by the state was the consequence of their disobedience. 
Under the Edict of Milan (A.D. 312 or 313) a great step toward 
freedom of religion was taken, with the provision that "liberty of 
worship shall not be denied to any, but that the mind and will of 
every individual shall be free to manage divine affairs according to 
his own choice." 

With the conversion of Constantine, and under successive Chris- 
tian emperors, the old relationships were completely reversed. Chris- 
tianity became established as the state religion, and the faith which 
had once been persecuted, then tolerated, then granted equality, 
finally emerged triumphant and began to persecute its rivals. So 
in the year 346 the state, closely linked to the church, ordered all 
non-Christrari temples to be closed and imposed the death penalty 
for the crime of offering sacrifices to the gods. But the emperors 
not only struck out at paganism and heresy they also convened and 
dismissed church councils. State interference in religious affairs was 
the high price paid for imperial favors to the church. 

The partnership between pope and emperor, church and state, was 
at some points a mutually advantageous one. But at other points 
conflict was inevitable. The most important theory which sought 
to define the jurisdiction of each was that expounded by Pope 


Gelasius I in the fifth century. His doctrine of the two swords 
implied the dual organization of human society the church to 
conserve spiritual interests and to mediate eternal salvation, and 
the state to maintain peace, order, and justice in temporal affairs. 
Nevertheless, this arrangement could not be one of absolute equality. 
In his letter to the emperor, Gelasius I wrote: "There are indeed, 
most august Emperor, two powers by which this world is chiefly 
ruled: the sacred authority of the Popes and the royal power. Of 
these the priestly power is much more important, because it has to 
render account for the kings of men themselves at the divine 
tribunal. " 2 

Modifying the original idea of the two swords, the papalists later 
insisted that all authority, spiritual and temporal, was originally 
given to the church; retaining the spiritual power, the church handed 
down the temporal authority to be exercised by the state. But the 
original and ultimate title to all temporal power belonged to the 
church. The imperialist, or antipapalist, position was simply that 
both powers were handed down directly from God to church and 

The discussion was far more than a theological debate; it was a 
manifestation of conflicting vital interests and claims to power. 
In 800 Charlemagne was crowned by the pope as the first head of 
the Holy Roman Empire; but in order to reject the inference of 
subordination arising from this act, he himself crowned his son as 
his successor. In the eleventh century the investiture controversy 
arose over the role of secular rulers in the choice of bishops. Emperor 
Henry IV, like his predecessors, did not hesitate to sell high ecclesias- 
tical appointments to the highest bidder. Pope Gregory VII, on the 
other hand, claimed great authority for the clergy on the ground that 
the spiritual order was higher than the temporal; the pope therefore 
had power not only to excommunicate but to depose an unworthy 
Christian ruler. The first clash between Pope Gregory VII and 
Emperor Henry IV resulted in a humiliating defeat for the latter. 
Three years later, however, Henry marched on Rome, deposed 
Gregory VII, and set up a rival pope. The investiture controversy 
was temporarily settled by their successors, who agreed that the 

2 Sidney Z. Ehlcr and John B. Morrall, Church and State through the Centuries: 
A Collection of Historic Documents with Commentaries, Newman Press, West- 
minster, Maryland, 1954, p. n. 



pope should appoint bishops but that they should be invested in 
office by the touch of the emperor's scepter. 

It must be remembered that throughout most of the medieval 
period there prevailed a conception of a universal Christian society. 
The church was viewed as something much more than the voluntary 
association of Christian believers it had been in the first century. The 
church was universal in the same sense that the empire (theoret- 
ically) was, for both included all men. The conception was that 
of two governments, each with its own hierarchy, laws, and juris- 
diction, both ruling the Christian society. 

At the end of the thirteenth century, the struggle between 
spiritual and temporal rulers took a somewhat new turn when Pope 
Boniface VIII clashed with Philip the Fair, king of France. The 
papacy was now confronted not by a theoretically universal emperor 
but by an independent king. Philip succeeded in imposing taxes on 
the French clergy despite the pope's objections, and went so far as 
to call a session of the States-General at which Boniface was arraigned 
as a criminal and heretic. This dramatic incident marked a decisive 
and permanent victory of state over church in the contest for 
temporal supremacy. 3 The rise of independent sovereign states 
produced a politically fragmented Europe which successfully chal- 
lenged the papacy's temporal claims. The Reformation was later to 
intensify this fragmentation by the introduction of religious diversity. 

One of the most influential thinkers to contribute to the idea of 
the secular state was Marsiglio of Padua. Living in the fourteenth 
century, Marsiglio defended the independence of secular rule as 
good and necessary in itself apart from its sanction by Christianity. 
He developed a theory of secular government based upon the con- 
ceptions of the Italian city-states. He conceived of the state as a 
self-sufficient and omnipotent community, with power to regulate 
the temporal concerns of the church much in the same way as it 
controlled agriculture or trade. Marsiglio, in his great work 
Defensor Pads (1324) made a sharp distinction between divine and 
human law. Divine law is enforced only by the rewards and punish- 
ments which God will mete out in the next world. Hence no 
temporal compulsion can be used to enforce conformity in religious 
beliefs. Marsiglio clearly grasped two of the components of the 

3 John B. Noss, Man's Religions, Macmillan Company, New York, 1949, pp. 652- 



secular state when he declared: "The rights of citizens are inde- 
pendent of the faith they profess; and no man may be punished 
for his religion." 4 

Marsiglio's plea for the abandonment of compulsion in religion 
was completely ignored. The spirit of the times endorsed rather the 
ideas of Augustine and Aquinas, who regarded heresy as the worst 
possible sin and crime, for which the death penalty alone was 
adequate. The papal bull Ad Extir panda (1252) prescribed torture 
and the death penalty as the proper methods to be used in combating 
heresy. The standard procedure of the Inquisition was for members 
of the Dominican order to travel from place to place, trying and 
condemning heretics and Jews. The victims were then turned over 
to the secular authorities who carried out the sentences. 

The Reformation: religious diversity and its problems 

The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, under the 
leadership of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others, did not imme- 
diately introduce any new principle in the church-state problem. 
The church continued to be viewed as the guardian of the only 
revealed truth, but the center of authority was transferred from the 
pope to the Bible, as interpreted by each reformer. No new notion of 
religious liberty was expounded by the principal leaders. Luther 
indeed argued for freedom of conscience as long as he was on the 
defensive. But when he had made firm alliances with some of the 
princes, he did his utmost to persuade them that a government 
which tolerated heresy was responsible for the eternal perdition 
of souls. 

The Protestant leaders assumed, as did the Catholics, that civic 
cohesion could not exist without religious unity within a state. 
This principle was translated into concrete policy by the Peace of 
Augsburg (1555), which produced a compromise between Lutherans 
and Catholics in the German states. The formula was simply cujus 
regio, ejus religio whatever the religion of the ruler, that would be 
the religion of the state. Religious minorities were encouraged or 
compelled to emigrate to states professing their own religion. 

The Lutherans and the Zwinglians thus tended to regard religion 
as basically an aspect of state policy. The state churches were clearly 
subordinate to the governments. This pattern (called Erastianism) 

4 Leo Pfeffer, Church, State and Freedom, Beacon Press, Boston, 1953, p. 18. 



pervaded Europe after the Protestant revolt. Only in Calvin's Geneva 
did the theocratic pattern emerge, in which the state was undeniably 
subservient to the church. 

The doctrinal and ecclesiastical unity of the Christian church had 
become a thing of the past. The territorialism of the Peace of 
Augsburg was one solution to the problem created by religious 
diversity. In France and England, however, the Reformation pro- 
duced the phenomenon of sizable religious minorities which con- 
tinued to live in these countries. This fact set the stage for the devel- 
opment of a conception of citizenship not dependent on a common 
religious faith. As Sabine describes the process, "Only slowly and 
under the compulsion of circumstances that permitted no other 
solution did a policy of religious toleration emerge, as it was dis- 
covered that a common political loyalty was possible to people of 
different religions." 5 This kind of solution to the problem, however, 
was generally repugnant to Calvinist and Jesuit alike. During the 
religious wars in France (1562-1598), this solution was advocated 
by a party called the Politiques, which was anxious to strengthen 
the monarchy and French nationalism. 

The establishment in England of a church with royal headship 
was an attempt to continue the medieval conception of a church-state, 
but on national lines. In terms of the secular state, some of the more 
creative ideas which came out of the Reformation were the contribu- 
tion of English dissident sects, Independents or Congregationalists, 
Baptists and Quakers. One of these ideas was a new conception of 
the nature of the church. The church, according to this view, was 
a voluntary association of like-minded believers grouped in auton- 
omous congregations. 6 There was thus no attempt at all to identify 
the membership of the church with that of the state, as the Anglicans 
sought to do. Religion was essentially a matter of inward spiritual 
faith and experience, and freedom of conscience was sacred. The self- 
governing congregations managed their own affairs in every 
respect; their ministers were appointed by neither state nor bishop, 
but selected democratically by the members of the fellowship. 

Closely related to this idea was another, namely, the essential 
separateness of the church, based on voluntary faith, from the state, 

5 George H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory, Henry Holt and Company, 
New York, 1950, p. 357. 

6 M. Searle Bates, Religious Liberty: An Inquiry, International Missionary Coun- 
cil, New York, 1945, p. 151. 



based on coercive power. A petition presented by a Baptist to James I 
in 1614 stressed this point. "Kings and magistrates are to rule 
temporal affairs by the swords of their temporal kingdoms, and 
bishops and ministers are to rule spiritual affairs by the Word and 
Spirit of God, the sword of Christ's spiritual kingdom, and not to 
intermeddle one with another's authority, office, and function." 7 
These ideas were later to be largely implemented in the New World. 

The progress of religious liberty in England during the sixteenth 
and seventeenth centuries was frequently uncertain. Elizabeth's 
usual policy was nonenforcement of the laws against Catholics, but 
an act of 1605 not only compelled them to attend the Anglican 
service but to partake of the communion. Cromwell's constitution 
of 1647 granted full liberty to all Protestant sects but denied even 
toleration to Catholics. The great Act of Toleration of 1689 also 
excluded Catholics from its provisions, and their legal disabilities 
were not finally removed until 1829. 

Significant contributions to the arguments for religious liberty 
and church-state separation were also made by individuals outside of 
the dissident Protestant sects. In John Locke's first Letter Concerning 
Toleration, he clearly expressed the idea that religion is outside the 
jurisdiction of civil government. But his toleration did not 
extend to Catholics or atheists. Locke's Two Treatises of Govern- 
ment> which became the Bible of modern liberalism, laid great 
stress on the individual's "life, liberty and property" upon which a 
legitimate government would not dare to encroach. Religious liberty 
was thus interpreted in terms of a broader theory of the state and 

Many other factors contributed to the development of religious 
tolerance by the end of the seventeenth century: the essential stupid- 
ity of fratricidal religious conflict began to impress thinking people. 
A spirit of relativism was engendered by the very multiplicity of 
sects, each heralding its own version of absolute truth. The material 
destructiveness of religious strife in France was contrasted with the 
commercial prosperity of tolerant Holland. Toynbee writes of 
"the seventeenth-century secularization of western life," by which 
science replaced religion as "the paramount interest and pursuit of 

7 Quoted in Anson Phelps Stokes, Church and State in the United States, Harper 

& Brothers, New York, 1950, vol. i, p. 113. 




the leading spirits in the western society." 8 All of these were con- 
tributing factors. But for the most significant events in the develop- 
ment of the secular state, we must now turn our attention to the 
western hemisphere. 

The American experiment of church-state separation 

For the most part, the pattern of church-state relations which 
evolved in the British colonies in America was one which had been 
transplanted from Europe. This pattern was twofold: a close union 
of church and state within a colony with but limited tolerance for 
dissenters, combined with considerable religious diversity from one 
colony to another. Calvinist Congregationalism was the established 
religion of four New England colonies. The Church of England was 
established in three of the southern colonies. In New York, New 
Jersey, Maryland, and Georgia the established state-churches were 
changed one or more times. Finally, and very important for our 
discussion, in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Delaware no single 
church was ever established as the official religion. 

The Calvinist Congregationalists (Puritans) who came to Mass- 
achusetts Bay in 1628 established a theocratic type of polity not 
dissimilar to Calvin's Geneva. Although they came to the New World 
seeking religious liberty for themselves, they were not prepared to 
extend it to others. Both Quakers and Catholics were forbidden to 
enter the colony; banishment was decreed for the first offense, and 
death for the second. Four Quakers were actually executed. A new 
charter granted in 1691 proclaimed liberty of conscience to all 
Christians "except Papists." 9 In Virginia and other southern colonies 
the established Church of England was largely controlled by the 
state. Here too Quakers and other Protestant dissenters were subject 
to varying degrees of legal disabilities. As in New England, the 
Act of Toleration of 1689 improved their situation, but not that 
of Catholics. 

The colony of Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams after 
he had been banished in 1636 from Massachusetts for teaching 
"divers new and dangerous opinions." Among these opinions was one 
relating to the separation of church and state, and this principle was 

8 Arnold Toynbec, An Historian's Approach to Religion, Oxford University Press, 
New York, 1956, p. 184. 

9 Pfeffer, op. cit. t p. 68. 


made the foundation on which the new state was built. 10 The 1663 
charter of Rhode Island decreed that no person "shall be in any wise 
molested, punished, disquieted or called in question, for any dif- 
ferences in opinion in matters of religion." Williams rejected as 
totally unjust the policy of taxation for religious purposes. In his 
famous pamphlet, The Bloody Tenet of Persecution for Cause of 
Conscience, Williams declared that "an enforced uniformity of re- 
ligion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and 
religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility." 

Roger Williams was a Baptist at the time of the founding of his 
colony; he later became a Seeker. Another great exponent of religious 
liberty was a Quaker, William Penn, who founded the colony of 
Pennsylvania. The colony was a business venture as well as a religious 
experiment, and its success depended on attracting large numbers of 
settlers. Penn therefore advertised widely the promise of religious 
toleration, and many persecuted dissenters responded. By the time of 
the American Revolution the churches in Pennsylvania included 
German Reformed, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Quaker, Episcopalian, 
Baptist, Moravian, Mennonite, Dunker, Catholic, and Dutch Re- 

The principle of separation of church and state received wide- 
spread acceptance during the last quarter of the eighteenth century. 
Numerous factors contributed to this acceptance. The multiplicity 
of sects scattered throughout the thirteen states was one of them. 
For if there was to be one official church for the new American 
nation, which was it to be? The success of the Rhode Island and 
Pennsylvania experiments in religious freedom clearly indicated an 
alternative solution to the church-state problem. Baptists, Presby- 
terians, and others regarded church-state separation as an article of 
faith, and agitated for it constantly in New England and Virginia. 
Deists and Unitarians opposed the "spiritual tyranny" of those 
churches which promoted their respective orthodoxies with the aid 
of the coercive arm of the state. Locke's ideas were very influential 
during the period of the Revolution, as well as the rationalism and 
skepticism of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment which came to 
America primarily from France. All of these factors worked together 
to reduce the dogmatism and fanaticism of religious groups and to 

10 Evarts B. Greene, Religion and the State: The Making and Testing of an 
American Tradition^ New York University Press, New York, 1941, pp. 48-51. 



stress freedom of conscience, which could only be guaranteed by 
church-state separation. 11 James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were 
prominent leaders in the agitation for separation of church and 
state in Virginia, and their efforts met with full success by 1786. 
Separation was achieved in the states, one by one, with Massachusetts 
the last to disestablish its church, in 1833. 

But more important was the pattern outlined for the national 
government in the Constitution of the United States. The Con- 
stitution, ratified in 1789, contains no reference to God. Article VI 
specifies that "no religious test shall ever be required as a quali- 
fication to any office or public trust under the United States." 
In order to make the secularity of the state more explicit, the 
first amendment, introduced in the House of Representatives by 
Madison, was adopted in 1791. "Congress shall make no law 
respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free 
exercise thereof." In this pithy statement the principles of church- 
state separation and freedom of religion are linked together. In 1802 
President Jefferson, in a letter to the Danbury Baptists Association, 
referred to the first amendment in the following words: "I con- 
template with sovereign reverence that act of the American people 
which declared that their legislature should make no law 'respecting 
an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof 
thus building a wall of separation between the church and the state." 

Jefferson's "wall of separation" a strict interpretation of church- 
state separation was not acceptable to all Americans then, nor is it 
now. The appointment of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish chaplains 
in the armed services, the tax exemption granted to churches and 
synagogues, the opening of state and national legislative sessions with 
prayer gll attest to the fact that the separation is not absolute. 

Nevertheless, with relatively few exceptions tne basu! principles of 
religious freedom and church-state separation have been faithfully 
adhered to throughout 170 years of American history. It would be 
difficult to exaggerate either the inherent significance or the influence 
of this great experiment. 

Church and state in modern Europe 

Let us now redirect our attention to Europe and note some of 

11 For an exhaustive discussion of these and other factors, see Stokes, op. cit. t 
PP- 65-357- 



the events and ideas which have contributed to the secular state from 
the early eighteenth century to the present. In England, both Roman 
Catholics and Protestant dissenters were excluded from public office, 
and Catholics were subject to a double land tax. Successive indemnity 
acts, beginning in 1727, removed the former disability from Protes- 
tants, but the granting of equal citizenship rights to Catholics did not 
come until 1829. Throughout the nineteenth century liberal and 
democratic currents of thought contributed greatly to the strengthen- 
ing of religious liberty and democratic citizenship. Jeremy Bentham's 
reforms envisaged an equality in citizenship rights and before the 
law based on his utilitarianism and individualism. John Stuart Mill's 
great essay On Liberty became a classic statement of the liberal creed 
and buttressed freedom of religion. 

The Church of England, however, has remained to the present time 
the established church. The bishops and archbishops, appointed by 
the prime minister, sit as voting members of the House of Lords. 
Some sentences of the ecclesiastical courts are still enforced by the 
state, and the church enjoys extensive properties and endowments' 
protected by the state over the years. 12 The church was disestablished 
in Wales, however, in 1920. 

Developments in France, on the other hand, led to a clearer con- 
ception of the secular state through separation of church and state. 
The Protestant minority, the Huguenots, were an important factor 
in this development. But strong secular influences were also at work. 
The eighteenth-century philosopher Montesquieu, in his famous 
wwFT/gt? SpMl dfjfittaws, forcefully attacked the notion that there 
oughtTo be religious uniformity in a state. Voltaire protested vehe- 
mently against" the religious prejudice and bigotry of his day, and 
Rousseau rejected the exclusive, domineering type of religion which 
hampered the development of social cohesion based solely on citizen- 
ship. Despite these voices of protest, it was not until 1745 that Protes- 
tants were permitted to worship freely, and the death penalty for 
religious dissent was not removed from the books until 1762. 

The French Revolution overthrew the established Catholic Church 
along with the hated monarchy. In the Assembly of 1789 the revolu- 
tionary leader Mirabeau made the classic distinction between liberty 

12 Cyril Garbctt, Church and State in England, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 
1950, pp. 123-127, 148-149. 

13 Bates, op. cit. y pp. 193-194; James H. Nichols, History of Christianity 7650-7950: 
Secularization of the West, Ronald Press Company, New York, 1956, pp. 32-33, 38. 



and tolerance: "I do not come to preach tolerance. The most bound- 
less liberty of religion is in my eyes a right so sacred that the word 
tolerance which tries to express it seems to me in some manner 
tyrannical in itself, since the existence of the authority which has 
the power to tolerate strikes at the liberty of thought by the very fact 
that it tolerates and that, therefore, it would be able not to tolerate." 
But the later excesses of the Revolution resulted in a bitter persecu- 
tion of Catholicism, in which thirty to forty thousand priests were 
sent into exile. Public Catholic worship was suppressed, and for a 
time a new cult of rationalism, with the worship of a goddess of 
Reason, was established by the revolutionary state. 

The Restoration of 1815 returned to power the Bourbon monarchy 
united with the Catholic Church under the official device of "Union 
of the Throne with the Altar." Not many years later, however, a 
number of Roman Catholic laymen became deeply convinced that 
the union of church and state, so essential in the eyes of the French 
clergy, was in fact undermining not only individual liberty but the 
spiritual vitality of the church itself. Montalembert, Lamennais, and 
Lacordaire, distinguished leaders in the public life of France, declared 
in 1830: "Religion has need of only one thing, liberty. Its strength 
is in the conscience of peoples and not in the support of government. 
It fears from the side of the latter only their dangerous protection, 
for the arm which is extended to defend it is employed almost always 
to enslave it. Catholicism, by calling compulsion to the aid of the 
faith, would arouse against it the noblest sentiments of the human 
heart, which, especially in the matter of religion, is irritated by 
everything that resembles force." 14 Montalembert later epitomized 
one of the objectives of his thirty years of public life in these words: 
"Religious liberty, sincere and equal for all, without privilege for 
or against Catholicism, in a word the free church in a free nation." 

After 1870 anticlericalism played a powerful role in French 
politics. Widespread resentment of the church's control over educa- 
tion was one of the important issues which eventually led to the 
separation of church and state in 1905. All state subsidies to the 
church were withdrawn, and the public schools were completely 
secularized. The reaction of the papacy to this decision was expressed 
in the encyclical Vehementer (1906): "In virtue of the supreme 
authority which God has conferred upon Us, we disapprove and 

14 Quoted in Bates, op. cit., p. 316. 



condemn the law passed in France separating Church and State . . . 
because it is profoundly insulting to God, whom it officially re- 
pudiates by laying down the principle that the Republic acknow- 
ledges no form of worship." Although the Republic was forced to 
retreat from its original position regarding control of places of 
worship, the separation of church and state was for all practical 
purposes complete. 

> The separation in France had an immediate effect elsewhere in 
western Europe, and Geneva and several other Swiss states soon 
adopted similar policies. 15 From the unification of Italy in 1870 until 
Mussolini's Lateran Treat^with the Vatican in 1929, that country 
experienced a de facto separation ot church and statcTXItEough the 
present constitution grants to all religions equality betorejthe law^ 
it_also ratifies the LatcrariJTrgaty which recognizes Catholicism;^ 
"the sole religion ot thelstate." The German Weimar Republic oFtKe 
1920*5 adopted the principle of the' separation of church and state, 
although the states maintained their own religious establishments, 
and continue to do so. 

The Netherlands, with its strong tradition of religious liberty, 
provides a constitutional guarantee of equality before the law and 
public aid to all religions, as does .Belgium. Ireland in its constitu- 
tion recognizes the special position of the' Catholic Church, yet has 
successfully combined this recognition with its grant of freedom 
and equality to other religions. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and 
South Africa have no established churches," and half of the LW'Chty 
Latin American countries provide for church-state separation. 

From the above survey it is obvious that, while the principle of 
separation has made impressive gains, there are still many countries 
where the state-church system prevails. We must remember that the 
secular state, as we have defined it, is not to be equated with church- 
state separation. For the secular state, it will be recalled, is a complex 
of three vital relationships, of which church-state separation is but 

Church-state separation can exist simultaneously with flagrant 
denials of freedom of religion, as in Soviet P.ussin; this is not a secular 
state. On the other hand, a state-church system can exist simul- 
taneously with broad freedom of religion and a democratic con- 

15 Adolf Keller, Church and State on the European Continent, Ep worth Press, 
London, 1936, pp. 260-263. 



ception of citizenship, as in England; this is in many respects a 
secular state. This is not to suggest that separation of church anc 
state is unimportant. Church-state separation in the context of a 
liberal democratic state is the arrangement which most clearly, 
logically, and effectively preserves the values of individual and cor- 
porate freedom of religion and equal citizenship. Church-state separa- 
tion is "the last consequence of the principle of religious liberty and 
of the neutrality of the state in religious matters." 10 

As we have seen, the secular state in the West has evolved out of 
many different kinds of historical situations; many different and 
even conflicting motives lie behind its development. In France the 
secular state emerged from centuries of struggle between church and 
state and was a victory for the tradition of anticlericalism. In the 
United States, on the other hand, the secular state was achieved 
with no hostility toward religion as sued, and it has continued to 
evolve on~a basis of mutual good feeling between church and state. 17 
As we turn now to the problem in the Asian setting, we will find 
similar differences. The Turkish Republic secularized the state in 
a manner not unlike that employed by France; the secular state in 
India, on the other hand, is more reminiscent of the American ex- 

w lbid., p. 243. 

17 Jacques Maritain, Man and the State, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 
1951, pp. 182-183. 



As WE HAVE SEEN, the secular state is a principle which has de- 
veloped over a period of several centuries of western political ex- 
perience. In Europe and America it has emerged as an important 
aspect of the liberal democratic tradition. The secular state is, in 
origin, a western and not an Asian conception. This is not to deny 
the obvious fact that certain dements of the secular state, as we have 
defined it, have a long tradition in Asia. Individual freedom of 
religion, for example, has strong roots in the Hindu and Buddhist 
countries. But other elements of the conception have been totally 
lacking. For example, the idea that government should not extend 
financial aid and other forms of patronage to religion finds no sup- 
port in Hindu, Buddhist, or Islamic traditions. Village self-govern- 
ment has a long history throughout South and Southeast Asia, but 
this fact certainly is not sufficient to refute the assertion that the 
parliamentary democracy which is now being experimented with in 
countries of this region is based on western conceptions and practices. 
Similarly, individual elements of the secular state can be found in 
South and Southeast Asian traditions, but the development of the 
whole integrated conception has been a western phenomenon. 

The traditional pattern of relationship between religion and polit- 
ical authority in the countries of this area was one of interdependence. 
It was the duty of the king to promote religion to build places of 
worship, to contribute to the maintenance of the clerical class, to use 
his power to enforce religious regulations relating to doctrine, ritual, 
or social observances. Religious functionaries were expected to advise, 
support, and help the king. Through coronation ceremonies and 
other religious rites in the royal court, the divine legitimation of 
his temporal power was effected, which provided the essential basis 
for the willing obedience of his subjects. 

There were, of course, important differences in the religion-state 



relationship depending on whether a particular kingdom was Hindu, 
Buddhist, or Muslim. There were indeed significant differences be- 
tween one Hindu (or Buddhist, or Muslim) state and another. 
But the general pattern described above was common to the entire 
area. In some cases western imperial rule completely obliterated the 
traditional religion-state relationship. In other cases the absence of 
western domination (Thailand, Nepal) or the imperial device of 
indirect rule (the Hindu and Muslim princely states in India, the 
Malay states, and the Buddhist kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia) 
permitted the ancient system to continue relatively undisturbed. 

As shall be seen in the next chapter, the Hindu ruler built temples 
and endowed them with vast wealth in the form of money, jewels, 
and lands. The management of the financial affairs of the temples 
was a normal part of the administration of the state, and in some 
cases the raja controlled the form of the ceremonies performed in 
temple worship. The king was the "protector of cows and Brah- 
mans," imposing severe penalties on those who would dare kill a 
cow and according Brahmans reverence and preferential treatment 
in every respect. He was the final arbiter in all matters concerning 
caste regulations, carrying out the sanctions prescribed by the ancient 
texts where violations occurred. A Brahman royal chaplain advised 
the king and performed the sacred ceremonies deemed essential for 
the success of his rule. 

The Buddhist king built and endowed pagodas and shrines, and 
was the chief patron of the monastic order. The protection of the 
purity of the Teaching was one of the important functions of the 
monarch, and the suppression of heresy was sometimes found neces- 
sary. When the monastic order became corrupt, it was the function 
of the king to discipline and reform it. In some cases new sects re- 
sulted from the monastic reforms implemented by the royal power. 
The Buddhist monastic order generally supported the authority of 
the king and instructed the people to obey him. In Burma, royal 
patronage of Buddhism was the most important basis for the loyalty 
of the diverse ethnic groups to the king. 

Muslim rulers in South and Southeast Asia recognized their obliga- 
tion to promote Islam through building and administering mosques, 
giving grants to individuals and institutions devoted to the study of 
theology and Islamic law, suppressing heretical teaching, and at 
times directing campaigns of proselytization. A special tax was some- 



times imposed on non-Muslims, and Muslims were compelled by 
the state to fulfill certain religious obligations such as the giving of 
alms and attendance at the mosque. Doctors of Islamic law (in some 
cases headed by a Chief Theologian) had an established place in 
the court as advisers to the king, and during certain periods they 
exercised great influence over him. 

The conception of the secular state, then, is western in origin and 
contains important elements which are opposed to traditional Asian 
conceptions and practices. The question which concerns us in this 
chapter is: What factors are involved in determining the relevance of 
this western conception to the countries of South and Southeast Asia ? 
Can this conception be successfully transplanted to the countries of 
this region? We shall seek to identify the religious, historical, polit- 
ical, and social factors which help to explain why the people of a 
given Asian country are likely to accept, modify, or reject the prin- 
ciple of the secular state. Placing the question in this broader perspec- 
tive will illuminate the problems of India's experiment with the 
secular state. 


Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam are the major religions of this 
region. Although Roman Catholicism is professed by about 16 million 
people in the Philippine Islands (83 per cent of the total population), 
it will not be considered in this analysis. There are five aspects of 
religion which are particularly relevant to our inquiry; the first two 
aspects concern doctrine, the other three relate to organization. 

First, the view of history taken by a religion, that is, whether 
human history is regarded as real and important, is a vital point. 
A religion which regards history as unreal, or if real, ultimately 
unimportant, may be assumed to be unconcerned with securing or 
maintaining temporal power. This should be favorable to the secular 
state. On the other hand, a religion which regards the proper course 
of history as crucial and central to its task in the world, is more likely 
to rely upon political power in order to influence history. The chal- 
lenge to the secular state would be correspondingly greater. 

Second, we must consider the attitude of a religion toward other 
religions. Since the peaceful coexistence of diverse faiths is basic to 
the secular state, the degree of tolerance shown by the majority re- 
ligion to other religions will obviously be important. Widespread 



intolerance would make the secular principle practically impossible 
of realization. 

Third, it will be important to note what capacity a given religion 
has demonstrated for effective ecclesiastical organization. A highly 
organized religious institution, like the Roman Catholic Church in 
the West, is in a position to confront the state and to make demands 
upon it. In general, the more highly organized the majority religion, 
the greater the difficulties which will be encountered in making or 
keeping the state secular. 

Fourth, we must consider the historical traditions of separation 
or fusion of political and religious functions. It is obvious that if 
the traditional conceptions and practices of a religion support the 
idea of separation, there will be some basis for the building of a 
secular state. 

Fifth, the extent to which a religion has tended to regulate social 
life will be significant. All religions prescribe rituals, ceremonies, and 
festivals which are important to the social life of their peoples, but 
some go far beyond this to regulate virtually every aspect of society, 
as in the caste system or Muslim law. The greater the degree of such 
social regulation by a religion, the more difficult it will be to im- 
plement the principles of secularism. 1 

We shall now examine the major religions of South and Southeast 
Asia in the light of these five points. It will be necessary to deal in 
broad generalizations in attempting to discern the principal implica- 
tions of each religion for our subject. There are exceptions to prac- 
tically every generalization which will be made in the following 
pages. However, they are generalizations in which many scholars 
concur, and are presented as rough guides for the exploration of 
this field of inquiry. 

Hinduism: metaphysical tolerance and social rigidity 

THE HINDU VIEW OF HISTORY. Hinduism provides a theory of cycles 
or recurring periods of creation and destruction. Each world system 
makes one complete cycle of creation and destruction, and this 
process has been repeating itself eternally. The present natural world 

1 Here, and in the rest of the book, the term "secularism" is used interchangeably 
with "secular state," except where the context clearly indicates that the reference 
is to philosophies or attitudes which reject religion in all areas of life, individual 
as well as social and political. 



of human experience was created out of the combination of matter 
and spirit by means of the action of maya, the illusory cosmic 
energy of Brahma the Creator. The universal dissolution and de- 
struction comes about when Brahma vanishes into himself. As S. }. 
Samartha puts it, "In the classical Hindu view history is not sig- 
nificant because it is swallowed up in the vastness of the cosmic 
process." 2 

Hindu thought holds that the essential self in man (atman, some- 
times translated as soul) and the ultimate Reality are one. This 
doctrine, according to a Hindu writer, "emphasizes the fact that 
neither the empirical self nor the tangible phenomenal world, with 
which the empirical self seems to come into contact, possess any 
reality from the ultimate point of view." 3 Through original ignorance 
the essential self assumes individuality, and the permanence of the 
essential self is the basis for rebirth upon death. The law of cause 
and effect, \arma> operates in such a way that one's lot in the suc- 
ceeding life will be the moral consequence of deeds performed in 
this life. Liberation from the cycle of rebirths is reached by man's 
attaining complete realization of the nature of the self, namely, 
identity with the Supreme Being. The highest spiritual goal of the 
Hindu is escape from the cycle of history. 

Hinduism regards human history as a lower level of experience, 
for the essential self of man is never involved in the affairs of this 
world of phenomena. How does Hinduism reconcile this meta- 
physical position with its extremely detailed regulation of individual 
and social life? Chiefly by its teaching regarding the four ends of 
man. The expression of man's natural instincts (kama), material 
prosperity (arthd)^ and the ethical life (dharma), all pertain to 
the lower, empirical life. Spiritual liberation (mo\sha) pertains to 
the higher level of reality, man's essential self. 

Hinduism's concern with political institutions and the course of 
human history is thus a secondary concern at most. This view of 
history is conducive to the development of a secular state. That is, 

2 S. J. Samartha, The Hindu View of History: Classical and Modern, Christian 
Institute for the Study of Religion and Society, Bangalore, 1959, p. 7. 

3 R. N. Dandekar, "The Role of Man in Hinduism," The Religion of the Hindus, 
ed. Kenneth W. Morgan, Ronald Press Company, New York, 1953, p. 121. This is 
not the only Hindu view on the subject. Some modern Hindu philosophers, most 
notably Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, are consciously reinterpreting the Hindu doctrines of 
maya and f^arma in order to give real meaning to the world and human history. 
This process of reinterpretation is well summarized in Samartha's pamphlet. 



the ultimate philosophical and religious values of Hinduism do not 
require a Hindu state, or any particular kind of a state, for that 
matter. At this point the contrast with Islam is quite marked. 

THE BASIS OF HINDU TOLERANCE. The remarkable tolerance of 
Hinduism derives basically from the belief that Ultimate Reality or 
the Supreme Spirit is without name, form, personality, or qualities. 
The particular name and attributes of any deity are regarded as 
limitations imposed on the Supreme Spirit by the weakness of man, 
who hungers for a god of love and mercy. The Vedic seer proclaimed, 
"Reality is one; sages speak of it in different ways." The doctrine of 
the chosen deity (ishta-devata) invites the worshipper to choose, from 
among all the gods conceived by man in the past, the one which best 
satisfies his spiritual longing. While this doctrine was originally ap- 
plied to the numerous deities mentioned in the Hindu scriptures, 
there is no logical stopping-place, and the same tolerant attitude is 
taken toward other religions. 

Hinduism thus holds that there are many ways, many paths 
which lead toward spiritual liberation. Historically it has con- 
vincingly demonstrated this belief. In addition to Jains and Buddhists, 
communities of Jews, Syrian Christians, and Zoroastrians settled in 
India and lived there unmolested. Muslims lived peacefully in India 
for three hundred years before Islam came as a military force in the 
eleventh century A.D. 

Hinduism, unlike Buddhism and Islam, is not a missionary re- 
ligion, and the rejection of proselytism on principle is regarded by 
many Hindus as an important part of tolerance. While Hinduism's 
tolerance is a strong point in support of the secular state, other 
aspects are not so favorable. Hinduism is an ethnic religion, the 
faith of one particular people, rather than an international missionary 
religion. India is the only home of the Hindus. As has been illustrated 
by Judaism in modern Israel, an ethnic religion may easily become 
closely identified with nationalism and national culture. The pro- 
motion of national ideals by the state thus tends to become the pro- 
motion of religion. This poses a more subtle challenge to the secular 

tion has Hinduism demonstrated? Has it succeeded in developing 
effective institutional means by which it can confront the state and 
make demands on it? The answer to these questions is an almost 



unqualified negative. In the first place, there is no congregational 
worship in Hinduism such as is found in Christianity and Islam. 
In Christianity the parish church is a center of organized religious 
activity and the basic unit of ecclesiastical organization. The lack 
of a clearly defined and trained Hindu clergy subject to the discipline 
of superiors is another point. The hereditary priesthood of the Brah- 
man caste has not functioned effectively, and relatively few Brahmans 
today are priests by actual occupation. The clerical functions in 
Hinduism are performed by a wide variety of temple priests, pandits, 
astrologers, sadhus (holy men), swamis, gurus, and so forth. 

The Hindu "clergy" is thus not organized for an effective political 
role, nor do the sadhus and temple priests enjoy the general prestige 
which would make for success in politics. Many people in India, 
not only among the educated, regard them as ignorant men of ques- 
tionable morals. They are tolerated but hardly revered. This is in 
marked contrast to the veneration shown the members of the 
monastic order in the Theravada Buddhist countries by all levels of 

While members of the monastic order (Sangha) in Burma and 
Ceylon have made their political influence felt, and similarly the 
Muslim clerical class (ulamd) in Pakistan, the political expression of 
Hindu religion has only been through organizations of laymen. 
The Hindu Mahasabha and other communal political parties are 
the only groups which profess to speak for Hinduism on the Indian 
political scene. 

Hinduism is divided into a vast variety of sects and subsects, 
although most of them could be classified as Vaishnava, Saiva, or 
Sakta groups. A reformist group founded in the nineteenth century, 
the Arya Samaj, is controlled through a central authority with power 
to enforce discipline. The Radhaswami sect has a pontiff. The Rama- 
krishna Mission is organized along the same lines as an efficient re- 
ligious denomination in the West. Certain Lingayat subsects have 
"an ecclesiastical organization comparable in thoroughness to that of 
Catholic Rome." 4 But most of the sects do not have such well-knit 
organizations, to say nothing of Hinduism as a whole. 

Commenting on this lack of ecclesiastical organization a British 
scholar wrote: "Hence Hinduism has never prepared a body of 
canonical Scriptures or a Common Prayer Book; it has never held 

4 Mysore Gazetcer, Government Press, Bangalore, 1927, vol. i, p. 143. 



a General Council or Convention; never defined the relations of the 
laity and clergy; never regulated the canonization of saints or their 
worship; never established a single center of religious life, like Rome 
or Canterbury; never prescribed a course of training for its priests." 5 
Furthermore, the writer added, Hinduism's failure to develop such 
institutions cannot be attributed to war, foreign domination, or any 
other external circumstance, but simply to the fact that "all such 
action is essentially opposed to its spirit and traditions." But Hindu- 
ism's failure at this point might well be a significant factor in the 
future success of the secular state in India. 

There is, however, a negative consideration also. Hinduism's lack 
of organization renders it largely incapable of effecting internal re- 
forms, however badly they are needed. The state has thus been 
pressed into service as the agency of religious reform, and its efforts 
to legislate various reforms of Hindu religious practice have to 
some extent compromised the principle of separation of state and 
religion. The same characteristic which precludes a major political 
role for Hinduism in the state, also encourages state interference in 
religion. On balance, however, this characteristic is much more an 
asset than a liability for the secular state. 

RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL FUNCTIONS. Hindu traditions give strong 
support to the idea that the functions of priest and king are not to 
be fused. According to the divinely ordained caste system, the 
priestly function belonged to the Brahmans, and rulership to the 
Kshatriyas. The Brahman was expected to advise the king, but could 
not himself rule without violating his caste dharma. 

THE REGULATION OF HINDU SOCIETY. In contrast with its total lack 
of centralized ecclesiastical institutions, Hinduism has demonstrated 
a powerful capacity for the detailed ordering of social life through 
caste and Hindu law. Some reformist writers, such as K. M. Panikkar, 
have argued that Hindu social institutions have resulted from certain 
historical factors and "are in no way concerned with religion." 6 
It is undoubtedly true that many Hindu social practices were non- 
religious in origin but were absorbed into the religious complex, 
rationalized by religious theories, and enforced by religious sanctions. 

5 W. Crooke, "Hinduism," Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. James 
Hastings, 1925, vol. 6, p. 712. 

6 K. M. Panikkar, Hindu Society at Cross Roads, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 
1955, P- 49- 

2 9 


But the question of origin is of academic significance only. If for 
a thousand years Hindus have regarded a particular social practice 
as part of their religion, it is a part of their religion. 

Panikkar chose to deny recognition to the traditional Hindu under- 
standing of the close relationship between religion and social institu- 
tions because his real concern is not with the past but the future. 
His deliberate attempt to separate the two aspects of Hindu life 
is intended to strengthen the cause of radical social reform. But the 
fact remains that many Hindus still accept the scriptural analogy 
that the four original castes proceeded from the parts of the Creator's 
body, and that birth in a particular caste is governed by the inexorable 
law of \arma. 

We shall deal with this problem of the relationship between Hindu 
religion and Hindu social institutions in later chapters. For our 
present purposes, however, it is sufficient to make the general state- 
ment that Hinduism has included detailed regulations which have 
in large measure determined the pattern of society. Caste is not a 
"system" in any coordinated sense, but is rather the all-pervasive 
principle on which social life has developed. The social regulations of 
Hinduism have not emanated from a single central authority (as we 
have seen, there is no such authority), but they have nonetheless been 
effective in providing a pattern of social organization. 

Buddhism: social freedom and ecclesiastical power 

Our brief discussion here will deal with Theravada Buddhism, the 
principal religion of Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. 
Buddhism as practiced in China, Korea, and Japan is of the 
Mahayana school and differs significantly from the Theravada in 
several points of doctrine and practice. 

THEORY OF HISTORY. The Theravada Buddhist view of history must 
be examined from both the metaphysical and the practical points of 
view. As regards metaphysics, the Buddha insisted that all existence 
is impermanent, substanceless, and suffering. This fact is clear to 
the man of wisdom, even though others may regard the phenomenal 
world as permanent reality. All existence is in constant flux. All of 
life is a cycle of rebirths, and upon a man's death his consciousness 
flows on into another life. The law of fytmma, cause and effect, 
operates inexorably to ensure that his rebirth will be the moral 
consequence of actions in the past life. The doctrine of kamma thus 



gives a moral significance to history, but the whole process perpetu- 
ates man's bondage. Freedom from the bondage of this cycle of 
birth, death, and rebirth comes only by insight into the impermanent 
and substanceless nature of existence. This insight has the effect of 
uprooting attachment or desire. Being freed from desire and passion, 
one's actions no longer accumulate the potentiality of \amma which 
perpetuates the cycle of rebirth. 

As in the case of Hinduism, the metaphysics of Buddhism seems to 
assert that the course of human history is ultimately unreal, based 
as it is on impermanent and substanceless existence. There is no 
particular goal toward which history is moving, and the most im- 
portant thing that the individual can do is to extricate himself from 

The Buddhist's practical view of history, however, is in marked 
contrast with that of the Hindu. Although history may ultimately 
be unreal, it is not without importance. Unlike Hinduism, Buddhism 
has a founder, a historical figure. It is important to the Buddhist that 
the Buddha lived in the sixth century B.C., that he is more than a 
shadowy mythological figure like Rama. Theravada countries use 
a calendar based on the Buddhist era, beginning with the death of the 
Buddha (544 B.C.). 

The Sangha, the monastic order founded by the Buddha, has main- 
tained a historical continuity for twenty-five centuries. This historical 
awareness is well expressed in the words of a Buddhist scholar: "If 
there had not been the Sangha, the Dhamma (doctrine) would have 
been a mere legend and tradition after the demise of the Buddha 
it is the Sangha which has preserved not only the word of the 
Master, but also the unique spirit of the Noble Teaching since the 
Master's passing away." 7 Six Great Councils have been convened 
throughout the history of Buddhism, the first shortly after the 
Buddha's death and the sixth in 1954-1956 in Rangoon. 

Buddhism came into existence at a time when India had a 
highly organized society. Primarily a new individualistic doctrine 
of salvation, early Buddhism had no political or social philosophy. 
Under the Buddhist emperor Ashoka, however, the whole context 
was transformed. As the "established church" of the vast empire, 

7 Maha Thera U Thittila, "The Fundamental Principles of Theravada Bud- 
dhism," The Path of the Buddha, ed. Kenneth W. Morgan, Ronald Press Company, 
New York, 1956, p. 75. 



Buddhism suddenly had a definite stake in worldly concerns such 
as politics. All of this seems to indicate that, metaphysics notwith- 
standing, Theravada Buddhism is capable of developing an impress- 
ive concern for the course of human history. 

ATTITUDE TOWARD OTHER FAITHS. What degree of tolerance has 
Buddhism demonstrated throughout its long history? The attitude 
toward other religions is largely determined by the limited claims 
which the Buddhist makes for his own faith. Theravada Buddhism 
rejects the idea of revelation it does not claim "to present through 
any form of divine revelation the whole truth of the absolute 
beginning and end of mankind's spiritual pilgrimage." 8 The Buddha 
himself searched and discovered the nature of the universe, and 
he invited others to engage in this search for truth by rational in- 
quiry. The searcher is instructed not to believe anything on the basis 
of tradition or authority, even the authority of the Master himself. 
He is invited to doubt the teaching until he is convinced of its truth 
through his own reflection and experience. This experimental ap- 
proach to religious and philosophical truth has predisposed the 
Buddhist to assume an attitude of broad tolerance toward those who 
seek the truth by other paths. 

While Buddhism is nondogmatic and not based on any revelation 
of absolute truth, its adherents have nevertheless been extremely 
conscious of the uniqueness of their message. Buddhism has been a 
missionary religion ever since the Buddha sent out his followers to 
spread the Dhamma^ a universal teaching which would bring en- 
lightenment to all men. Buddhism differs significantly from Hindu- 
ism in this conviction that there is, after all, one known path to 
perfect enlightenment, and that the Buddha has discovered it. Within 
the Buddhist monastic order there has been a strong emphasis on 
the preservation of doctrinal purity, and rulers have from time to 
time intervened in order to suppress heretical elements in the 
Sangha, sometimes resorting to violent means. Buddhism is not as 
tolerant as Hinduism with the latter's constant emphasis on many 
ways, many paths. 

Buddhism, nevertheless, has demonstrated a great practical tol- 
erance of other faiths. From India it gradually spread over most of 
Southeast Asia and the Far East, but conversions took place only by 

*Ibid., p. 71. 



persuasion. There is no record that force was ever used to obtain 
converts to Buddhism. 9 Furthermore, a liberal attitude was evidenced 
by the inclusion of many Hindu gods and goddesses in Buddhist 
ceremonies in the Theravada countries. In the Mahayana countries 
many indigenous deities have been accorded a place of honor within 
the system. Tolerance in Buddhism is not based on Hinduism's es- 
sential relativism as to the means of attaining salvation, but the path 
of the Buddha has never led to rigid exclusivism. 

monks, is the institution founded by the Buddha to propagate the 
teaching. In most of the Theravada countries of the present day 
the Sangha is divided into two or three sects, but sectarian differences 
are very slight, reflecting historical origins and minor variations in 
practices. The Buddha promulgated detailed rules governing life in 
the Sangha the internal government of the order, admission to the 
order, ordination, the duties of the monks, etc. A senior monk is 
selected by the members of each monastery to head their organization 
and attend to the details of monastic life. 

In pre-colonial Burma, the king appointed one of the senior abbots 
as a kind of archbishop of the Sangha, and he was assisted by dis- 
trict "bishops." "This system did not constitute a genuine ecclesi- 
astical hierarchy, however, for the clergy over whom it presided was 
an aggregation of individual ascetics rather than an organized 
church community." 10 While the corporate life of the Sangha in 
modern Theravada countries is most impressive, the ecclesiastical 
organization is not one based on a hierarchy of authority by which 
decisions made at the top could be immediately passed down a chain 
of command. In some cases, however, the personality and informal 
spiritual authority of the leading elders of the Sangha is sufficient 
to achieve the same ends. 

The most highly centralized organization of the Sangha is found 

9 Hajime Nakamura, "Unity and Diversity in Buddhism," The Path of the Bud- 
dha, ed. Kenneth W. Morgan, p. 367. 

10 John F. Cady, A History of Modern Burma, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 
N. Y., 1958, p. 54. For a discussion of Sangha organization in Thailand, see Luang 
Suryabongse, "Buddhism in Thailand," 2500 Buddha Jayanti Souvenir, eds. Ananda 
W. P. Guruge and K. G. Amaradasa, The Buddhist Council of Ceylon, Ministry of 
Local Government and Cultural Affairs, Colombo, 1956, p. 64. See also Prince 
Dhaninivat, Kromamun Bidyalabh, A History of Buddhism in Siam, The Asia 
Foundation, Bangkok, 1960, p. 40; Kenneth E. Wells, Thai Buddhism, Christian 
Bookstore, Bangkok, 1960, pp. 7-11. 



in Thailand. There are two sects in Thailand, the Maha Nikaya 
(Great Sect) and the Dhammayuttika Nikaya (Sect of the Followers 
of the Dhamma). Approximately 200,000 monks and novices belong 
to the former and 4,000 to the latter sect. The highest Buddhist 
dignitary of the kingdom is the Sangharaja (Ruler of the Sangha, 
or Supreme Patriarch), who is chosen by the heads of the two sects, 
approved by the ministry of education, and appointed by the king. 
The Sangharaja appoints a ten-man Council of Ecclesiastical Minis- 
ters headed by the Sangha Nayaka (corresponding to a cabinet and 
prime minister). Under the Sangha Nayaka there are four boards: 
the board of ecclesiastical administration, the board of education, the 
board of propaganda, and the board of public works. 

It might be thought a weakness that the basic unit of Buddhism's 
ecclesiastical organization is a monastic institution. However, the 
Buddhist vihara has traditionally been a center of social life, especially 
in the villages. It is not the secluded and inaccessible dwelling usually 
suggested by the word "monastery" in the West. Furthermore, in 
all of the Theravada countries except Ceylon, laymen frequently 
spend some time in the monasteries receiving instruction in the 
teaching, and then return to their secular occupations. 

The Sangha, then, not only commands the reverence of the laity 
but is organized in such a way that it can effectively mobilize public 
opinion. If the leadership should desire a political role for the 
Sangha, there is no doubt of its ability to fulfill it, despite the Vinaya 
rules of monastic discipline which forbid a monk's involvement in 
mundane political affairs. The political potential of the Sangha in 
Ceylon and Burma has already been impressively demonstrated. 11 
The Theravada Buddhist countries will encounter special problems 
in attempting to secure or maintain the principle of the secular state, 

11 Organized associations of Buddhist monks, although not the Sangha as a whole, 
played a significant role in supporting S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike's Sri Lanka Free- 
dom Party in the 1956 elections in Ceylon. The political power of the Buddhist 
clergy would still be considerable had not the assassination of Prime Minister 
Bandaranaike by a monk in 1959 discredited the whole trend toward political in- 
volvement. See W. Howard Wriggins, Ceylon: Dilemmas of a 'New Nation, Prince- 
ton University Press, Princeton, 1960, pp. 198, 342-348. Buddhist monks played an 
important role in the 1960 election campaign in Burma, giving powerful support 
to U Nu, who had promised to make Buddhism the state religion. See Kingsley 
Martin, "Nu's Victory," New Statesman, March 12, 1960. In Thailand the Sangha 
hierarchy is heavily dependent on government support, and government regulations 
have effectively kept the monks out of politics. 



for the Sangha can easily become a vigorous pressure group demand- 
ing for Buddhism the place traditionally accorded it by the state. 
Organizations of Buddhist laymen can also play an important role. 
The All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, for example, with the support of 
prominent leaders of the Sangha, has had considerable influence in 
promoting the role of Buddhism in national life and in urging the 
government to do the same. 

RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL FUNCTIONS. There has been relatively little 
fusion of religious and political functions in Theravada Buddhism, 
although the separation is not as clear-cut as in Hinduism, where 
priest and king belonged to different castes. In a few cases, members 
of the royal families in Burma and Thailand gave up the yellow robe 
after many years in the Sangha in order to ascend to the throne. 
While the same person could be monk and king, the two roles could 
never be accepted simultaneously. The renunciation of the world 
required of the monk was incompatible with the temporal wealth and 
power of kingship. 

BUDDHISM AND SOCIETY. Our last consideration is the extent to which 
Theravada Buddhism has tended to regulate the general social life 
of its adherents. At this point an interesting comparison can be 
drawn between Hinduism and Buddhism. In Hinduism there has 
been very little over-all ecclesiastical organization, but extremely 
detailed regulation of ordinary social life through the caste system 
and Hindu law. In Buddhism the reverse is true ecclesiastical organ- 
ization is relatively well developed, but the regulation of ordinary 
social life is minimal. In this respect the Theravada Buddhist coun- 
tries may bear some resemblance to modern western countries, where 
religion is highly organized institutionally but has relatively little 
connection with the pattern of social life. 

Buddhism originated partly as a protest against the caste system, 
and it has continued to pride itself on the absence of caste in the 
Theravada countries with the exception of Ceylon. There is no 
Buddhist law comparable to Hindu or Islamic law. The moral code 
to be followed by the Buddhist layman is a relatively simple one, 
centering in the Five Precepts refraining from killing, stealing, 
unlawful sexual indulgence, wrong speech, and drinking liquor. 
As regards the prescription of ritual, "Indian Buddhism did not 
establish a system of ceremonies for family life comparable to those 
in Hinduism, nor have such ceremonies grown up in Theravada or 



Mahayana Buddhism." 12 Marriage ceremonies are performed by the 
elder men of the family and are not regarded as religious ceremonies. 
Funerals and the tonsure ceremony performed upon male children, 
however, are religious ceremonies conducted by the monks. 

Islam: decisiveness of history and all-pervasive law 

ISLAM'S APPROACH TO HISTORY. Wilfred Cantwell Smith, in com- 
paring the theories of history held by representatives of various 
faiths, arranges them in the following graded series: "the Hindu, 
for whom ultimately history is not significant; the Christian, for 
whom it is significant but not decisive; the Muslim, for whom 
it is decisive but not final; the Marxist, for whom it is all in all." 13 
Hindu philosophy, as we have seen, relegates history to a lower 
metaphysical level and ultimately regards it as unreal or at least 
not significant. Christianity regards itself as rooted in history 
and as having as part of its mission the redemption of society as well 
as of individuals. But Christianity's consciousness of the failures 
and sinfulness of all human institutions prevents it from becoming 
totally absorbed in the present scene, and it looks beyond history for 
final redemption. 

Islam cannot go as far as Marxism, for the Muslim (like the 
Christian) looks ultimately to God, and his endeavor to redeem 
history is derived from his faith in One beyond history. But it would 
be difficult to exaggerate the intensity with which Islam approaches 
its mission of establishing on earth a divinely revealed social order. 
Among the profoundest convictions held by the world of Islam are 
"that there is inherent in the structure of this world and its develop- 
ment a proper course, a right social shape; that the meaning of 
history lies in the degree to which these become actualized; and 
finally that they who understand the essential laws for these, and 
accept the responsibility involved, are entrusted with the task of 
executing that actualization, of guiding history to its inevitable and 
resplendent fulfillment." 14 In these vital respects, Islam approaches 
history with almost the total commitment of Marxism. 

ATTITUDE TOWARD OTHER FAITHS. Islam is a religion of revelation 
in the broad tradition of Judaism and Christianity. The Islamic 
teaching, in the words of H. A. R. Gibb, is that "in Mohammed the 

12 Nakamura, op. cit., p. 398. 

18 Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Islam in Modern History, Princeton University Press, 
Princeton, 1957, p. 21. 
/W., p. 26. 


series of Apostles reached its culmination and that the Koran revealed 
through him is the final and unchangeable revelation of the Divine 
Will, abrogating all previous records of revelation." 15 The exclusivist 
claims of Islam have thus largely determined its attitude toward other 
faiths. These claims have made Islam an aggressively missionary 

The Koran deals with the question of religious toleration rather 
unevenly, with statements ranging from expressions of broad toler- 
ance to extreme fanaticism. In one text (V, 73), Jews, Christians, and 
Sabians are included as inheritors of Paradise along with Muslims, 
provided they believe in Allah and the last judgment and do good 
works. 18 In other passages they are classified together with pagans, 
and friendship with them is forbidden. In still other texts, Muslims 
are instructed to fight relentlessly against all other communities 
until they accept Islam or pay tribute. The system which was ulti- 
mately adopted was to tolerate the above three communities as 
"people of the book" (believers in a revealed scripture), but to 
disarm them and make them tributary. Strictly speaking, the very 
existence of other communities was forbidden. 

The contacts of the West with Islam, from the time of the Crusades, 
have unfortunately resulted in the stereotype of the Muslim as 
bigoted and fanatical. There is much evidence to the contrary. Never- 
theless, as we think of Islam in relation to our subject, we cannot 
avoid the conclusion that its general attitude toward other religions 
will continue to constitute a serious obstacle to the realization of the 
secular state. The same is true of several Christian churches and 
goes far toward explaining the resistance to the secular state 
principle in many countries of the West, despite the tremendous 
impact of secularizing forces. 

med and his followers moved to Medina in A.D. 622 he established an 
autonomous society, and it soon became clear that Islam was far 
more than a body of private religious beliefs. The Islamic community 
had most of the characteristics of a state, with its own system of 
government, laws, and institutions. This autonomous community was 

15 H. A. R. Gibb, Mohammedanism: An Historical Survey, New American Li- 
brary, New York, 1955, p. 12. 

16 D. S. Margoliouth, "Muhammad," Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. 
James Hastings, 1925, vol. 8, p. 877. 



central in the very concept of Islam its institutions were not mere 
appendages. Furthermore, it was a unitary society in which eccle- 
siastical and political functions merged together in which, indeed, 
there was no significant distinction between religious and secular. 
"Mohammed ruled over his people as a divinely inspired and guided 
prophet. He led the public prayers; he acted as judge; he controlled 
the army." 17 

Upon his death a "successor" (khalifah, caliph) was chosen, who 
exercised similar authority. Successive caliphs delegated many of 
their powers to the vizier (prime minister), diwans (heads of ad- 
ministrative departments), the imam (leader of public prayers), 
and the corps of judges (fadis). But the power and prestige of the 
caliphate declined rapidly, and within the first century after Moham- 
med there was a growing cleavage between the religious and secular 
institutions of the Muslim community. The doctors of the Islamic 
law (ulama) refused to concede any spiritual authority to the caliphs. 
With the expansion of Islam and the inclusion of independent rulers 
within the faith, the state diverged more and more from the classical 
pattern. The Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century put an end 
to the historic caliphate of Baghdad. The Ottoman Empire later 
revived the institution (although in an unorthodox manner), and it 
continued until the Turkish Republic finally abolished the caliphate 
in 1924. 

The ulama are in no sense priests; rather, they correspond to the 
"scribes" in Judaism. Strictly speaking, Islam has no clergy, as any 
Muslim may lead a congregation in prayer. Nevertheless, the ulama 
early took on the characteristics of a clerical class, and "acquired 
precisely the same kind of social and religious authority and prestige 
as the clergy in the Christian communities." 18 The ulama continue 
to function in present-day Islam as legal and theological interpreters 
of the Koran and Tradition. However the ulama are in general 
poorly organized and frequently disagree among themselves. 

As we come to evaluate the organizational effectiveness of Islam, 
the evidence is mixed. In the past, tremendous concern for the organi- 
zation of the community produced the caliphate of the classical 
period, which was truly theocratic in intent. The final elimination of 

17 Duncan B. MacDonald, "Islamic Institutions," Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1956, 
vol. 12, p. 712. 
18 Gibb, op. cit., p. 77. 



this institution left the ulama as the sole authoritative spokesmen 
for Islam, unorganized as they were and are. One writer commented: 
"The complete absence of Muslim religious organization has (to 
non-Muslim observers) always appeared to be the missing backbone 
for all Muslim activity." 19 Islam has yet to develop institutions which 
can function in a coordinated way within a modern society. 

The argument which has been advanced in these pages is that 
the lack of effective ecclesiastical organization is generally favorable 
to the development of a secular state.') It seems clear, as one looks at 
the contemporary scene, that the religion of Islam, if it were well 
organized, could be a much more significant political force in 
Pakistan, Malaya, or Indonesia than it actually is. It is arguable, 
however, that had Islam, in the course of its history, developed a 
hierarchical ecclesiastical structure, the possibility of separation of 
state and religion along western lines might have been enhanced. 20 

REGULATION OF MUSLIM SOCIETY. The minute regulation of ordinary 
social life has been accomplished by the Islamic law (shari'ah}. This 
law is a total system of duties which fails to distinguish what 
modern jurisprudence would classify as religious, ethical, and legal 
considerations. It includes all branches of civil and criminal law. 
The shariah was developed on the bases of the Koran, tradition, 
analogy, and consensus. 

As Islam spread beyond the Arabian Peninsula, it had to come to 
terms with the customary law of the new countries, which sometimes 
differed from the shari'ah in important respects. In modern times, 
statute law emanating from the sovereign introduced a further 
complication, so that two systems of courts have developed in almost 
every Muslim country, the one administering the shari'ah in private, 
religious and family affairs, and the other administering statute law. 
Despite these limitations, the shariah continues to exercise an ex- 
tremely influential role in regulating the daily life of the Muslim. 

In summing up this discussion of Hinduism, Buddhism, and 
Islam, it will be helpful to indicate our findings on the chart found on 

19 C. A. O. Van Nieuwenhuijze, "Religious Freedom in Indonesia," International 
Review of Missions, 1951, vol. 40, p. 97. 

20 As Professor Joachim Wach pointed out: "Conflicts analogous to those between 
church and state in medieval Christianity could not arise in Islam because there 
never was anything like a distinct ecclesiastical body, to say nothing of a hierarchical 
constitution." Joachim Wach, Sociology of Religion, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trub- 
ner and Company, Ltd., London, 1947, p. 310. It was partly the very conflicts between 
church and state in the West which led to the solution of separation. 






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page 40. The plus signs indicate factors which are favorable to 
the secular state; the minus signs indicate factors which militate 
against it. 

We must emphasize again that these generalizations merely 
represent rough guides as to what can be expected. In some cases local 
influences have modified considerably the character of these religions. 
Indonesian Islam, for example, is different from Islam in any other 
part of the world. About 90 per cent of the population professes the 
faith, but the actual Islamic culture "forms only a top layer of Indo- 
nesian culture, of which the older lower layers Hinduism, Bud- 
dhism, and Javanese mysticism are often just as deep and im- 
portant." 21 In recent years considerable anthropological work has 
been done which reveals the great importance of animistic beliefs 
and practices in the daily life of the Thai or Burmese Buddhist. 
Nevertheless, when due allowances are made for these factors, the 
generalizations are still useful in evaluating the prospects for the 
principle of the secular state in this region. 


Almost as important as the question of the major religion of a 
country is the question of what religious minorities exist and their 
relative strength. For, as we have seen in chapter i, religious minor- 
ities in the West have played a creative role in the development of 
the secular state. Until the Reformation, the church-state problem 
was largely a power struggle between Roman pontiff and national 
monarch (or Holy Roman Emperor, in the earlier period). The 
Protestant Reformation introduced the phenomenon of religious 
diversity, and the possibility of religious minorities within a state. 
While the Catholic minority in seventeenth-century England sought 
to secure religious toleration, the Baptist minority in New England 
insisted that the real solution had to go beyond this. Only by separa- 
tion of church and state could differing religious persuasions coexist 
on a basis of equality, in a state built upon a secular concept of 
citizenship. Minorities have thus acted as catalytic agents in the 

21 George McT. Kahin, "Indonesian Politics and Nationalism," Asian Nationalism 
and the West, ed. William L. Holland, Macmillan Company, New York, 1953, 
p. 67. See also Clifford Geertz, The Religion of Java, The Free Press, Glencoe, 111., 



process of separating the respective jurisdictions of religion and 
the state. 

The question of minorities is important in considering the 
prospects for the secular state in South and Southeast Asia. The 
presence of sizable religious minorities, sufficiently well organized 
and articulate, ought to make a difference. Self-preservation will 
require that they resist pressures emanating from the majority to 
give the dominant religion a special place in the structure and ad- 
ministration of the state. 

Throughout Southeast Asia, the Chinese and Indians constitute the 
largest racial minority groups. Religiously, the Chinese frequently 
adhere to an ill-defined synthesis of Confucianism, Taoism, and 
Mahayana Buddhism. Of the total 165-170 million population of 
Southeast Asia, the Chinese represent about n million; roughly 
i l /4 per cent of the populatiqh in Burma, 2% per cent in Indonesia, 
20 per cent in Thailand, ajja 43 per cent in Malaya and Singapore. 
The majority of the Indians are Hindus, but there are also Muslims, 
Sikhs, and a few Parsis &mong them. In 1954 there were about 1% 
million Indians in Soutneast Asia, mostly in Burma and Malaya. 22 

Several factors militate against the usefulness of these particular 
minorities in strengthening secular political life. For the most part 
they are unassimilated immigrant groups maintaining strong cultural 
ties with their countries of origin. Significant racial differences, in 
the case of the Indians, separate them from the peoples among whom 
they live. In Malaya there are sizable numbers of Chinese and Indian 
"Malayan citizens," but elsewhere most -members of these com- 
munities are aliens. Furthermore, neither the Hindu nor the Maha- 
yana Buddhist would be likely to have any strong convictions about 
the subject under discussion. 23 

Indigenous Muslim minorities in countries having Christian, Bud- 
dhist, or Hindu majorities (Moros in the Philippines, Malays in 
Thailand, or Muslims in India) might conceivably reenact the role 
described above. The Moros represent only 4 per cent of the popula- 

22 These estimates are taken from an article by Victor Purcell, "The Influence 
of Racial Minorities," Nationalism and Progress in Free Asia, ed. Philip W. 
Thayer, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1956, pp. 234-235. 

28 Hindu Tamils in Ceylon became concerned about the agitation to make Bud- 
dhism the state religion only because it was closely linked to Sinhalese linguistic 
and racial extremism ("One language, one race, one religion"), which directly 
threatened their interests. 



tion of the Philippines, and their concentration in the southern portion 
of the islands in some respects increases, and in others limits their 
potential influence on national life. 24 Similarly, Muslim Malays pre- 
dominate in the four southern, peninsular provinces of Thailand, 
and constitute approximately 3.8 per cent of the total population. 
The Muslim minority in India is of impressive size 45 million, or 
roughly 10 per cent of the total population. ^Psychologically, the 
Indian Muslim community has had to make many adjustments in the 
decade since partition. Despite traditional theology with its conception 
of the Islamic state, Indian Muslims have quickly realized that their 
future welfare depends squally o^the secularity of the state. Furtjier- 
more, there are Musliiqa o/ganizatioh$ v seeking, to interpret and re* 
inforce the secular state tf( India. < \ 

Christians are small put important minWities everywhere in South 
and Southeast Asi^ except 1)1 the Philippines, where Roman Catholi- 
cism predominates. The largest Christian minority (in proportion to 
total population) is foiind in Ceylon, wher Christians represent 8.8 
per cent of the^popylation. Christian minorities can potentially play 
an especially significant fole for two reasons. First, as a result of 
greater familiarity with western thought on the problems of church 
and state, Christian n^tiopals may well have a better grasp of the 
meaning of secularism ki state and politics than their Hindu^ Bud- 
dhist, or Muslim neighbors. Secondly, the Asian Christian churches 
are in general sufficiently well organized and skillecfin the techinques 
of communication that-tiiey cai make their influence felt. The great 
handicap under which the Christian^ communities labor is their 
former identific^oi> r 4n~tJb^mifTd> bf many, with western colonial 
rule. 25 

In August 1961 Prime ^Minister U Nu introduced in Parliament 
two bills, one amending the Constitution to make Buddhism the 
state religion of Burma, and the other (the State Religion Promotion 
Bill) seeking to implement this decision by providing for Buddhist 
instruction in state schools, strict observance of Buddhist Sabbath 
days, etc. 26 The minorities protested vigorously, although there was 

24 Chester L. Hunt, "Moslem and Christian in the Philippines," Pacific Affairs, 
1955, vol. 28, pp. 331-349- 

25 See chapter 5, "Christian Minorities," in Virginia Thompson and Richard 
AdlofT, Minority Problems in Southeast Asia, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 


26 For the text of the two bills, see the Guardian, Rangoon, August i, 1961. 



not the slightest chance of the bills being rejected by Parliament. 
Muslims, Protestant Christians, and Animists alike feared that the 
further identification of the state with the majority religion would 
adversely affect their interests. The National Religious Minorities As- 
sociation was formed to oppose the state religion amendment; Muslim 
and Christian organizations staged demonstrations to protest the 
government's move. While the opposition was unsuccessful in this 
case, the attempt illustrates the natural role of minorities as guardians 
of the neutrality of the state. 

To sum up, the presence of fairly large religious minorities of the 
same ethnic stock as the majority, effectively organized and articulate, 
will be an important factor in the development of the secular state. 
We may note in passing that India, with her numerous and sizable 
minorities (Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, etc.), compares favor- 
ably with other countries of the region in this regard. 


In this section our concern is with the religious policies evolved 
by the western colonial powers in South and Southeast Asia. With 
the exception of Thailand and Nepal, all of the countries of this 
region were colonial areas until the present postwar period. The 
prospects for the secular state in independent Asia cannot be judged 
without reference to the patterns of religion-state relations which were 
evolved during the colonial period. We shall now survey briefly the 
religious policies of American, British, French, and Dutch colonial 
administrations in this region. 

American separation of church and state in the Philippines 

The colonial record of the United States in the Philippines (1899- 
1946) provides the clearest example of an imperial power deliberately 
undertaking to establish a secular state. The American administration 
succeeded three centuries of Spanish rule, in which the connection 
between the government and the Roman Catholic Church was ap- 
parently even more intimate than in Spain. Spanish friars Augus- 
tinians, Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, and others "watched over 
the meetings of municipal councils, gave decisions on questions of 
public works, supervised the police, the prisons, and charities, and 
censored the theater." 27 The public schools were completely under 

27 Paul H. Clyde, The Far East: A History of the Impact of the West on Eastern 
Asia, Prentice-Hall, New York, 1952, p. 280. 



ecclesiastical control, and the real political power of the archbishop 
of Manila was said to be equal to that of the governor-general. 

Nationalist Filipino revolts in the years preceding the Spanish- 
American War were aimed as much at the domination of the friars, 
who owned 400,000 acres of the best farm lands, as at the civil gov- 
ernment. Public opinion was thus well prepared for the establishment 
of the American principle of separation of church and state. The 
policy of the new government was clearly indicated in the instruc- 
tions given by President McKinley to the second Philippine Com- 
mission: "the separation between state and church shall be real, entire 
and absolute." 28 

The Organic Act of the Philippine Islands of 1902 included the 
following section: "That no law shall be made respecting an establish- 
ment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, and that the 
free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, with- 
out discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed." The word- 
ing of the first half of this section is almost identical with that found 
in the First Amendment of the American Constitution. The Organic 
Act of 1916 (sec. 3) repeated the above provision and went on to 
specify that no religious test should be required for the exercise of 
civil or political rights, and that no public funds should be used for 
any religious institution. The Constitution of the Philippines, drafted 
by the Filipinos in 1934, incorporated all of the above-mentioned pro- 

* * 2f) 


The public school system established early in the twentieth century 
by American administrators was secular. Teachers were strictly for- 
bidden to deal in any way with religion in the classroom, although 
arrangements were permitted whereby priests or ministers could give 
religious instruction for one-half hour three times a week. Essentially, 
American colonial policy regarding religion involved a rather simple 
transference of principles already well established in the homeland. 

British religious neutrality in India 

This subject is considered in some detail in the next chapter, so 
that only a few sentences need be devoted to it here for comparative 
purposes. The basic policy which the British evolved in the eighteenth 
and nineteenth centuries was that of "religious neutrality." However, 

28 Joseph R. Hayden, The Philippines: A Study in National Development, Macmil- 
lan Company, New York, 1942, p, 562. 

29 Ibid., p. 932. 



there were various kinds of involvements in religious affairs which 
produced a somewhat confused interpretation of this simple phrase. 

During certain periods in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, 
grants of money were given by the British government for the support 
of Hindu temples and Muslim mosques, and Christian missionaries 
were actively discouraged. Under other officials, missionary work was 
vigorously promoted, and in 1813 Parliament established a legal con- 
nection between the government of India and the Church of England. 
The administration was in general fair, impartial, and secular. By 
the end of the nineteenth century most educated Indians would have 
been willing to concede that, despite its partial denial in outward 
forms, the vital aspect of the principle of religious neutrality was 
being faithfully adhered to. 

French secularism and anticlericalism in Indo-China 

French interest in Indo-China began in the seventeenth century 
with the formation, under Jesuit leadership, of the Society of Foreign 
Missions. Missionary work prospered despite outbursts of persecution 
by native rulers. Almost all of the Roman Catholic missionaries were 
French citizens, and this fact constituted the ground for military inter- 
vention by the French government when the persecution became 
intense during the i85o's. 30 Conquest followed intervention, and by 
the end of the nineteenth century France had created a centralized 
administration for the colony of Cochin-China and the protectorates 
of Tongkin, Annam, Cambodia, and Laos. 

During the earlier period of French rule, many of the military and 
civil officers were of the nobility, the traditional ally of the church, 
and official policy favored the missionaries. The mission acquired 
great tracts of agricultural land and built its churches, schools, and 
hospitals. Its tremendous economic power as landowner, together 
with its closeness to and influence over native Christians, later brought 
the mission into open rivalry with the civil government. During the 
Third Republic, which came into existence in 1875, French anti- 
clericalism often asserted itself in the colonial administration with an 
active hostility toward the church. 

The mission at times applied pressure on the government to favor 

30 D. G. E. Hall, A History of Southeast Asia, St Martin's Press, New York, 1955, 
pp. 556-560. 

4 6 


native Christians in making appointments and to exempt Christian 
villages from taxation. Showing no reluctance to engage in direct 
political activity, the mission "took active steps to get the Emperor of 
Annam deposed in 1891, and to substitute for him a prince, one of 
their converts, who would exercise pressure on his compatriots to 
turn Catholic." 31 However, this political interference was vehemently 
resisted by the more anticlerical governors-general. Under one of 
them, Bert, the policy of taxing church property on an equal basis 
with other private property was initiated. Many of the highest colo- 
nial officials were Freemasons, and they waged intensive press cam- 
paigns against the mission. Under Governor-General Beau the schools 
were laicized and nursing nuns removed from the hospitals. 

The separation of church and state in France in 1905 confirmed 
secular colonial policies. By the time of the First World War, how- 
ever, the bitterness in church-state relations had largely disappeared, 
although the same secular policies were continued by the administra- 
tion. In the 1930*8 the government dealt heavy blows to mission 
prestige by becoming the patron of Theravada Buddhism in Cam- 
bodia and Laos. As a part of the French policy to revive the cultural 
heritage of these peoples, a Buddhist Institute was founded in Luang- 
Prabang for the training of monks. 32 French policy in Indo-China in 
general reflected the church-state relations of the homeland, and 
evolved a secular, religiously neutral administration. 

The Dutch established church in Indonesia 

The policy of the Dutch was based upon their historic preference 
for the established church. The official Protestant Church in the 
Netherlands East Indies was subsidized to the extent of five-sixths of 
its total church budget, and its ministers were for many years class- 
ified as civil servants. It was not until 1934 that the Protestant Church 
received its entire administrative freedom from governmental con- 
trol. 33 The Roman Catholic Church also received generous stipends 
from public funds for the support of its clergy. The government did 
not subsidize the evangelizing activities of missionaries, however. 
The close connection between church and state was periodically de- 

31 Virginia Thompson, French Indo-China, Macmillan Company, New York, 1937, 
p. 272. 

32 Ibid., pp. 356, 379. 

33 M. Searle Bates, Religious Liberty: An Inquiry, International Missionary Coun- 
cil, New York, 1945, pp. 122-123. 



cried by religious leaders as well as by secularists. Attempts to separate 
the church and state dated back as far as 1864, but were unsuccessful 
because of the tremendous financial dependence of the state church. 84 

The Dutch policy was one of impartiality and non-interference as 
far as Islam was concerned. There was no general financial aid ex- 
tended, although occasionally grants were made for the construction 
of mosques. All private educational institutions, Muslim as well as 
Protestant or Catholic, were eligible to receive generous grants-in-aid 
from the government provided they met certain educational stand- 
ards. All religious groups were permitted to provide religious 
instruction for an hour or two a week for pupils of their respective 
faiths in the public schools. 

We have sketched here in bare outline the religious policies evolved 
by four imperial powers the United States, Great Britain, France, 
and the Netherlands. Let us now evaluate these respective colonial 
administrations in terms of the degree to which they strengthened the 
principle of the secular state. United States policy in the Philippines 
involved a relatively simple transplanting of the clear-cut American 
doctrine of separation of church and state, and was highly successful 
from this point of view. Dutch policy in Indonesia must be ranked 
last, for it included regular and heavy subsidies to the state church 
(and also to the Roman Catholic Church) and very little to the faith 
professed by 90 per cent of the population. Somewhere between the 
American and Dutch policies, we would rank the British and the 
French. The British administration was in general religiously neutral, 
but this was to some degree offset by the institutional connection be- 
tween the government of India and the Church of England. French 
policy in Indo-China was complicated by the fact that the Catholic 
mission antedated the civil government, and had built up great 
temporal power. The secular nature of the French administration 
was occasionally marked by bitter anticlericalism, which was also 
a departure from the ideal of religious neutrality. 


In order to evaluate the prospects for secularism in South and 
Southeast Asia, we must consider not only the legacy of colonial 

34 J. S. Furnivall, Netherlands India: A Study of Plural Economy, Macmillan 
Company, New York, 1944, p. 380. 


policies but also the patterns of nationalism which evolved in op- 
position to western imperialism. What was the role of religion in 
the development of the various nationalist movements ? A national- 
ism imbued with the spirit of militant religious revivalism is not 
likely to lead to a secular independent state. 

A study of Asian nationalist movements indicates that the degree 
of religious orientation varied greatly from country to country. It is 
not possible to go into a detailed discussion of the religious aspect of 
each nationalist movement, but a few paragraphs may serve to il- 
lustrate the point. 

Buddhism in Burmese and Ceylonese nationalism 

As we approach the study of Buddhist involvement in nationalist 
movements, we recognize immediately the considerable departure 
from the implications of its view of history discussed above. (The 
same is true of Hindu nationalism.) Shortly after the first Anglo- 
Burmese War a very matter-of-fact British officer concluded that 
Buddhism was definitely not a fighting religion, and would be of 
little use as a focal point of resistance to western aggression. 35 Pro- 
ceeding logically from the philosophical tenets of Buddhism, his 
analysis was sound, but the course of subsequent history has proved 
him at least partly wrong. Despite the fact that, as D. T. Niles put it, 
"race, nation and history are outside the Buddhist circle of explana- 
tion," resurgent Buddhism has demonstrated its ability to serve as 
a powerful ally of various political movements. 86 

Burma's Buddhist monks (pongyis} were responsible for the 
first stirring of nationalist sentiment in the early years of this century. 
Concerned originally with Burma's cultural and religious revival, the 
monks founded numerous Young Men's Buddhist Associations, 
which soon developed definite political interests. After the First 
World War the associations were welded into the General Council 
of Buddhist Associations (GCBA), which made home rule its 
minimum demand. A rallying point of Buddhist nationalism was 
the fact that British policy tended to push the village monastic 
schools into the background by establishing secular government 
schools and by granting financial assistance to missionary institu- 

35 U Ba Nyunt, * 'Commentary," Nationalism and Progress in Free Asia, p. 49. 

36 Quoted in S. Kulandran, Resurgent Religions, Lutterworth Press, London, 
1957, P. 25. 



tions. Aggressive pongyis of the GCBA were active in the Saya San 
rebellion of 1930-1931 which was directed primarily at the Indian 
Chettyar money-lenders, but also at the British power. The political 
influence of the monks was strong right up to the Second World War. 
They were not prominent, however, in the decisive final struggles 
against the Japanese and then the British. 37 

In Ceylon the pattern of nationalism was quite different, and fol- 
lowed a much more moderate course. Buddhist revival was indeed 
one lesser aspect of the nationalist movement, but it was the politi- 
cians, not the monks, who provided the leadership. Furthermore, 
among the significant contributors to Ceylonese nationalism were 
Hindu Tamils, such as Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam and Sir 
Ponnambalam Ramanathan. Ceylonese nationalism never became 
a mass movement as in India under Gandhi's leadership; its course 
was directed by the westernized elite whose ideology and values were 
rooted in nineteenth-century liberalism. 

Islam in Indonesian nationalism 

In Indonesia, religion provided the same initial impetus to national- 
ism, and at about the same time, as in Burma. "The Mohammedan 
religion provided the earliest channel of development of modern, 
mature Indonesian nationalism." 38 Indonesian students at Cairo 
during the first decades of this century were profoundly influenced by 
the modernist teachings of Mohammed Abduh, who called for a 
purified Islam willing to face the challenges of modern science and 
the West. 

In 1912 the Sarefat Islam (Islamic Association) was founded, and 
seven years later its membership reached almost 2,500,000. It later 
became the Indonesian Islamic Association Party and engaged in 
an intense struggle with the Indonesian Communist Party for 
domination of the nationalist movement. In the late 1920'$ and the 
early 1930'$ its influence declined, and secular non-communist nation- 
alists like Sukarno and Hatta assumed a dominant role in the move- 

87 Maung Maung, Burma in the Family of Nations, Djambatan, Amsterdam, 
1956, pp. 80-82; William L. Holland, op. cit., pp. 33-34; John F. Cady, "Religion and 
Politics in Modern Burma," Far Eastern Quarterly, 1953, vol. 12, pp. 149-162. 

38 George McT. Kahin, "Indonesian Politics and Nationalism," Asian Nationalism 
and the West, p. 73. See also Amry Vandenbosch, "Nationalism and Religion in 
Indonesia," Far Eastern Survey, December 17, 1952. 



ment. With the proclamation of Indonesian independence in 1945, 
Islamic ideology again assumed an important political role, chiefly 
through the Masjumi (Council of Indonesia Muslim Associations) 
and ofifshoot parties. In addition, the Darul Islam movement in 
western Java set up a theocratic Islamic state in 1948, enjoyed several 
years of effective terrorist power, and has still not been brought 
under complete control by the Indonesian army. 

Religion in Indian nationalism and the Pakistan movement 

The role of Hinduism in the Indian nationalist movement will be 
considered in some detail in the next chapter. The Indian National 
Congress, founded in 1885, reflected principally the values of Vic- 
torian liberalism, but for a few years early in this century it came 
under the control of the Extremists with their Hindu revivalist em- 
phasis. In 1920 leadership of the nationalist movement was assumed 
by Gandhi. While his personal philosophy and techniques of political 
action were unmistakably Hindu, he strove unceasingly to promote 
Hindu-Muslim unity. Jawaharlal Nehru and others influenced by 
socialist ideology gave powerful support to the ideal of secular na- 
tionalism. Despite occasional lapses in practice, this ideal was the 
dominant one in the Congress movement, and it continues to be an 
important foundation stone of the secular state in India. 

The demand for Pakistan, on the other hand, was explicitly based 
on M. A. Jinnah's "two-nation theory," according to which Hindus 
and Muslims in India represented two distinct and incompatible 
civilizations. It was to enable the adherents of Islam to forge their 
own political destiny that the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947, 
and this basic fact continues to obstruct the path of those Pakistanis 
who would like to see the development of their country along 
modern secular lines. The involvement of Islam in the creation of 
Pakistan, in one way or another, is a historical fact which made 
almost inevitable the attempt to establish an Islamic state, however 
this term might be defined. 

The pattern of nationalism, then, varied greatly among the coun- 
tries of South and Southeast Asia. It ranged from Ceylonese national- 
ism, in which religion played a relatively small part, to the demand 
for Pakistan, in which religion provided the essential raison d'etre of 
the movement. 


These, then, are the four key factors which have a bearing upon 
the future of secularism in politics in South and Southeast Asia: the 
nature of the major religion, the role of religious minorities, the 
colonial background, and the pattern of nationalism. India's pros- 
pects for maintaining and strengthening her position as a secular 
state would appear to be relatively good, on the basis of this analysis. 
As we have seen, the majority religion, Hinduism, has characteristics 
which are in general conducive to the secular state. The large Muslim 
minority, the much smaller but well organized and articulate Chris- 
tian minority, and others, may well be powerful deterrents to any 
departure from the principle of secularism. The British colonial 
policy of religious neutrality, although not without ambiguities, 
provided an essentially secular foundation for government. The last 
years of the Indian nationalist movement, which culminated in 
independence, saw the emergence of strong secularist leadership in 
the person of Jawaharlal Nehru, although Gandhian nonexclusivist 
Hindu philosophy also played a major role. 

But a discussion of the problems of applying the idea of secular- 
ism in Asia would be very incomplete without at least a brief treat- 
ment of the first conscious endeavor of a free Asian country to become 
a secular state. For, a full twenty-five years before the secular Indian 
Constitution was adopted, the Turkish Republic made such an 
attempt, and largely succeeded. 


The emergence of Turkey in the 1920*5 as a secular state was re- 
markable in every respect. Three of the four factors relating to the 
applicability of secularism, in the analysis above, were unfavorable in 
the case of Turkey. The last factor, however, was of such tremendous 
power that it swept the field. The major religion was and is Islam, 
the most difficult faith to adjust to a secular state. The non-Muslim 
minorities were composed of ethnically distinct Jews, Armenians, and 
Greeks, many of whom supported the European enemies of the 
Turkish Republic and had no part in the movement to secularize 
the state. Turkey never came under western colonial rule, and hence 
did not receive whatever benefits could have been derived from 
British or French tutelage in religious neutrality. 

The pattern of nationalism, however, was clearly one which looked 



to the West. Turkey's geographical proximity to Europe, and, indeed, 
the European dominions of the Ottoman Empire, facilitated the 
western impact. Western-trained military and naval officers, exiled 
Turks living in Paris, London, and Geneva, as well as European 
cultural influences within Turkey, were all part of the background. 
Turkey's disastrous defeat in the First World War, and the break-up 
of her once-glorious empire, set the scene for a resentful rejection of 
the decadent institutions which had allowed all this to happen. 
Bitter dissatisfaction with the Islamic heritage was heightened by 
the revolts of Arab coreligionists during the war, but climaxed by 
Caliph Vahid-ud-Din's collusion with Allied invaders in I9I9- 39 

At this critical juncture Mustafa Kemal was able to mobilize the 
Turkish people in a mighty effort to drive out the invaders. His 
military successes led to final victory in 1922, and he became the 
heroic idol of Turkey. Mustafa KemaPs desire was to transform 
Turkey into a modern, westernized, secular state, and the task could 
be accomplished only by sweeping reforms. The intelligentsia, as we 
have noted, were fairly well prepared for moves in this direction. 
Mustafa Kemal's executive ability and, above all, his immense popu- 
larity were utilized to make these steps acceptable to the more con- 
servative peasantry. 

It is not possible here to do more than sketch an outline of the 
steps by which the state was secularized. In 1924 the Grand National 
Assembly at Ankara abolished the caliphate and banished members 
of the imperial family from the country. The following year was 
marked by an act abolishing all Muslim religious orders. In 1926 a 
momentous step was taken when the shari'ah (Islamic law) was re- 
placed by western legal codes a civil code from Switzerland, a penal 
code from Italy, and a commercial code from Germany. 

The 1924 Constitution of the Republic of Turkey had provided 
that "the religion of the Turkish state is Islam," but this clause was 
deleted by an amendment of 1928. The original Constitution pro- 
vided that the deputies of the Assembly and the president take an 
oath of office swearing on the Koran; this was changed to an oath 
on their word of honor. A constitutional amendment also established 

89 Henry E. Allen, The Turkish Transformation: A Study in Social and Religious 
Development, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1935, pp. 10-43. See also Niyazi 
Berkes, "Historical Background of Turkish Secularism," Islam and the West, cd. 
Richard N. Frye, Mouton and Company, The Hague, 1957, pp. 41-68. 



"laicism" as one of the six cardinal principles of the Turkish Re- 
public. The reforms were effected largely in a spirit of hostility 
toward the religious authorities. But many Turks interpret these 
steps also as a much-needed reformation of Islam as a religion. As 
Professor Smith explained their position, even if the reforms were 
originally motivated by political considerations, Turkey "had at 
the same time liberated and rediscovered true Islam." 40 

Turkey's experiment in secularism is of particular relevance in 
view of its influence upon Indian nationalist leaders. Jawaharlal 
Nehru's first mention of the secular state in his writings (1933) was 
in connection with the Turkish Republic. 41 In a later work, Nehru 
mentioned that Mustafa Kemal's building up of a secular state 
gradually produced a silent resentment among the more orthodox 
of the Indian Muslims. "This very policy, however, made him more 
popular among the younger generation of both Hindus and 
Muslims." 42 

40 Smith, op. cit., p. 176. 

41 Jawaharlal Nehru, Glimpses of World History, John Day Company, New York, 
1942, p. 706. 

42 Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, John Day Company, New York, 
1946, p. 352. 





K. M. PANIKKAR rightly rejected the notion that the ancient past 
can adequately explain modern Indian secularism. He wrote: 
"Clearly, our new democratic, egalitarian and secular state is not ' 
built upon the foundations of ancient India, or of Hindu thought." 1 
Panikker went on to assert unequivocally that the roots of modern 
India are to be found primarily in the European traditions of the 
past century and a half. Nevertheless, there were significant factors 
in the ancient past which to some extent looked toward a secular 
political order. 


Dharma and the Hindu state 

In ancient India the promotion of dharma (law, duty, morality, 
religion) was regarded as the foremost aim of the state. The king was 
expected to encourage piety and virtue and to aid religious institu- 
tions. Government was not based on dogma, and considerable im- 
partiality was evidenced in the treatment accorded the various sects. 
Nevertheless, the religious orientation was very pronounced. The 
conception of dharma in relation to the state indicated that the latter 
was ultimately tied up with the final goal of existence. 2 

In promoting dharma the Hindu kings built temples, granted 
them large endowments, and exercised strict supervision over their 
affairs. The state was tolerant of all creeds and frequently aided them 
all. The religiously tolerant Hindu state which patronized all sects 
impartially provided one of the historical bases of secularism. How- 
ever, the traditional Hindu state cannot be equated with the modern 
secular state. As Dr. E. C. Bhatty well pointed out, "the essential 

1 K. M. Panikkar, The State and the Citizen, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 
1956, p. 28. 

2 J. J. Anjaria, The Nature and Grounds of Political Obligation in the Hindu 
State, Longmans, Green and Company, Calcutta, 1935, p. 280. 



basis of a modern secular state is the institutional separation of state 
and religion." 3 The state limits itself to the promotion of the secular 
welfare of the people, leaving the religious aspects of life to the 
private individual. In this respect the Hindu state was decidedly not 
secular, for one of its chief functions was the active promotion and 
patronage of religion. 

A clear-cut distinction was made in ancient Indian polity between 
the functions of priest and king. The Vedic king discharged no 
priestly functions; he performed no sacrifices on behalf of the nation, 
as was done in ancient Egypt and Greece. 4 A conception of the two 
powers the temporal and the spiritual existed from earliest times, 
and was supported by a divinely ordained social order. The Brahman 
embodied the spiritual authority, and he alone could perform the 
sacrifices and utter the sacred incantations. The Kshatriya caste 
provided the rulers and the warriors, although in course of time a 
few non-Kshatriya dynasties were founded. While the Brahman 
stood at the top of the caste system, spiritually superior to the 
Kshatriya, his valid function was the priestly office only; his superior 
position gave him no direct authority in matters of government. 
This tradition supports one aspect of secularism. 

The Brahman purohita, or royal chaplain, occupied a prominent 
place among the king's councilors during the Vedic age. His chief 
task was to counteract the magic of the enemy through the perform- 
ance of the necessary rituals. The royal chaplain consecrated and 
blessed the war elephants and horses of the army before battle. 
Accompanying the king to the battlefield, he sought to ensure a 
victorious outcome by his prayers, sacrifices, and incantations. The 
purohita also wielded considerable influence in some cases through 
his role as the king's guru, or spiritual preceptor. 

The struggle between church and state, which occupies such a 
prominent place in early medieval European history, had a rather 
pale counterpart in ancient India. In the Gautama Dharmasutra 
(c. 500 B.C.) it is stated that the king's authority cannot touch the 
priests, since his prosperity depends on their support. Other texts 
warn that the gods will spurn the king's oblations if he fails to em- 
ploy a qualified Brahman priest. By bowing three times before the 

3 E. C. Bhatty, "Religious Minorities and the Secular State," Religious Freedom, 
Committee for Literature on Social Concerns, Bangalore, 1956, p. 74. 

4 A. S. Altekar, State and Government in Ancient India, Motilal Banarsidass, 
Banaras, 1949, p. 48. 



Brahman at his coronation, the king accepts his subordinate position, 
and his success depends on continued recognition of this fact Bitter 
curses are pronounced against rulers who confiscate the cows (i.e., 
wealth) of Brahmans. 5 

As most of the texts were written by priests, only one side of the 
case was generally presented, and the Brahman's claims were greatly 
exaggerated. According to some texts the Brahmans were to be ex-! 
ejnpt from capital punishment and also from taxation; these claims \ 
were sometimes based on the divinity of the Brahmans. But practice 
varied on both points. Other passages admit that the king could 
dominate the Brahmans and expel the royal chaplain at will. Some 
works stressed the independence of the spiritual from the temporal 
power; others emphasized the interdependence of the two powers. 6 

The purohita's influence was greatest during the period when 
there was widespread faith in the Vedic sacrifices. These fell into dis- 
use around the fourth century B.C., partly under the impact of 
Upanishadic, Jain, and Buddhist thought. The available evidence 
does not point to a strong theocratic tendency in the polity of ancient 
India, despite the extreme claims made by the priests in the literature. 
There is little to suggest that the religious authority ever seriously 
attempted in practice to usurp the powers of the king. 

The Brahmanical order never developed the kind of tight-knit 
organization which would enable it to enjoy an effective political role 
comparable to that of the church in medieval Europe. Further- 
more, the divinely ordained social system had clearly given the 
function of governance to the Kshatriyas. U. N. Ghoshal referred to 
"the striking fact that this class (the Brahmans) throughout our 
history failed to assert (except in theory and in legend) its claim to 
control kings and emperors." 7 The absence of an effective ecclesias- 
tical organization within Hinduism even today is a significant factor 
in the development of a modern secular state in India. 

The Brahmans' pretensions were also kept in check by somewhat 
similar royal pretensions, such as the theory of the king's divinity. 
When the king was crowned, the gods Agni, Savitri, and Brihaspati 

5 Ibid., pp. 31-35. See also D. Mackenzie Brown, The White Umbrella: Indian 
Political Thought from Manu to Gandhi, University of California Press, Berkeley, 

1953, PP- i7-!8. 

6 U. N. Ghoshal, A History of Indian Political Ideas, Oxford University Press, 
Bombay, 1959, pp. 32-33. 

7 Ibid., p. 7. 



were believed to enter his person. Sacrifices performed on behalf of 
the king before engaging in wars of conquest were thought to make 
him equal with the gods. Manu even held that the king "is verily a 
great dhunity in human form; his very body is formed by the Creator 
by taking particles from the bodies of the divine guardians of the 
eight quarters." In course of time the divinity of the king became a 
generally accepted belief, and many of the medieval dynasties traced 
their origin to the gods Brahma, Rama, or Lakshman. 

If the king was a god, the Hindu state might be regarded as a } 
theocracy in the most literal sense. However, it is necessary to see ' 
this claim in proper perspective. Professor A. L. Basham made the 
point well: "Divinity was cheap in ancient India. Every Brahman was 
in a sense a god, as were ascetics with a reputation for sanctity. . . . 
If the king was a god on earth he was only one god among many, 
and so his divinity might not always weigh heavily upon his 
subjects." 8 

The early theory of the two powers clearly distinguished between 
temporal and spiritual authority, as we have noted. But this theory 
was itself based on religious assumptions and expounded in religious 
texts. It was derived from the idea of the divinely created social order 
in which each caste had its particular function to perform in the 
furtherance of dharma. The supremacy of dharma was the central 
conception in early Hindu political thought. In the Arthashastra of 
Kautilya and others (fourth century B.C.), we find a radically dif- 
ferent approach to the problems of government. 

Dr. U. N. Ghoshal asserted: "To the early Arthashastra thinkers 
belongs the credit of separating politics from theology and raising it 
to the dignity of an independent science." 9 Kautilya classified the 
sciences as follows : Philosophy, the Vedas, economics, and the science 
of polity. One of Kautilya's predecessors, however, had gone so far 
as to exclude the Vedas entirely from the class of sciences, on the 
ground of their being superfluous to men of the world. The 
Arthashastra writers severed the connection between dharma and 
political science and concerned themselves with the central problem 
of statecraft how to acquire and preserve power. While Kautilya 
apparently believed in the efficacy of supernatural rituals and recog- 

8 A. L. Basham, The Wonder that was India, Sidgwick and Jackson, London, 
1954, p. 86. 

9 Ghoshal, op. cit., p. 102. 



nized the work of the royal chaplain, he did not hesitate to recom- 
mend the exploitation of religion for political purposes. His amoral 
approach to the problem of interstate relations anticipated the 
thought of Machiavelli by many centuries. 

The Arthashastra tradition represented, according to Panikkar, 
"a purely secular theory of state of which the sole basis is power." 10 
Kautilya's secularism did not envisage the institutional separation of 
state and religion; the patronage and regulation of temples was 
simply another area of state administration. However, the Arthashas- 
tra did undermine the theoretical basis for the promotion of religion 
by the state. It is difficult to assess the influence of the Arthashastra 
on the conduct of government in the Hindu state, but it is quite 
clear that it never succeeded in replacing the old ideas of rajadharma. 

The system of justice in ancient India was based on a principle of 
radical inequality. The Smritis prescribed lighter punishments for 
Brahmans than for others guilty of the same offense. In fact all 
penalties were graded according to the respective castes of the of- 
fender and the person against whom the offense was committed. 
According to the law of Manu, a Brahman who slandered a 
Kshatriya would be fined fifty panas, but for slandering a Vaishya 
or a Shudra his fine would be only twenty-five and twelve panas, 
respectively. And the penalties were much more severe for slander- 
ing one's superiors. The principle of the equality of all before the law 
finds no support in ancient Indian thought and practice. 11 This part 
of the Hindu tradition is a complete negation of secular principles. 

The religious liberty which prevailed in ancient India, however, 
3oes represent one essential aspect of the secular state. Government 
never sought to impose a particular creed upon the people. Various 
schools of thought propounded the doctrines of agnosticism, atheism, 
and materialism. Jainism, Buddhism, and later Judaism, Christianity, 
Zoroastrianism, and Islam were permitted to propagate their teach- 
ings, build their places of worship, and establish their respective ways 
of life. The struggle for freedom of conscience in Europe and Amer- 
ica, stretching over many centuries, has no counterpart in Indian 
history. From the earliest days this right seems never to have been 
denied. As Max Weber put it: "It is an undoubted fact that in 
India, religious and philosophical thinkers were able to enjoy 

10 Panikkar, op. cit., p. 116. 

11 Basham, op. cit. y p. 120. 



perfect, nearly absolute freedom for a long period. The freedom of 
thought in ancient India was so considerable as to find no parallel 
in the West before the most recent age." 12 

Islam and the Muslim State 

The society established by Mohammed in the seventh century A.D. 
was an integrated religio-political community. It gave no recognition 
either in theory or in practice to the distinction between spiritual and 
temporal. Religious devotion and political allegiance were merged, 
for Mohammed was both the Messenger of God and the divinely 
appointed Governor and Commander. 

This unitary tradition was continued by the early caliphs, but by 
the ninth century the ulama (doctors of Islamic Law) succeeded 
in arrogating to themselves the exclusive authority to define ortho- 
dox dogma. Furthermore, the rapid territorial expansion of Islam 
made effective control by the caliph impossible, and large parts of 
the Muslim world were governed by independent rulers whose re- 
cognition of the caliph's headship was little more than a convenient 
legal fiction. Their independence became complete when in 1258 
the caliphate of Baghdad came to a violent end at the hands of the 
Mongol invaders. 

Thus the caliphate, the historical link with classical Islamic polity, 
did not exist throughout most of the important period of Muslim rule 
in India, the Delhi sultanate (1211-1504) and the Mughal Empire 
(1526-1757). Indian Muslim thought was called upon to define the 
relationship between Islam and the Muslim ruler, in the context of 
a situation never envisaged by the Prophet. In the words of Professor 
P. Hardy, "Indo-Muslim theory met the situation by stressing the 
divine ordination of the function of temporal government, the duty 
of obedience, and the desirability of the sultanate in India acting as 
caliph de facto for its own dominions that is by ascribing to it 
those functions, including the defense and maintenance of true 
religion and the Holy Law, of dispensing justice and of appointing 
the god-fearing to office, which Sunni jurists had earlier ascribed to 
the caliphate." 13 In carrying out this role, the Muslim ruler was 

12 This remarkable freedom of thought, however, was not accompanied by a 
comparable freedom of action in the many areas of social life which were dominated 
by Hindu religious conceptions, for example, caste regulations. 

13 Sources of Indian Tradition, ed. William Theodore de Bary, Columbia Uni- 
versity Press, New York, 1958, p. 465. 



necessarily dependent on the religious guidance of the ulama, for 
unlike the caliph he could claim no past tradition of independent 
spiritual authority. 

The sadr-us-sadur was the chief theologian of the state, the most 
learned doctor of the law, and it was his responsibility to guide the 
ruler in the interpretation and application of the law and traditions 
of Islam. He also controlled vast patronage in the form of state 
grants which he dispensed to scholars, theologians, schools, and 
mosques. Sultan Salim Shah brought the state under almost complete 
subjection to the ulama by his reverential obedience to the sadr-us- 
sadur. The Mughal emperor Akbar, on the other hand, greatly re- 
duced the powers of that official, especially in matters of patronage. 
Akbar also arranged to have a declaration made by certain of the 
ulama at his court to the effect that if they should disagree on a 
point of law, the emperor would have full authority to give a legally 
binding interpretation. 

The religious policies of the Indian Muslim rulers ranged from 
the tolerance and syncretism of Akbar to the bigotry and fanaticism 
of Aurangzib. During the period of the Delhi Sultanate, heretical 
Shi'a sects such as the Ismaili and Qarmatians were subjected to 
severe persecution by the orthodox Sunni government, and many 
Muslims belonging to these sects were imprisoned and executed. 
The public worship of Hindu idols was generally forbidden, and 
Hindus were not allowed to build new temples or repair old ones. 
Sometimes rulers like Feroz Shah Tughlaq would desecrate temples 
upon the conquest of new territory as a symbol of the victory of 
Islam. On some occasions "a particularly pious Muslim king, like 
Sikander Lodi, would have a fit of religiosity and desecrate or 
destroy even existing temples in peaceful times." 14 In 1669 Aurangzil) 
issued a general order for the destruction of all Hindu temples and 

During the sultanate and later under Aurangzib, many thousands 
were forcibly converted to Islam. Shah Jahan appointed a super- 
intendent of converts charged with special responsibility for making 
converts. The sentences of criminals and prisoners of war were 
readily remitted and the individuals were granted daily allowances 
upon embracing Islam. The conversion of Muslims to Hinduism, on 

14 Sri Ram Sharma, The Religious Policy of the Mughal Emperors, Oxford Uni- 
versity Press, Calcutta, 1940, pp. 4-5. 



the other hand, constituted the crime of apostasy and was punished 
by death. The jizya, a special tax levied on all non-Muslims, was both 
a heavy financial burden and a badge of inferiority worn by the 
Hindu; it also stimulated conversions to Islam. The attempt was 
made by Aurangzib to exclude all Hindus from government posts, 
although this was only partially successful due to the lack of 
qualified Muslim personnel. Hindus were forbidden to wear rich 
clothing, ride horses, or drive in carriages; they were to be constantly 
reminded of their inferior status in an Islamic state. 

In marked contrast, Akbar followed a policy of broad religious 
tolerance and equality of treatment for all his subjects. He forbade 
forcible conversions to Islam and permitted Hindus, Christians, and 
Shi'as to make converts also. If Akbar permitted his Hindu wives to 
conduct idol worship in the palace, how could he reasonably pro- 
hibit it outside? He removed all restrictions on the building of 
temples, and soon many new ones were under construction. Man 
Singh, one of Akbar's Hindu provincial governors built two 
temples, the one at Brindaban costing half a million rupees. 15 The 
emperor abolished the hated jizya in 1564, and also the laws regard- 
ing the clothing and outward way of life of non-Muslims. He threw 
open high public offices to Hindus; Todar Mall became his finance 
minister, and among the provincial governors at various times were 
Man Singh, Bhagwan Das, and Rai Singh. In 1594-1595 Akbar ap- 
pointed twelve provincial finance ministers; eight of them were 

Akbar gave official encouragement to the spirit of tolerance by 
the religious discussion which he sponsored in his "Hall of Wor- 
ship." Muslim theologians and scholars, as well as Sufi mystics, came 
and expounded their teachings. But Akbar's spirit of inquisitiveness 
reached beyond the fold of Islam. Hindu and Jain scholars of all 
shades of opinion explained their views to the emperor; three 
Portuguese Jesuits expounded the Christian doctrine; and Parsis were 
also brought to present the Zoroastrian teachings. Akbar and his 
successor further encouraged freedom of thought By^orHering^FlTr 
preparation of Persian translations of such Hindu religious books 
as the Atharvaveda, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and others. 
Out of Akbar's own religious quest came his syncretistic Divine 
p. 24. 



Faith, which incorporated elements of Sufi, Shi'a, Zoroastrian, and 
Hindu doctrine. 

It is clear that whatever historical antecedent of the secular state 
there may be in the Muslim period will be found in the policies of 
Akbar. His contribution to religious tolerance is indeed impressive. 
Dr. Sri Kam sharma, after reminding us that in sixteenth-century 
Europe, Roman Catholics and Protestants were busily engaged in 
killing each other, pointed out that Akbar brought peace not only 
to warring sects but to completely different religions. "In the modern 
age, he was the first and almost the greatest experimenter in the 
field of religious toleration if the scope of his toleration, the races to 
which it was applied, and the contemporary conditions be taken into 
account." 16 

Dr. S. Abid Husain wrote that the new Indian nation which 
Akbar forged was based "not on the community of religion but on 
the citizenship of the same state." 17 It is certainly true that the em- 
peror did much to create what we would now call a common citizen- 
ship with equal rights for all irrespective of religious differences. 
In this respect Akbar's state came much nearer to the modern con- 
ception than the Hindu state, which was religiously tolerant but 
which dealt with people in legal and administrative matters accord- 
ing to caste status. Religious liberty and a common citizenship are 
two of the three components of the secular state, and these are 
probably what Professor Humayun Kabir had in mind when he re- 
ferred to Akbar's as "perhaps the first conscious attempt to formulate 
the conception of a secular state." 18 However, the third component, 
the institutional separation of religion and the state, would probably 
have appeared as strange to Akbar as to a sixteenth-century Hindu 
monarch in South India. 


The religious policy of the British government in India was com- 
plex, for it was the result of an attempt to combine three conflicting 
roles. One religious policy was dictated by the commercial-imperial 
objectives of the British government, a second by its status as an In- 

p. 60. 

17 S. Abid Husain, The National Culture of India, Jaico Publishing House, Bom- 
bay, 1956, p. 67. 

18 Humayun Kabir, The Indian Heritage, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 1955, 
p. 21. 



dian ruler, and a third by its official profession of Christianity. During 
much of the first half of the nineteenth century, all three of these 
roles were being carried out simultaneously. Debate on questions of 
religious policy was frequently inconclusive, for there were three 
basic assumptions to choose from, each leading to a different con- 
clusion on many issues. 

The policy of religious neutrality 

The British East India Company began as a commercial enterprise, 
but in time became a vast colonial power exercising all the functions 
of government. What was to be the religious policy of this European 
trader-government ruling over millions of Hindus and Muslims? 
Common sense dictated its policy of non-interference in the religious 
life of the country, for any other policy would be unlikely to produce 
either sound business relations or loyal subjects. Hence, the policy 
of religious neutrality, clearly formulated by the eighteenth century, 
was in perfect consonance with this commercial-imperial role. 

The East India Company in the seventeenth century had indeed 
entertained some ideas of mixing religion with business. One of the 
directors' requests for a chaplain from Oxford or Cambridge con- 
tained the explanation that the company had resolved to attempt 
the spreading of the gospel in India. Twenty years later, in 1698, 
the charter granted by Parliament directed that the company's chap- 
lains should learn the languages of the country in order to instruct 
the Indian servants or agents of the company in the Protestant re- 
ligion. 19 But these intentions and instructions remained a dead letter. 

Far more significant, in terms of the evolution of British policy, 
was the order given in Bombay in 1662: "There shall be no com- 
pulsory conversion, no interference with native habits, and no cow- 
killing in Hindu quarters." As Arthur Mayhew pointed out, the 
principle of toleration embodied in this statement was unprece- 
dented in the history of earlier European powers in India. The gov- 
ernment of Portuguese India in the sixteenth century had not hesi- 
tated to resort to coercion in order to secure conversions to Catholi- 
cism. Inducements such as government posts and free rice were held 
out to those who would embrace the official faith. The Inquisition 
was exported to Goa in 1546, and all practice of "pagan" ceremonies 

19 Arthur Mayhew, Christianity and the Government of India, Fabcr and Gwyer 
Ltd., London, 1929, pp. 30-38. 



was made liable to severe punishment. Similarly the Dutch, a Protes- 
tant power, openly used the machinery of the state to propagate 
their religion in Ceylon in the seventeenth century. The government 
forbade the erection of Buddhist temples and reserved the best 
appointments for Christian converts. 20 With such precedents, the 
development of the British policy of religious neutrality could not 
have been expected. 

Protestant missionary work in India began in 1705, and for a 
century and a half the relationship between the government and 
Christian missions was to be one of the most crucial questions of 
religious policy. As this subject is considered in some detail in a 
later chapter, we shall here limit ourselves to a few generalizations. 21 
The policy toward missionaries varied greatly, depending on the 
particular presidency, set of officials, and period of time. In some 
cases officials actively aided the missionaries, considering their work 
to be good in itself, and useful in promoting indirectly the interests 
of the company. They regarded the freedom and even encourage- 
ment given to private missionary agencies to be entirely consistent 
with the pledge of official non-interference in the Indians' religious 
beliefs and practices. 

In other cases non-interference was interpreted to mean a positive 
duty on the part of government to restrict and if possible exclude 
any influences which might disturb the religious status quo. Official 
attitudes toward Christian missionary work ranged from open and 
enthusiastic approval to stern condemnation of such meddling with 
"native habits." While both opinions could be found among company 
officials in India, there can be no doubt that the court of directors 
in London took a generally dim view of all missionary efforts 
throughout most of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. 

In 1793 an unsuccessful attempt was made in Parliament to commit 
the government of India to a policy of direct and official missionary 
work. When the question of renewal of the company's charter was 
being discussed, William Wilberforce sought the inclusion of a 
provision which would in effect have created a government mission- 
ary establishment. Under his plan, the court of directors would have 
been required to send out persons approved by the ecclesiastical 
authorities of the Church of England and paid by the company 

20 7/W., pp. 39-40. 

21 See chapter 7, "The Question of Foreign Missionaries." 

6 7 


for "the religious and moral improvement" of the native inhabitants 
of India. Parliament rejected this clause, after the directors in a 
vigorous representation asserted that the Hindus had "as good a 
system of faith and morals as most people and it would be madness 
to attempt their conversion." 22 

It should be noted that many missionaries, especially those of the 
nonconformist persuasions, held strong convictions against any efforts 
by the state to promote conversions to Christianity. Having strug- 
gled against officially imposed religious uniformity at home, they 
were consistent enough to reject it in India. "Let not government 
touch my work," declared Baptist William Carey. "It can only 
succeed in making them hypocrites; I wish to make them Christians." } 

It was not until the next charter renewal, in 1813, that the legal 
right of missionaries to enter British India, under a new system of 
licensing, was established by Parliament. The procedure of licensing 
would provide a measure of official control over the missionaries; 
Parliament was concerned that "the principles of the British govern- 
ment on which the natives of India have hitherto relied for the free 
exercise of their religion be inviolably maintained." 

As has already been stated, the policy of religious neutrality was 
bound up with the primary objective of the East India Company 
which was trade. The directors "felt themselves under no obligation 
to risk their dividends or position by any steps that might lead to 
tumult or uprising, or to any radical changes in the habits and 
attitude of the people from whom their wealth was derived." 23 
Their policy was not based on any abstract theories of religious 
tolerance, and certainly not on any ideas of the separation of church 
and state. It was a rather obvious pragmatic solution to a concrete 
problem. As Britain's Indian empire expanded the conviction 
deepened that religious neutrality was sound imperial policy as well 
as good business. 

22 Frank Penny, The Church in Madras, Smith, Elder and Co., London, 1912, 
vol. 2, pp. 2-4, and Mayhew, op. tit., p. 26. 

28 Mayhew, op. tit., p. 44. Note also the statement of A. C. Lyall: "Moreover, 
toleration, meaning complete non-interference with the religions of the natives, 
was of such plain and profitable expediency with the East India Company in its 
earlier days, that not to have practiced it would have been downright insanity in an 
association whose object was to do business with Indians; wherefore the merchants 
who enforced a strict monopoly of material commerce were always careful to en- 
courage free trade and unlimited speculation in religion." "Our Religious Policy 
in India," Fortnightly Review, April 1872, pp. 388-389. 



The neutrality was certainly never perfect. Governor-General 
Wellesley, for example, did much to identify the government with 
Christianity, both in external symbols and by official patronage of 
missionary projects (e.g., translations of the Bible). And many 
later government officials gave open encouragement to Christian 
work, occasioning periodic admonitions from nervous directors 
against "indiscreet" and "tactless" support of the missionaries. The 
establishment of the Church of England in India, and the royal ap- 
pointment of the "Governor-General's Guru" (the bishop of Cal- 
cutta) were hardly in keeping with the profession of neutrality. 

On the other hand, the government went to such lengths to 
demonstrate that Christianity was not being favored, that Indian 
Christians were by law debarred from appointment to various judicial 
and military posts. This discrimination was written into government 
regulations, continuing a policy which had prevailed under certain 
of the Indian rulers whom the company had displaced. After several 
representations were made, the directors in 1831 ordered the gov- 
ernor-general to remove these injustices, explaining that the "neu- 
trality which we think it our duty to observe docs not require that 
converts to Christianity should be placed by law in a less advan- 
tageous situation than other persons." 24 

Perplexities and inconsistencies abounded in the government's at- 
tempts to define and implement its religious policy. In his minute 
on the suppression of sati (1829), Lord William Bentinck struggled 
with the problem of the religious sanction given to the practice. 
He agreed with the reformer Rammohan Roy that the Hindu re- 
action to the abolition of sati might be as follows : "While the English 
were contending for power they deemed it politic to allow universal 
toleration and to respect our religion, but having obtained the 
supremacy their first act is a violation of their profession, and the 
next will probably be, like the Mohammedan conquerors, to force 
upon us their own religion." 25 Despite such misgivings, Bentinck 
enacted the measure chiefly on humanitarian grounds. 

One of the great contributions made by the British raj was the 
establishment of the principle of equality before the law. Hindu 

24 Penny, op. cit., p. 348. 

25 Sati was the burning of a widow on the funeral pyre of her husband. The 
practice is discussed in greater detail in chapter 8. Bentinck's minute is reproduced in 
Ramsay Muir, The Making of British India 1756-1858, The University Press, Man- 
chester, 1917, pp. 293-296. 



criminal law had scaled punishments according to the caste of the 
offender, and Muslim law had discriminated against infidels. The 
introduction of a uniform criminal law was an indispensable founda- 
tion for the development of a secular state. 

But problems arose in certain areas of civil law. [The British gov- 
ernment as early as 1772 pledged itself to a strict application in its 
courts of the Hindu and Muslim laws regarding marriage, inher- 
itance, and other matters of personal law^ In the case of Hindus, the 
"law of the Shastras" was to be applied, and with respect to Muslims 
the "law of the Koran." 20 Under both Hindu and Muslim law, 
apostasy was penalized by the loss of inheritance rights. The law 
thus inflicted an economic loss on those who abandoned their an- 
cestral religion, and this fact operated as a significant deterrent to 
conversion. A Bengal regulation of 1832 removed this legal disability, 
and Christian. spokesmen called for a law that would apply to all 
British India/ In 1850 the government of India enacted the Caste 
Disabilities Removal Act which declared that any law or usage 
which "inflicts on any person forfeiture of rights or property, or 
may be held in any way to impair or affect any right of inheritance, 
by reason of his or her renouncing or having been excluded from the 
communion of any religion, or being deprived of caste, shall cease to 
be enforced as law." 27 

There were definitely two points of view regarding this legislation. 
On one hand it was hailed as the "Freedom of Religion Act," a 
measure which established the great principle that a person could 
not be deprived of his civil rights because of his profession of any 
religion. Orthodox Hindus, however, protested that the law inter- 
fered most grievously with their religious usages, for the right to 
inherit property was accompanied by religious obligations which 
only a Hindu could fulfill. "The right of succession," one of their 
petitions stated, "depends exclusively upon the right to present the 
funeral oblations. It is by virtue of such last act, which can only be 
performed by a Hindu, that sons and near kinsmen take the property, 
because, according to the belief of the Hindus, it is by such acts his 
father's spiritual bliss, and that of his ancestors to the remotest degree, 

26 See chapter 10, "Religion, Law, and Secularism." 

27 Courtenay Ilbert, The Government of India, Clarendon Press, London, 1898, 
p. 392. 



is secured/' 28 Governor-General Dalhousie, however, overruled this 
argument by distinguishing between ceremonial and legal responsi- 
bility, and by asserting that "it is the duty of the state to keep in its 
own hands the right of regulating succession to property." The act 
also protected the convert's right of guardianship of children. Pre- 
viously, Hindu and Muslim law deprived the apostate of the custody 
of his own children. 

The act of 1850 applied to all cases of religious conversion. Its main 
result, however, was the protection of converts to Christianity. 
Similarly, the system of grants-in-aid to educational institutions 
managed by private agencies, established in 1854, was of general ap- 
plication. The principle was that the neutral government would aid 
all institutions alike solely on the basis of their teaching of secular 
subjects, and irrespective of their religious objectives. In practice, 
missionary schools were the chief beneficiaries of the new policy. 
This was inevitable in view of the enormous headstart in the 
educational field which the missionaries had over Hindu and 
Muslim agencies. Nevertheless, it provided an unprecedented op- 
portunity for the extension of the system of mission schools and of 
Christian influence generally. Regarding government schools, the 
1854 despatch declared that as these "were founded for the benefit of 
the whole population of India ... the education conveyed in them 
should be exclusively secular." All references to Christianity in the 
classroom were specifically forbidden. 29 

The cry of "religion in danger" was one significant factor in the 
situation leading up to the mutiny of 1857. It was of course not true 
that the government was deliberately seeking to undermine the 
Indian creeds with the object of proselytism, but the charge was 
widely believed throughout northern India. The following year 
brought Queen Victoria's momentous proclamation of the crown's 
assumption of the governance of India. This document combined a 
forthright witness to the sovereign's Christian faith with a strong 
commitment to religious neutrality in the state's relations with its 
Indian subjects. "Firmly relying ourselves on the truth of Chris- 
tianity, and acknowledging with gratitude the solace of religion, we 
disclaim alike the right and desire to impose our convictions on any 

28 John William Kaye, Christianity in India: An Historical Narrative, Smith, Elder 
and Company, London, 1859, p. 461. 

29 See chapter 12, "Education and Religion." 



of our subjects. We declare it to be our royal will and pleasure that 
none be in any wise favored, none molested or disquieted, by reason 
of their religious faith or observances, but that all shall alike enjoy 
the equal and impartial protection of the law; and we do strictly 
charge and enjoin all those who may be in authority under us that 
they abstain from all interference with the religious belief or wor- 
ship of any of our subjects on pain of our highest displeasure." 30 
The proclamation, while not adding anything new to the govern- 
ment's religious policy, did restate it in clear and emphatic language. 
Memories of the mutiny made it unlikely that the neutrality of the 
state would henceforth be tampered with. And despite all the ambi- 
guities mentioned above, the British policy of religious neutrality 
represents one of the important historical bases of modern India's 
secular state. 

Patron and protector of Indian religions 

The East India Company had to act not only in its primary role 
as a commercial-imperial enterprise but also in the role of the Indian 
rulers whom it displaced. The British government, anxious to re- 
assure its subjects as each new territory was annexed, invariably 
pledged itself to the continuation of all the rights, privileges, and 
immunities which had been enjoyed under the former Hindu or 
Muslim ruler. As the Indian prince had given grants and endow- 
ments for religious purposes, supervised the arrangements for fes- 
tivals and pilgrimages, and administered the affairs of temples and 
mosques, these functions became the responsibility of the European 
government. 31 

Public opinion in India was quite clear that the British were under 
obligation to undertake these tasks. The fact that the new rulers were 
of a different faith would not justify their neglecting the traditional 
role of patron and protector of religion. For both Hindu and Muslim 
princes had, during certain periods, patronized and administered 
the institutions of the other religion with considerable impartiality. 
In 1790 Tippu Sultan, Muslim ruler of Mysore, issued a circular order 
to his local administrators: "The temples are under your manage- 
ment; you are therefore to see that the offerings to the gods and the 

30 Muir, op. cit., pp. 382-383. 

31 The Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act (1951), Madras 
Law Journal Press, Madras, 1952, p. 3. 



temple illumination are duly regulated, as directed, out of the gov- 
ernment grants." The order then went on to direct in detail the 
method of financial supervision of the Hindu temples. 32 In assuming 
this administrative responsibility, Tippu Sultan followed a pattern 
imposed by centuries of history. 

The British were in a very similar situation. The first instance of 
their active assumption of this role came in 1796 when Lionel Place, 
a collector in the Madras presidency, was put in charge of the famous 
temples at Conjeeveram. Place himself had requested that the gov- 
ernment undertake their management, on the ground that it would 
promote the happiness of the Indian subjects. In the absence of an 
efficient authority, maladministration of temple funds and neglect 
of the religious ceremonies were inevitable. Place established an 
effective administration, carefully disbursing the "church funds," as 
he called them, and assigning proper duties to the "church-wardens" 
(Brahman keepers of the shrines). To crown all his good works, the 
collector presented to the god jewels reputedly worth a thousand 
pounds! 33 

Regulations were passed in Bengal in 1810 and in Madras in 1817 
providing for the regular administration of temple endowments by 
the government. The Madras measure referred to the endowments for 
temples, mosques, and "other pious and beneficial purposes" (a 
phrase which greatly disturbed the missionaries), and the govern- 
ment's responsibility to ensure that these endowments were applied 
according to the intent and will of the grantor. Within a short time 
government servants were involved not only in the strict financial 
aspects of temple administration but in virtually everything con- 
cerned with the institutions. As Mayhew put it, "Whether it was the 
appointment of temple staff, or regulations for dancing girls, temple 
fees, or pilgrims' certificates, or the collection of local dues, everything 
was done decently and in order, with a lavish expenditure of gov- 
ernment paper and time." 34 

By 1833 the Madras government could report that no less than 
7,600 Hindu temples were being administered by government of- 
ficials. The same report quoted the collector of North Arcot as fol- 

82 The Mysore Muzrai Manual, Government of Mysore Press, Bangalore, 1934, p. 2. 

83 Kaye, op. cit., pp. 380-381. Many British officials, from district collectors to 
governors, made sizable gifts to Hindu temples. See "Orion," "Sahebs and Shrines," 
The Hindu, March 5, 1961. 

84 Mayhew, op. cit., p. 148. 



lows: "Our interference has extended over every detail of manage- 
ment; we regulate their funds, superintend the repairs of their 
temples, keep in order their cars and images, appoint the servants 
of the pagodas, purchase and keep in store the various commodities 
required for their use, investigate and adjust all disputes, and at 
times, even those of a religious nature." 35 The British collector was 
highly esteemed by the Hindus as the "friendly guardian of their 
religion." And Hindu institutions flourished under European super- 
intendence; the temples were kept in good repair, their finances were 
on a solid footing, and the religious ceremonies were regularly per- 

The British government was the direct patron as well as the ad- 
ministrator of Hindu and Muslim religious institutions. Sizable sums 
of public money were paid toward their support. In some cases these 
payments were made in lieu of the revenue of lands assigned to 
temples or mosques by former rulers, but resumed by the British. 
In other cases the payments were annual grants made by the gov- 
ernment in continuance of similar contributions from the rajas who 
were displaced. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the total 
annual payments made to temples and mosques in Madras presidency 
alone amounted to about ^ioo,ooo. 86 

Another important aspect of the government's relation to Hindu 
institutions was the question of the pilgrim tax, also inherited from 
the Indian rulers who preceded the British. There were various inter- 
pretations of this tax. It could be regarded as an oppressive measure 
intended to exploit and at the same time to discourage Hindu pil- 
grimages, as it indeed had been when imposed by the Muslim rulers 
of northern India. If the British were to continue the tax, it might 
well be interpreted as undue interference in the religious affairs of 
the people, quite opposed to the pledge of toleration and neutrality. 
On the other hand, to abolish it would be to open government to 
the charge that it had deliberately removed a customary fee in order 
to encourage "Hindu idolatry/' contrary to its principle of neutrality. 

But the British resolved the dilemma on altogether different 
grounds when the case of the great Jaganath temple in Orissa was 
considered. The temple had been maintained at great expense by the 
former Hindu government in Cuttack, and this responsibility de- 

85 Quoted in Kaye, op. cit., pp. 391-392. 

86 A. C. Lyall, op. cit. y p. 402. 



volved upon the British. The governor-general, Lord Wellesley, 
decided to continue the pilgrim tax imposed by the raja, as the 
Brahmans and general Hindu public regarded it as a permanent 
security that the temple expenses would be defrayed by the govern- 
ment "There can be no objection," wrote Wellesley, "to the British 
government availing itself of these opinions for the purpose of re- 
lieving itself from a heavy annual expense, and of providing funds 
to answer the contingent charges of the religious institutions of the 
Hindu faith maintained by the British government." 37 In point of 
fact, proceeds from the pilgrim tax more than covered expenses, 
and the surplus was swept into the government's own treasury! 
"The religious institutions of the Hindu faith maintained by the 
British government" the bluntness of this wording disturbed many 
Christian consciences frequently became financial assets under 
careful administration. 

The British participated in religious festivals much as tradition 
dictated. Government officials were present to inaugurate annual fes- 
tivals; troops and artillery were used to make each occasion as 
splendid as possible. In the military salute which ushered in 
Ramzan, in the official breaking of coconuts at the commencement of 
the monsoon, and in the employment of Brahmans to invoke pro- 
pitious weather, the government was careful to enact its time-honored 
role to perfection. 

It was inevitable that there would be an adverse reaction to all of 
these evidences of "government connection with idolatry." Some 
officials objected to their compulsory participation in what they re- 
garded as the encouragement and promotion of false religions. 
Bishops and missionaries added their protests; memorials were drawn 
up, and as the facts became known the agitation for official with- 
drawal from such activities gathered force in England. Some of the 
representations contained bitter accusations that the company had 
willingly become the "dry nurse to Vishnu" and the "church-warden 
of Jaganath." Others, more temperately worded, suggested that the 
government had in all good faith assumed certain general responsi- 
bilities for temple administration, but that the very thoroughness of 
its superintendence had been interpreted by the native population as 
evidence of positive approval and support. In any case, the net result 
was that a Christian government, by restoring public confidence in 

87 Kaye, op. cit., p. 385. 



the administration of the institutions, had greatly promoted the 
standing and prestige of Hinduism and Islam. 

As a result of the pressures built up by this agitation, the court of 
directors issued a despatch in 1833 which directed the withdrawal of 
the government from involvement in the religious institutions of 
the country. The despatch asserted that the government appeared 
before the people of India "in such intimate connection with their 
unhappy and debasing superstitions, as almost necessarily to inspire 
them with the belief either that we admit the divine origin of those 
superstitions, or at least that we ascribe to them some peculiar and 
venerable authority." 38 It went on to forbid the interference of 
British officials in the internal management of temples and to abolish 
the pilgrim tax and fines formerly considered as sources of revenue 
by the government. 

The despatch was epitomized in the statement "That in all matters 
relating to their temples, their worship, their festivals, their religious 
practices, their ceremonial observances, our native subjects be left 
entirely to themselves." The directors were anxious that the Indians 
not misinterpret their action; it was to be explained to them that 
"so far from abandoning the principles of a just toleration, the 
British government is resolved to apply them with more scrupulous 
accuracy than ever; and that this proceeding is, in truth, no more than 
a recurrence to that state of real neutrality from which we ought 
never to have departed." 

For five years the despatch was virtually ignored in India while 
"further information" was being gathered. In 1838 another letter 
from the directors reaffirmed the previous orders, and shortly there- 
after the effective withdrawal from temple management began. The 
religious institutions were entrusted to prominent individuals or 
committees, and, despite certain real difficulties, the severance of 
government from their management proceeded. In 1841 the at- 
tendance of troops or military bands at religious festivals and the 
firing of salutes was discontinued by order, "with the object of 
separating the government and its officers, as far as possible, from all 
connection with the ceremonies of the Hindu and Mohammedan 
religion." 39 

The direct money payments by government to temples and 

**Ibid. 9 p. 417. 89 /&'</., p. 437. 


mosques continued, since the British had pledged themselves to the 
continuance of grants made by the former rulers. As a matter of fact, 
in the Madras presidency the government promised at the time of 
withdrawal from temple management that this step would not af- 
fect the customary grants and allowances. While in some Christian 
circles this decision was very unpopular, John W. Kaye wrote in 
1859, "If the religion of the few is to be supported from the revenues 
of the country, why, on any conceivable principle of neutrality, is not 
the religion of the many?" 40 If the Church of England, why not the 
temple of Jaganath ? 

The withdrawal of the government from temple management was 
bitterly criticized by many Indians. Despite the government's pro- 
testations of a more perfect religious freedom for the Indians in the 
administration of their own institutions, the move was interpreted as 
a blow to Hinduism and Islam. The government, it was charged, had 
abdicated one of its most essential functions, had cast off the im- 
memorial duty of Indian rulers, had left the institutions at the mercy 
of inefficient and dishonest trustees. The decision was also criticized 
by British administrators who saw in the successful European man- 
agement of temples and mosques a source of great prestige for the 
government, a relationship which strengthened the Indian's loyalty 
to the empire. These advantages, it was argued, had been thrown 
away for no urgent motive. 

One such administrator, A. C. Lyall, wrote discerningly in 1872 
that religious neutrality had different meanings in England and in 
India, and that the government's interpretation or misinterpretation 
of it would never satisfy the Indian. "In England the phrase might 
be understood as an assurance that the government had determined 
to have nothing whatever to do with the affairs, temporal or spirit- 
ual, of any sect or creed; in India it is taken, I believe, to convey a 
welcome guarantee that the Queen will not favor one religion 
more than another. But I suspect that the Indians no more supposed 
that perfect neutrality meant the complete renunciation by their 
governors of all direct authority or leadership over the management 
of the temporal interests of their religions, than they imagined that 
neutrality in civil administration means that the government will 
disband the police." 41 To complete the process of severing itself from 

40 Ibid., p. 439. 41 A. C. Lyall, op. cit., p. 407. 



the affairs of temples and mosques, the government passed an act 
in 1863 by which their properties were made over absolutely to local 
trustees or committees. The government appointed these trustees 
once and for all and thereafter ceased to have any control over them 
or to nominate any new trustees. There was no change in this policy 
until 1920, when the Imperial Legislature, now representative of 
Indian opinion, passed the Charitable and Religious Trusts Act. 42 

The Church of England in India 

The third role which the British government had to assume was 
that of a Christian government. The East India Company, beginning 
in 1644, sent Anglican chaplains to attend to the religious needs of its 
employees stationed in India. The early chaplains ministered to 
isolated congregations of British merchants and soldiers, with little 
thought of propagating their faith among the Indians, Toward the 
end of the eighteenth century, however, a group of "evangelical 
chaplains" began missionary work in addition to their ministry to 
Europeans and Anglo-Indians. 43 At first the company did not take the 
initiative in the building of churches for its civil and military servants, 
but it was willing to make contributions in support of private efforts. 
By the early nineteenth century, however, the policy in all three 
presidencies (Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras) was for the govern- 
ment to pay for the entire cost of chapels in all of the permanent 
garrisons to which chaplains were assigned. 44 With the annexation 
of vast new territories, the number of chaplains increased slowly. 
But the growing ecclesiastical establishment lacked direct super- 
vision, as the chaplains were under the jurisdiction of the bishop 
of London. 

In 1813 the company's charter was renewed. Along with the clauses 
permitting the entry of missionaries, Parliament provided for the 
appointment of a bishop and three archdeacons of the Church of 
England, who were to superintend ecclesiastical matters in India. 
The see of the bishop of Calcutta included not only all of India but 
Ceylon and Australia as well. Parliament particularly directed that 
all payments for ecclesiastical purposes were to be made from the 

42 The more recent legislation regarding the administration of religious endow- 
ments is discussed in chapter 9, "The Reform of Hindu Temples." 

48 Eyre Chatterton, History of the Church of England in India, Society for Pro- 
moting Christian Knowledge, London, 1924, p. 108. 

44 Penny, op. dt. y pp. 52-54. 

7 8 


territorial revenues of India, not from the company's trade profits. 
This clause satisfied the stockholders who had opposed the creation 
of the bishopric on financial grounds. 

The legislation had also been opposed by some who feared that 
the open identification of Christianity with the government of India 
would antagonize the Indians and perhaps even lead to an uprising. 
Thomas F. Middleton, the first bishop of Calcutta, reached India in 
1814. His landing, he wrote, "was without any eclat, for fear of 
alarming the prejudices of the natives." 45 But the bishop's arrival 
and subsequent activities produced no commotion; he was greeted 
everywhere by the Indians with respectful curiosity, and the "Lord 
Padre Sahib" comported himself with the utmost dignity. 

The first bishop refused to license missionaries or ordain Indians 
because, as he interpreted his letters patent from the crown, he had no 
authority to do so. Parliament had not created an ecclesiastical 
establishment in order to promote missionary work among the 
Indians; this idea had been decisively rejected in I793- 46 The state was 
not "interfering in the religious beliefs of the natives" but was 
simply providing spiritual ministrations to its own employees of 
the Christian faith. 

Middleton's successor, Bishop Heber, had no such scruples; he 
"put the evangelization of India in the forefront of the Church's 
duty." 47 He ordained Indians to the ministry; he became president 
of the Church Missionary Society Committee and openly referred to 
himself as the first missionary of the society. But even apart from 
the efforts of such missionary-minded men as Heber, the position of 
the bishop of Calcutta was anomalous. India was a diocese, and the 
bishop had spiritual and ecclesiastical jurisdiction over all Anglican 
ministers, including missionaries, within his diocese. He was bound 
to exercise this jurisdiction according to the ecclesiastical laws of 
England. Thus, as Whitehead put it, "the company through the 
bishops became officially connected with the missionaries and their 
Indian congregations." 48 

45 Quoted in Kaye, op. cit., p. 290. 

46 A reference to Wilberforce's proposal for a government missionary establish- 

47 Other Men Labored: Centenary of the Diocese of Madras, Diocesan Press, 
Madras, 1935, p. 27. 

48 Henry Whitehead, Indian Problems in Religion, Education, Politics, Constable 
and Company, London, 1924, p. 97. 



In 1833 Parliament divided the vast diocese of the bishopric of 
Calcutta, and the bishoprics of Madras and Bombay were created. 
At the same time the bishop of Calcutta was designated metropolitan 
of all India. The East India Company had opposed the move on the 
usual grounds three bishops would be too expensive but all ob- 
jections were brushed aside. 

Presbyterian chaplains of the Church of Scotland were appointed 
to minister to company servants of that persuasion after 1813. In 
1840 the first grant was made by the Madras government toward the 
cost of building a Roman Catholic chapel, and, in the years following, 
Roman Catholic missionaries and bishops began to receive allowances 
for their ministrations to British soldiers of their faith. During this 
period the building of Anglican churches, now mostly for British and 
Anglo-Indian civilians, greatly increased. The presidency govern- 
ments customarily paid for one-half the cost of construction, and the 
churches remained the property of the government. 49 

The ecclesiastical organization of the Church of England in 
India around the middle of the nineteenth century was relatively 
simple. The bishops were appointed by the crown and paid from the 
public revenues of India. Later developments, however, justified 
Bishop Whitehead's statement in 1924 that "the position of the 
Church of England in India for the last hundred years has been 
more complex and anomalous than that of any other church in Chris- 
tendom." At the time of his writing, "Of the thirteen bishops in the 
province, seven are appointed by the crown under letters patent, and 
paid either entirely by government or partly by government and 
partly by endowments; the bishop of Travancore and Cochin is ap- 
pointed by the archbishop of Canterbury under what is known as 
the Jerusalem Act and is entirely paid by the Church Missionary 
Society. The bishop of Chota Nagpur is appointed by the metro- 
politan and entirely paid by the Society for the Propagation of the 
Gospel. The bishop of Tinnevelly and Madura is appointed by the 
bishop of Madras with the approval of the metropolitan and is paid 
partly by endowments and partly by grants from the two societies, 
the S.P.G. and C.M.S." 50 

Quite apart from the complexity of the system, it is interesting 
to note the way in which state, church, and missionary society 

49 Penny, op. cit. y pp. 58-63. 50 Whitehead, op. cit., p. 90. 



became linked together in the course of time. Before the bishopric 
of Calcutta was created by the historic decision of Parliament in 
1813, William Wilberforce made it clear that the bishop "was to be 
in no way responsible for mission work, and that his appointment 
would suggest no association of government with that work.'' 51 A 
century later, half of the bishops were being paid by the government 
and half by missionary societies! 

Bishop Whitehead himself recognized the difficulty (others would 
have said impossibility) of reconciling the position of state-appointed 
bishops with the principle of religious neutrality. With great candor 
he explained the difficulty: "It is quite true that they are appointed 
and paid by the state to minister to the Christian servants of the 
government, but at the same time, by virtue of their position as 
bishops they are the heads of a church of which the government 
servants form only a small minority; and as every Christian church, 
so far as it is faithful to its commission, is bound to be a missionary 
body, the bishops cannot do their duty as bishops of the church of 
Christ unless they take an active interest and an active part in the 
missionary work of the dioceses over which they rule." 52 Stated more 
bluntly, a government which professed religious neutrality appointed 
and paid bishops whose duty it was to convert Hindus and Muslims 
to Christianity. 

The whole position of the established church in India was subjected 
to serious questioning from the beginning of the twentieth century. 
As a matter of fact, critics usually echoed the point made in a letter 
to the Times back in 1871: "Starting from our own standpoint of 
strict religious neutrality, both Hindus and Mohammedans might 
reasonably object to a considerable sum out of revenues raised by 
the sweat of their brows being devoted annually to the maintenance 
of an established church for the benefit of Christians, be they gov- 
ernment servants or not, while no annual grant at all is made for the 
support of Hindu and Mohammedan places of worship, or for their 
clergy." 53 The objection that an annual grant to an established 
church is not consistent with the profession of religious neutrality 
certainly carries much weight. The writer of the letter, however, 
like most of the other critics, European, Hindu, and Muslim, over- 

51 Mayhew, op. cit., p 102. 52 Whitehead, op. cit., p. 103. 

53 Letter of Colonel Nassau Lees to the London Times, October 20, 1871. Quoted in 
A. C. Lyall, op. at., pp. 401-402. 



looked the sizable payments made annually by the British govern- 
ment to temples and mosques. As we have explained above, these 
were customary allowances granted in perpetuity by the rajas and 
continued by the British. 

But criticisms of the church-state connection came more fre- 
quently from within the church, especially during the early 1920^. 
Writing on "The Case for the Severance of Church and State in 
India," J. E. C. Welldon pointed out that the church had been 
tightly bound by acts of Parliament, that it was dangerously de- 
pendent on the good will of the secretary of state and viceroy. The 
church needed freedom to carry out its missionary task, but as the 
government by its professed neutrality was prevented from encour- 
aging this, their legal connection had become an anomaly. As Indians 
year by year assumed a larger role in the legislative and executive 
functions, the prospects of a government controlled by Hindus and 
Muslims together with an established Christian church became all the 
more anomalous. Lastly, the church was gravely hampered in its 
outreach because of the suspicion lurking in many Indian minds that 
it was a branch of the government, a serious handicap in a day of 
rising nationalism and antigovernment sentiment. Disestablishment 
and disendowment would mean a considerable financial loss to the 
church, but this was the price it would have to pay for its freedom. 54 

Non-Anglican Protestants and secularists in the British Parliament 
had from time to time criticized the imposition of the established 
church on India. The serious proposal for disestablishment, however, 
came from the church itself, and was effected by the Indian Church 
Measure passed by Parliament in 1927. This act dissolved the legal 
union between the Church of England and the Church of England 
in India and removed the metropolitan bishop of the Indian church 
from the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Canterbury. Bishops of 
the Indian church were no longer to be appointed by the crown, and 
the royal mandate was no longer necessary for their consecration. 56 

Although the legal ties with the Church of England were indeed 
dissolved, the Indian church continued to have a close relationship 
with the government of India. This was chiefly due to the system of 

54 J. E. C. Welldon, "The Case for the Severance of Church and State in India," 
The Church Missionary Review, 1922, vol. 73, pp. 197-203. 

55 The Constitution, Canons and Rules of the Church of India, Burma and 
Ceylon, D. S. McKenzie, for the Metropolitan of India, Calcutta, 1930, pp. 260-264. 



chaplains and "maintained churches," which had a long history. 
Chaplains continued to be paid by the government, although the 
attempt was made to distinguish their work sharply from that of 
other ministers. In the Indian Church Statutory Rules of 1929 is 
the following regulation: "No chaplain shall undertake any work 
other than that of ministering to His Majesty's troops and the 
servants of the crown and their families if either the bishop or the 
governor-general in council objects to his undertaking such work." 56 
Bishops were no longer appointed and paid by the government. 
However, if the government recognized the bishop who had been 
elected to a diocese as superintendent of its chaplains, it paid a sum 
about equal to two-thirds of his former pay. Churches which had 
been built wholly or in part at government expense, continued to 
receive substantial allowances for maintenance and repair. 

As a matter of fact, all Christian denominations were on an equal 
footing, legally, after 1927. Anglican chaplains enjoyed no privileges 
that were not equally accorded Presbyterian, Wesleyan, and Roman 
Catholic chaplains. Nevertheless, the legal fact of disestablishment 
made little impact on the popular mind in India. The distinction 
between chaplain and missionary was not always clear. To the 
casual observer, the important fact was simply that the government 
was spending substantial sums of money to pay the salaries of Chris- 
tian clergy and to maintain churches, and that most of this went to 
the clergy and churches of the "Church of England." 57 

With the attainment of independence and the withdrawal of 
British soldiers and administrators, the long era of the government 
chaplain came to an end. Terminal block grants were given, and 
government-maintained churches were formally handed over to the 
proper ecclesiastical authorities. The Indian Ecclesiastical Establish- 
ment was abolished on March 31, 1948. 

/W., p. 282. While the Indian Church Measure of 1927 separated church and 
state in India, the Indian Church Act of the same year gave the governor-general 
of India power to regulate the licensing, posting, discipline, duties, and supervision 
of chaplains, to make provision for episcopal ministrations, to make grants out of 
the revenues of India for these purposes, etc. Dr. N. C. Sen Gupta asserted that 
the Indian Church Act of 1927 is ultra vires the Constitution and should be repealed. 
See Law Commission of India: Fifth Report, Government of India Press, 1958, pp. 
88-89. It was announced in Parliament that this step was being considered by the 
ministry of law. The Hindu, March 14, 1960. 

57 After disestablishment, the Church of England in India adopted as its official 
name the "Church of India, Burma and Ceylon." 



The great debates on the government's religious policy in the 
nineteenth century revolved around the three roles which have been 
discussed. In the attempt to implement the principle of religious 
neutrality, patronize and regulate the Indian religions, and promote 
its own Christian religion, the government time and again found 
itself in a hopelessly inconsistent position. As has been suggested, the 
principle of religious neutrality did emerge as the predominant 
factor. By the end of the nineteenth century there was rather wide 
agreement that the religious neutrality of the British government was 
genuine, despite its formal denial in the existence of an established 

In the nineteenth century, then, the British were faced with the 
problem of defining and implementing their policy of religious 
neutrality as a Christian government vis-a-vis the "native religions." 
The government had to deal with questions of religious freedom and 
of the proper scope of state regulation and promotion of religious 
beliefs and practices. In the twentieth century the nature of the 
problem changed radically. In chapter i the secular state was defined 
in terms of three components : freedom of religion, separation of state 
and religion, and common citizenship. Broadly speaking, one might 
say that British policy was fairly successful in constructing the first 
two components in the nineteenth century, but was much less success- 
ful in producing the third, a common citizenship unrelated to re- 
ligious creed, in the twentieth century. 

Constitutional reforms and separate electorates 

In the principle of equality before the law, the foundation for a 
common citizenship had already been well laid. Opportunities for 
further building on this foundation presented themselves when, 
toward the end of the nineteenth century, the first small concessions 
were made by the British to Indian participation in the legislative 
process. Elections were introduced early in the twentieth century, and 
in successive measures of constitutional reform the electorate was 
greatly enlarged. The forces of politically conscious India divided, 
however, as Hindu-Muslim communalism complicated the national- 
ist struggle against the British raj. Group antagonisms were extended 
from the socio-religious sphere into that of politics. Against a 
background of mutual distrust between the two communities, the 


demand was made by the Muslim minority for separate electorates. 58 
In 1906 the Agha Khan headed a Muslim deputation which 
presented its demand for separate representation to Lord Minto, the 
governor-general. The latter, in replying to the delegation, summed 
up their case as follows: "the pith of your address, as I understand it, 
is a claim that under any system of representation . . . the Moham- 
medan community should be represented as a community. You point 
out that in many cases electoral bodies as now constituted cannot 
be expected to return a Mohammedan candidate, and that if by 
chance they did so, it could only be at the sacrifice of such a candi- 
date's views to those of a majority opposed to his community, whom 
he would in no way represent." Lord Minto expressed his approval of 
the proposed principle of communal representation. 

Lord Morley, the secretary of state for India, resisted the idea but 
ultimately agreed under pressure from Minto. The Indian Councils 
Act of 1909 provided for separate Muslim electorates in most of the 
major provinces. Muslim seats were reserved in the Indian Legislative 
Council and the provincial councils, and only Muslims could vote 
for candidates for these seats. In addition, Muslims retained the 
right to vote in the general electorates. 

The new system was opposed by many professional organizations, 
partly on communal grounds, no doubt, as most of these groups were 
predominantly Hindu in membership, but also on grounds of the 
principle involved. The Madras Landholders' Association objected 
that separate electorates were calculated to accentuate differences 
which were rapidly losing their importance in public life, and would 
impede the development of a sense of national unity so necessary to 
India's progress. Some writers have interpreted the introduction of 
separate electorates as part of a deliberate British policy to divide 
India still more sharply in order to perpetuate foreign rule. The 
Muslims were set as a counterpoise to the rising nationalism led by 
Hindus; it was the old device of "divide and rule." There is indeed 
some evidence to support this view. The charge against the British 

58 The problem of communal representation has been dealt with in many works. 
See especially: Report on Indian Constitutional Reforms, His Majesty's Stationery 
Office, London, 1918; Reginald Coupland, The Indian Problem: Report on the 
Constitutional Problem in India, London, 1944; K. B. Krishna, The Problem of 
Minorities: or Communal Representation in India, George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., 
1939; Sadiq Ali, ed., Congress and the Problem of Minorities, Allahabad Law 
Journal Press, Allahabad, 1947; Dhirendranath Sen, The Problem of Minorities^ 
Calcutta University Press, Calcutta, 1940. 



has frequently been overstated, however. The British obviously did 
not create the Hindu-Muslim communal problem; they did exploit it 
for their own purposes from time to time. 

In 1916 the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, 
enjoying a brief period of harmonious relations, concluded an agree- 
ment regarding the representation of Muslims in the various legis- 
lative councils. It also provided that one-third of the elected Indian 
members of the Imperial Legislative Council should be Muslims. 
The agreement, known as the Lucknow Pact, confirmed the prin- 
ciple of separate electorates. This was a momentous decision which 
was later effectively used by the League to overpower Congress ob- 
jections to the extension of the principle. 

The Montagu-Chelmsford Report of 1918 deprecated communal 
electorates as incompatible with modern political institutions: "Di- 
vision by creeds and classes means the creation of political camps 
organized against each other, and teaches men to think as partisans 
and not as citizens. . . . We regard any system of communal elec- 
torates, therefore, as a very serious hindrance to the development of 
the self-governing principle." Nevertheless, the report tended to 
accept the view that a pledge had been made by the British govern- 
ment to provide separate Muslim electorates when the Morley-Minto 
reforms were adopted. Only the Muslims could release the govern- 
ment from this pledge, and they obviously did not wish to do so. 
And, of course, by the Lucknow Pact the Congress had also agreed 
to separate electorates. The report therefore reluctantly recommended 
that the system be maintained, "even at the price of slower progress 
toward the realization of a common citizenship." 

The Government of India Act which finally emerged in 1919 
accorded communal representation not only to Muslims (on the 
basis of the pact), but to the Sikhs in the Punjab and to Europeans, 
Anglo-Indians, and Indian Christians. In addition, a definite pro- 
portion of seats was reserved for non-Brahmans in Madras and for 
Mahrattas in Bombay. 

The 1930 report of the Indian Statutory Commission quoted with 
approval the Montagu-Chelmsford evaluation of separate electorates; 
they were theoretically wrong, harmful in practice, but politically 
necessary in view of the Muslim attitude. The Round Table Con- 
ferences in London (1930-1932) failed to resolve the question of the 
number of seats for each community. The Muslims wanted the con- 



tinuation of separate electorates but with greatly increased representa- 
tion; the Congress, although opposed to communal representation in 
principle, urged joint electorates with reservation of seats as a com- 
promise. This failure led to Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald's 
Communal Award, which provided for separate electorates with a 
specified number of reserved seats for Muslims, Europeans, Sikhs, 
Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, and the Depressed Classes, and 
was made the basis for representation under the Government of 
India Act of 1935. 

The system of separate representation undoubtedly stimulated the 
further growth of communalism. It encouraged the very defect it 
sought to remedy. The system encouraged the most vociferous and 
aggressive Muslim politicians; there was no need for the moderation 
which is inevitably developed when a candidate has to appeal to all 
groups. The minorities tended to lean on the artificial prop of 
separate electorates instead of strengthening their educational and 
economic position. The various religious communities became polit- 
ical units and functioned increasingly as such with each successive 
constitutional reform 1909, 1919, and 1935. The ultimate conclusion 
of this process for a religious community to constitute itself a 
separate state was reached with the partition of India and the 
creation of Pakistan as a separate Muslim state. 

Hinduism and Indian nationalism 

Thus far in the discussion of the British period, our concern has 
been with the development of government policy. We have sought 
to identify those policies of the British government which provide 
some of the historical roots of modern India's secular state. We have 
also noted the policies which militated against the development of 

We must at this point discuss the religious policy of a non-govern- 
mental institution the Indian National Congress which with the 
attainment of independence became the ruling political party in the 
central government and in all the state governments. The roots of 
Indian secularism must be sought as much in the history of the 
Congress as in the pronouncements and policies of British governors- 
general. To what extent did the Congress espouse and implement the 
ideal of a secular, non-communal nationalist organization ? And to 


what extent was its nationalism associated with Hindu revivalism, 
communal and exclusivist in its tendencies ? 

In a general way the Indian nationalist movement received con- 
siderable initial impetus from the reformist Hindu sects of the latter 
half of the nineteenth century. Leaders of the Hindu renascence 
such as Swami Dayananda and Swami Vivekananda abandoned the 
earlier defensiveness, and in different ways confidently proclaimed 
the superiority of Hindu religion and culture over the Christian West. 
The Indian National Congress, however, received no direct inspira- 
tion from this source at the time of its founding in 1885. A retired 
British civil servant, Allan Hume, was prominently associated with 
its formation, and four of the early presidents of the Congress were 
Englishmen. The leading members of the organization were western- 
educated Indians who subscribed to the ideals of British liberalism. 
Most of them had a sincere appreciation of the beneficial results of 
western rule in India, and the government for its part was generally 
sympathetic to the Congress in the early years. 

Every effort was made to place the Congress on a solidly non- 
communal basis, despite the fact that the first meetings were pre- 
dominantly Hindu gatherings. The report of the second Congress 
(1886) made it clear that religious community was irrelevant to 
membership in the nationalist organization. "The Congress is a com- 
munity of temporal interests and not of spiritual convictions that 
qualify men to represent each other in the discussion of political 
questions; we hold their general interests in this country being iden- 
tical, Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Parsis may fitly as members 
of their respective communities represent each other in the dis- 
cussion of public secular affairs." 59 Differences of opinion were 
inevitable, it was recognized, but these would hinge "not on differ- 
ences of creed, but on differences in social position, profession, oc- 
cupation and the like." In the early Congress sessions there were 
Europeans, Eurasians, Hindus of many castes and sects, Shi'a and 
Sunni Muslims, Jains, Jews, Parsis, and Sikhs. 

In 1887 Badruddin Tyabji, a Muslim, was elected president of the 
Congress, and nine years later Rahmatullah Muhammad Sayani oc- 
cupied the same position. In 1888 the attendance at the Congress 
session was divided as follows: Hindus 965, Muslims 221, and 

59 Report and Proceedings of the Second Indian National Congress. 



others 62. 60 In that same year the Congress adopted a resolution 
which stated that any subject introduced for discussion would be 
dropped if the Muslim or the Hindu delegates objected as a body. 
There was no unwillingness to reassure the minority group. The 
Muslim community as a whole, however, remained aloof from the 
Congress, following the lead of Syed Ahmed Khan. And by 1905, 
the militant Hinduism of the Extremists had reduced the number of 
Muslim delegates to a handful. 

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed a 
mighty struggle for control of the Congress. The two factions, the 
Moderates and the Extremists, held radically different views as to 
the proper ends and means of the nationalist movement. The 
Moderates, represented by such men as M. G. Ranade and G. K. 
Gokhale, continued the liberal tradition. Convinced of the "blessings 
of British rule," they sought to promote the gradual political 
evolution of India along parliamentary lines and to press for social 
reforms which they deemed essential to the building of an en- 
lightened modern state. "Although they were not men devoid of 
religious faith," wrote Stephen Hay, "they accepted the divorce of 
religion from government and maintained a secular view of politics 
which contrasted markedly with the religious outlook of the Ex- 
tremists." 61 The Extremists, led by such men as Bal Gangadhar Tilak 
and Aurobindo Ghose, combined the western ideas of patriotism 
and nationalism with the religious symbolism of Hinduism. Reject- 
ing the slow methods of the moderates, who submitted cautiously 
worded petitions to the government, the Extremists urged a program 
of action, immediate and even violent if necessary. Nationalism, iden- 
tified with religion, became an absolute; India became the Mother, 
the goddess to whom fervent and undivided devotion must be given. 

In Maharashtra, Tilak promoted the celebration of two festivals 
which became the vehicles of nationalist expression. One, dedicated 
to the Hindu god Ganesh, was a ten-day festival which provided a 
good occasion for both anti-British propaganda and the building up 
of a sense of Hindu solidarity. 62 The Shivaji festival honoring the 

60 M. V. Krishna Rao, The Growth of Indian Liberalism in the Nineteenth 
Century, H. Venkataramiah and Sons, Mysore, 1951, p. 304. 

61 Sources of Indian Tradition, p. 662. The religio-political thought and pro- 
gram of the Extremists is discussed in Maganlal Amritlal Buch, Rise and Growth 
of Indian Militant Nationalism, Baroda, Atmaram Press, 1940. 

62 Victor Barnouw, "The Changing Character of a Hindu Festival," American 
Anthropologist, 1954, vol. 56, pp. 74-86. 


Maratha hero who had successfully fought against the Mughal 
empire, had a distinctly anti-Muslim tone. Swami Dayananda, 
mentioned above, had founded the Cow Protection Association in 
1882, and Tilak continued the anti-cow killing agitation. His schol- 
arly commentary on the Bhagavad Gita propounded the thesis that 
the Gita's call to action in this world included political as well as 
religious deeds. At both the popular and the more sophisticated 
levels, Tilak effectively invoked the spirit of a resurgent Hinduism 
to fight the nationalist cause, but at the inevitable cost of alienating 
the Muslims. 

After the mutiny, the Muslims had been considered the most 
dangerous opponents of British rule, but in the early twentieth 
century the government's policy began to favor them. The partition 
of Bengal in 1905 created a Muslim-majority area, widened the 
breach between the two communities, and gave further stimulus to 
Extremist activities. The religious symbols which Tilak used with 
such effectiveness in Maharashtra had no appeal in Bengal, but others 
of even greater potency were at hand. The land of Bengal, and by 
extension all of India, became identified with the female aspect of 
Hindu deity, and the result was a concept of divine Motherland. 
Bankim Chandra Chatter jee's poem Bande Ma far am ("Hail to the 
Mother") soon became the great Congress nationalist song through- 
out India. The country was the Mother, but not a defenseless female: 
"Thou art Durga (the Goddess Mother), Lady and Queen, with her 
hands that strike and her swords of sheen." 63 

Some of the most passionate statements of the Extremist creed 
came from the pen of Aurobindo Ghose. "Liberty is the fruit we 
seek from the sacrifice and the Motherland the goddess to whom we 
offer it," he wrote in 1907. "Into the seven leaping tongues of the 
fire of the yajna (ritual sacrifice) we must offer all that we are and all 
that we have, feeding the fire even with our blood and lives and 
happiness of our nearest and dearest; for the Motherland is a goddess 
who loves not a maimed and imperfect sacrifice, and freedom was 
never won from the gods by a grudging giver." 64 Aurobindo's re- 
ligious symbolism was much more than vivid imagery; he identified 
the country with its ancient faith so completely that patriotism and 
worship became indistinguishable. "Nationalism is not a mere 

"Sources of Indian Tradition, p. 711. 
64 Ibid., p. 727. 



political program; nationalism is a religion that has come from God." 

The cult of Durga or Kali, with its tantric ritual and animal sacri- 
fices, quickly became associated with revolutionary terrorism in 
Bengal. A pamphlet printed at a secret press called upon the sons of 
India to rise up, arm themselves with bombs, and invoke the Mother 
Kali. "What does the Mother want? A coconut? No! A fowl or a 
sheep or a buffalo? No! ... The Mother is thirsting after the blood 
of Feringhisl (foreigners) who have bled her profusely." 65 While 
most of the Congress leaders condemned the terrorism in Bengal, 
Tilak gave veiled approval by his silence. 

Bepin Chandra Pal, another Extremist leader, wrote in The Soul 
of India that the traditional gods and goddesses who had lost their 
hold upon the modern Hindu mind were now being reinstated with 
a new nationalist interpretation. Hundreds of thousands of people 
had now begun to hail their motherland as Durga or Kali. "These 
are no longer mere mythological conceptions or legendary persons 
or even poetic symbols. They are different manifestations of the 
Mother. This Mother is the spirit of India. This geographical habitat 
of ours is only the outer body of the Mother. . . . Behind this physical 
and geographical body, there is a Being, a Personality the Per- 
sonality of the Mother." 

Failing to win control of the Congress in 1907, the Extremists split 
off from that body, and for various reasons their influence waned 
during the next decade. 66 Despite the intensity of the Extremists' 
efforts and the fervent religious appeal of their message, the main 
body of Indian nationalism preferred the slower path of progress 
through constitutional reforms. However, the Extremists made it 
doubly difficult for the Congress to attract the already suspicious 
Muslim minority, and the founding of the Muslim League (1906) 
coincided with the peak of Extremist influence. 

In 1920 the Congress came under the control of Mohandas K. 
Gandhi, whose nationalism had deep roots in religious faith. In his 
autobiography Gandhi asserted that "those who say that religion has 
nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means." There 
can be no doubt that much of Gandhi's power as a political leader 
was based upon the Hindu reverence for a saint, for the ascetic who 

05 Quoted in Percival Griffiths, The British Impact on India, Macdonald and Com- 
pany, London, 1952, p. 296. 

66 They were reunited with the Congress in 1916. 



renounces personal comfort in order to attain a higher end. Further- 
more, Gandhi used religious terminology to explain the objectives 
of the nationalist movement. In the future, India would become 
} Ram_rajya y the kingdom of Rama, a golden age of peace and 

Gandhi's religious faith, however, was utterly different from that 
of the Extremists. He declared that his Hinduism included all that 
he knew to be best in Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Zoro- 
astrianism. Gandhi strove unceasingly for Hindu-Muslim unity, con- 
vinced that ultimately both religions were true and valid. 67 His 
deepest conviction was that God, Truth and Ahimsa (non-violence) 
were all one and the same, Satyagraha (truth-force, non-violent re- 
sistance) was thus based on Gandhi's personal religious faith, but as 
a political device it was employed by many thousands who did not 
share that faith. Gandhi's leadership of the Indian National Congress 
gave it a somewhat Hinduized appearance, but his constant emphasis 
on the religious, social, and political unity of the various communities 
helped to lay the foundation of the secular state. 

There were other elements in the Congress which strengthened 
the non-communal approach during this period. Lawyers steeped in 
the principles of the British constitution had little in common with 
the representatives of Hindu revivalism; they continued the 
nineteenth-century liberal tradition through the entire inde- 
pendence movement. Muslim leaders of the Congress, especially 
Abul Kalam Azad, and members of other minorities by their very 
presence helped to maintain the non-communal nationalism of the 
movement. Men such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas C. Bose 
subscribed to a secularist view of life and helped to produce a growing 
temper of mind which relegated religious matters entirely to the 
individual's conscience. The growth within the Congress of a socialist 
organization added the teachings of Marx and Laski to the other 
forces promoting secular nationalism. 

In 1931 the Congress session at Karachi adopted a resolution on 
the fundamental rights which were to be incorporated in the future 
constitution of India. Along with the statements concerning religious 
liberty and the protection of the rights of minorities, we find this 
explicit commitment: "The state shall observe neutrality in regard 

67 See M. K. Gandhi, Communal Unity, Navajivan, Ahmedabad, 1949. 



to all religions." 68 The seculajrism of the Constitution of 1950 wasi 
thus the fulfillment of a pledge made by the Indian National Con-/ 
gress nearly two decades before. 

Paradoxically, the Muslim League also contributed to the secular- 
ism of the Indian National Congress. In the late 1930*5 and early 
1940'$, M. A. Jinnah repeatedly claimed that the League represented 
all the Muslims of India and furthermore insisted that the Congress 
publicly acknowledge itself as a purely Hindu organization. This 
challenge made it imperative that the Congress emphasize all the 
more its non-communal character. The League's demand for Pakis- 
tan in 1940 reinforced Congressmen's thinking about the nature of 
the independent Indian state of the future. If the proposal for 
the partition of India and the creation of a Muslim state was unsound, 
what was the Congress' alternative plan ? The alternative could only 
be in terms approximating the secular state a united India in which 
government would be kept separate from religion, and in which all 
citizens would have equal rights. 

Anyone who is convinced that the basic idea of the secular state 
represents the only sound democratic solution to the problem of re- 
ligious diversity must regard the partition of India as unfortunate, 
even tragic. British policy was undoubtedly partly responsible, and 
Indian writers frequently point to the initial decision to introduce 
separate electorates. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan saw a very clear cause-and- 
eflfect relationship: "Separate electorates intensified communal con- 
sciousness and created such an atmosphere of mistrust and hostility 
as to arouse the demand for Pakistan." 69 

British writers, on the other hand, tend to find that Congress in- 
flexibility was the chief cause. Sir Percival Griffiths asserted that 
"it is undoubtedly true that the real creators of the demand for 
Pakistan were the Congress High Command. If they had been 
prepared to abate their claims to be the sole spokesmen for India 
and had tried to allay Muslim fears even slightly, Pakistan might 
never have come to birth." 70 While agreeing in part with Griffiths' 
statement, Pakistani writers interpret the founding of their country 
as a great positive achievement, the credit for which must go to 

68 See appendix in Jawaharlal Nehru, The Unity Of India, John Day Company, 
New York, 1948, p. 406. 

69 S. Radhakrishnan, Religion and Society, George Allen and Unwin Ltd., London, 
1948, p. 242. 

70 Percival Griffiths, op. cit., p. 342. 



M. A. Jinnah and the Muslim League. We shall leave the precise 
evaluation of the innumerable factors which operated in this complex 
situation to the clearer perspective of future historians. 

Religious policies of the princely states 

Our discussion of the British period has thus far dealt exclusively 
with British India, that is, the territory governed directly by the 
foreign power. One-third of the country, however, never came under 
direct British rule; these 562 Indian states continued to be governed 
by rajas, maharajas, and nizams, in some cases with a minimum of 
British interference. Since the Indian states constituted such a sizable 
segment of the country, a word must be said about their religious 

Most of the states were ruled by Hindu dynasties, and in general 
they carried on the traditions of the ancient and medieval Hindu 
state. The raja was advised by his pur o hit a or court chaplain, usually 
a Brahman, and the chief official functions were performed with 
elaborate religious ritual. Around the middle of the eighteenth cen- 
tury the maharaja of Travancore officially dedicated his kingdom to 
the god Padmanabhaswamy. The maharaja ruled the state as the 
deputy or agent of the god, assuming the title of Sri Padmanabha 
Dasa (servant of Lord Padmanabha). 71 The Hindu princes gave 
large grants and endowments to temples and maths and sometimes 
to mosques as well. In many cases the temples of the state were di- 
rectly administered by the government. 

In the Hindu state of Mysore, the detailed supervision of religious 
and charitable institutions was one of the regular administrative 
duties of government officers at the district and taluq (subdivision of 
a district) levels. These officials had power to inspect and control all 
religious institutions in their jurisdiction, settle questions of heredi- 
tary succession of temple priests, manage the personnel of religious 
institutions (appoint, fine, suspend, dismiss, transfer, and grant 
leave to hereditary servants), fix the scale of expenditures for each 
institution, sanction additional expenditures up to certain amounts, 
maintain a register of temple jewels and inspect them periodi- 
cally, etc. The minuteness of detail in which official supervision 
of temples was exercised is illustrated by a Mysore government 

71 V. Nagam Aiya, The Travancore State Manual, Travancore Government Press, 
Trivandrum, 1906, vol. 2, p. 377. 



order in 1922 which requested the chief administrative officers 
of the districts, whenever locks were required for the use of 
religious institutions, to send indents for them to the Muzrai super- 
intendent. This official would then arrange to send as many as were 
required from his stock of locks of an approved pattern, with their 
serial number engraved thereon. 72 

In Mysore, the Hindu and Muslim institutions which received 
grants from and were managed by the government were known as 
Muzrai institutions and were so closely linked with the government 
as to raise the question whether they had a separate legal identity. 
A government order in 1906 sought to clarify this point. "The Muzrai 
institutions are legal persons capable of holding property and are 
distinct from government. The mere fact that some land or money 
grants have been made by government towards the object of the in- 
stitutions or that the institutions themselves and their properties are 
in the management of government, cannot make any difference in 
their character as legal persons enjoying an existence separate from 
government. In the management of these institutions, therefore, the 
government should be considered to be acting as agents or trustees." 73 
The close identification of government with the religious institu- 
tions gave rise to various questions. Some years before, the deputy 
accountant-general had found it necessary to issue a formal opinion 
explaining that persons serving in Muzrai institutions were not 
eligible to receive the pensions paid to government servants. 

Almost invariably the construction of new places of worship was 
made possible by building grants sanctioned by the government. 
Grants of agricultural land enabled the temple or mosque to have 
a source of steady income, and in addition there were many cash 
grants sanctioned by the government in perpetuity. In 1856-1857 
the government of Mysore disbursed over 376,000 rupees for the sup- 
port of religious institutions, 212,000 in money and 164,000 in land. 
Because the Hindu population and number of religious institutions 
was much greater than that of the Muslims, and also no doubt 
because Mysore was a Hindu state, over 365,000 rupees went to 
temples and maths and only 11,000 to mosques and Muslim tombs. 74 

It would be quite inaccurate to say that government control ex- 

72 The Mysore Muzrai Manual, Superintendent, Government Press, Bangalore, 

1934, PP- 399-400. 

73 Ibid., p. 398. 74 //W., p. 6. 



tended only to the financial and administrative work of the institu- 
tions. Government officers were frequently called upon to settle 
religious controversies which threatened the peaceful conduct of 
worship. In 1919 the Mysore Muzrai superintendent examined the 
question whether a temple priest of a particular non-Brahman caste 
should be permitted to wear the sacred thread. Finding that "there 
is no express Shastric prohibition against wearing such threads 
though they may not be consecrated Y agnopavitams according to 
Vedic ritual," the superintendent ordered the practice to be permitted. 
Other government orders dealt with: the presenting to a Brahman of 
the prasadam (a sweet liquid drunk by the worshipper) in plates 
when the temple priest was a non-Brahman, the proper caste or sect 
marks to be placed on the foreheads of temple images, and the 
placing of an image of Ramanuja along with that of the principal 
temple deity in a car festival. 75 

In 1949 ^e rulers of Travancore and Cochin entered into a cove- 
nant for the merger of the two states. The covenant, made with the 
concurrence and guarantee of the government of India, also dealt in 
detail with the future management of the temples then under the 
control of the respective maharajas. While the general arrangement 
was that such management would vest in boards, there was an in- 
teresting proviso that "the regulation and control of all rituals and 
ceremonies in the temple of Sri Poornathrayeesa . . . shall continue to 
be exercised as hitherto by the Ruler of Cochin." 76 Similar arrange- 
ments for the patronage and supervision of religious institutions ex- 
isted in the states ruled by Muslim dynasties. In Hyderabad, a full- 
fledged Ecclesiastical Department supervised religious and charitable 
endowments and made grants of money to religious institutions. 
It was not until 1950 that the decision was made to abolish this de- 
partment. 77 

The special rights and privileges of the Brahmans were con- 
siderable in some of the Indian states. More closely analogous to the 
prerogatives of the clergy in certain periods of European history, how- 
ever, were the considerations shown the heads of maths (Hindu 
monastic institutions) by some of the maharajas. In Mysore, for ex- 
ample, a number of these swamis were exempted from personal ap- 

76 Ibid., pp. 336-340, 393-395- 

76 White Paper on Indian States, Government of India Press, Delhi, 1950, p. 288. 

77 Times of India, September 9, 1950. 



pearance in the civil courts of the state and from the payment of 
tolls when their carriages passed through state toll-gates. 78 The head 
of an important math received the "first day's bhiksha" from the 
government on the occasion of his visit to Bangalore. This was a 
sum of money, usually 50 or 70 rupees, granted as a token of hospi- 
tality and reverence to those of high spiritual status. However, the 
government of the maharaja of Mysore was careful to nip in the bud 
any pretensions to independent power. In 1892 a government order 
noted that in a few cases the established custom of obtaining the 
maharaja's previous consent to the nomination of successors to the 
headship of maths had been ignored. The order went on to state in 
no uncertain terms that every such nomination for succession should 
be submitted for the approval of the maharaja, and "non-recognition 
of a successor by His Highness will involve the resumption of all 
state grants in land or money." A government order passed in 1930 
gave strict instructions to all subordinate officers neither to use nor 
recognize the title of "Diwan" (prime minister) assumed by the 
chief agents of some of the most influential heads of maths. 19 

In many of the Hindu states the government exercised final au- 
thority over caste matters, including the penalty of excommunication, 
until well into the twentieth century. Following the ancient law of 
Manu, punishment for crime varied with the caste of the offender 
long after equality before the law had been firmly established in 
British India. Untouchability was legally enforced in a number of 
the states, especially in Rajasthan, right up to the day of indepen- 
dence. 80 On the other hand, some of the states were ruled by 
enlightened rajas who took the lead in various measures of religious 
and social reform. In 1936 the maharaja of Travancore issued a proc- 
lamation which secured for untouchables the right of entry into 
Hindu temples throughout the state. In 1907 the Mysore government 
upheld an order of excommunication passed by the head of a Jain 
math, which among other things disqualified the individual from 
entering the public Jain temples. The government order stated: "It 
is an order (of excommunication) passed purely in the exercise of 
the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Swami and government cannot 
interfere therewith." In other cases, however, the government did 

78 The Mysore Muzrai Manual, pp. 501-502, 509. 

79 Ibid., pp. 497-498, 5<>9- 

80 See chapter n, "Caste and the Secular State." 



not hesitate to overrule the excommunication orders of ecclesiastical 
authorities, asserting that the question of admission to public temples 
had to be decided on "principles more catholic" than those recog- 
nized by certain religious leaders. 81 

Some of the princely states enforced the ancient Hindu law by 
which one who renounced his ancestral faith was deprived of the 
right to inherit property and of his rights over his infant children. 
Such disabilities were removed throughout British India in 1850, but 
continued in some of the Indian states through the early decades of 
this century. 82 This was true even in the progressive states of Travan- 
core and Mysore. In 1894 the Chief Court of Mysore in the case of 
Dasappa v. ChiJ(kamma held that a convert to Christianity, in con- 
sequence of his change of faith was ipso facto deprived of the right 
of guardianship over his children. The judgment stated: "It does not 
seem necessary to quote from Smritis and Digests of Hindu law to 
prove that an apostate from Hindu religion who is expelled from 
caste loses his civil rights." Various measures to remove these dis- 
abilities were rejected by the state legislature, and it was not until 
1938 that the Caste Disabilities and Religious Change Act came into 

In some of the small kingdoms the rajas ruled in the most auto- 
cratic fashion, and freedom of religion suffered along with other 
liberties. In a number of states religious conversion was made prac- 
tically impossible. Just two years before independence the Surguja 
Apostasy Act was promulgated. This measure provided that con- 
versions from "the Hindu religion" to "an alien faith" could not 
take place without the sanction of the government authorities. 83 

The religious policies of the Indian states were a part of the 
heritage which India received with her independence in 1947. With 
few exceptions these policies were not nearly as conducive to the 
realization of a secular democracy as those evolved in British India. 

The legacy of history 

In concluding this chapter it will be useful to summarize briefly the 
aspects of Indian history which provide the foundation for the 

81 The Mysore Muzrai Manual, pp. 505-506. 

82 William Lee-Warner, The Native States of India, Macmillan and Company, 
London, 1910, pp. 200, 307-308. 

88 See chapter 6, "The Propagation of Religion." 


modern secular state. First, the long tradition of Hindu religious 
tolerance enabled the most diverse creeds to coexist peacefully. 
Freedom of religion, a basic component of the secular state, has 
strong roots in India's past. The embryo of a common secular citi- 
zenship (another basic component) can be seen in the practice of 
both Hindu and Muslim rulers in appointing high officials of state 
from the other community. 

Secondly, the British policy of religious neutrality provided the 
direct antecedent of the secular state in India. This policy was re- 
inforced by an equalitarian legal structure, a secular educational sys- 
tem, and the traditions of a modern administrative state. Thirdly, 
the Indian National Congress from its inception defined its aims in 
terms of secular political objectives, and, with the exception of a 
short period of Extremist dominance, generally remained faithful 
to the ideal of non-communal nationalism. In addition to this ques- 
tion of principle, the presence in India of large religious minorities 
made it politically inexpedient for the Congress to permit a closer 
association of Hindu religion (with its undeniable mass appeal) and 
Indian nationalism. 

While these three points go far in explaining the secular constitu- 
tion of India, it should be noted that other aspects of Indian history 
militate against the ideal. The Hindu state in both ancient and 
modern times enforced caste inequality by law, promoted Hindu 
religion as its first duty, and generally maintained a close institutional 
connection with religion. Despite the principle of religious neutrality, 
the British government gave substantial aid to Christian mission- 
aries during certain periods, established the Church of England as 
its official religion, and by separate electorates hindered the evolution 
of a common Indian citizenship. Despite its secular ideals, the Indian 
National Congress must be held partly responsible for the alienation 
of the Muslims which led to the demand for partition. 

On balance, however, the positive factors outweigh the negative 
ones. It is clear that the emergence of India as a secular state in the 
mid-twentieth century did not represent an abrupt break with the 
past, as in the case of Turkey in 1928. It was rather the result of 
attitudes, policies, and forces which had taken shape over hundreds 
of years, thousands of years if one considers the tradition of Hindu 
religious tolerance. 



DR. B. R. AMBEDKAR, chairman of the drafting committee, ob- 
served in the Constituent Assembly that it would be impossible to 
frame an absolutely new or original constitution at this point in 
history. The only innovations possible in a constitution framed so 
late in the day, he declared, would be the variations needed to adapt 
it to the peculiar conditions prevailing in India. The Government of 
India Act of 1935 provided a large part of the basic framework, 
but important principles were borrowed from the constitutional sys- 
tems of Great Britain, the United States, Canada, Eire, and Australia. 
Part III of the Indian Constitution deals with fundamental rights, 
and here the framers drew heavily upon the principles of the United 
States Constitution, including the historic statement of religious 
liberty and church-state separation contained in the first amendment. 
The influence of the American constitutional system has been ex- 
tensive not only in the formulation of fundamental rights but in their 
interpretation by the courts. The first chief justice of the Supreme 
Court of India in his inaugural address in 1950 attached great im- 
portance to the example of the United States Supreme Court, pre- 
dicting that "the jurisprudence of that country and the principles of 
law laid down by that Court will be perhaps more relied upon for 
our decisions." This has indeed proved to be the case, and Indian 
judges have frequently been guided by American court decisions in 
dealing with questions of the individual, religion, and the state. 1 

1 "Indian judges interpreting the provisions of their own Constitution often look 
to the decisions of the American Supreme Court which invariably provide guidance 
in deciding matters of religious freedom." C. H. Alexandrowicz, "The Secular 
State in India and in the United States," Journal of the Indian Law Institute, 1960, 
vol. 2, p. 273. Professor Alexandrowicz accepted the basic constitutional principles 
of the United States as the criteria for evaluating the claim that India is a secular 
state. A similar position was taken in another constitutional study, by Dr. Ved 
Prakash Luthera. See "The Concept of the Secular State and India," unpublished 
Ph.D. dissertation,RJniversity of Delhi, 1958. For the exact wording of the constitu- 
tional provisions regarding the secular state, see the Appendix to this chapter, p. 135. 



A reading of a few of the leading cases, or even a glance at the ex- 
position of articles 25-28 of the Indian Constitution in any com- 
mentary, is sufficient to indicate that the influence of United States 
constitutional law has been substantial. 

In discussing the historical foundations of the Indian secular state, 
attention was naturally focused on the political history of India, 
especially the British period. In a very real sense, however, the cen- 
tury and a half of experience under the United States Constitution, 
including hundreds of judicial decisions on freedom of religion and 
church-state separation, form a vital part of the historical back- 
ground of Indian secularism. American constitutional law had little 
relevance to India before 1947, but was deliberately appropriated as 
the framers of the Constitution and later the courts found in it 
'certain valid answers to some of India's problems. Parts of the Amer- 
ican constitutional tradition were grafted on to the British Indian 
stock and are now bearing fruit. 

This chapter will examine the basic constitutional provisions which 
give shape to the concept of the secular state, and their interpretation 
by the Indian High Courts and Supreme Court. The term "secular 
state," it should be noted, does not appear in the Constitution itself. 
The late Professor K. T. Shah, a member of the Constituent Assem- 
bly, attempted on two occasions to secure the inclusion of the word 
"secular" in the fundamental law, but without success. His second 
attempt took the form of a proposed new article which read in part: 
"The state in India being secular shall have no concern with any 
religion, creed or profession of faith." 2 Shah argued that in view of 
the tragic results of communalism in India, it would be well to em- 
phasize the secularity of the state in the most explicit terms. His 
amendment did not receive the support of the law minister, however, 
and was rejected by the Assembly. The inclusion of such an article 
in the Constitution, however laudable the intention behind it, would 
certainly have produced a conflict with article 25 which, as we shall 
see, permits extensive state intervention in matters connected with 
religion in the interest of social reform. 

As was pointed out in chapter i, it is helpful to think of the secular 
state as an interconnected set of relationships involving the individual, 
religion, and the state. We shall now examine the indian Constitu- 

2 Constituent Assembly Debates, vol. 7, p. 815. 



tion in terms of the three components of this conception freedom 
of religion, citizenship, and separation of state and religion. 


The Indian Constitution provides for the religious liberty of both 
the individual and associations of individuals united by common 
beliefs, practices, and discipline. The individual and collective aspects 
of religious liberty shall be discussed in this order. 

Individual freedom of religion 

The basic guarantee of this right is found in article 25(1) : 

Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other 
provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom 
of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propa- 
gate religion. 

In discussions of the origin of this article, attention is frequently 
drawn to its similarity to the following provision of the 1937 Consti- 
tution of Eire: "Freedom of conscience and the free profession and 
practice of religion are, subject to public order and morality, guar- 
anteed to every citizen." 3 There were, however, other sources nearer 
at hand. The language of the Indian Constitution is very similar to 
that of the resolution on fundamental rights adopted at the Karachi 
Congress in 1931. "Every citizen shall enjoy freedom of conscience 
and the right freely to profess and practice his religion, subject to 
public order and morality." 4 

The original draft of the article presented to the Constituent 
Assembly was even closer to the wording of the Karachi resolution 
than the final form, for it contained no mention of the right to 
propagate religion. Some members of the Assembly asserted that 
the right to propagate was contained in the right to practice religion, 
and that it was therefore unnecessary to specify it. Other members, 
however, were clearly motivated by the Hindu objection to the 
kind of propagation which leads to conversions from one religion to 
another. In this connection it is interesting to note the relevant 
provision (article 5) in the 1959 Constitution of the Kingdom of 

3 Article 44(2). 

4 Sadiq Ali, ed., Congress and the Problem of Minorities, Law Journal Press, 
Allahabad, 1947, pp. 119, 129. 



Nepal. In this Hindu kingdom (the monarch must be an "adherent 
of Aryan Culture and Hindu Religion"), freedom of religion is 
guaranteed as follows: "Every citizen, subject to the current tradi- 
tions, shall practice and profess his own religion as handed down 
from ancient times. Provided that no person shall be entitled to 
convert another person to his religion." In the Constituent Assembly 
of India, however, the demand of the small Christian minority for 
an explicit recognition of the right to propagate religion was agreed 

to. 5 

The freedom of religion guaranteed by the Indian Constitution 
is not confined to citizens but extends to "all persons," including 
aliens. This point, underlined by the Supreme Court in Ratilal 
Pane hand v. State of Bombay, is of special interest because of the 
substantial number of foreign Christian missionaries in India, some 
of whom are exclusively engaged in propagating their faith among 
the adherents of other religions. 6 

The Constitution thus declares that every person has a fundamental 
right not only to hold whatever religious beliefs commend them- 
selves to his judgment (freedom of conscience) but also to manifest 
his beliefs in such overt acts as are prescribed by his religion and to 
propagate its tenets among others (right to profess, practice, and 
propagate religion). The exercise of this right, however, is "subject 
to public order, morality and health." Here the Constitution suc- 
cinctly expresses the limitations on religious liberty which have been 
evolved by judicial pronouncements in the United States and Austra- 
lia. In a long series of cases the courts of the United States have held 
that: polygamy may be prohibited by legislation although it is 
sanctioned by a religious body, a person claiming supernatural heal- 
ing powers many not use the postal services in order to procure 
money, religious propaganda on the streets is subject to regulation, 
etc. Strictly speaking, the language of the Indian Constitution makes 
freedom of conscience as well as the right freely to profess, practice, 
and propagate religion subject to state control in the interest of 
public order, morality, and health. This, however, is simply a case 
of inaccurate drafting, and the courts have made it clear that the 

5 This development is discussed in some detail in chapter 6, "The Propagation of 

6 1954 Supreme Court Appeals, p. 546. See chapter 7, "The Question of Foreign 



state can have no power over the conscience of the individual this 
right is absolute. 

The necessity of the state's power to preserve public order was 
pointedly enunciated when the United States Supreme Court asked: 
"Suppose that one believed that human sacrifices were a necessary 
part of religious worship, would it be seriously contended that the 
civil government under which he lived could not interfere to prevent 
a sacrifice?" 7 The Indian Penal Code (sections 295-298) makes it a 
crime to injure or defile a place of worship or to disturb a religious 
assembly, etc., even though these actions might be sanctioned by the 
offender's own religion. Practices like sati, or devadasi dedication 
which frequently led to temple prostitution, may have some basis in 
Hindu religion, but the state still has constitutional power to ban 

The right to freedom of religion is subject not only to public order, 
morality, and health but to the other provisions of Part III. There- 
fore, the practice of untouchability (forbidden in article 17) could not 
be protected under article 25. Land can be compulsorily acquired by 
the state with compensation under article 31, despite the fact that 
it is part of a religious endowment. 

The Indian courts have sketched out other areas in which freedom 
of religion is not absolute. It was held that article 25(1) did not give 
a Hindu student the right to perform the ceremonies of his religion 
in the compound of a Christian college. 8 In another case the Supreme 
Court held that an optional religious practice need not be protected 
by-the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. Thus, a Mus- 
lim accustomed to sacrifice a cow at Bafy-Id would be compelled to 
obey a law prohibiting cow slaughter, for Islam recognizes as equally 
valid the sacrifice of a goat. 9 

Who defines religion? 

It is obvious that the definition of "religion" becomes the crucial 
point in the application of article 25(1) to particular cases. And 
who is to give the authoritative definition the individual, the re- 
ligious body, or the state ? The United States Supreme Court found 

7 Reynolds v. United States, 1878, 98 U.S., p. 145. 

8 Sanjib Kumar v. St. Paul's College, All India Reporter 1957 Calcutta, p. 524. 

9 M. H. Quareshi v. State of Bihar, A. I. R. 1958 Supreme Court, p. 731. A detailed 
discussion of this case is found in chapter 15, 'The Challenge of Hindu Communal- 



it difficult to decide in an interesting case involving a compulsory 
salute to the American flag by school children. Children whose 
parents belonged to the religious group called Jehovah's Witnesses 
disobeyed the state law, refusing to salute the flag on the ground 
that, according to their religion, this act constituted idolatry, which 
was a sin. In a case in 1940 the court upheld the requirement of the 
flag salute; in effect it said that the state will determine what is 
religion, and that the state had rightly decided that the compulsory 
flag salute did not violate religious liberty. Three years later the 
court reversed itself and struck down the legislation requiring the 
flag salute. The court now said that if a religious body and the in- 
dividual adherent seriously regarded this particular requirement as 
a violation of religious liberty, the state would respect such conscien- 
tious objections. 10 . 

It would obviously be impossible to accept the approach embodied 
in the latter decision in India, unless one were prepared to abandon 
all plans of social progress and modernization. As Dr. B. R. 
Ambedkar remarked concerning the relationship of personal law 
(Hindu, Muslim, Parsi, etc.) to religion: "The religious conceptions 
in this country are so vast that they cover every aspect of life from 
birth to death. There is nothing which is not religion and if personal 
law is to be saved I am sure about it that in social matters we will 
come to a standstill. . . . There is nothing extraordinary in saying 
that we ought to strive hereafter to limit the definition of religion 
in such a manner that we shall not extend it beyond beliefs and such 
rituals as may be connected with ceremonials which are essentially 
religious. It is not necessary that the sort of laws, for instance, laws 
relating to tenancy or laws relating to succession, should be governed 
by religion ... I personally do not understand why religion should 
be given this vast expansive jurisdiction so as to cover the whole of 
life and to prevent the legislature from encroaching upon that 
field/' 11 

The Bombay High Court has in several decisions given a very nar- 
row interpretation of religion and the freedom of religion guaranteed 
by article 25(1). In Ratilal v. State of Bombay, the definition of re- 
ligion did not even include the rituals and ceremonials referred to 

- 10 Minersville School District v. Gobitis, 1940, 310 U.S. p. 586, and West Virginia 
State Board of Education v. Barnette, 1943, 319 U.S. p. 624. 
11 Constituent Assembly Debates, vol. 7, p. 781. 



by Dr. Ambedkar, but was restricted to ethical and moral precepts. 
"Therefore, whatever binds a man to his own conscience and what- 
ever moral and ethical principles regulate the lives of men, that alone 
can constitute religion as understood in the Constitution. A religion 
may have many secular activities, it may have secular aspects, but 
these secular activities and aspects do not constitute religion as un- 
derstood by the Constitution." 12 Similarly, in another case religion 
was interpreted solely in terms of faith and belief, and the authority 
of a religious body in relation to its members was held to have 
nothing to do with religion. 13 

The Supreme Court, however, has been unwilling to accept this 
extraordinarily narrow definition of religion. While unable to go 
as far as the United States Supreme Court in granting recognition to 
what are claimed to be religious beliefs and practices, there is none- 
theless a vast difference between its interpretation and that cited in 
the previous paragraph. "A religion may not only lay down a code 
of ethical rules for its followers to accept, it might prescribe rituals 
and observances, ceremonies and modes of worship which are re- 
garded as integral parts of religion, and these forms and observances 
might extend even to matters of food and dress." (This interpreta- 
tion, incidentally, is strengthened by the rather curious Explanation i 
to article 25, which states that the wearing and carrying of fyrpans 
shall be included in the profession of the Sikh religion. The tyrpan 
is a sword, one of the five emblems which an orthodox Sikh must 
wear.) In this same Supreme Court judgment, the definition of re- 
ligion was broadened to include still more. "What constitutes the 
essential part of a religion is primarily to be ascertained with reference 
to the doctrines of that religion itself. If the tenets of any religious sect 
of the Hindus prescribe that offerings of food should be given to 
the idol at particular hours of the day, that periodical ceremonies 
should be performed in a certain way at certain periods of the year 
or that there should be daily recital of sacred texts or oblations to 
the sacred fire, all these would be regarded as parts of religion and 
the mere fact that they involve expenditure of money, or employ- 
ment of priests and servants or the use of marketable commodities 

12 A.I.R. 1953 Bombay, p. 242. 

18 Taker Saijuddin v. Tyebbhai Moosaji, A.I.R. 1953 Bombay, p. 183. 



would not make them secular activities partaking of a commercial 
or economic character." 14 

The Supreme Court's statement that "what constitutes the essential 
part of a religion is primarily to be ascertained with reference to the 
doctrines of that religion itself" should not be taken too seriously, 
however. Much textual and historical evidence could be adduced to 
show that the caste system constitutes an essential part of Hinduism. 
But caste practices will certainly not be protected by the Constitution; 
as a matter of fact they are indirectly and directly attacked by the 
Constitution itself. Article 25(2) grants to the state broad, sweeping 
powers of interference in religious matters. 

Limitations imposed by Indian conditions 

The restrictions on freedom of religion based on considerations 
of public order, morality, and health are obvious ones and have many 
parallels in the constitutional law of the West. Article 25(2), how- 
ever, imposes . drastic limitations on the rights just guaranteed in 
25(1) and reflects the peculiar needs of Indian society. 

Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing 
law or prevent the state from making any law 

(a) regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political 
or other secular activity which may be associated with re- 
ligious practice; 

(b) providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing 
open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to 
all classes and sections of Hindus. 

Laws providing for the very extensive supervision by the state of 
temple administration (Hindu religious endowment acts) have been 
enacted by virtue of this provision. These are considered briefly in 
the discussion of the next article, and in considerable detail in chapter 
9, 'The Reform of Hindu Temples." 

The extensive modification of Hindu personal law (marriage, di- 
vorce, adoption, succession, etc.) has been effected by legislation 
based on the provision which permits measures of social welfare and 
reform. 15 In an interesting case the validity of the Bombay Prevention 

14 Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments v. La^shmindra, 1954 Supreme 
Court Appeals, pp. 431-432. 

15 See chapter 10, "Religion, Law, and Secularism." 



of Hindu Bigamous Marriages Act of 1946 was upheld by the 
Bombay High Court. Chief Justice Chagla (a Muslim, later ap- 
pointed as the Indian ambassador to the United States) delivered the 
judgment of the court and of necessity dealt with the religious ques- 
tion raised by the case. "It is only with very considerable hesitation 
that I would like to speak about Hindu religion, but it is rather dif- 
ficult to accept the proposition that polygamy is an integral part of 
Hindu religion. It is perfectly true that Hindu religion recognizes 
the necessity of a son for religious efficacy and spiritual salvation. 
That same religion also recognizes the institution of adoption. 
Therefore, the Hindu religion provides for the continuation of the 
line of a Hindu male within the framework of monogamy." The 
learned judge went on to argue that, even assuming that polygamy 
is a recognized institution according to Hindu religious practice, the 
right of the state to enact this legislation could not be disputed. The 
enforcement of monogamy among Hindus is a measure of social 
reform which the state is empowered to legislate by article 25 (2) (b) 
"notwithstanding the fact that it may interfere with the right of a 
citizen freely to profess, practice and propagate religion." 16 

The same constitutional provision permits legislation opening 
Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and 
sections of India. Harijan temple entry laws have been enacted by 
many of the state legislatures. The central Untouchability (Offenses) 
Act of 1955 provides inter alia that any attempt to prevent Harijans 
from exercising their right of temple entry is punishable with im- 
prisonment, fine or both. 17 

Article 25(2) thus authorizes the state to regulate any secular 
activity associated with religion, to legislate social reforms, and to 
force open the doors of Hindu temples to Harijans. C. H. Alexandro- 
wicz wrote: "The above clause constitutes in itself a revolution in 
the traditional conception of religion in India." The revolution is that 
the state is engaged in "an extensive program of disentanglement of 
religious and secular activities." 18 This is indeed one aspect of the 
revolution, best illustrated by the standardization of Hindu personal 
law as one big step toward a uniform civil code. A secular civil law 

16 State of Bombay v. Narasu Appa, A.I.R. 1952 Bombay, p. 84. 

17 See chapter 9, "The Reform of Hindu Temples." 

18 Alexandrowicz, op. cit., pp. 284-285. 



equally applicable to all Indian citizens will be a notable achievement 
in this process of disentanglement by the secular state. 

Another aspect of the revolution envisaged by this clause, however, 
is the assumption by the state of vast powers of control over the 
financial administration of Hindu religious institutions. In many 
respects this development moves in the opposite direction from the 
process of disentanglement of the religious and the secular. This 
development is revolutionary in that it constitutes a marked de- 
parture from the policies of the last seventy-five years of British rule. 
But essentially it represents a return to the pattern of extensive state 
control of religious institutions found in the ancient and medieval 
Hindu states and continued by some of the Indian states (Mysore, 
Travancore, and others) right up to 1947 and after. 

Individual freedom of religion, basically guaranteed in article 25, 
is further strengthened by article 27, which declares that no person 
shall be compelled to pay taxes for the support of any particular 
religion. The interpretation of this provision is considered in another 
section of the chapter. The protection of the individual's freedom of 
conscience is also the object of article 28(3)^ which forbids com- 
pulsory religious instruction or worship in educational institutions 
recognized or aided by the state, -y 

Collective freedom of religion 

Religious denominations as well as individuals have certain im- 
portant rights; collective freedom of religion is spelled out in 
article 26. 

Subject to public order, morality and health, every religious 
denomination or any section thereof shall have the right 

(a) to establish and maintain institutions for religious and 
charitable purposes; 

(b) to manage its own affairs in matters of religion; 

(c) to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and 

(d) to administer such property in accordance with law. 

In the West, it is possible to speak of collective freedom of religion 
with greater precision than in India. The Christian churches are 
generally well organized, each with its own creedal statements, 
hierarchy of clergy, canon law or constitution, organs of church 



government, etc. To a large extent, the conception of separation 
of church apd state presupposes this kind of ecclesiastical organiza- 
tion which is fully capable of internal autonomy. Hinduism and 
Islam do not fit into this pattern. 19 Although western analogies can- 
not be discarded if India is to continue to progress toward the ideal 
of the secular state, at the same time their limitations must be noted. 

The conflict between the internal autonomy of a religious denom- 
ination and the role of the state in social reform was most dramat- 
ically manifested in the case of Taker Saijuddin v. Tyebbhai 
Moosaji. 2Q The Bombay Prevention of Excommunication Act of 1949 
prohibits the expulsion of a person from any community of which 
he is a member thus depriving him of his rights and privileges. The 
rights and privileges referred to are those which are legally enforceable 
by a civil suit and include the right to office or property or to worship 
in any religious place, and the right of burial or cremation. The 
head priest of the Dawoodi Bohra community passed two orders 
of excommunication against a member of the community which were 
later declared to be void, illegal, and of no effect by virtue of the 
Prevention of Excommunication Act. The Bombay High Court in 
this case upheld the constitutionality of the act which, according to 
the head priest, deprived his religious denomination of the right 
"to manage its own affairs in matters of religion." 

The court reiterated its narrow definition of religion: religion is 
a matter of a man's faith and belief, and is to be sharply distinguished 
from religious practice. "Further, it does not seem to us that when 
a religious denomination claims a right to expel or excommunicate 
a member, it is managing its own affairs in matters of religion. Re- 
ligion has nothing whatever to do with the right of excommunica- 
tion or expulsion." Excommunication deprives a member of his 
legal rights and privileges, and a religious denomination which ex- 
ercises this power is doing much more than managing its own affairs; 

19 This point is forcibly made in Ved Prakash Luthera, op. cit., pp. 18-20. Because 
of the organizational deficiencies of religion in India, the state is called upon to 
perform many of the regulatory functions which are exercised internally in well- 
organized religions. Luthera concluded that India is not and cannot be a secular 
state. I disagree with this conclusion (i) because it proceeds from too narrow a 
definition of the secular state (Luthera equates it with separation of state and 
religion, which is only one of the three components in my definition), and (2) 
because it takes too static a view of Hindu religion which, as I have argued in 
chapter 9, has the potentiality for much greater organizational development. 

20 A.I.R. 1953 Bombay, p. 183. 



it is interfering with the rights of its members, and such acts cannot 
be protected by article 26 of the Constitution. ^ 

Undoubtedly this decision is diametrically opposed to the basic 
idea of the freedom of the church in the West. There, the power of 
spiritual discipline, even to the extent of excommunication, has 
always been recognized as a prerogative of ecclesiastical authority, 
whether vested in the clerical hierarchy or in the collective member- 
ship of the church. In India, interference by the state in the internal 
affairs of religious groups, such as the Bombay legislation provides 
for, is definitely undesirable. At the same time, it should be noted 
that membership in a "community" in India is not strictly com- 
parable to membership in a church in the West. The definition of 
a community in the Prevention of Excommunication Act is very 
broad; a community is a group of people who by birth, conversion, 
or the performance of any religious rite are regarded as belonging 
to the same religion or religious creed, and it includes a caste or sub- 
caste. While excommunication in the West is mainly a religious 
matter, in India the social aspects of the act are likely to be more 
significant than the religious. The Bombay legislature, desirous of 
protecting the rights and privileges of the individual, prohibited 
excommunication as a measure of social reform. 

It is not in the interest of the secular state to strengthen the social 
role of "communities" as such. Far from it. As a matter of fact, the 
present proliferation of highly organized caste associations is a 
trend which to some degree undermines the secular state. To the 
extent that the Bombay act discourages the arbitrary power of such 
organizations over its members it will serve a useful function. But 
how to achieve this without interfering with the spiritual discipline 
which an individual accepts as a condition of membership in a 
religious denomination? Will the Bombay Prevention of Excom- 
munication Act shield the Anglican or the Roman Catholic from the 
discipline of his ecclesiastical authorities in the same way that this 
law has operated in relation to the Dawoodi Bohra community ? 

Another important case which involved the right of a religious 
denomination to manage its own affairs in matters of religion was 
Venkataramana Devaru v. State of Mysore, which is considered in 
detail in a later chapter. 21 Briefly, the case concerned the Venkatara- 

21 A.I.R. 1958 S.C., p. 255. See pp. 242-243. 



mana temple belonging to the Gowda Saraswath Brahman com- 
munity. The Madras Temple Entry Authorization Act, supported by 
article 25(2) (b) of the Constitution, threw open all Hindu public 
temples in the state to Harijans. The trustees of this denominational 
temple refused admission to Harijans on the ground that the caste 
of the prospective worshipper was a relevant matter of religion ac- 
cording to scriptural authority, and that under article 26(b) of the 
Constitution they had the right to manage their own affairs in 
matters of religion. The Supreme Court admitted that this was a 
matter of religion, but, faced with the conflict between articles 
25(2) (b) and 26(b) of the Constitution, it approved a compromise 
arrangement heavily weighted in favor of the rights of Harijans and 
with but token concessions to the right of a religious denomination 
to exercise internal autonomy. 

It is in the interest of the secular state to strengthen the internal 
autonomy of religious denominations, although this fact is little 
realized by the various legislatures. The demand for social reform 
and (as we shall see in chapters 8 and 9) religious reform is so press- 
ing that little attention is paid to the principle of separation of state 
and religion. At the same time, it must again be emphasized that the 
Gowda Saraswath Brahman community only partly resembles a 
"religious denomination" in the western usage of the word. Probably 
a math (Hindu monastic institution) comes closer to the meaning 
of this term. A math propagates a particular set of doctrines, has a 
definite number of disciples, and is presided over by a single guru or 
swami in whom are vested complete powers over both the spiritual 
and the temporal affairs of the institution. 22 

Article 26(c) and (d) recognize the right of a religious denom- 
ination to own, acquire, and administer movable and immovable 
property in accordance with law. It was held, however, that this 
guarantee did not imply that such property was not liable to com- 
pulsory acquisition under the Uttar Pradesh Abolition of Zamindari 
Act. In a case in Orissa, land reforms resulted in the expropriation of 
a village and surrounding agricultural land dedicated to the mainte- 
nance of a Hindu deity. Since compensation was paid, the High 

22 Some of the modern reformist Hindu movements, of course, are organized 
very much like religious groups in the West. The Ramakrishna Mission is an out- 
standing example of this highly developed kind of ecclesiastical organization. 



Court held that there was only a change in the form of the property. 28 
It should be emphasized that the right of a religious denomination 
is to administer its property "in accordance with law." In Bombay, 
Madras, and Orissa, religious endowments legislation granted to 
state officials vast powers of control over the financial affairs of 
Hindu temples and maths. This legislation presupposed a sharp dis- 
tinction between the "administration of property" and "matters of re- 
ligion" which is simply untenable. The Madras High Court found 
it difficult to separate the two, since the temporal affairs are managed 
in order to promote the religious affairs for which the institution 
exists; they are "inextricably mixed up." 24 

The Supreme Court, however, drew the distinction in clear-cut 
terms. "Under article 26 (b), therefore, a religious denomination or 
organization enjoys complete autonomy in the matter of deciding 
as to what rites and ceremonies are essential according to the tenets 
of the religion they hold and no outside authority has any jurisdic- 
tion to interfere with their decision in such matters." So much for 
the management of religious affairs; the court then immediately 
turned to the financial question. "Of course, the scale of expenses 
to be incurred in connection with these religious observances would 
be a matter of administration of property belonging to the religious 
denomination and can be controlled by secular authorities in ac- 
cordance with any law laid down by a competent legislature; for it 
could not be the injunction of any religion to destroy the institution 
and its endowments by incurring wasteful expenditure on rites and 
ceremonies." 26 This crushing blow to the concept of internal auton- 
omy was mitigated only by the court's observation that a law which 
would take the right of administration from the hands of a religious 
denomination altogether and vest it formally and legally in any 
other authority would constitute a violation of article 26(d). 

Thus, the right of collective freedom of religion guaranteed by 
article 26 does not provide the kind of protection from state inter- 
ference which is found in a secular state in the West, the United 

23 Suryapal Singh v. State of U.P., A.I.R. 1951 Allahabad, p. 674, and Chintamoni 
v. State of Orissa, A.I.R. 1958 Orissa, p. 18. 

24 Lafahmindra Theertha Swamiar v. Commissioner of Hindu Religious Endow- 
ments, A.I.R. 1952 Madras, p. 613. 

25 Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments v. La^shmindra Theertha Swa- 
miar, A.I.R. 1954 S.C., p. 291. 


States, for example. Article 30 deals with another aspect of collective 
freedom of religion: 

(1) All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall 
have the right to establish and administer educational institu- 
tions of their choice. 

(2) The state shall not, in granting aid to educational institu- 
tions, discriminate against any educational institution on the 
ground that it is under the management of a minority, 
whether based on religion or language. 

In its advisory opinion on the Kerala Education Bill of 1957, the 
Supreme Court considered the scope of this special fundamental right 
guaranteed to linguistic and religious minorities. Out of the total 
population of 14,200,000 in Kerala there were 3,400,000 Christians and 
2,500,000 Muslims. The Roman Catholics especially felt their educa- 
tional institutions threatened by the provisions of this legislation 
drafted by the Communist government of the state. 

The Supreme Court made it clear that, with the exception of cer- 
tain Anglo-Indian institutions provided for under article 337, private 
educational institutions had no constitutional right to receive any 
grant from the state. Nevertheless, the situation was such that 
without state aid practically none of these institutions could operate 
(for example, every Christian school in the state was heavily de- 
pendent on government grants). The court declared: "No educa- 
tional institution can in actual practice be carried on without aid 
from the state and if they will not get it unless they surrender their 
rights they will, by compulsion of financial necessities, be compelled 
to give up their rights under article 30 (i)." 26 

Clauses 14 and 15 of the Kerala Education Bill enabled the gov- 
ernment under certain circumstances to take over the entire manage- 
ment of aided institutions, and the institutions were made subject to 
this possibility as a condition for the grant of aid. The Supreme 
Court declared these clauses unconstitutional. However, it upheld 
drastic regulations providing for rigid state control over the appoint- 
ment of teachers, the collection of fees, and the payment of teachers' 
salaries by the government, etc. The court observed only that these 
were "serious inroads on the right of administration and appear 
perilously near violating that right." 

26 In re Kerala Education Bill, 1957, A.I.R. 1958 S.C., p. 983. 



The second component of the secular state, the concept of citizen- 
ship, is based on the idea that the individual, not the group, is the 
basic unit. The individual is confronted by the state which imposes 
duties and responsibilities upon him; in return the state guarantees 
rights and grants privileges to the individual. The sum total of these 
individual-state relationships constitutes the meaning of citizenship. 

No state discrimination on grounds of religion 

In the Indian Constitution there are many provisions dealing with 
the citizen's relations with the state. Here we shall concern ourselves 
only with those articles which specifically rule out any religious 
considerations in defining the rights and duties of the citizen. After 
guaranteeing in article 14 the right to equality before the law and the 
equal protection of the laws, the Constitution goes on in article 15(1) 
to provide: "The state shall not discriminate against any citizen on 
grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of 

We have already discussed the effect on freedom of religion of legis- 
lation prohibiting Hindu polygamy, since it was contended by some 
that the practice of polygamy was a part of Hindu religion. Also in- 
volved, however, is the question whether such legislation does not 
discriminate against Hindus contrary to article 15(1). This was 
raised in the case referred to previously, State of Bombay v. Narasu 
Appa. 21 It was alleged that the Bombay Prevention of Hindu 
Bigamous Marriages Act discriminated between Hindus and Muslims 
on the ground of religion and applied a measure of social reform to 
Hindus, restricting them to monogamy while allowing Muslims 
to continue the practice of polygamy. Furthermore, Hindus were 
discriminated against also in relation to Christians and Parsis, since 
severer penalties were provided in the impugned act than in the Penal 
Code applicable to the other two communities for whom monogamy 
was also the law. 

The Bombay High Court upheld the severer penalties on the 
ground that they were necessary to make the law socially effective. 
Laying emphasis on the word only in Article 15(1), it held that the 
legislation did not single out the Hindus on the ground of religion 

27 State of Bombay v. Narasu Appa, A.I.R. 1952 Bombay, p. 84. 



only. The legislature had to take into account the social customs and 
beliefs of the Hindus and other relevant considerations before de- 
ciding whether it was necessary to provide special legislation making 
bigamous marriages illegal. The state was entitled to consider, for 
example, the relative educational development of the Hindus and 
the Muslims. "One community might be prepared to accept and 
work social reform; another may not yet be prepared for it. ... The 
state may rightly decide to bring about social reform by stages and 
the stages may be territorial or they may be community-wise." 

In a similar case arising under the Madras Hindu Bigamy Pre- 
vention and Divorce Act of 1949, it was held that the act did not 
discriminate between Hindus and Muslims on the ground of reli- 
gion. 28 While only Hindus were affected by the legislation, "the 
essence of that classification is not their religion but that they have 
all along been preserving their personal law peculiar to themselves 
which was derived from the Smritis, commentaries, custom and 
usage." According to this interpretation, the act did not discriminate 
on the ground of religion since it applied not to those who professed 
Hindu religion but to those who were governed by Hindu law ! The 
Madras High Court here indulged in a bit of pure sophistry. 

The strained interpretations of the courts notwithstanding^there is 
absolutely no doubt that such legislation is discriminatory and con- 
trary to article 15(1). This is not to suggest that the courts should 
have declared these laws unconstitutional. During this transitional 
period when India is struggling to become a modern state, it is pre- 
cisely the function of the courts to concoct such ingenious interpreta- 
tions in order to harmonize the permanently valid principle, article 
15(1) in this case, with the dynamic urge for social reform which 
still has to find expression within the antiquated framework of re- 
ligious civil laws. Not only the Hindu Bigamous Marriages Act, but 
the whole system of Hindu and Muslim personal law is contrary 
to article 15(1)! It is only when there is a uniform civil code that 
the courts will be able to afford the luxury of a natural and straight- 
forward interpretation of this fundamental constitutional principle 
of the secular state. 29 

While the existence of different personal laws contradicts the 
principle of non-discrimination by the state contained in article 15(1), 

2S Srinivasa Aiyar v. Saraswati Ammal^ A.I.R. 1952 Madras, p. 193. 
29 See chapter 10, "Religion, Law, and Secularism." 



the Constitution itself contradicts this principle in dealing with the 
problems connected with the^aste systemJin its special provisions for 
the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and other backward classes, 
the Constitution "introduced what may be called protective dis- 
crimination in favor of those sections of the community which 
require urgent support, for, if the principle of equality were applied 
without any exception, the reorganization of Indian society and the 
uplift of its hitherto neglected strata would be difficult if not im- 
possible." 30 While the motive behind such protective discrimination 
is laudable, the problems which it has created are enormous. 

One of the problems was the constitutional one, namely, how to 
reconcile the principles of protective discrimination and non-discrim- 
ination by the state. In certain specific areas this adjustment had 
already been made in the Constitution as adopted in 1950, but 
there was no qualification of the non-discrimination principle con- 
tained in article 15(1). Adverse court decisions (described later in 
the chapter) necessitated the First Amendment Act, 1951, which 
inter alia inserted article 15(4) : "Nothing in this article or in clause 
(2) of article 29 shall prevent the state from making any special 
provisions for the advancement of any socially and educationally 
backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the 
Scheduled Tribes." The state is thus permitted to discriminate among 
citizens on grounds of religion, caste, etc., when providing for the 
advancement of certain sections of the population. 

In 1950 the president promulgated the Constitution (Scheduled 
Castes) Order which specified the castes which were to be deemed 
Scheduled Castes for the purpose of the Constitution. Paragraph 3 
of the order provided that "no person who professes a religion dif- 
ferent from Hinduism shall be deemed to be a member of a 
Scheduled Caste/ 581 There was only one exception made: in the case 
of the Punjab, the members of four of the castes listed were deemed 
to be members of the Scheduled Castes whether they professed the 
Hindu or Sikh religion. A Sikh member of the Bawaria caste (which 
was not one of the four excepted castes) challenged the president's 
order, since he was denied the special privileges accorded to Hindu 

80 Alexandrowicz, op. cit., p. 289. 

81 This provision of the order was no innovation, but generally followed paragraph 
3 of the Government of India (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1936, which excluded 
Indian Christians, Buddhists, and the adherents of tribal religions from the definition 
of membership in a Scheduled Caste, 



members of the same caste. He contended that the order was un- 
constitutional because under article 15(1) no discrimination was to 
be made against any individual on the ground of religion. 

The Punjab High Court, however, upheld the order, relying 
chiefly on article 15(4). "So in the Constitution/' the court declared, 
"exceptions have been made to the general rule of clause (i) of 
article 15, and that being so, the state can legitimately (and without 
doing violence to the rights of any citizen under the Constitution) 
choose for special treatment the members of a certain caste or some 
members of that caste." 32 As far as the Sikhs are concerned, this 
discrimination was removed by an act of Parliament in 1956 which 
amended the president's order. The new paragraph 3 provides that 
"no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu or 
the Sikh religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled 

The chief purpose served by the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) 
Order was to provide the authoritative list of castes for whom the 
reservation of seats in the legislatures could be made. A number of 
the state governments, however, used the same or similar lists as 
the basis for the granting of educational fee concessions and economic 
assistance. Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist converts of Scheduled 
Caste origin were denied these benefits, even though their economic 
position was the same as before conversion. Upon reconversion to 
Hinduism they once more became eligible for the special aid. While 
practice varied greatly from state to state, there was widespread dis- 
crimination on this basis. 

In Madras the school fee concession to Harijan children was ex- 
tended to those who were converted to Christianity or whose parents 
were converts, but not to children whose grandfathers or other an- 
cestors were converted. The Madras High Court upheld this rule 
as non-discriminatory. Harijan converts could not claim the fee 
concession as a matter of right; the state was granting an indulgence 
and it was for the state alone to decide how far the indulgence 
should extend. 33 In 1956 B. R. Ambedkar led a mass conversion 
movement of his Scheduled Caste followers into the Buddhist re- 
ligion. The Bombay government thereupon withdrew the special 
concessions which the converts had previously enjoyed as Hindu 

82 Gurmu^h Singh v. Union of India, A.I.R. 1952 Punjab, p. 143. 
88 In re M. Thomas, A.I.R. 1953 Madras, p. 21. 



Harijans. After a vigorous agitation, these concessions were restored 
to the neo-Buddhists, but they are still not available to Christian 
converts. In some states converts of Scheduled Caste origin receive 
similar concessions under the classification of Backward Classes, 
but many anomalous and inequitable situations still remain. 84 

In 1953 the Backward Classes Commission was appointed to de- 
termine the criteria for classifying any sections of the population as 
socially and educationally backward classes. These, of course, would 
be in addition to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The 
report of the commission suggested the classification of these groups 
mostly on the basis of caste and subcaste. 85 The government of India 
found the commission's caste criterion for determining backwardness 
unacceptable, since its adoption would tend to perpetuate the very 
evil of casteism which should be eradicated. The state governments, 
however, have drawn up their own lists of Backward Classes. 

Applying the non-discrimination principle 

It seems clear that the fundamental conception of citizenship as a 
relationship between the individual and the state is being seriously 
undermined by the attempt to deal with the problem of the under- 
privileged on the basis of the group, especially the caste. Article 15(1) 
lays down the basic democratic principle that the state shall not dis- 
criminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, caste, 
etc. This general principle is then applied to three specific areas: 
(i) public employment or office, (2) admission to state educational 
institutions, and (3) voting and representation in legislatures. How- 
ever, just as article 15(1) is qualified by a major exception, there are 
similar exceptions to the principle of non-discrimination in each of 
these specific areas. 

In regard to public employment the guarantee is stated both posi- 
tively and negatively. Article 16(1) asserts the principle of equality 
of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or 
appointment to any office under the state. Negatively, according to 
article 16(2): "No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, 
caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be in- 

8 *For a detailed discussion of this problem see chapter n, "Caste and the Secular 

85 Report of the Backward Classes Commission, Government of India Press, 
Delhi, 1956, vol. i, p. 46. 



eligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment 
or office under the state/' 86 

The Constitution provides for one exception to the principle of 
no religious qualifications for public office. Article 16(5) permits 
laws requiring that the incumbent of an office connected with the 
affairs of a religious institution be an adherent of that religion. Thus 
the commissioner and all of his subordinates in the Madras Hindu 
Religious Endowments Department must be Hindus. Although these 
are all officers of the secular state, the religious qualification is al- 
lowed by this clause. 

Another exception to the general principle of non-discrimination 
is found in article 16(4) : 

Nothing in this article shall prevent the state from making any 
provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favor of 
any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the 
state, is not adequately represented in the services under the 

Article 335 of the Constitution states that the claims of the members 
of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be taken into 
consideration in the making of appointments to government posts 
and services. Such special consideration must be made "consistently 
with the maintenance of efficiency of administration." Article 16(4) 
refers to "any backward class of citizens/' which includes the Sched- 
uled Castes and Tribes as well as others. Furthermore, it goes beyond 
the vague provisions of article 335 by permitting the state to reserve 
certain posts and appointments for these sections of the population. 

An important test case turning on this provision of the Constitution 
was V enfytaramana v. State of Madras? 1 The Madras government 
had issued a Communal G. O. (government order) making reservation 
of posts for Harijans, backward Hindus, non-Brahmans, Brahmans, 
Muslims, and Christians. As a result of this setup a Brahman was re- 
fused a particular appointment without regard to his personal qualifi- 
cations, simply because he was a Brahman and the number of posts 
reserved for his community had already been filled. The Supreme 

86 Similarly, the Government of India Act, 1935, provided that "no subject of 
His Majesty domiciled in India shall on grounds of religion, place of birth, descent, 
color or any of them be ineligible for office under the Crown in India." 

87 A.I.R. 1951 S.C., p. 229. 



Court declared the Communal G. O. to be repugnant to article 16(1) 
and (2), and therefore null and void. The point of unconstitutionality 
was that the order had gone beyond the reservation of posts for 
backward classes envisaged in clause (4). It had established a dis- 
tribution of posts among all communities according to fixed ratios, 
and this infringed on the petitioner's fundamental rights. 

However, it is possible to define backward classes in such a way 
as to rob this decision of all its significance. The Mysore government, 
in an order dated 1921, had classified "all communities other than 
Brahmans who are not adequately represented in the services" as 
backward communities. In the 1956 case of Kesava lyengar v. State 
of Mysore, the High Court upheld this order, under which seven 
of ten posts were reserved for the backward classes. 38 Commenting 
on this decision, A. T. Markose asserted: "It is common knowledge 
in India that there are many groups or castes in the class 'Brahmans' 
who are very much backward educationally, and unrepresented in 
government employment. A classification on such naked communal 
nomenclature is approved by the High Court. The battle for social 
integration of the nation could be lost before it was scarcely 
begun." 39 

When the scope for equality of opportunity is reduced to three 
posts out of ten, the modern conception of the individual as the 
basic unit within the state is in grave peril. This kind of arrangement 
produces a state composed of castes and communities, not individuals. 
It may effect a static kind of justice, but it does not lead to a dynamic 
society or a truly secular state. 

The second area to which the principle of non-discrimination is 
applied is that of admission to state educational institutions. Article 
29(2) provides that "no citizen shall be denied admission into any 
educational institution maintained by the state or receiving aid 
out of state funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language 
or any of them/' 

The Communal G. O. issued by the Madras government, men- 
tioned above, also established a policy of admission to the engineering 
and medical colleges of the state. It provided that admissions should 

88 A.I.R. 1956 Mysore, p. 20. 

89 A. T. Markose, "The First Decade of the Indian Constitution," Journal of the 
Indian Law Institute, 1960, vol. 2, p. i6oxv. 



be granted by the selection committee strictly on a communal basis. 
Out of every fourteen seats, six were to be allotted to non-Brahman 
Hindus, two to backward Hindus, two to Harijans, two to Brahmans, 
one to Anglo-Indians and Indian Christians, and one to Muslims. 

A lady candidate complained that she was denied admission to 
the medical college on the ground that she belonged to the Brahman 
community. The Madras High Court gave judgment in her favor, 
and the government appealed the case to the Supreme Court. In State 
of Madras v. Sm. Champafym Dorairajan, 1951, the Supreme Court 
declared the G. O. unconstitutional inasmuch as it distributed seats 
among communities according to a fixed ratio. 40 The court found 
that the classification made in the order constituted a clear violation 
of the fundamental right guaranteed to citizens under article 29(2). 
This right is a right conferred on a citizen as an individual and not 
as a member of a class. The denial of admission to a qualified Brah- 
man cannot be defended under the Constitution on the plea that 
there is no exclusion of Brahmans as a class. The article is not con- 
cerned with the rights of classes but of individual citizens. 

This decision produced a constitutional problem for the state and 
central governments. How could reservation of seats be made in 
state educational institutions for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes 
and other backward classes (protective discrimination) in the light of 
the non-discrimination principle of article 29(2) ? In the area of 
public employment the Constitution had already provided an ex- 
ception to this principle in favor of the backward classes of the 
population, but there was no exception to article 29(2). This lacuna 
was filled by the first amendment, discussed above, which inserted 
article 15(4). The new clause stated that nothing in articles 15 or 
29(2) would prevent the state from making any special provision for 
the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes 
of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes. It is important 
to note that the amendment does not validate the distribution of seats 
on communal lines (as was done in the Madras G. O.), but only 
validates reservation of seats for these weaker sections of the 

40 A.I.R. 1951 S.C., p. 226. 



Non-discrimination in political junctions 

The third application of the principle of non-discrimination among 
citizens is in the area of voting and representation in the legislatures. 
Article 325 states: 

There shall be one general electoral roll for every territorial 
constituency for election to either House of Parliament or to 
the House or either House of the Legislature of a state and 
no person shall be ineligible for inclusion in any such roll or 
claim to be included in any special electoral roll for any such 
constituency on grounds only of religion, race, sex or any of 

The first important provision to be noted here is that there can be no 
religious or caste requirements for voting. Article 326 states the 
principle positively and simply by declaring that elections "shall 
be on the basis of adult suffrage." 

The second aspect to be noted is that the system of separate com- 
munal electorates, first established in 1909, was abolished. "There 
shall be one general electoral roll for every territorial constituency. 
. . ." Under the old system each of the larger minority communities 
(Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, etc.) had its electoral roll and a 
number of reserved seats in the legislatures. Thus, only Muslim 
voters could vote for Muslim candidates standing for election to 
seats specifically reserved for Muslims in the legislatures. 

While the system of separate electorates was abolished, the Consti- 
tution does provide for the reservation of seats for the Scheduled 
Castes and Scheduled Tribes 41 in the central and state legislatures 
(articles 330 and 332). According to the original article 334, the 
reservation of seats was to cease after a period of ten years from the 
commencement of the Constitution, or in 1960. The eighth amend- 
ment, however, extended this reservation for another ten years. 

41 As has been noted above, the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order provides 
that no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu or Sikh religion 
shall be deemed a member of a Scheduled Caste. In S. Michael v. S. Venfyteswaran, 
the Madras High Court upheld this order under which a Christian convert from a 
Scheduled Caste was denied the right to stand for election to a reserved seat in 
the legislature. A.I.R. 1952 Madras, p. 474. The Constitution also makes provision 
for the special representation of the Anglo-Indian community in the central and 
state legislatures by nomination (articles 331 and 333). 



Difficult constitutional problems have arisen over this arrangement, 
especially under the system of double-member constituencies (one 
reserved and one general seat). In V. V. Giri v. D. S. Dora the Su- 
preme Court upheld the election of Scheduled Tribes candidates to 
both the reserved and the general seats. 42 In 1961 Parliament enacted 
legislation providing for the division of two-member constituencies. 
While this will eliminate certain problems, it will undoubtedly 
create others. Thus a non-Scheduled Classes person residing in a 
constituency for which there is a reserved seat will be unable to 
stand for election to that seat. If he is a person of limited financial 
resources it will be very difficult for him to conduct an effective 
election campaign in another constituency where he is less well 

The provision for joint electorates in article 325 refers specifically 
to elections to the central and state legislatures only. The question 
arose whether a state law could provide for separate electorates for 
the members of the various religious communities, in elections to 
local legislative bodies. The Supreme Court in NainsuJ(h Das v. 
State of U. P. held that such a law went counter to the non-discrim- 
ination principle of article 15(1). The court observed: "Now it 
cannot be seriously disputed that any law providing for elections 
on the basis of separate electorates for members of different religious 
communities offends against article 15(1). . The constitutional 
mandate to the state not to discriminate on the ground, inter alia, of 
religion extends to political as well as to other rights." 43 

In concluding this section on the constitutional basis for the 
concept of citizenship in the Indian secular state, a few generaliza- 
tions may be made. It is obvious that the fundamental principle of 
equality and non-discrimination in the state's relationships with the 
individual citizen is seriously compromised in several areas. Almost 
all of the difficulties have their roots in the state's commendable 
recognition of its special responsibilities toward those sections of the 
population which in the past have been the victims of exploitation. 
However, the approach to the problem has too often identified 
special need with a caste designation, and there is no doubt that 
caste consciousness has thereby been strengthened. 

42 A.I.R. 1959 S.C., p. 1318. See S. S. Nigam, "Equality and the Representation of 
the Scheduled Classes in Parliament," Journal of the Indian Law Institute, 1960, 
vol. 2, pp. 297-320. 

48 A.I.R. 1953 S.C., p. 385. 



The assumption of the framers of the Constitution, of course, was 
that the special provisions based on protective discrimination would 
be of a temporary nature. With the expected rise of mass education 
and the general standard of living in India over the next twenty years, 
there should be more of equality and fewer special provisions in the 
state's dealings with its citizens. Individuals coming from groups 
which in the past have been underprivileged will be able to compete 
with others on a basis of relative equality. As India becomes a welfare 
state in reality, many of the special provisions will be extended to 
all citizens; this is already happening in the field of elementary 
education. So one can be hopeful about future developments. How- 
ever, the present approach to the problem is creating a large number 
of people who are far more interested in perpetuating and augment- 
ing the privileges extended to them on a caste basis than they are in 
securing equality of opportunity. Having created these vested in- 
terests, the state will not find it a simple matter to dissolve them. 


We now come to the third component of the secular state. Separa- 
tion of state and religion is the principle which preserves the integ- 
rity of the other two relationships, freedom of religion and citizen- 
ship. Once the principle of separation of state and religion is aban- 
doned, the way is open for state interference in the individual's 
religious liberty, and for state discrimination against him if he hap- 
pens to dissent from the official creed. Even today in some of the 
democratic states of western Europe, the state-church system re- 
tains vestiges of these consequences. The individual may be compelled 
by taxation to support the official religion, or may be disqualified 
from the highest office in the state by virtue of his profession 
of another religion. 

In 1947 the United States Supreme Court defined separation of 
church and state as follows: "Neither a state nor the federal govern- 
ment can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one re- 
ligion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. ... No 
tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any 
religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or 
whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither 
a state nor the federal government can, openly or secretly, participate 



in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. 
In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of re- 
ligion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between 
church and state/ " 44 

In actual practice the separation is not absolute, as is shown by 
the fact that each house of Congress has a chaplain who daily in- 
vokes divine guidance for the proceedings of the legislature. But 
the statement helps to clarify the meaning of separation of church 
and state. It is a conception of two separate and mutually non- 
interfering organizations, each operating within its own sphere of 

It is clear that such a thorough-going separation of state and re- 
ligion does not exist in India. We have already discussed the im- 
portant areas in which state interference in religious matters is per- 
mitted by the Constitution: the financial administration of temples 
and maths, the admission of Harijans into Hindu temples, the 
practice of excommunication from religious communities, the mod- 
ification of religious personal laws, etc. The chief reason for such state 
interference is that Hinduism lacks the kind of ecclesiastical organiza- 
tion necessary to set its own house in order; the tremendous urge for 
effective social and religious reform which characterizes present-day 
India can only be satisfied by state action. 45 The organizational de- 
ficiency of Hinduism is indeed a serious problem. How can there be 
separation of church and state where there is no church ? 

The firmly established principle in the United States that the 
courts will not decide controversies over matters of religious doc- 
trine or ritual has a pale reflection in Indian judicial decisions of some 
years ago. In 1935 the Bombay High Court held that a civil court 
is not competent to decide whether a particular cult is within Vedic 
religion or not. In a 1939 case in Madras, it was held that the question 
whether a particular namam or mark should be placed on an idol's 
forehead was one pertaining to religious ritual and as such was 
excluded from the cognizance of a civil court. 46 Since 1950, however, 
the courts have frequently had to deal with doctrinal questions in 

44 Ever 'son v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. I (1947). 

45 In chapter 2 it was argued that Hinduism's lack of organization is a factor 
which is favorable to the development of a secular state. While this is basically 
true, the greater opportunity for state intervention in religious affairs constitutes 
the negative aspect of the situation. 

**Dcvchand Totaram v. Ghanasham, A.I.R. 1935 Bombay, p. 361; Aiyanchariar v. 
Sadagopachariar, A.I.R. 1939 Madras, p. 757. 



defining the scope of freedom of religion guaranteed in articles 
25 and 26. For example, the courts have had to determine the correct 
interpretation of scriptures which forbid the entry of untouchables 
in temples, the doctrinal basis for the practice of polygamy in Hindu- 
ism, and similar matters. These cases, of course, have not involved 
religious controversies between individuals, but between individuals 
and the legislating state. 

There are, however, other aspects of the principle of separation 
of state and religion which are supported by the Indian Constitution: 
(i) there is no provision regarding an official state religion, (2) there 
can be no religious instruction in state schools, (3) there can be no 
taxes to support any particular religion. 

What the Constitution does not say is just as significant as what 
it does say. There is no mention made of any official state religion. 
There is no explicit prohibition of the adoption of a state religion, 
as in the American Constitution, but it is inconceivable that such a 
radical step would be attempted without a constitutional amendment. 
Not only is there no state religion in India but no official recognition 
is given to the religion of the majority. By way of contrast, theConsti- 
tution of Burma before 1961 declared": "The state recognizes the 
special position of Buddhism as the faith professed by the great 
majority of the citizens of the Union." 47 Similarly, the Constitution 
of Eire, which considerably influenced the framers of the Indian 
Constitution in other matters, recognizes the special position of the 
Roman Catholic Church. The 1959 Constitution of the Kingdom of 
Nepal links the state with Hinduism through its description of the 
monarch as an "adherent of Aryan Culture and Hind^i Religion" 
(preamble and article i). 

The sharpest contrast with the Indian Constitution, however, is 
the 1956 Constitution of "the Islamic Republic of Pakistan." The 
preamble begins: "In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merci- 
ful; whereas sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah 
Almighty alone, and the authority to be exercised by the people of 
Pakistan within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust. . . ." 48 
Article 25, one of the Directive Principles of State Policy, is as follows: 

47 Constitution of Burma, article 21(1). In August 1961 this was amended to 
read as follows: "Buddhism being the religion professed by the great majority of 
the citizens of the Union shall be the State Religion." 

48 The Indian Constitution makes no reference to God except in the forms of 
oaths or affirmations contained in the third schedule. Ministers of die Union, members 



(1) Steps shall be taken to enable the Muslims of Pakistan 
individually and collectively to order their lives in accordance 
with the Holy Koran and Sunnah. 

(2) The state shall endeavor, as respects the Muslims of Paki- 

(a) to provide facilities whereby they may be enabled to under- 
stand the meaning of life according to the Holy Koran 
and Sunnah; 

(b) to make the teaching of the Holy Koran compulsory; 

(c) to promote unity and the observance of Islamic moral 
standards; and 

(d) to secure the proper organization of zakat, wakfs and 

Article 32(2) makes an exception to the provisions for equality 
and non-discrimination among citizens by stating that a person 
shall not be qualified for election as president unless he is a Muslim. 
Article 198(1) asserts: "No law shall be enacted which is repugnant 
to the Injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Koran and 
Sunnah . . . and existing law shall be brought into conformity with 
such Injunctions." 49 The Constitution of 1956 was abrogated two 
years later, however, when a military regime headed by General 
Iskander Mirza was established by a bloodless coup. 

India has no state religion, nor does it give any constitutional 
recognition to Hinduism as the religion of the majority of citizens. 
It is also important to note that there is no Ecclesiastical Department 
Jn the central government, such as existed during the British period. 
Before 1927 the bishops of the established Church of England in 
India were appointed by the crown. Right up to 1948, however, the 
Ecclesiastical Department continued to pay a large number of Chris- 
tian chaplains and maintain Christian churches out of the public 
revenues of the country. The unstated principle embodied in the 
Indian Constitution is that found in the 1931 Karachi resolution of 

of Parliament, judges, etc., may either "swear in the name of God" or "solemnly 
affirm" that they will faithfully perform the duties of their respective offices. 

49 The draft Constitution of 1952 contained a provision by which legislation 
suspected of being un-Islamic would be referred to a board of canon lawyers. If 
the board unanimously found this to be the case, the legislation could be sent back 
to the legislature with suggested amendments which could only be rejected by a 
majority of the Muslim members. The Constitution as adopted, however, left the 
question of repugnancy to the Injunctions of Islam to be determined by Parliament. 



the Indian National Congress. "The state shall observe neutrality in 
regard to all religions." 

Taxation and religious education 

Article 27 of the Constitution states: "No person shall be compelled 
to pay any taxes, the proceeds of which are specifically appropriated 
in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any 
particular religion or religious denomination." 50 Several writers have 
very erroneously equated this provision with the principle laid down 
in such rigid terms by the United States Supreme Court in the 
Everson case: "No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied 
to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may 
be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice re- 
ligion." The differences of constitutional position on this point 
between the United States and India are considerable. 

First, the Indian Constitution forbids only taxation for the benefit 
of any particular religion. Non-discriminatory taxes for the benefit 
of all religions would be perfectly constitutional. Such an arrange- 
ment would in fact be in accord with the general traditions of the 
Hindu state. However, it would seriously undermine the funda- 
mental principle of separation of state and religion as it has here been 
defined. Separation means that it is not the function of the state to 
aid one religion or to aid all religions. 51 The secular state will not 
coerce any individual (by taxation or any other means) to support 
any religion. 

Second, Indian and American law vary greatly in their treatment of 
educational institutions managed by religious bodies. While in the 
United States public funds may be used to support parochial schools 
only in very limited ways (bus transportation, free lunches, textbooks 
for the pupils), in India the system of government grants to privately 
managed schools has over a century of history behind it and is still 
very important. 

50 Article 21 of the 1956 Constitution of Pakistan presents an interesting contrast: 
"No person shall be compelled to pay any special tax the proceeds of which are to 
be spent on the propagation or maintenance of any religion other than his own" 
(italics added). 

61 This sentence, and my general approach throughout the book, represent the 
"wall of separation" approach to the problem. American constitutional law is by 
no means settled on this fundamental question, and court decisions fluctuate between 
this and the "no-preference" doctrine, which envisages limited state aid to all 
religions on an equal basis. 



Third, in the United States no government grants of money may 
be made to religious institutions. 62 The Indian Constitution ex- 
plicitly provides for state contributions to Hindu temples and shrines! 
This surprising provision is found in article 290 A: 

A sum of forty-six lakhs and fifty thousand rupees (4,650,000 
rupees) shall be charged on, and paid out of, the Consolidated 
Fund of the state of Kerala every year to the Travancore 
Devaswom Fund; and a sum of thirteen lakhs and fifty thousand 
rupees (1,350,000 rupees) shall be charged on, and paid out of, 
the Consolidated Fund of the state of Madras every year to the 
Devaswom Fund established in that state for the maintenance 
of Hindu temples and shrines in the territories transferred to 
that state on the first day of November, 1956, from the state of 

Briefly, the background of this article is as follows. Before 1949 
Travancore and Cochin were contiguous Indian States ruled by 
Hindu maharajas. The rulers had sanctioned large annual grants 
of money to the Hindu temples and shrines in their respective states, 
and the management of these institutions was directly controlled by 
them. The two states were merged in 1949. As the grants made to 
the temples had been sanctioned in perpetuity, these obligations 
passed over to the united state of Travancore-Cochin and were de- 
tailed in the covenant signed by the two rulers and the government 
of India. 63 The states reorganization of 1956 created the state of 
Kerala to which most of their financial obligations were passed on, 
although part of it also went to Madras. 

There are other examples of this continuation of the old system 
of state patronage of religious institutions. The Mysore government's 
budget for the year 1960-1961 contains some interesting illustrations 
of this fact. Under "Endowments and Charitable Allowances'* there 

52 Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish chaplains, however, serve in the armed forces 
of the United States as commissioned officers. Similarly, in the larger defense 
service establishments in India, qualified "Religious Teachers" of the Hindu, 
Muslim, Sikh, and Christian (Protestant and Catholic) faiths are either engaged as 
civilians or hold a rank corresponding to that of junior commissioned officers. They 
conduct religious services and rites and assist at attestation parades when the oath 
of obedience and discipline is administered to trained recruits. 

63 See "The Covenant entered into by the Rulers of Travancore and Cochin for 
the Formation ot the United State of Travancore and Cochin," White Paper on 
Indian States, Government of India Press, Delhi, 1950, p. 288. 



are budget estimates for the following: temples (160,000 rupees), 
maths (78,000 rupees), Mohammedan institutions (33,300 rupees). 54 
Recurring grants sanctioned in perpetuity were made years ago by 
the government of the maharaja of Mysore to most of the temples, 
maths, and mosques which now receive these annual allowances. 
However, some such grants from state revenues have been made 
in recent years, and it was not until 1958 that a Mysore government 
order stated: "No recurring grants either in perpetuity or for a 
specified period will be sanctioned to religious institutions such as 
temples, maths, etc., in future, merely to augment their income." 55 

There are other items of expenditures for religious institutions pro- 
vided for in the 1960-1961 budget which are clearly not in fulfillment 
of obligations assumed by previous governments of Mysore. One 
hundred and fifty thousand rupees is the budget estimate for 
"Construction and Repairs" of religious institutions and their equip- 
ment. In other years similar amounts have been spent for the repair 
or renovation of temples, temple cars, guest houses for pilgrims, 
etc., and for the construction of new temples. 56 It was not until 1958 
that the use of public funds for the last-mentioned purpose was 
stopped. The same government order referred to in the last paragraph 
also stated: "No building grants will be sanctioned by government 
for the construction of new places of worship." 

The use of public funds for sectarian religious purposes is clearly 
opposed to the principle of separation of state and religion. In India, 
however, such a practice would stand a very good chance of being 
held constitutional by the courts. Article 27 represents a very feeble 
defense against it. The freedom of a person from compulsion to pay 
a special religious tax may reinforce the armor of individual rights, 
but it sidesteps the basic question of public policy. What if there is 
no special tax, "the proceeds of which are specifically appropriated 
in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any 

64 Budget Estimates for the year 1960-1961: Expenditures, Mysore Government 
Press, Bangalore, 1960, p. 396. 

55 Government order No. RDC 10 DHR 57, dated July 9, 1958. One of the last 
fresh cash grants was made by government order No. RD 10 DHR 57, dated May 21, 
1957, in which government "were pleased to sanction a cash grant of 300 rupees per 
mensem to Sri Degila Math at Kanakapura, the cost being met from '47 Miscel- 
laneous Departments.' " (A budget sub-heading under "Expenditure met from 
Revenue"). See Administration Report of the Muzrai Department for the Year 
7956-1957, Government Branch Press, Mysore, 1959, p. 21. 

lbid. y pp. 17-18. 


particular religion or religious denomination"? What if, instead, 
the legislature simply appropriates funds for the promotion of re- 
ligion out of the general revenue of the state ? This is what is hap- 
pening in Mysore state, and in all probability it is perfectly consti- 

Article 28 deals with the question of religious instruction in three 
different types of educational institutions. 57 The first provision refers 
to institutions which are of a completely public nature. Clause (i) 
lays down: "No religious instruction shall be provided in any educa- 
tional institution wholly maintained out of state funds." 58 The pro- 
hibition here is absolute; neither the state nor any private agency may 
provide religious instruction in state educational institutions. 59 Here 
we have a stricter adherence to the principle of separation of state 
and religion than in the previous article examined. Article 27 
would permit taxation for the benefit of all religions but not for 
"any particular religion." The logical counterpart in the field of 
education would be a provision enabling the state to provide instruc- 
tion in all religions but not in one particular religion alone. But 
such is not the case; there is to be "no religious instruction" in state 
educational institutions. 

Article 28(2) deals with a second, special type of educational insti- 
tution in which the state functions in the role of trustee. "Nothing 
in clause (i) shall apply to an educational institution which is ad- 
ministered by the state but has been established under any endow- 
ment or trust which requires that religious instruction shall be im- 
parted in such institution." The Banaras Hindu University and the 
Aligarh Muslim University were established under endowments 
which require that instruction be imparted in Hinduism and Islam, 
respectively. Although administered by the central government, 
religious instruction in these universities is permitted by clause (2). 

The third type of educational institution is the state-aided denom- 
inational school. As we have seen, every religious group has the right 

67 See chapter 12, "Education and Religion." 

58 The 1956 Constitution of Pakistan would permit religious instruction in state 
schools, and such instructions could be made compulsory for those who profess the 
religion or religions taught. Article 13(1): "No person attending any educational 
institution shall be required to receive religious instruction, or take part in any 
religious ceremony, or attend religious worship, if such instruction, ceremony or 
worship relates to a religion other than his own!' (italics added). 

68 Constituent Assembly Debates, vol. 7, p. 871. 



to establish and administer its own educational institutions. Further- 
more, in granting aid to educational institutions, the state may not 
discriminate against those managed by minority groups. The prin- 
ciple involved in article 28(3) is that the state cannot become a 
party to the active propagation of religion in state-aided institutions 
by permitting compulsory religious instruction. "No person attending 
any educational institution recognized by the state or receiving aid 
out of state funds shall be required to take part in any religious 
instruction that may be imparted in such institution or to attend any 
religious worship that may be conducted in such institution or in 
any premises attached thereto unless such person or, if such person is 
a minor, his guardian has given his consent thereto." Any other 
policy would involve the state in aiding the coercion of its citizens to 
receive instruction in a particular religion. 

An evaluation of the Constitution 

The constitutional framework of the secular state in India has 
been discussed in terms of its three basic components: freedom of re- 
ligion, citizenship, and separation of state and religion. There are 
undoubtedly serious problems in each of these areas. Freedom of 
religion, especially collective freedom of religion, is compromised by 
constitutional sanction for extensive state interference in religious 
affairs. Citizenship based on equality and non-discrimination by the 
state is weakened by the numerous special provisions made for the 
underprivileged classes on the basis of caste. Separation of state and 
religion includes two distinct principles: (i) the non-interference of 
the state and religious organizations in each other's affairs; (2) the 
absence of a legal connection between the state and a particular 
religion. The Indian Constitution, as already noted, does not subscribe 
to the first principle; it does, however, uphold the second. 

If one evaluates the Constitution solely in terms of abstract legal- 
istic principles, there will indeed be considerable to criticize. This 
is especially true if one compares the constitutional basis for secular- 
ism in India with that in the United States. However, to do this is to 
ignore the dynamics of the Indian situation. All aspects of con- 
temporary Indian life political, economic, social, and religious are 
in a process of rapid change, and the Indian Constitution is rightly 
geared to these changes. 

Three interrelated developments have a direct bearing on the 



secular state. First, in order to become a modern state, the state in 
India is seeking to enlarge its jurisdiction at the expense of religion. 
The religious regulation of Indian society by caste and Hindu law 
must give way to regulation by the state. By this process religion is 
being restricted to an area of life roughly corresponding to its role 
in the West. Second, the sphere of activity which is left to religion 
is also the object of extensive reform by the state. This is especially 
clear in the case of the extremely close supervision of temple ad- 
ministration by the state. The state's role, we have suggested, is 
closely related to Hinduism's organizational deficiencies. Third, 
the powerful impulse for social reform demands that the deprived 
castes, which never enjoyed equality of opportunity, now be given 
not equality, but privileged treatment by the state, so that their 
educational, social, and economic status may be rapidly raised. 

There is a good chance that twenty years from now, many of 
India's constitutional anomalies regarding the secular state will have 
disappeared. It is reasonable to expect that by that time there will be 
a uniform civil code and that Hindu and Muslim law, as such, will 
have ceased to exist. Legislation having already dealt with the most 
serious abuses in Hindu religion there will be little need for further 
interference by the state. Bureaucracy being what it is, however, 
there will likely be more and not less official supervision of temple 
administration. In twenty years the need for special class privileges, 
which now distort the principle of equal citizenship, should be very 
much less. In any case such privileges should be abandoned by 
that time. Thus, if one is willing to incorporate this dimension of time 
into his evaluation, the conclusion is that the Constitution of India 
provides a relatively sound basis for the building of a secular state. 



Individual freedom of religion 

Art. 25(1) Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other 
provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to free- 
dom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice 
and propagate religion. 

(2) Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any ex- 
isting law or prevent the state from making any law 

(a) regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political 
or other secular activity which may be associated with 
religious practice; 

(b) providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing 
open of Hindu religious institutions of a public char- 
acter to all classes and sections of Hindus. 

Explanation I. The wearing and carrying of tyrpans shall 
be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh 

Explanation II. In sub-clause (b) of clause (2), the ref- 
erence to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference 
to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, 
and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be 
construed accordingly. 

Collective freedom of religion 

Art. 26 Subject to public order, morality and health, every religious 
denomination or any section thereof shall have the right 

(a) to establish and maintain institutions for religious and 
charitable purposes; 

(b) to manage its own affairs in matters of religion; 

(c) to own and acquire movable and immovable property; 

(d) to administer such property in accordance with law. 
Art. 30(1) All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall 

have the right to establish and administer educational insti- 
tutions of their choice. 



(2) The state shall not, in granting aid to educational institu- 
tions, discriminate against any educational institution on 
the ground that it is under the management of a minority, 
whether based on religion or language. 

No state discrimination on grounds of religion 

Art. 15(1) The state shall not discriminate against any citizen on 
grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or 
any of them. 

(4) Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of article 29 shall 
prevent the state from making any special provision for the 
advancement of any socially and educationally backward 
classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the 
Scheduled Tribes. 

Equality of opportunity in public employment 

Art. 16(1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in 
matters relating to employment or appointment to any office 
under the state. 

(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, 
descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible 
for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or 
office under the state. 

(4) Nothing in this article shall prevent the state from making 
any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts 
in favor of any backward class of citizens which, in the 
opinion of the state, is not adequately represented in the 
services under the state. 

(5) Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any law 
which provides that the incumbent of an office in connection 
with the affairs of any religious or denominational institu- 
tion or any members of the governing body thereof shall be 
a person professing a particular religion or belonging to a 
particular denomination. 

No discrimination in educational institutions 

Art. 29(2) No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational 
institution maintained by the state or receiving aid out of 
state funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language 
or any of them. 



No communal electorates 

Art. 325 There shall be one general electoral roll for every territorial 
constituency for election to either House of Parliament or to 
the House or either House of the Legislature of a state and 
no person shall be ineligible for inclusion in any such roll or 
claim to be included in any special electoral roll for any such 
constituency on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex 
or any of them. 

Art. 330(1) Seats shall be reserved in the House of the People for 

(a) the Scheduled Castes; 

(b) the Scheduled Tribes . . . 

Art. 332(1) Seats shall be reserved for the Scheduled Castes and the 
Scheduled Tribes ... in the Legislative Assembly of every 

No special taxes for promotion of religion 

Art. 27 No person shall be compelled to pay any taxes, the proceeds 
of which are specifically appropriated in payment of expenses 
for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion 
or religious denomination. 

Art. 2poA A sum of forty-six lakhs and fifty thousand rupees shall be 
charged on, and paid out of, the Consolidated Fund of the 
state of Kerala every year to the Travancore Devaswom 
Fund; and a sum of thirteen lakhs and fifty thousand rupees 
shall be charged on, and paid out of, the Consolidated Fund 
of the state of Madras every year to the Devaswom Fund 
established in that state for the maintenance of Hindu temples 
and shrines in the territories transferred to that state on 
the first day of November, 1956, from the state of Tra- 

No religious instruction in state educational institutions 

Art. 28(1) No religious instruction shall be provided in any educational 

institution wholly maintained out of state funds. 
(2) Nothing in clause (i) shall apply to an educational institu- 
tion which is administered by the state but has been es- 
tablished under any endowment or trust which requires that 
religious instruction shall be imparted in such institution. 



(3) No person attending any educational institution recognized 
by the state or receiving aid out of state funds shall be re- 
quired to take part in any religious instruction that may be 
imparted in such institution or to attend any religious worship 
that may be conducted in such institution or in any premises 
attached thereto unless such person or, if such person is a 
minor, his guardian has given his consent thereto. 



UNDERGIRDING the secular constitutional structure are both prac- 
tical and theoretical considerations. The secular state may be inter- 
preted as a pragmatic solution to the problem of religious pluralism. 
Political expediency alone would dictate such a policy, and expres- 
sion has frequently been given to this practical consideration. In 
1950 Nehru declared: "The government of a country like India, with 
many religions that have secured great and devoted followings for 
generations, can never function satisfactorily in the modern age 
except on a secular basis." 1 From the standpoint of national unity 
and stability, the principle of the secular state represents a sound 
practical approach. Any other approach would tend to alienate the 
religious minorities and impede the processes of national integration. 
There are also important theoretical supports, ideas which in- 
fluenced political developments in the years immediately preceding 
independence, and which are appealed to by the present-day Indian 
leadership in attempting to secure broader support for secularism. 
This chapter is devoted to a consideration of the three most sig- 
nificant theories upon which the secular state is based: Indian na- 
tionalism, Hindu tolerance, and western secularism. 


The present writer asked an Indian professor in 1961 why he 
supported the principle of the secular state. The reply, "Because I 
have always been a nationalist," emphasized an important but not 
too obvious relationship. The concept of Indian nationalism to which 
he referred was based squarely on the geographical fact of a ter- 
ritory known as India; the nation was composed of all who claimed 
India as their homeland. In 1932 a prominent Muslim leader, Mau- 
lana Syed Husain Ahmed Madani, propounded the thesis: "Nations 

1 The Hindu, September 13, 1950. 



are formed from countries/' 2 Therefore, Hindus, Muslims, Chris- 
tians, Sikhs, and others formed one Indian nation. The term "nation- 
alism" signified the freedom movement of the whole Indian people, 
opposed not only to the foreign ruler but to all separatist political 
tendencies based on loyalty to religious communities. 

"Communalism" is the term used in India to describe the political 
functioning of individuals or groups for the selfish interests of 
particular religious communities or castes. Today the antithesis of 
communalism is secularism, the principle of the secular state and 
the kind of political life which is in consonance with it. Before 1947 
the term "secularism" was rarely used in this context; the antith- 
esis of communalism was "nationalism." 

The assertions of Indian nationalism were that India was one 
country, despite the existence of hundreds of separate states on the 
subcontinent, and that the Indians constituted one nation, despite 
all racial, religious, and cultural differences. Garibaldi and Mazzini 
provided much of the early inspiration for the Indian nationalist 
movement, for they had done two things which needed to be done 
in India: they had driven out the foreign rulers and had united their 
nation under one flag. 

British officials regarded the assertion that India was a nation as 
the product of the wildest imaginings of political agitators. Quite 
willing to overlook for the moment their own substantial contribut- 
tion to the unification of India (efficient systems of transportation 
and communication, the English language, and modern political, 
administrative, and legal institutions), the British vehemently re- 
jected the notion that a people speaking hundreds of different 
languages and divided into thousands of distinct castes and sects 
could ever be regarded as a nation. Much of the nationalist's time 
and energy was devoted to the defense of his thesis that an Indian 
nationality did already exist or was at least rapidly evolving. 
R. K. Mookerjee's The Fundamental Unity of India^ published in 
1914, provided the basic theme for much of the later nationalist 

The Indian nationalist felt compelled to assert that India was a 
nation, even though there were some embarrassing facts which had 
to be glossed over. In the modern world, nationality and nationalism 

2 Maulana Mohammed Mian, A Erie] History of Jamiat Ulema Hind, All India 
Jamiat Ulema Hind, Delhi, n.d., p. 4. 



were the basic premises of political life, and it seemed absolutely 
improper for India to be without a nationality. Furthermore, part of 
the heritage of the nineteenth century was the principle that any 
people who constituted a nation were thereby entitled to self-govern- 
ment. If India was to gain its freedom from British rule, it was 
therefore necessary to assert that it was indeed a nation. 

Unity in diversity had been the age-old pattern of Indian civiliza- 
tion. While the nationalist movement emphasized a greater degree 
of unity in certain areas of culture the development of a national 
language, for example religious differences were assumed to be 
permanently valid. The main current of Indian nationalism as- 
sumed the separation of religion and politics; there was no conflict 
between India's religious pluralism and the goal of independence 
with political unity. 

In the decade which preceded independence there were three 
frontal attacks by Indian parties on this basic concept of Indian 
nationalism. Despite the intensity of their hostility to each other, 
the Hindu Mahasabha, the Muslim League, and the Communist 
Party could all agree on one point: India could not be regarded as 
one nation because of its religio-cultural heterogeneity. 

In the 1920^ the Hindu Mahasabha absorbed many of the Con- 
gressmen who were sympathetic to the earlier Extremist leadership 
and gradually became aggessively communalist. V. D. Savarkar 
formulated the basic ideology of Hindu communalism in his book 
Hindutva, published in 1923. He asserted that the Hindus, as a 
people united by a common country, blood, history, religion, culture, 
and language, were a nation. In his presidential address to the 
Hindu Mahasabha in 1937, Savarkar recognized the Muslims also as 
a nation, thus intensifying the separatist implications of his ideology. 
"India cannot be assumed today to be a Unitarian and homogeneous 
nation, but on the contrary there are two nations in the main; the 
Hindus and the Muslims." Two years later, in another presidential 
address to the Mahasabha, he repeated more emphatically his views 
on the existence of these "two antagonistic nations living side by 
side." 8 

The Hindu Mahasabha never commanded much popular support, 

8 V. D. Savarkar, Hindu Rashtra Darshan, L. G. Khare, Bombay, 1949, p. 26. 
A detailed analysis of Savarkar's Hindutva is found in chapter 15, "The Challenge 
of Hindu Communalism." 



and the Congress could afford to ignore it most of the time. But 
it could not ignore the Muslim League. In his 1940 presidential ad- 
dress to the League, M. A. Jinnah propounded his two-nation theory 
which became the basis for the Pakistan demand. Islam and Hindu- 
ism, Jinnah declared, were far more than religions in the strict 
sense of the word; they were two distinct social orders, two dif- 
ferent civilizations "based mainly on conflicting ideas and con- 
ceptions." Each had its own religious philosophies, social customs, 
legal system, literature, and sources of history. It was "a dream" 
that the Hindus and Muslims could ever evolve a common nation- 
ality, and to yoke together two such nations under a single state 
could only lead to disaster. 

Jinnah declared that the misconception of one Indian nation 
resulted from a flagrant disregard of the past history of the Indian 
subcontinent. "Notwithstanding a thousand years of close contact, 
nationalities, which are as divergent today as ever, cannot at any 
time be expected to transform themselves into one nation merely by 
means of subjecting them to a democratic constitution and holding 
them forcibly together by unnatural and artificial methods of British 
parliamentary statute." Muslim India could not accept any consti- 
tution which would necessarily result in a Hindu majority govern- 
ment; this could only mean Hindu raj. The Muslims, Jinnah de- 
clared, were not a minority in the usual sense of the word. "Mussal- 
mans are a nation according to any definition of a nation, and they 
must have their homelands, their territory, and their state." 4 

4 William Theodore de Bary, ed., Sources of Indian Tradition, Columbia Uni- 
versity Press, New York, 1958, pp. 835-838. Jinnah attached the greatest importance 
to the assertion that the Indian Muslims were a nation, and in his September 1944 
correspondence with Gandhi insisted that the Congress accept this "fundamental 
principle" as a basis for further negotiations. Jinnah was unmoved by Gandhi's 
argument that acceptance of this and other principles of the Lahore resolution was 
unnecessary since Gandhi had "accepted the concrete consequences that should 
follow from such acceptance." Jamil-ud-din Ahmad, ed., Some Recent Speeches and 
Writings of Mr. Jinnah, Muhammad Ashraf, Lahore, 1947, vol. 2, pp. 196-199. 
Jinnah's two-nation theory was essentially an elaboration of ideas which had 
long been held by certain sections of the Indian Muslim leadership. As early as 
1888 Sir Syed Ahmed Khan attacked the Indian National Congress on this basis. 
"I do not understand what the words 'National Congress' mean. Is it supposed 
that the different castes and creeds living in India belong to one nation, or can 
become a nation, and their aims and aspirations be one and the same? . . . 
I object to every Congress in any shape or form whatever which regards India 
as one nation." Sir Syed also referred explicitly to the two nations, Mohammedan 
and Hindu. Source Material for a History of the Freedom Movement in India, 
vol. 2, 1885-1920, New Delhi, 1958, p. 71. 



The Communist Party of India, for reasons of its own, supported 
the Pakistan demand by its theory that India was multinational. 
A Communist writer disclosed that as late as 1938, "we were yet 
wrapped up in the theory, like the rest of the nationalists, that India 
was one nation and that the Muslims were just a religious cultural 
minority." 5 But by 1941 an important tactical shift was discernible. 
In 1942 the CPI adopted a resolution which, on the basis of Stalin's 
definition of the concept of nationality, listed sixteen Indian 
"nations." While the classification was based primarily on language, 
religion was also important: the Sikhs, Western Punjabis (dominantly 
Muslims), and Bengali Muslims were held to be nations entitled to 
separate states. By 1945, CPI nationality policy definitely supported 
the partition of India and the creation of a Muslim state. 

Rajendra Prasad, Asoka Mehta, and many others wrote books 
attempting to refute Jinnah's two-nation theory. This in itself was 
not a difficult task. Nehru posed the question why, if nationality was 
based on religion, there were only two nations. In India there 
would be many nations, if the theory were followed logically. Na- 
tionality might well cut through family units, for if one man was 
a Hindu and his brother had been converted to Islam, they would 
belong to two different nations. Geographically the theory presented 
problems because the two nations were interlocked in most of the 
villages of India. Culturally the demarkation was difficult to defend, 
for "a Bengali Muslim and a Bengali Hindu, living together, speak- 
ing the same language and having much the same traditions and 
customs, belonged to different nations." 6 

Nehru asserted that there was hardly any satisfactory definition of 
a nation. The definition could be attempted from historical, cultural, 
racial, or many other points of view. Essentially it was a question of 
consciousness of unity. If a number of nations wanted to pull to- 
gether and consider themselves one nation (as in the multinational 
USSR), they were one nation. On the other hand, if a particular 
community or group did not want to work along with the rest of 

5 G. Adhikari, Pakistan and Indian National Unity, People's Publishing House, 
Bombay, 1944, p. 29, quoted in Selig S. Harrison, India: The Most Dangerous 
Decades, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1960, p. 150. See also Gene D. 
Overstreet and Marshal Windmiller, Communism in India, University of California 
Press, Berkeley, 1959, pp. 492-497- 

6 Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, John Day Company, New York, 1946, 
PP- 396-397- 



the country, then it did not matter whether it was one nation or two 
nations. But the basic assumption of the Indian nationalist move- 
ment was that all who lived in the territorial unit known as India, 
and acknowledged it as their homeland, belonged to the one Indian 
nation*. > 

/ Muslim support for this concept of territorial and secular nation- 
alism came from Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and the small group 
of nationalist Muslims which supported the Congress. Azad's own 
views had changed radically over the years. Before 1920 his position 
was that, while the Hindus could revive their national identity on 
the basis of secular nationalism, this was not possible for the Muslims, 
who could define their collective identity only in terms of Islam. But 
from 1920 onward Azad was powerfully influenced by the phenom- 
enon of Hindu-Muslim political cooperation under Gandhi's leader- 
ship, and by the emergence of secular Turkish and Arab nationalism. 
He was impressed by the fact that in Syria the Muslims, Christians, 
and Druzes had united for the liberation of their country under the 
slogan "Religion is for God and the homeland is for everyone." 
Azad decided to strive for the development of a similar nationalism 
in India. 

The Maulana sought to construct an Islamic theoretical basis for 
the evolution of a joint Hindu-Muslim nation in India. 7 He turned 
to the covenant which in the seventh century A.D. was drawn up 
between the followers of the Prophet and the Jews of Medina. 
Essentially an alliance for the common defense against the hostile 
Quraish tribe, the covenant declared that the Believers (i.e. Muslims) 
and the Jews were "one people." Azad translated the Arabic phrase 
as "one nation," and interpreted this covenant as a historical prece- 
dent (an Islamically valid precedent) for the formation by the 
Muslims and the Hindus of a common Indian nationality. Whatever 
the textual and historical objections to the theory, Azad was con- 

7 The material in this paragraph and the preceding one is drawn from Professor 
Hafeez Malik's excellent paper, "Abul Kalam Azad's Theory of Nationalism," 
presented at the meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, Boston, April 3, 
1962. Azad's theory of the covenant is found in Khutbat-i-Abul Kalam Azad, 
al-Minara Academy, Lahore, n.d., p. 42. Since Independence the leaders of the 
Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind have used this concept of the covenant in a slightly different 
way. According to their theory, the Muslims and non-Muslims of India have entered 
into a covenant to establish a secular state, and the covenant is embodied in the 
Constitution. See W. C. Smith, Islam in Modern History, Princeton University 
Press, Princeton, 1957, pp. 284-285. 



vinced of the soundness of his conclusion. In his presidential address 
to the Indian National Congress in 1940, Maulana Azad declared 
proudly : "I am part of the indivisible unity that is Indian nationality." 

Jinnah's two-nation theory revived the medieval concept of a re- 
ligious group constituting a political community, the idea of a state 
based on a creed. Implicit in the nationalist refutation of Jinnah's 
theory was the idea of a secular state, although the term itself was 
not generally used. But it was frequently stated that the objective of 
the nationalist movement was not a Hindu raj, but an independent 
India in which all citizens would have equal rights, privileges, and 
obligations irrespective of religion. As early as 1931 the Congress 
had committed itself formally to the principle of the religious 
neutrality of the state in the free India of the future. 

Debate over the two-nation theory and the demand for partition 
did serve to clarify thinking concerning the proper relationship 
between religion and the state. This debate, which lasted right up to 
1947, reinforced the Congress leadership's commitment to secularism. 
The alternative to Pakistan was a united secular state; after Pakistan 
was created, any other policy for India would have constituted a 
complete repudiation of principles which Indian nationalism had 
always claimed as basic convictions. The strength of the nationalist 
idea is indicated by the fact that the concept of a secular state was 
not seriously challenged in the years immediately following inde- 
pendence, despite the unprecedented communal violence of 1947, 
and despite the fact that the partition had removed the pressure of 
the largest religious minority. Indian rejection of the secular state 
and the official recognition of Hinduism after independence would 
also have tended to prove the rightness and the necessity of the 
creation of Pakistan as the only sure protection for the Muslims of 
the subcontinent. 

The ideology and the political movement which produced Pakistan 
made inevitable the proclamation of the new state as an Islamic 
Republic, however difficult it might be to give meaningful content 
to this term in the modern context. Similarly, although not so ob- 
viously, the basic theory of Indian nationalism firmly committed the 
leaders of independent India to the establishment of a secular state. 
Preindependence nationalism and postindependence secularism are 
segments of the same continuous tradition. In nineteenth-century/ 
Europe, nationalism was intimately associated with the idea of de- 



mocracy; in twentieth-century India, nationalism is also closely 
linked to secularism. And the theory of Indian nationalism con- 
tinues to lend powerful support to the secular state. 


Paradoxically, a number of contemporary Indian thinkers derive 
their concept of the secular state from religious premises. These 
religious premises are an integral part of Hindu thought, and may be 
traced back through three thousand years of philosophical tradition. 
Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, the president of India, wrote that in the 
Roman Empire diverse religious beliefs and practices were generally 
tolerated as long as they did not become politically dangerous. In 
the history of the West, religious toleration was well established in 
certain periods, but it was based to some extent on intellectual 
curiosity and, more often, on political expediency. That is, religious 
diversity made toleration necessary if peace were to be maintained 
within the state. The British government in India likewise sought 
to offend no creed and give no special advantage to its own official 
religion, insofar as that was possible. But the Hindu conviction stood 
in marked contrast to the western approach. "The Hindu view is not 
motivated by any considerations of political expediency. It is bound 
up with its religion and not its policy." 8 

Radhakrishnan noted that the Hindu attitude assumes that re- 
ligion is a matter of personal realization. The creeds, dogmas, and 
rituals which characterize outwardly the different religions are mere 
symbols. The symbols are necessary, but their value is only instru- 
mental; that is, they may be used to help lead men to the apprehen- 
sion of the Absolute, by which the creature surrenders to the un- 
created spirit. An idol or fetish is a symbol; so also an abstract 
thought about God; the difference between the two is quantitative 
and not qualitative. "The highest symbols are only symbols, signs of 
an enduring reality which is larger than man's conception or picture 
of it." The Absolute is the one reality. The Absolute or God may 
be known by different names, but is one. So also men may seek by 
different paths, but all paths if pursued sincerely will lead to the 
Supreme. The path one chooses depends on his environment, heredity, 

8 S. Radhakrishnan, Eastern Religions and Western Thought, Oxford University 
Press, London, 1940, p. 316. 



and other factors. But all religions are true, for all can be instruments 
of personal realization. 

The basis for this conception of the relative nature of religious 
differences is first found in the Rig Veda, the most ancient of the 
Sanskrit scriptures. "The real is one, the learned call it by various 
names, Agni, Yama, Matarisvan." "Priests and poets with words 
make into many the hidden reality which is but one." The Upani- 
shads develop the conception further. In the paraphrase of Dr. 
Radhakrishnan: "In the boundless being of Brahman are all the 
living powers that men have worshipped as gods, not as if they were 
standing side by side in space, but each a facet mirroring the whole. 
The different deities are symbols of the fathomless." 9 Vedanta philos- 
ophy carries on this tradition with its insistence upon one absolute 
Truth expressed through manifold manifestations. This conception 
accounts in large part for the freedom of thought and conscience and 
the absence of religious persecution throughout most of Hindu 

This philosophic and religious tradition, so ancient in its origin, 
continues to provide the framework for much of modern Hindu 
thought. The political implications of these conceptions are not 
difficult to deduce. If all religions are equally true, the state must 
allow all religions to function freely. If all religions are equally true, 
the granting by the state of a special status to one particular religion 
is without meaning or justification; all must be accorded equal 

Radhakrishnan explicitly related the Hindu view of reality to the 
conception of a secular state, "It may appear somewhat strange," he 
wrote in 1955, "that our government should be a secular one while 
our culture is rooted in spiritual values. Secularism here does not 
mean irreligion or atheism or even stress on material comforts. It 
proclaims that it lays stress on the universality of spiritual values 
which may be attained by a variety of ways." Emphasizing the 
unity of the religious experience despite all doctrinal differences, 
he declared: "This is the meaning of a secular conception of the 
state though it is not generally understood." 10 

9 Ibid., p. 308. Hindu tolerance stems not only from this conception of the relative 
nature of religious differences, but also from the doctrine that men are born dif- 
ferent because of their \arma, and that therefore the same attitudes, capacities and 
behavior cannot be expected of all men. 

10 S. Radhakrishnan, "Foreword," in S. Abid Hussain, The National Culture of 



Discussing the tradition of Hindu tolerance in more general 
terms, Dr. Radhakrishnan pointed out that from Rig Vedic times 
to the present the Indian genius adopted a policy of live and let live 
toward different religions. According to his interpretation, this same 
genius found expression in a resolution adopted by the Indian 
National Congress in 1951: "It has been the aim and declared 
policy of the Congress since its inception to establish a secular demo- 
cratic state which, while honoring every faith, does not discriminate 
against any religion or community and gives equal rights and free- 
dom of opportunity to all communities and individuals who form the 
nation." 11 Radhakrishnan saw an organic relationship between the 
Rig Vedic text and the Congress resolution. 

Gandhian universalism and the secular state 

This approach fd the secular state is clearly revealed in Gandhi's 
statements on the proposal to partition India and create a Muslim 
state. Gandhi's religious convictions were of course in line with the 
Hindu tradition. In 1928 he declared: "After long study and ex- 
perience I have come to these conclusions, that: (i) all religions 
are true, (2) all religions have some error in them, (3) all religions 
are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism. My veneration for 
other faiths is the same as for my own faith." 12 Because all religions 
are true, Gandhi was convinced that a state based primarily on 
adherence to a particular religion was worse than undemocratic. 
It was a negation of truth. 

In 1940 Gandhi readily admitted that if eighty million Muslims 
insisted on the partition of India, nothing could prevent it. This was 
the political aspect of the problem, and it had to be recognized. But 
the more important religious aspect was that "at the bottom of the 
cry for partition is the belief that Islam is an exclusive brotherhood, 
and anti-Hindu." Gandhi thus opposed the partition proposal on 
religious grounds and called it "an untruth." "Partition means a 
patent untruth. My whole soul rebels against the idea that Hinduism 

India, Jaico Publishing House, Bombay, 1956, pp. vii-viii. A number of sentences 
from this passage were reproduced verbatim (with no reference to the eminent 
author, however) in Mr. Sanjiva Reddy's presidential address to the Indian National 
Congress at Bhavnagar in January 1961. 

11 S. Radhakrishnan, East and West: Some Reflections, George Allen and 
Unwin Ltd., London, 1955, p. 40. 

12 Quoted in Nehru, op. cit., p. 365. 



and Islam represent two antagonistic cultures and doctrines. To 
assent to such a doctrine is for me denial of God. For I believe 
with my whole soul that the God of the Koran is also the God of the 
Gita, and that we are all, no matter by what name designated, 
children of the same God." 13 The proposal for the creation of a 
Muslim state, Pakistan, was the logical culmination of religious 
exclusivism, and ran directly counter to Gandhi's deepest convictions. 

Furthermore, Gandhi's conception of the spiritual nature of true 
religion made him reject any form of state support for religion. 
"We have suffered enough from state-aided religion and a state 
church," he wrote in 1948. "A society or a group which depends 
partly or wholly on state aid for the existence of its religion does not 
deserve, or better still, does not have any religion worth the name." 14 

The state must be so organized that all religions can peacefully 
coexist. In order to ensure this, the functions of the state must be 
non-religious, and the state must deal with people as individuals and 
not as members of religious communities. Gandhi raised the question: 
"What conflict of interest can there be between Hindus and Muslims 
in the matter of revenue, sanitation, police, justice, or the use of 
public conveniences? The difference can only be in religious usage 
and observances with which a secular state has no concern." The 
capacity of the state for serving the people "stops short of the 
service of the different faiths, and the services it can render apply to 
all irrespective of their faiths." 15 

Hindu tolerance is far more than an intellectual abstraction ex- 
pounded by Radhakrishnan and Gandhi. It is indeed a living tradi- 
tion which has contributed vitally to the establishment of a secular 
democratic state in India. There is the doctrinal assertion of the 
essential oneness of all religions, to which many educated Indians 
(and not only Hindus) subscribe as a self-evident truth. More im- 
portant, however, is the general attitude of "live and let live" toward 
all manifestations of religious diversity. When questioned about the 
theoretical basis of India's secular state, a large majority of the 
Indian leaders of all persuasions will immediately relate it to the 
Hindu tradition of tolerance. 

13 M. K. Gandhi, To the Hindus and Muslims, ed. Anand T. Hingorani, Law 
Journal Press, Allahabad, 1942, pp. 415-416, 428. 

14 Harijan, March 23, 1948. 

15 To the Hindus and Muslims, pp. 442-443. 



This ancient tradition, Hindu in its origin, is an integral part of 
the Indian way of life which is shared by all communities. Maulana 
Abul Kalam Azad could speak with a sense of complete identification 
with this tradition. "It is possible that other nations may have to 
learn new lessons for broadening their outlook and for cultivating 
a spirit of tolerance. But so far as India is concerned we can say with 
pride and glory that it is the main trait of our ancient civilization, 
and that we have been steeped in it for thousands of years. In other 
countries differences of thought and action led to mutual warfare 
and bloodshed but in India they were resolved in a spirit of com- 
promise and toleration. Here every kind of faith, every kind of 
culture, every mode of living was allowed to flourish and find its 
own salvation." 16 More important than a theory to support the 
secular state, this tradition provides a social value of considerable 
effectiveness in influencing day-to-day life. 

While the social attitude of tolerance is an unmixed asset, the 
proposition that all religions are equally true and ultimately the 
same has significant limitations as a theoretical foundation for the 
secular state. First, the theory will not be acceptable to those Muslims, 
Christians, and others who believe that there are elements of 
ultimate uniqueness in their respective faiths. Any theory which 
cannot be broadly shared by the members of the minority commu- 
nities is of limited usefulness. 

Second, the theory is itself an unverifiable religious dogma, and 
any attempt on the part of the state to propagate it would come into 
sharp conflict with the basic principles of the secular state. This, 
incidentally, is what was recommended by the University Education 
Commission of which Dr. Radhakrishnan was the chairman. "The 
absolute religious neutrality of the state," the report concluded, 
"can be preserved in state institutions, if what is good and great in 
every religion is presented, and what is more essential, the unity of 
all religion." 17 The assertion of the unity of all religions is as much 
a dogma as the assertion that one religion is infinitely superior to all 
others. The propagation of religious dogmas is simply not a proper 
function of the secular state, despite the fact that some of them 

16 Speeches of Maulana Azad, 1947-1955, Publications Division, Government of 
India, Delhi, 1956, pp. 20-21. 

17 Report of the University Education Commission, Government of India Press, 
Simla, 1950, p. 302. 



(such as the theory under consideration) might be quite useful in 
strengthening the same secular state. 

Third, the assertion that all creeds are equally true can lead, 
paradoxically, to a kind of religious intolerance. A group of Chris- 
tians made the following observation: "The assumption that all 
religions are true in different ways leading to the same goal is 
claimed to be the true basis of tolerance. But actually this belief 
(which, of course, anyone is free to hold) has given rise to an attitude 
of intolerance towards those who are convinced of the uniqueness 
of their faith and feel impelled to preach and propagate it." 18 
As we shall see in the next chapter, vigorous attempts have been 
made in India to restrict the right of religious conversion. 

Last, the proposed basis for the secular state which we are consider- 
ing here places no limitation on the religious functions of the state 
except that of equal treatment to all religions. A system in which 
a state Department of Religious Affairs distributed large grants to 
all religions and exercised vast powers of control over their internal 
affairs would also be in perfect accordance with this principle. 
This is essentially what C. Rajagopalachari proposed, and he based 
it explicitly on Gandhian doctrine. His argument was as follows: 
The Mahatma taught that all religions are equally worthy of 
reverence ; this teaching was not an invention of his for political ends, 
but was derived from common sense and Hindu religious texts of 
the highest authority. India today dare not forget religion in its 
quest for material prosperity. "And if India's government is to be an 
institution integrated with her people's lives, if it is to be a true 
democracy and not a superimposed western institution staged in 
Indian dress, religion must have an important and recognized place 
in it, with impartiality and equal reverence for all the creeds and 
denominations prevailing in India. This alone would be historically 
consistent with the peaceful revolution brought about by our 
Nation's Father." 10 Yet this could not be done in a secular state as 
we have defined it. There is need for a political theory which limits 
the scope of state activities to secular functions. 

While the theory of Hindu tolerance has these weaknesses as a 

18 The Secular State in India: A Christian Point of View, Y.M.C.A. Publishing 
House, Calcutta, 1954, p. 6. 

19 C. Rajagopalachari, "The Place of Religion in Future India," Message of 
India, 1959, vol. i, p. 83. (Italics added.) 


theoretical basis, its great significance should not be underestimated. 
A theory which has strong roots in the indigenous thought and 
culture of India, as this one has, is an invaluable asset in creating 
a deep sense of acceptance of the secular state. Intellectually, psy- 
chologically, and religiously, the theory is a powerful one in devel- 
oping the broad-based conviction that secularism belongs in India. 


K. M. Panikkar categorically declared that the roots of India's 
democratic, egalitarian, and secular state were in the West, not in 
ancient Hindu thought. The valid experience of any country be- 
comes the common inheritance of civilized humanity, Panikkar 
asserted, and India has assimilated much of western thought. 20 

In chapter i, the historical development of the conception of the 
secular state in the West was examined. Many theoretical strands, 
both religious and secular, have been woven into this conception. 
Some of the most ardent advocates of separation of church and state 
were found among the Protestant minorities in seventeenth- and 
eighteenth-century America. Their characteristic emphasis was 
that religion is purely a matter of the individual conscience, that its 
spiritual nature is such that civil authority based on coercive power 
has no rightful jurisdiction over it. New scientific interests and 
theories, the rationalism and scepticism of the Enlightenment, anti- 
clericalism, the industrial revolution, humanist liberalism, Marxism 
and democratic socialist theories, and pragmatism have all helped 
to produce an outlook on life that is fundamentally non-religious, and 
this secularism has led to a much diminished role for religion in 
government and public affairs as in private life. 

How has western secularism influenced contemporary Indians in 
their thinking about the secular state? A substantial number of 
intellectuals have been profoundly influenced by western rationalism 
and humanism, and are secularists in their personal philosophies of 
life. They see religion, especially in India, as associated with social 
backwardness, gross superstition, and fanaticism. The scientific, eco- 
nomic, and social progress of the country, they assert, will vary 
inversely with the prevalence of the religious outlook. Other mem- 

20 K. M. Panikkar, The State and the Citizen, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 
1956, p. 28. 



bers of the westernised minority, however, take a more kindly view 
of religion. Recognizing in their ancestral faiths certain values worth 
keeping, they would like to see religion stripped of its unwholesome 
accretions and brought more into line with the requirements of 
modern life. A third group, and one that is growing rapidly under 
the secularizing influences of modern life, is profoundly indifferent 
to religion. The defects of religion elicit neither hostility nor the 
desire for reform. 

Intellectual leaders representing all of these views see the secular 
state as one of the West's valuable contributions to India. The secular 
state is fundamental to the modern approach to political life; it is 
part of the liberal democratic tradition which India has inherited. 
The secular state is also the only fair and democratic solution to the 
problem of religious minorities. 

The proposal for the partition of India and the creation of a 
Muslim state provided the political background for Gandhi's defini- 
tion of the secular state. During the period 1940-1946 much was 
written on the controversial question of partition including a small 
book entitled A Secular State for India by Dr. Lanka Sundaram. The 
writer referred to himself as one who had "drunk deep at the fountain 
of western democratic ideas." In this book is presented a conception 
of the secular state derived from western sources. The approach of 
the writer is political and historical rather than religious, and religion 
is viewed purely as a sociological phenomenon. "If the history of the 
world yields any lesson of a lasting character, it is that religion cannot 
be mixed up with politics, if religion is to survive and if politics is to 
preserve unto any people their just rights and to make them strong 
and self-representing." Sundaram pointed out that despite ritualistic 
forms, ceremonies, and institutions which still bind the Church of 
England to the state, "British polity today is secular in the extreme, 
and has nothing to do with religion as such being the foundation and 
motive force of politics." 21 The writer argued the feasibility of a 
secular constitution for India under which all religions would enjoy 
equal status and rights and by which the unity of India could be 

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru has undoubtedly been the out- 
standing champion of the secular state in India since independence. 

21 Lanka Sundaram, A Secular State for India, Rajkamal Publications, Delhi, 1944, 
pp. 2, 4-5. 



His personal philosophy of life is completely secular. On occasion he 
has severely criticized the superstitious practices and dogmatism 
sometimes associated with religion. Writing in 1944 Nehru claimed 
to have no interest whatsoever in the question of a future life, and 
regarded the idea of a personal God as completely foreign to his way 
of thinking. His closest approximation to a religious feeling was a 
sense of awe when he contemplated the mysteries of the universe. 
Nevertheless, as to the question of what the mysterious was Nehru 
could only say, "I do not know." He revealed much of his own mind 
when he wrote: "We have therefore to function in line with the 
highest ideals of the age we live in. ... Those ideals may be classed 
under two heads; humanism and the scientific spirit." 22 

It has been pointed out, however, that Nehru has been more 
tolerant of Buddhist superstition than of the Hindu variety. Nehru 
participated in Buddhist ceremonies in Calcutta in 1949 when he 
received the sacred relics of the two disciples of the Buddha, Sariputta 
and Mogallana, from the British government. The relics, object of 
intense veneration and worship, were transferred by Nehru to a 
Buddhist monastery and, in 1952, were finally restored to the great 
stupa at Sanchi. Hindus have frequently complained of Nehru's 
lack of a corresponding reverence for their religious traditions; since 
Hindu religion, unlike Buddhism, has no international political 
implications, the Prime Minister does not hesitate to denounce its 
superstitions. On several occasions Nehru has referred to the huge 
hydro-electric dams as the "temples of the new India" from which 
people can draw inspiration to press on in the task of building a 
modern nation. 

A few references will illustrate the western orientation of Nehru's 
conception of the secular state. Because his view is not dependent on 
religious presuppositions, the divergence from Gandhi's approach 
was basic. It has been noted elsewhere that "Gandhi's starting point 
was that of a religious man who, believing all religions to be true, 
accepted a theory of the state which fit in with this belief; hence the 
secular state. Nehru's starting point was that of a practical political 
thinker and leader who, while personally believing all religions to be 
mostly untrue, had to provide for their freedom to function peace- 

22 Nehru, op. cit., pp. 16, 571. 



fully without prejudicing the democratic system; hence the secular 
state." 23 Gandhi and Nehru very well typify two of the diverse cur* 
rents of thought presented in this chapter. 

Nehru defined the secular state as a state which protects all religions 
but does not favor one at the expense of others, and does not establish 
any religion as the official creed. The secular state meant the "cardinal 
doctrine of modern democratic practice, that is, the separation of the 
state from religion." 24 The idea of the secular state as the modern 
form of polity is often found in Nehru's statements and reflects the 
western orientation of his thinking. "Do we believe in a national 
state which includes people of all religions and shades of opinion 
and is essentially secular as a state, or do we believe in the religious, 
theocratic conception of a state which considers people of other 
faiths as something beyond the pale ? That is an odd question to ask, 
for the idea of a religious or theocratic state was given up by the 
world some centuries ago and has no place in the mind of the modern 
man. And yet the question has to be put in India today, for many of 
us have tried to jump back to a past age." 25 For Nehru, the secular 
state is the sine qua non of modern democratic practice. 

Materialist and Christian interpretations 

While Nehru is an agnostic humanist and highly critical of certain 
unenlightened forms of religious practice, he is not motivated by a 
spirit of hostility toward religion as such. The secular state is part of 
the democratic tradition, an arrangement which permits agnostics 
and believers alike to function according to their respective convic- 
tions. There is a school of thought, however, which insists that a 
secular state cannot function in a religious society, that secularism 
in government can only be built upon a broad-based philosophy of 
rationalism and materialism. According to this view, the Gandhian 
idea that all religions are equally true may lead to a non-communal 
state but never to a truly secular state. 

Marxian materialism, which regards all religion as a reactionary 
element in society, contributed much to the development of this view 

28 Donald E. Smith, Nehru and Democracy: The Political Thought of an Asian 
Democrat, Orient Longmans, Calcutta, 1958, p. 156. 

24 The Hindu, July 17, 1951, and April n, 1950. 

25 Jawaharlal Nehru, Independence and Ajter, John Day Company, New York, 
1950, p. 122. 



of secularism in India. 26 M. N. Roy was a prominent Communist 
leader until his expulsion from the Comintern in 1929. Thereafter, 
Roy launched out on an intellectual quest which ultimately led him 
to his own synthesis of materialism and liberal humanism. Until his 
death in 1954, Roy was the most noted exponent of the view that the 
essential reform which Indian society must undergo is the elimina- 
tion of the religious outlook. 

A prolific writer, Roy concluded his two-volume historical survey 
of western thought with the affirmation that only a restated materi- 
alism could provide the metaphysical foundation for the view of life 
which was needed "a secular humanist ethics and a revolutionary 
social philosophy.'' Man could be made spiritually free only by 
abolishing the supernatural. "The desire for freedom in social and 
political life, being an expression of the basic human urge for spiritual 
freedom, can be satisfied only by ... a world view which does away 
with the necessity of assuming a supernatural power or metaphysical 
sanction." 27 According to this approach, a constitutional setup which 
excludes religion from the functions of the state is necessary, but this 
only touches the fringe of the real problem. What is required is 
something far more fundamental, the secularization of both indi- 
vidual and social life. True spiritual freedom means not the freedom 
to choose from among various religious doctrines, but the freedom 
of the human spirit from the tyranny of all of them. 

Ancient India produced several schools of political and philo- 
sophical thought which were in some sense secular. In chapter 3 
mention was made of the Arthashastra thinkers, who severed the 
connection between theology and politics. Reason was placed over 
sacred authority, and religion was not permitted to encroach upon 
the domain of political science or economics. Various schools of 
philosophy rejected some of the basic tenets of Hindu orthodoxy. 
Thus the LoJ^ayatas and the Carva\as denied the existence of the 
soul, and the classical Samkhya school was originally atheistic. But 
these schools of thought have not maintained a continuous living 
tradition down to modern times. They are intellectual museum- 
pieces, interesting but not influential. While logically they might have 

26 The contribution was not made by the Communist Party of India, however. As 
we have noted, the Indian Communists followed the opportunistic policy of sup- 
porting Muslim separatism in 1942-1947. 

27 M. N. Roy, Reason, Romanticism, and Revolution, Renaissance Publishers, Ltd., 
Calcutta, 1955, vol. 2, p. 298. 



contributed something to the theoretical undergirding of the modern 
secular state, in terms of recent history their influence has been 
practically nil. However, secularists whose thinking has been largely 
molded through contact with western thought often attempt to 
strengthen their case by appealing to these ancient Indian traditions. 
% In a biting critique of Radhakrishnan's interpretation of the Hindu 
view of life, M. N. Roy pointed out that, like ancient Greece, India 
also had produced naturalist, secular, and rationalist currents of 
philosophical thought. "More than two thousand years before 
Radhakrishnan, the founder of the Sam\hya system of philosophy, 
Kapila, denied the existence of God because there was no evidence. 
And Kapila's agnostic naturalism was preceded by the materialist 
(atomist) rationalism of the Nyaya-Vaisesifa system expounded by 
Kanada and Gautama/ 528 Roy complained that Radhakrishnan 
expounded the post-Buddhist Vedanta system as though it were the 
only Hindu view of life. 

M. N. Roy's "Radical Humanism" has won a small but devoted 
following of Indian intellectuals, but has made very little impact on 
the thinking of the masses. The same is true of such organizations as 
the Indian Rationalist Association. Only among the Tamils of South 
India has a frontal attack on Hindu religion developed into a 
popular movement. E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker's Self -Respect Move- 
ment, founded in 1925, derived much of its attitude toward religion 
from the writings of Robert Ingersoll. Ingersoll's attacks on the 
Bible and Christianity inspired similar arguments against the 
Puranas and Hinduism. 

The emotional appeal of this movement and the later Dravida 
Kazhagam, however, was provided by its anti-Brahmanism. Op- 
position to priestcraft and superstition became closely associated 
with the struggle against the alleged domination of the Brahman, 
the Aryan, Sanskrit, and North India. Idealized values were as- 
sociated with the non-Brahman, the Dravidian, and the Tamil 
language. Whatever the effect of the rationalism of the Dravida 
Kazhagam and its offshoot, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam 
(founded in 1949), the blatant racialism and communalism of the 

28 M. N. Roy, "Radhakrishnan in the Perspective of Indian Philosophy," The 
Philosophy of Sarvepalli Radhafoishnan, ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp, Tudor Publishing 
Company, New York, 1952, p. 548. See Dale Riepe, The Naturalistic Tradition in 
Indian Thought, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1961. 



movement must be regarded as extremely deleterious to the devel- 
opment of the secular state. 29 

We have noted that many diverse currents of thought, both 
secular and religious, have contributed to the concept of the secular 
state in the West. Nehru and M. N. Roy drew heavily upon the 
I rationalist and humanist traditions. Other Indians, however, and 
especially the intellectual leaders of the Christian community, have 
stressed the theory of the secular state derived from religious sources 
in the West. 

A group of Protestant Christian leaders met at Nagpur in 1953 
to discuss the secular state, and the initial fruit of their discussion 
was a pamphlet entitled The Secular State in India: A Christian 
Point of View. The theoretical basis presented in this report can be 
summed up briefly. The secular state is necessary, since partiality to 
any one religion would tend to create group disharmony and 
militate against national unity. But, "apart from this consideration of 
practical politics, the secular state is desirable also from the view- 
point of religion." The state exists in order to establish justice and 
promote the social and economic well-being of its citizens, in ac- 
cordance with the higher moral law. The Christian faith claims that 
the primary concern of religion is with man's spiritual life, with 
salvation, and thus "concerns an area of human need which is 
outside the scope of the state/' 

Religion and the state must thus be viewed from the point of view 
of their differing aims and purposes. "In fulfilling their varied 
functions, the church and the state adopt different methods. While 
the state by its very nature exercises coercive authority in order to 
secure order and justice in human relations, the church in its witness 
to God's redemptive action seeks the free response of man through 
persuasive understanding and loving fellowship." 30 Because of the 
inherently different functions and methods of religion and the state, 
any official relationship between them tends to damage the true 
nature of both. As can be seen from this brief summary, the principles 

29 See P. D. Devanandan, The Dravida Kazhagam: A Revolt against Brahmanism, 
Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society, Bangalore, 1960. In the 
1962 elections the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam won 50 out of 206 seats to become 
the chief opposition party in the Madras state assembly. The DMK demands the 
creation of Dravidanad, a separate sovereign state composed of the present states 
of Madras, Andhra Pradesh, Mysore, and Kerala. 

80 The Secular State in India, pp. 2-3. 



of Roger Williams are still being expounded, and in words not very 
different from those used in the seventeenth century. 

There are obvious differences between the Hindu and Christian 
approaches to the theoretical basis of the secular state. The develop- 
ment of the secular state in the western Christian tradition never 
proceeded on the assumption that all religions were equally true and 
valid, and ultimately one and the same. As between Catholic and 
Protestant, or even among various Protestant denominations, there 
was usually far more consciousness of differences than of similarities, 
despite the fact that all were Christians. It was the frank recognition 
of these differences which led to the conclusion that the state, which 
governs and protects all the people, must therefore be divorced 
from religion. Accordingly, matters of religious belief were left 
strictly to the conscience of the individual citizen. 

A western conception: relevant to India? 

The western origin of the conception of the secular state has 
given rise to some serious questions. Hindu leaders object that the 
secular state in the West was the result of the failure to solve the 
religious problem. Since the religious problem had been solved 
successfully in India, the secular state today is a western importation 
with no real relevance to India's needs. 81 The secular state in the 
West was the answer to a twofold problem. First, separation of 
church and state in Europe was in part an arrangement to curtail the 
political power of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. But religious authority 
in India never attempted to usurp the powers of the secular authority; 
there is no Indian parallel to the struggle between pope and emperor, 
church and state, which occupies such a large part of the history of 
Europe. Second, the secular state in the West was found to be the 
best guarantee of the preservation of religious liberty. By the separa- 
tion of church and state the coercive power of the latter could not be 
used to enforce religious conformity. By denying to government the 
right to interfere in religious matters, the freedom of religion of 
the individual and the dissenting church could be assured. At this 
point also, the secular state in India is the solution to a nonexistent 
problem. The Hindu state was always tolerant of religious differences, 

81 This thesis was propounded in an interesting lecture by Professor M. A. 
Venkata Rao, president of the Mysore state Jana Sangh, in Bangalore in May 1961. 
Parts of this argument have frequently been used by Hindus of other political 
persuasions who regard the secular state in India as a regrettable necessity at best. 



and there was never any attempt to enforce uniformity in religion. 
The freedom of religion of the individual in the traditional Hindu 
state was practically unlimited. 

With respect to the first objection, the desire to restrict the polit- 
ical power of the church was a factor in the separation of church and 
state in France, but had little to do with this development in the 
United States. It can be readily admitted that this objective has no 
relevance to the Indian situation. As far as freedom of religion is 
concerned, however, the secular state is of undoubted importance, 
in India as in any other country. Even under the present Constitu- 
tion, the powers of state interference in the internal affairs of re- 
ligious institutions are considerable. Corporate freedom of religion 
would certainly suffer if the state were legally connected with 
Hinduism, in which case one could expect the creation of a state 
Ecclesiastical Department with vast powers of control over Hindu 
temples and maths, and probably over Muslim, Christian, and Sikh 
institutions as well. 

These objections to the secular state are based on the broad sweep 
of Indian history starting with Vedic times, but they conven- 
iently overlook the last thirty years of the Hindu-Muslim com- 
munal problem. This too, unfortunately, is a part of Indian history, 
and the secular state is surely an important part of the solution to 
this problem. In view of the bitter communal suspicion and hostility 
which led to the partition of the country, and the continued existence 
of large minorities, it is impossible seriously to claim that the secular 
state has no relevance to India's real problems. By refusing to iden- 
tify the state with any particular religion, the equality of the in- 
dividual citizen and the equal protection of all faiths are secured 
and confirmed. 





THE Indian Constitution guarantees to all persons not only freedom 
of conscience but the right to profess, practice, and propagate religion. 
The liberal tradition has insisted that liberty of thought and liberty of 
expression are intimate and inseparable. John Stuart Mill defined 
the former right in sweeping language "absolute freedom of opin- 
ion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, 
moral or theological." The liberty to express and publish such opin- 
ions, Mill continued, might at first appear to fall in a different 
category, "but, being almost of as much importance as the liberty 
of thought itself, and resting in great part on the same reasons, is 
practically inseparable from it." This chapter will deal with the 
numerous problems which have arisen in India in applying this 
principle to the propagation of religion. 


Despite the clarity of the constitutional provision, there is in India 
a continuing debate on whether the propagation of religion should 
be permitted, and, if so, on what terms. Very much involved in the 
debate are some of the basic assumptions and affirmations of Hindu 
religion. As an ethnic religion, Hinduism has never sought to bring 
converts into its fold. Hindu doctrine contains little which would sup- 
port the missionary motive as religiously valid, and much that would 
condemn it. The fact that the proselytizing faiths which came to 
India, Islam and Christianity, were also associated with foreign con- 
querors, further complicates the problem. In the continuing debate on 
the propagation of religion there are five important points of view, 
which we shall now consider. 

The general Hindu attitude 

"The preaching of religion" is a phrase which is out of place in 
the context of Hinduism. From the days of the Upanishadic sages 


to the present, the Hindu emphasis has been on teaching the ex- 
plication of abstruse religious doctrine. The guru or swami attempts 
to enlighten the understanding of his disciples by the patient ex- 
position of certain scriptures and by practical guidance drawn from 
his own religious experience. The purpose of such teaching is to 
bring the small group of disciples through a course of self -discipline 
toward the goal of mystic union with the Absolute. 1 

In recent years there has been a new emphasis within Hinduism 
on the systematic propagation of religious teaching among the masses. 
Itinerant swamis expounding the Bhagavad Gita or other scriptures 
attract vast audiences. Concerned over the growth of secularist and 
materialist influences in Hindu society, religious leaders sense the 
need for more coordinated efforts to teach the principles of Hindu 

Part of the difficulty is that, on the whole, Hinduism has lacked 
effective institutional means to propagate its teachings. There are now 
signs of a trend toward a congregational form of worship which 
would provide such means. In a few of the temples in cities and 
towns there are weekly discourses on doctrinal subjects. The Dharma 
Prachara Sangam presented a memorandum in 1956 to the com- 
missioner of Hindu religious endowments in Madras, requesting that 
temples set aside funds to provide lectures explaining the funda- 
mentals of Hinduism. "It is absolutely necessary that temple funds 
be used for religious instruction as part of congregational worship 
in the temples," the Sangam asserted. "It is an essential duty of 
temple trustees to devote part of the funds to propagating the Hindu 
religion." 2 

Mr. M. Patanjali Sastri, former chief justice of the Supreme Court 
of India, emphasized similar ideas when addressing a Hindu religious 
and cultural conference in Kerala in 1955. Expressing alarm that in 
these days "God is dismissed as a superstition and religion is regarded 
as a mode of exploitation," Mr. Patanjali Sastri called for a positive 
program to propagate the truths of religion. He felt that the maths 
(or mutts) should take the lead. "When that religion is being at- 
tacked and its deities are exposed to vilification and insult in public, 
is it not the obvious duty of the mutts to come forward and organize 

1 Paul David Devanandan, "Hindus and Christian Evangelism," Christian Century, 
1957, vol. 74, p. 740. 

2 Christian Century, 1956, vol. 73, p. 1456. See also The Hindu, August 2, 1955. 



a counter-movement on missionary lines, not for proselytizing, for 
that is foreign to the spirit and tradition of the Hindu faith, but for 
refuting and repelling these onslaughts by spreading knowledge of 
the fundamentals of that faith. Properly trained and equipped 
pracharakjs (preachers) can be employed as evangelists of the Hindu 
faith. Religious literature could also be published and distributed 
summarizing in easily intelligible form the teachings of the Vedas, 
the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita." 3 

There is thus a new emphasis on the propagation of religious 
teaching within Hinduism. The constitutional guarantee of the 
right to propagate religion will perhaps have greater significance 
for the Hindu in the future than it has in the past. The general Hindu 
attitude toward propagation which results in conversion from one 
religion to another, however, is a decidedly negative one. Several 
basic objections to conversions are put forth. 

First, conversions have tended to disrupt the established patterns 
of family, caste, and village social life. 4 The conversion of a Hindu 
to Christianity or Islam has invariably led to excommunication from 
his caste and frequently to expulsion from the joint family to which 
he belonged. Hinduism allows the greatest latitude in religious 
and philosophical beliefs, but actions which threaten its social soli- 
darity by transferring the individual to a different religious com- 
munity will be vigorously resisted. The general Hindu attitude 
places the value of social cohesion far above that of individual 

Second, it has frequently been stated that conversion, especially 
to Christianity, leads to the virtual abandonment of Indian culture. 
Gandhi once wrote: "In Hindu households the advent of a mission- 
ary has meant the disruption of the family, coming in the wake of 
change of dress, manners, language, food and drink." 5 Christian 
converts, he asserted, tended to become denationalized and western- 
ized they not only gave up their ancestral faith but also their 
national culture. 

8 The Hindu, May 19, 1955. 

4 See C. Rajagopalachari's letter to Dr. Blaise Levai, quoted in full in Blaise 
Levai, ed., Revolution in Missions, The Popular Press, Vellore, 1957, pp. 5-6. 

5 Harijan y May n, 1935. Two very useful collections of excerpts from Gandhi's 
writings on this and related topics are: Christian Missions: Their Place in India, 
Navajivan Press, Ahmedabad, 1941, and Clifford Manshardt, ed., The Mahatma and 
the Missionary^ Henry Regnery Company, Chicago, 1949. Most of the excerpts 
arc from Harijan and Young India. 



A third criticism of conversions, voiced frequently in the pre-inde- 
pendence period, was that they were often motivated by political 
considerations. Under the system of separate electorates, the various 
religious communities received representation in the legislatures 
roughly in proportion to their numerical strength, but with weight- 
age for the Muslim minority. As political consciousness developed 
through the 1930*5 with the approach of self-government, the Hindu- 
Muslim power struggle became more intense. In the light of separate 
electorates, defections from Hinduism or accessions to the Muslim 
fold had obvious political implications. B. R. Ambedkar, spokesman 
for the Depressed Classes, in 1935 urged the Harijans to renounce 
Hinduism and embrace any other religion which would afford 
"equality of status and treatment." Thus the prospect of mass con- 
versions to Christianity or Islam became a distinct political threat to 
the majority community. With the abandonment of separate elec- 
torates under the present Constitution, this argument has lost much 
of its force. The Niyogi report, however, found new political motives 
connected with the cold war. 6 

Another criticism of religious conversions is that they are fre- 
quently promoted by unethical or at least questionable methods. It 
has been contended that the foreign missionaries' medical, social, 
and educational work is conducted not out of humanitarian con- 
siderations but with ulterior motives, namely, the desire for con- 
versions. Gandhi frequently expressed the idea that true humani- 
tarian service could never be lowered to anything less than an end in 
itself. "Service, which has not the slightest touch of self in it, is itself 
the highest religion. . . . Conversion and service go ill together/' 7 

Mass conversions to Christianity or Islam have drawn the heaviest 
criticism. This method of propagating a new religion accepted the 
fact of the solidarity of the Indian family or village and made use 
of it, thus avoiding the problems which were created when indi- 
vidual converts were uprooted from their social milieu. The Hindu 
criticism, of course, was that this method frequently resulted in the 
formal conversion of many people who had very little understanding 
of their new faith. 

6 The charge was that American missionaries were creating Christian enclaves in 
India to further United States objectives in the struggle against the Soviet Union. 
The report is discussed in detail in the next chapter. 

1 Harijan, May 25, 1935; Young India, January 19, 1928; The Mahatma and the 
Missionary, p. 125. 



Recent developments in India have included conversions, even mass 
conversions, in a form which the Hindu finds it difficult or embar- 
rassing to criticize. In recent years great stress has been laid on the 
Hindu origins of Buddhism, and the close relationship between the 
two faiths. Commenting on the renaissance of Hinduism, S. Radha- 
krishnan stated: "The re-affiliation of Buddhism to Hinduism is one 
of the achievements of the present renaissance." 8 Mass conversions 
of Hindus to Buddhism have thus posed a special problem for those 
who reject on principle the propagation of religion with the object of 

The conversion to Buddhism of 20,000 Hindus of the Koliya 
Kshatriya caste in Ajmer, northern India, produced a considerable 
stir throughout the country. But this was not to be an isolated phe- 
nomenon. In 1955 Ambedkar, who twenty years before had urged the 
Harijans to abandon Hinduism, announced his decision to embrace 
Buddhism, a religion which does not recognize caste. As president 
of the Scheduled Castes Federation, he made an all-out bid to lead 
en masse his followers into the new faith, on the occasion of the 
2,5ooth anniversary of the Buddha's death. 

At a special ceremony in Nagpur in October 1956, Dr. Ambedkar 
took what he called the "most important step" of his life, when he 
along with 300,000 followers entered the Buddhist fold. The cere- 
mony was conducted by Mahathevar Chandramani, the oldest Bud- 
dhist monk in India. The converts took the threefold Buddhist vow: 
"I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the Dhamma (law) ; 
I take refuge in the Sangha (Buddhist order)." 

Addressing a mass meeting the day after the ceremony, Ambedkar 
stated : "The Hindu religion offered no opportunity for the untouch- 
ables to improve their lot, for it is based on inequality. . . . On the 
other hand, Buddhism ... is based on equality and justice." 9 
Dr. Ambedkar expressed his determination to spread the gospel of 
Buddhism. "I would like to see all India become Buddhist," he 
declared. Ambedkar died, however, within two months of his 

Interestingly enough, among the converts was M. B. Niyogi, a 
Brahman and former chief justice of the state of Madhya Pradesh. 

8 Quoted in S. Kulandran, Resurgent Religions, Luttcrworth Press, London, 1957, 
p. 22. The relationship between Hinduism and Buddhism is discussed in another 
context in chapter 13, "Hinduism and Indian Culture." 

9 Christian Century, 1956, vol. 73, p. 1494. 



A few months before, Mr. Niyogi had submitted the report of his 
committee's inquiry into Christian missionary activity in the state. 
The report, considered below, condemns in harsh terms the practice 
of encouraging mass conversions to Christianity. 10 

The Hindu universalist approach 

In the last chapter the concept of Hindu tolerance as part of the 
theoretical undergirding of the secular state was discussed. Gandhi 
and Radhakrishnan contributed much to this school of thought 
which emphasized the conviction that all religions are equally valid 
and equally partial paths to truth. The authority for this belief is 
found in the ancient Hindu scriptures, such as the Upanishad 
which declares: "As the different streams having their sources in 
different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the 
different paths which men take through different tendencies, various 
though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to thee." This 
belief in the essential unity of all religions can, as we have seen, be 
used as the foundation for a state which does not grant a special 
status to any one religion. But it can also be used as the basis for 
significant restrictions on the right to propagate religion. For if all 
religions are equally true, what justification can there be for the 
propagation of one religion among the adherents of another? Any 
attempt to proselytize is resented as a profoundly unspiritual act. 

Gandhi once wrote that the different religions were branches of 
the same majestic tree; all faiths were "equally true, though being 
received and interpreted through human instruments equally im- 
perfect." 11 This great truth should preclude even the thought that 
another individual embrace one's own faith. "Accepting this position, 
we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should 
become a Hindu, or if we are Mussalmans, not that a Hindu or a 
Christian should become a Mussalman, nor should we even secretly 
pray that any one should be converted, but our inmost prayer should 
be that a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim 
and a Christian a better Christian." 12 Gandhi felt so strongly about 
this question that on another occasion he wrote: "If I had power 
and could legislate, I should stop all proselytizing." 13 Gandhi did 

10 See chapter 7, "The Question of Foreign Missionaries." 

11 Harijan, January 30, 1937. 

12 Young India, January 19, 1928; The Mahatma and the Missionary, p. 73. 
Harijan, May n, 1935; The Mahatma and the Missionary, p. 69. 



agree, however, that if an individual found that he could realize 
God better through embracing a different religion, he should have 
complete freedom to do so. 

A bishop of the Church of South India analyzed the Hindu's 
metaphysical and religious objections to conversion in forceful 
language: "The absolute monism of the Vedanta destroys in advance 
all claims on behalf of any religion for the allegiance of all men. 
To those who are under the influence of the Vedanta, Christian 
evangelism is an intolerable assertion of ultimate truth on behalf of 
one among the many forms of illusion." 14 Bishop Newbigin went on 
to state that, for most well-educated Hindus, "the attempt to persuade 
a man to change his faith is something that arouses the deepest 
hostility and disgust/' There is some exaggeration in this statement, 
but not much. 

Does the Hindu universalist approach entirely preclude the propa- 
gation of spiritual teaching across religious boundaries? Not at all, 
for once the conversion motive is eliminated, there is wide scope for 
the sharing of religious insights among the various world faiths. 
Professor P. J. Mehta expressed this view in his remarks to Christian 
missionaries: "By all means discuss your faith with us, share your 
views and your experiences with us, but . . . India would like to 
suggest that the true missionary is one who . . . helps the other to live 
his own faith more perfectly and not to forsake to the missionary's 
faith." 15 

The Hindu communalist position 

The tradition of militant Hinduism can be traced from the Arya 
Samaj, founded in 1875, through Tilak and the Extremists, to the 
Hindu Mahasabha and present-day Jana Sangh. Abandoning the 
earlier defensiveness, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, founder of the 
Arya Samaj, confidently proclaimed the superiority of Hinduism 
over Islam and Christianity. In the 1920*5 an important expression 
of this tradition was the shuddhi ("cleansing" or "purification") 
movement, which sought to reconvert to Hinduism those who had 
formerly been won to Islam or Christianity. 16 The stated objective 

14 J. E. Leslie Newbigin, A South India Diary, SCM Press, London, 1951, p. 59. 

15 Quoted in P. D. Devanandan, loc. cit. 

16 William Roy Smith, Nationalism and Reform in India, Yale University Press, 
New Haven, 1938, pp. 332-333> 35-35i- 



of the movement was "to realize the ideal of unifying India nation- 
ally, socially and religiously." 17 

The shuddhi movement never defined the sphere of its operations 
too clearly. Recent converts to Islam or Christianity were surely 
regarded as potential proselytes. But the vast majority of the Indian 
Muslims and Christians were the descendants of converts from Hin- 
duism, although the conversions had taken place generations or even 
centuries ago. There seemed to be no necessity to exclude these 
groups from the scope of shuddhi activities. 

The movement gained impetus because of the "political implica- 
tions" of conversions mentioned above. V. D. Savarkar, a leader of 
the Hindu Mahasabha, declared: "Political power in democracies 
hinges more and more on the population strength of a community 
which in the case of the Hindus must depend in the main on the 
proportion in which the Hindus succeed in stopping the dreadful 
conversion activities of alien faiths and in accelerating the reclama- 
tion of the alienated numbers back to the Hindu fold. In a country 
like India where a religious unit tends inevitably to grow into a 
cultural and national unit, the shuddhi [reconversion to Hinduism] 
movement ceases to be merely theological or dogmatic, but assumes 
the wider significance of a political and national movement. If the 
Muslims increase in population, the center of political power is bound 
to be shifted in their favor." 18 The All India Hindu Mahasabha 
began to gather strength in the 1920^, and a number of outstanding 
Arya Samaj leaders became associated with this more politically- 
oriented organization. The shuddhi movement became an important 
aspect of the party's program. It was claimed that 450,000 Muslim 
Rajputs were reconverted to Hinduism in 1922-1923 

The shuddhi movement gave rise to a counter-movement, called 
tanzim, in which the Muslims organized their efforts to win ad- 
herents from other religions and to resist the reconversion of Muslims 
to Hinduism. 20 In its election manifesto of 1951 the Hindu Maha- 
sabha pointed with pride to its part in the shuddhi movement over 

17 R. C. Majumdar, H. C. Raychaudhuri, and K. Datta, An Advanced History 
of India, Macmillan Company, London, 1950, p. 883. 

18 "The Hindu Mahasabha," The Indian Year Boo\ 1942-1943, Times of India 
Press, Bombay, p. 826. 

19 /#rf., p. 827. 

20 W. R. Smith, op. cit., p. 351. 



the past thirty years. 21 Hindu missionary preachers have gone out to 
propagate their faith vigorously and have not lacked success. In 1949 
a shuddhi ceremony was held at a famous temple near Tiruvalla, in 
the then state of Travancore, at which 1,500 Christian converts were 
formally readmitted to Hinduism. 22 

As will be recognized immediately, a vast gulf separates the 
thought of Gandhian Hinduism from that of communalist Hindu- 
ism, The Gandhian universalist holds to the equal validity of all 
religions; the legitimate propagation of religion means the sharing 
of spiritual experience with no desire for conversions. The Hindu 
communalist regards his as the oldest and highest of the living re- 
ligions of the world; the propagation of religion means aggressive 
and determined efforts to bring Muslims and Christians back into 
the Hindu fold. Because of the way in which Hinduism, Indian 
culture, and nationalism are all linked together in his mind, he tends 
to regard the conversion of Muslims and Christians to Hinduism as 
something akin to naturalization. 

Gandhi deprecated the shuddhi movement on numerous occasions. 
Although glorying in the broad tolerance which had traditionally 
permitted all kinds of doctrines and practices to find lodgment within 
Hinduism, he could not see a place there for this movement. "In my 
opinion there is no such thing as proselytism in Hinduism as it is 
understood in Christianity or to a lesser extent in Islam. The Arya 
Samaj has, I think, copied the Christians in planning its propaganda. 
The modern method does not appeal to me. It has done more harm 
than good. Though regarded as a matter of the heart purely and one 
between the Maker and oneself, it has degenerated into an appeal 
to the selfish instinct. The Arya Samaj preacher is never so happy as 
when he is reviling other religions. My Hindu instinct tells me that 
all religions are more or less true." 28 It was Gandhi's conviction that 
"the real shuddhi movement should consist in each one trying to 
arrive at perfection in his or her own faith." 

In concluding this discussion of the Hindu communalist position 
on the question of the propagation of religion, it is important to note 
one further point. The fact that certain Hindu groups are zealous in 
their efforts to convert non-Hindus does not mean that they are 

21 Election Manifesto of the Akjiil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, New Delhi, 1951, 
p. 2. 

22 Christian Century, 1949, vol. 66, p. 1546. 

23 Young India, May 29, 1924; The Mahatma and the Missionary, p. 67. 



prepared to grant equal rights to other religions to propagate their 
respective faiths. The militant Hindu position is built not upon the 
principle of full freedom to propagate religion, but upon the fact 
that deep inroads have been made on the Hindu community by 
conversions to other religions. The shuddhi movement was a de- 
fensive reaction to this particular historical situation. Hinduism has 
been the victim of aggression, and hence has rights which cannot 
legitimately be claimed by the aggressor faiths. Furthermore, ac- 
cording to the communalist, conversion to Hinduism is necessary 
to make Indian nationals out of Muslims and Christians. As one 
RSS worker told the author, "Hinduism is Indian nationalism.' 


The Indian Christian stand 

All shades of theological opinion are represented in the leadership 
of the Christian churches in India. In general, however, Protestants 
as well as Roman Catholics stress the absolute uniqueness of Chris- 
tianity. One Indian Christian acknowledged the truths embedded 
in the older religions of India, but went on to assert: "We dare not 
offer Christianity to the Indian people if we do not believe with all 
our soul and with all our strength that Christianity is not only nearer 
the truth than any other religion but is the Truth." 25 There are 
indeed theologically liberal Christians in India who repudiate these 
exclusivist claims, such as Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, formerly minister 
for health in Nehru's cabinet, but they are in a minority. As might 
be expected, such claims of Christianity's uniqueness render under- 
standing with the exponents of universalist Gandhian Hinduism 

The National Christian Council, which represents most of the 
Protestant churches, addressed itself to this and other points in its 
1955 statement on "The Church's Freedom for Its Missionary Task." 
The council declared that everyone should have freedom to believe 
that all religions are basically the same, but that the same freedom 
should be enjoyed by those who think differently. "It can be said 
that religions are both like and unlike each other, and that their 
differences are as important as their similarities." But the council 

24 The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is a Hindu communalist youth organization. 
See chapter 15, "The Challenge of Hindu Communalism." 

25 Rajaiah D. Paul, "Missionary Activity in Present-Day India," Revolution in 
Missions, p. 10. 



noted a certain tendency in India "to compel all to accept what 
some believe about the nature of the religions." 26 One Christian leader 
expressed appreciation of the fact that the Gandhian view provided 
a philosophical basis for religious tolerance in present-day India, 
which was all to the good. However, he claimed that the view that 
"all religions are the same" was being constantly imposed upon 
people, and was not less dogmatic than the Christian claim. 27 

Not only do Indian Christians regard their faith as possessing 
elements of uniqueness but they also regard the propagation of it 
as an essential part of Christianity. The missionary impulse of the 
church in any nation is not a historical accident; rather, it derives 
from the essential nature of Christianity and could not be eliminated 
without "mutilating" the faith. 28 Rejecting the view that the em- 
phasis on propagation was an unnecessary and unhealthy accretion 
to Christianity, one Christian member of Parliament wrote that 
anyone could hold the opinion that Christianity should have de- 
veloped along different lines, "but that will be to say that the Chris- 
tianity of their preference or imagination is different from the 
actual historical Christianity." 29 

We have noted that some Hindus make a sharp distinction 
between propagating religion and making converts. Some leaders 
have declared unequivocally that the right to make converts ("prose- 
lytize") is not included in the right to propagate religion guaranteed 
in the Constitution. 30 The Indian Christian rejects this distinction 
as artificial The Rev. R. C. Das wrote: "The statements that one may 
preach but not convert, or that in serving one should not be actuated 
by motives of conversion, show confusion of thought and a lack of 
knowledge of psychology and of normal human behavior. Why is 
something preached ? Is it not to convince others ? And when con- 
vinced, are they not inwardly converted? The word 'conversion' 
simply means 'change/ . . . The Hindu does not object to conversion 
in politics, in a new attitude to science, history, or philosophy. How 
then is objection to religious conversion valid where a man's happi- 

26 National Christian Council Review, 1955, vol. 75, p. 206. 

27 A. E. Inbanathan, "The Christian Message in the Indian Setting," Revolution 
in Missions, p. 42. 

28 N.C.C. Review, 1955, vol. 75, p. 200. 

20 C. P. Mathew, "Religious Freedom from the Christian Point of View," Revolu- 
tion in Missions, p. 29. 

80 Christian Century, 1957, vol. 74, p. 31. 



ness and welfare are even more at stake?" 31 In the Indian Christian 
view, effective propagation will lead to inward conversion manifested 
in an outward change of religious affiliation. 

Thus rejecting a distinction made by the Hindus, the Indian 
Christians emphasize another distinction which the Hindus usually 
overlook or reject, namely, the distinction between conversion and 
proselytism. Proselytism, in this usage, means the social transfer of 
large numbers from one religion to another without a corresponding 
inward change (conversion). 32 This practice is repudiated by respon- 
sible Christian leaders, as well as the use of inducements which have 
sometimes been associated with proselytism. 33 

With respect to the Hindu complaint that Christianity is a foreign 
religion and that conversion to this faith involves the virtual aban- 
donment of Indian culture, the Indian Christian's answer is twofold. 
First, he points to the ancient Syrian Christian churches of Kerala 
and reminds the critics of Nehru's remarks in Parliament: "Christi- 
anity is as old in India as Christianity itself. Christianity found its 
roots in India before it went to countries like England, Portugal and 
Spain. Christianity is as much a religion of the Indian soil as any 
other religion in India." 34 Second, there is a frank recognition that 
the Christian churches established by the missionary movements 
which began in the eighteenth century do reflect the cultural forms 
of the West, and efforts are being made to express Christianity 
through elements of indigenous Indian culture. 35 

The Indian Christian position is that communal harmony is not 
endangered by Christian evangelization. Every person has the right 
to preach his religion ; if others are convinced by this preaching, they 
have the right to change their faith. There is no threat to communal 
harmony in these actions. If the legitimate exercise of these rights 

31 R. C. Das, "The Christian Enterprise and the Government," 2V.CC Review, 
1954, vol. 74, p. 381. 

82 Note the statement of the National Christian Council: "Conversion has been 
confused with proselytism, but there is a difference. The proselyte may have no 
inner change of life, hence he has no conversion. He is one who has passed from 
one religion to another, changing some external features of his life, manners and 
customs. But these may not correspond to any spiritual illumination, reconciliation 
and peace." Ibid., 1955, vol. 75, p. 205. See also E. Stanley Jones, "Evangelism and 
Independent India,*' The Guardian, Madras, 1947, vol. 25, pp. 347-349. 

88 N.C.C. Review, 1955, vol. 75, p. 206. 

84 Speech in the Lok Sabha, December 3, 1955. Quoted in Revolution in Missions, 
p. 274. 

86 N.C.C. Review, 1955, vol. 75, p. 210. 



evokes unreasonable hostility on the part of some people, the law 
must prevent them from creating public disturbances. C. P. Mathew 
used the analogy of an election campaign in which rival political 
parties put forth their propaganda. Nobody would suggest that the 
legitimate expression of political views by any party should be pro- 
hibited simply because other political parties disliked these views. 
Regarding the assumption that conversion from one religion to 
another is undesirable, Mathew's comment was: "This is a matter 
of individual religious or philosophical opinion. A secular state like 
ours can have no view on it, without ceasing to be secular." 36 

The humanist liberal position 

This position, exemplified most clearly by Prime Minister Nehru, 
is characterized by a secular and scientific view of the universe, com- 
bined with a commitment to human values stressed by nineteenth- 
century liberalism. Those who represent this position are thus mem- 
bers of the westernized elite, and have largely cut themselves off 
from the religious outlook of traditional India. 

The humanist liberal thinker, unlike spokesmen for the other 
positions we have discussed, approaches the question of religious 
propagation without strong emotional involvement in the fortunes of 
any particular religion. He tends to view religion as a social phe- 
nomenon, possibly undesirable, but one which must be dealt with in 
such a way that the order and harmony of society are not disrupted. 
First and foremost his concern is for the individual's freedom of 
belief and expression, for only through such freedom can human 
values be realized. In 1949 Nehru declared: "Nothing can be worse 
for the world, I think, than a deprivation of human freedom of the 
individual." 37 

From this detached position with respect to the various religions, 
the humanist liberal thinker throws his weight on the side of unre- 
stricted freedom to propagate religious as well as other ideas, subject 
only to general regulations in the interest of public safety and order. 
The humanist liberal view rejects the Hindu distinction between 
propagation and conversion and is prepared to see changes in religious 
affiliation as a result of preaching. With no desire either to promote 

36 C. P. Mathew, of. a/., p. 38. 

87 Jawaharlal Nehru, Visit to America, John Day Company, New York, 1950, 
p. 136- 



or to prevent them, there is the recognition that where individual 
freedom is exercised, religious conversions are not unlikely. 

In an interview with the London Catholic Herald in 1946, Nehru 
asserted: "It stands to reason that any faith whose roots are strong 
and healthy should spread; and to interfere with that right to spread 
seems to me to be a blow at the roots themselves. . . . Unless a given 
faith proves a menace to public order, or its teachers attempt to 
thrust it down unwilling throats of men owning other persuasions, 
there can be no justification for measures which deprive any com- 
munity of its rights/' 38 In this statement can be seen the liberal tradi- 
tion of John Stuart Mill, which values freedom of expression for its 
own sake without attempting to judge the content of what is ex- 
pressed. Nehru declared in 1954 that he personally did not appreciate 
attempts at proselytization, but that this was a personal opinion of 
his own and he had no business to thrust it on others. 89 In the open 
"marketplace of ideas," there must be full freedom to offer and 
accept different beliefs on all subjects. 


The debates in the Constituent Assembly ultimately led to the 
inclusion in the Indian Constitution of the propagation of religion 
as a fundamental right. The full significance of this decision, how- 
ever, can only be grasped against the background of the regulations 
which were in effect in various parts of India before the Constitution 
came into force. 

Regulation before 7950 

One factor which operated as a significant deterrent to religious 
conversion during the early British period was that, under both 
Hindu and Muslim law, apostates were deprived of their right to 
inherit property and even of the right of guardianship over their 
children. We have already discussed the Caste Disabilities Removal 
Act of 1850, which provided that any law or usage which inflicted 
on any person forfeiture of such rights by reason of conversion or 
being deprived of caste would cease to be enforced as law. This act, 
of course, applied only to British India, and in the princely states the 
Hindu and Muslim law continued in force. Even in the progressive 

88 Quoted in N.C.C. Review, 1946, vol. 66, pp. 335-336. 

89 Jawaharlal Nehru, Circular to the Pradesh Congress Committees, August 1954. 



state of Mysore, it was not until 1938 that legislation similar to the 
act of 1850 was adopted, and in many of the states this step was 
never taken. 

Another aspect of the propagation of religion, considered in detail 
in a later chapter, concerns religious instruction in state-aided schools 
operated by religious denominations. 40 In 1920 the United Provinces 
introduced what was known as the "conscience clause," which 
forbade making religious instruction compulsory in such schools 
(mainly Christian missionary institutions). The regulation gave to 
each student the right to be excused from the classes in religion on the 
request of his parent or guardian. After 1920, similar "conscience 
clauses" were introduced in the educational regulations in many 
parts of India. 41 

Another kind of regulation dealt with the question of conversions, 
and laws which were intended to discourage conversions were en- 
acted by the maharajas of a number of the Indian states. When 
independence was attained in 1947, approximately seventeen Indian 
states had such legislation in effect, including Kotah, Bikanir, 
Jodhpur, Raigarh, Patna, Surguja, Udaipur, and Kalahandi. 42 Even 
after the integration of the Indian states in the Indian Union, these 
laws were enforced in some cases until 1950. 

The Raigarh State Conversion Act was promulgated in 1936 
because some Roman Catholic priests had entered the state without 
permission and had gained some converts. The raja had expressed 
to the British agent his strong objections to the conversion of his 
people to Christianity and had inquired whether there would be 
any objection to his introducing a law to regulate proselytism. Upon 
being assured that such power lay within his legal competence, the 
raja enacted the law. 48 

According to the Raigarh State Conversion Act, an individual 
wishing to change his religion had to submit an application in a 
prescribed form to a designated government officer. The officer then 
investigated the application and, if satisfied that the conversion was 

40 See chapter 12, "Education and Religion." 

41 N.C.C. Review, 1947, vol. 67, p. 474. 

42 E. Stanley Jones, "Evangelism in Independent India," N.C.C. Review, 1947, 
vol. 67, p. 351. 

43 Letter dated April 20, 1936, from Lt. Col. A. S. Meek to the Political Secretary 
to the Government of India, New Delhi. Quoted in Report of the Christian Mis- 
sionary Activities Inquiry Committee, Madhya Pradesh Government Press, Nagpur, 
1956, vol. 2, part B, p. 326. 



genuine, granted a certificate of conversion. The act made liable to 
punishment any person found guilty of misrepresentation, fraud, 
intimidation, coercion, or undue influence in connection with any 
case of conversion. It further declared that general preaching for 
purposes of conversion was unauthorized. 44 

Similar legislation was promulgated in Patna state in 1942 under 
the euphemism "Freedom of Religions Act." Its purpose was defined 
in the following terms: "to provide freedom of conscience in religious 
matters," and "that religious freedom and toleration hitherto en- 
joyed by the subjects of the state should be properly safeguarded 
from undue interference." This law required a person wishing to 
change his religion to file an affidavit before the registrar of con- 
versions, and then an inquiry could be ordered to determine whether 
the individual was acting of his free will and accord. A person 
below the age of 21 years was not permitted to file an affidavit. An 
Indian Christian leader complained: "These acts aim at preserving 
the status quo and make it almost impossible for anyone to change 
his religion." 45 

The Patna act was most severe in its provisions regarding the 
custody of children in a family in which changes of religion had 
taken place. If one parent only were converted, the minor would 
be left in the custody of the unconverted parent. If both parents 
changed their religion, the father's kinsmen (and failing that, the 
mother's kinsmen) would be given the opportunity of taking the 
children into their custody. The act went so far as to provide that if 
a widow were converted, and neither her deceased husband's kins- 
men nor her own desired custody of the children, the state had the 
right to assign the minor to an orphanage until he attained his 
majority. As K. F. Weller pointed out: "The standpoint of the act 
is that the religion of any person shall be presumed to be that in 
which he was born and officially he cannot change his religion 
until he attains the age of twenty-one years." 46 

The Surguja State Apostasy Act (no euphemism here!) of 1945 
required a person to notify the government of his intended con- 
version three months in advance, and the formal change of religion 

44 K. F. Weller, "Religious Liberty in Some Indian States," N.C.C. Review, 1946, 
vol. 66, p. 80. 

45 Rajah B. Manikam, "The Effect of the War on the Missionary Task of the 
Church in India," International Review of Missions, 1947, vol. 36, p. 180. 

46 K. F. Weller, op. cit. y p. 81. 



could not take place until sanctioned by the authorities. The act 
made no pretense of being a general regulation covering all con- 
ceivable changes of religion. It specifically dealt with conversions 
from "the Hindu religion" to "an alien faith." 47 

An interesting correspondence developed in 1936 regarding the 
policies of the British agent, Lt. Col. A. S. Meek, toward Jesuit mis- 
sionary activity in Udaipur state. 48 At that time the raja was a 
minor, and so the direct supervision of the administration of the state 
became a responsibility of the agent. It was charged that the Jesuit 
fathers granted loans of money and other material inducements to 
potential converts. Most of the converts came as the result of mass 
movements among the illiterate tribal peoples of the state. 

The most important factor which determined the British policy, 
however, apparently was the desire to maintain the status quo with 
regard to religion. As the father of the young raja had strongly op- 
posed conversions to Christianity, it was incumbent upon the British 
administrators to do the same. The agent's policy was: "The Udaipur 
state should remain in so far as the religion, habits and customs of its 
population are concerned in the same general condition as it was on 
the death of the late ruler ... all teaching designed to secure any 
change in the mode of religion being prohibited." 49 

The Roman Catholic bishop of Ranchi contended that the con- 
verts could not be morally prevented from following the religion of 
their choice, although this was the net result of the agent's "repressive 
measures." The bishop charged that the agent, "in his anxiety to safe- 
guard the rights and privileges of the ruler, has never consented at 
any stage to give a thought to the rights of the state's subjects." 50 The 
bishop noted that although the principle of religious toleration con- 
tained in Queen Victoria's proclamation was not strictly applicable 
outside of British India, the spirit of the principle at least should be 
reflected in the agent's policies in a state under his guardianship. 
On the contrary, however, the agent had apparently endorsed the 
sixteenth-century formula, cujus regio, ejus religio. 

In the course of the extensive correspondence, a secretary in the 
Foreign and Political Department, New Delhi, suggested that the 

47 Hitvada^ Nagpur, January 17, 1946. 

48 Report of the Christian Missionary Activities Inquiry Committee, vol. 2, part B, 

PP- 325-374- 
*lbid., p. 339. 
Ibid. y p. 344. 



best solution to the problem was the enactment of legislation similar 
to that of other states. Mr. F. V. Wylie wrote: "Personally I feel 
inclined to suggest that a conversion law be introduced in Udaipur 
on the lines of that recently promulgated in Raigarh." 51 However, 
the political secretary, Mr. B. J. Glancy, rejected this proposal. 
Referring to the Raigarh enactment, he commented: "The kernel 
of this legislation is that a change of religion, in the absence of 
official sanction, constitutes a penal offense. We should, I think, 
expose ourselves to severe criticism in certain quarters if we proceed 
on these lines/' 52 The governor-general of India concurred in this 
decision, and the proposal was dropped. 

Early in 1941 the British agent issued regulations relating to the 
propagation of religion in Udaipur state. No lay preachers were to be 
permitted to enter the state. Ordained clergymen, with the prior 
permission of the superintendent of the state, could enter once every 
quarter in order to administer the sacraments to Christians. Their 
stay was limited to forty-eight hours, and could be extended to 
ninety-six hours only by special permission. The clergymen were 
forbidden to conduct any religious propaganda other than among 
the members of their own church. These regulations were superseded 
by the Udaipur State Anti-Conversion Act of 1946, enacted about a 
year and a half after the raja of the state was installed. 53 

Attempts to regulate conversions were not entirely limited to the 
Indian states, for the Central Provinces and Berar Public Safety Act 
of 1947 also dealt with this question. One clause of the act stated: 
"No person shall convert another person from that person's religious 
faith to his own except before a District Magistrate." 54 Indian Chris- 
tian groups, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, made representa- 
tions to the authorities, claiming that the clause would obstruct the 
freedom of those who from genuine conviction desired to embrace a 
different religion. 

In reply the home minister explained that the clause was intended 
to stop the forcible mass conversions which were being carried out 
by Muslims in those parts of the provinces near Hyderabad. 55 The 
government insisted that it did not prohibit bona fide conversions. 

P . 356. 
"/<*., p. 358. 

58 Report of the Christian Missionary Activities Inquiry Committee, vol. i, p. 12. 

54 N.C.C. Review, 1948, vol. 68, p. 459. 

65 Christian Century, 1948, vol. 65, p. 1283. 



However, when the Safety Act came before the assembly for re- 
enactment one year later, the home minister proposed that the clause 
be deleted on the ground that it was no longer necessary. The as- 
sembly then unanimously passed the Public Safety Act without the 
conversion clause:' 6 

Provisions in the Indian Constitution 

The explicit recognition of the right to propagate religion in the 
Constitution of India came about largely through the initiative of the 
Christian minority. The 1931 Karachi Congress resolution on funda- 
mental rights included the following article on religious liberty: 
"Every citizen shall enjoy freedom of conscience and the right freely 
to profess and practice his religion, subject to public order and 
morality." The Karachi resolution made no mention of the propa- 
gation of religion, and the first draft of the article on religious liberty 
by a committee of the Constituent Assembly did not refer to it either. 
The wording of the draft article (the work of the Advisory Com- 
mittee on Minorities, Fundamental Rights, etc.) followed that of 
the Karachi statement very closely indeed. 

The Indian Christian community, however, had frequently ex- 
pressed its conviction that freedom of religion included the right 
to propagate one's faith and to win converts to it. Thus, as early as 
October 1945 the joint committee of the Catholic Union of India and 
the All India Council of Indian Christians passed a resolution de- 
claring: "In the future constitution of India, the free profession, 
practice and propagation of religion should be guaranteed, and the 
change of religion should not involve any civil or political dis- 
ability." 57 The Christian members of the Constituent Assembly and 
of the Advisory Committee on Minorities and Fundamental Rights 
began to press for the inclusion of the word "propagate" in the draft 
article. They were ably led in this endeavor by the late Dr. H. C. 
Mookerjee, a Christian of great prestige among Congressmen of all 
ranks and the vice-president of the Constituent Assembly. 

There was some opposition to the inclusion of the word "prop- 
agate" on the ground that this was amply provided for in the draft 
article guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression. More vehe- 
ment opposition came from Hindu members who flatly denied that 

56 N.C.C. Review, 1948, vol. 68, p. 459. 
/W., 1946, vol. 66, p. 3. 



the propagation of religion and the winning of converts should be 
considered a legitimate aspect of religious freedom. Despite such 
objections by a few, there was a general willingness on the part of 
many Hindus to make some concessions to the Christian viewpoint. 
The Christian community, after all, had refused to support the 
Muslim League demand for partition, and had indicated its con- 
fidence in the majority by being willing to relinquish communal 
reservation of seats in the legislative bodies. 

A key figure in the ultimate settlement of this issue was Sardar 
Vallabhbhai Patel, chairman of the advisory committee. Although 
generally conservative and "Hindu-minded/' Patel sought to under- 
stand the minority's point of view and exerted his great prestige in 
support of recognizing the right to propagate religion. 58 The ad- 
visory committee presented its "Interim Report on Fundamental 
Rights" to the Constituent Assembly in April 1947. The draft article 
on freedom of religion (clause 13) included the key word propagate. 
It was not, however, a clear-cut victory for those who had urged 
recognition of the right to propagate religion. Clause 17 of the same 
report stated: "Conversion from one religion to another brought 
about by coercion or undue influence shall not be recognized by 
law." 59 Christian reaction to this clause was that while freedom of 
religion was classed as a fundamental right, no one had ever claimed 
the same for coercion or undue influence. The introduction of this 
clause in a constitution was therefore inappropriate; such acts could 
be prohibited by ordinary legislation. 

When clause 17 was debated on the floor of the Constituent As- 
sembly, a number of amendments were offered ; one added the word 
"fraud." Mr. K. M. Munshi's amendment added an entirely new 
element: "Any conversion from one religion to another of any 
person brought about by fraud, coercion or undue influence or of a 
minor under the age of eighteen shall not be recognized by law." 60 
This amendment was immediately attacked on several grounds. One 
Christian member asserted that spiritual awakening and inward 
conversion can very well take place in the experience of a person 
under eighteen years of age. This provision would prohibit him from 
giving outward expression to deep religious convictions. 

;W., 1951, vol. 71, p. 60. 
59 Constituent Assembly Debates, 1947, vol. 3, pp. 427-428. 
a WiY/., p. 480. 



Mr. Purushottam Das Tandon, who later became president of the 
Indian National Congress, gave expression to his orthodox Hindu 
ideas: "Mr. President, I am greatly surprised at the speeches delivered 
here by our Christian brethren. Some have said that in this Assembly 
we have admitted the right of every one to propagate his religion and 
to convert from one religion to another. We Congressmen deem it 
very improper to convert from one to another religion or to take part 
in such activities." Tandon declared that it was only in order to 
enlist the support of the Christian minority in the great task facing 
the nation that they had agreed to the right of propagation. But to 
convert a child under eighteen was going too far. "If a boy of 
eighteen executes a transfer deed in favor of a man for his hut worth 
only 100 rupees, the transaction is considered unlawful. But our 
brethren come forward and say that the boy has enough sense to 
change his religion. That the value of religion is even less than that 
of a hut worth 100 rupees." 61 

The crucial problem, however, centered in the dilemma which 
would be faced by parents who embraced another religion without 
being able (according to the amendment) to bring up their children 
in the new faith. Mr. Frank Anthony stated: "By this clause you 
will say, although the parents may be converted to Christianity, 
the children shall not be brought up by these parents in the faith of 
the parents. You will be cutting at the root of family life. I say it is 
contrary to the ordinary concepts of natural law and justice." Chris- 
tian opinion saw the clause as an attempt to nullify in large measure 
the freedom of religion guaranteed in the main clause (13). The 
National Christian Council Review commented editorially: "If 
parents who are convinced of the need for a change of faith are pre- 
vented from doing so for strong reasons of affection and attachment 
to their children, then the freedom of conversion becomes a mock- 
ery." 62 

B. R. Ambedkar, the law minister, strongly opposed the Munshi 
amendment. The Constituent Assembly thereupon voted to refer 
the clause back to the advisory committee. The Christian members of 
the Assembly, under the leadership of H. C. Mookerjee, then drew up 
a memorandum addressed to Sardar Patel, explaining in some detail 
their objections to clause 17. When the Advisory Committee met, 

/W., p. 484. 
62 N.C.C. Review, 1947, vol. 67, p. 278. 



Patel himself proposed that the entire clause be omitted; this de- 
cision was made by the committee and later, through Patel's careful 
handling of the issue, approved by the full Constituent Assembly. 63 

The Constitution as finally adopted, then, contains only the posi- 
tive statement of the right of religious liberty. Article 25 is as 
follows: "Subject to public order, morality and health and to the 
other provisions of this part, all persons are equally entitled to free- 
dom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propa- 
gate religion." 

Legislation relating to conversions 

In December 1954 a P r i vate member's bill dealing with conversions 
was introduced in the Lok Sabha (House of the People) by Mr. 
Jethalal Joshi, a member of the Congress Party. It was entitled the 
Indian Converts (Regulation and Registration) Bill. The basic pro- 
visions of the bill were: persons or institutions engaged in converting 
people would have to secure a license from the district magistrate; 
a register of conversions would be maintained; a prospective convert 
would have to make a declaration of his intentions to the district 
magistrate one month prior to the actual date of conversion; the 
license-holder and the convert would be required to give particulars 
regarding the conversion within three months after it took place. 

In an unusual move, the bill was opposed at the initial stage of 
introduction by a Muslim member, Mr. Pocker Saheb, who declared 
that the bill clearly contravened article 25 of the Constitution. "When 
such conditions are put, then it means that the conversion of a man 
from one religion to another is dependent upon the discretion of the 
district magistrate, which, I submit, is a virtual denial of the right." 64 
Over Pocker Saheb's objections, the house adopted the motion 
granting leave to introduce the bill. 

Debate on the bill did not begin until September 1955. In attempt- 
ing to show the necessity for legislation such as he had introduced, 
Mr. Jethalal Joshi bitterly attacked foreign missionaries, accusing 
them of having resorted to bribery, coercion, vicious propaganda, and 
even the destruction of village temples. He quoted with some effect 
the words of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, a member of the central 

63 Father J. D'Souza, "The Constituent Assembly and the Question of Conver- 
sions," The Guardian, Madras, October 2, 1947. 

64 Lo\ Sabha Debates, 1954, part 2, vol. 9, col, 4078-4079. 


cabinet and a Christian: "Conversion or the desire to impel other 
persons to change their faith has always savored of an arrogance 
which must surely be against the doctrine of life for which Christ 
lived and died." 

As the debate continued it became very clear that, although the 
provisions of the bill were avowedly of general application and 
would cover conversions to any religion, they were aimed primarily 
at Christian evangelism. Mr. G. H. Deshpande, also of the Congress, 
saw sinister motives behind such activities. "There is a political 
motive behind this conversion. It is not merely religious, there is 
a political motive behind it. What we suspect is that there are some 
imperialist powers who are not free even today from their dreams of 
imperialism. They probably think there was a Pakistan, why should 
there not be in India a Christianstan even?" 65 

In December 1955 the bill received further consideration in the 
Lok Sabha, and was opposed by the government. In a notable speech 
Prime Minister Nehru declared that the proposed legislation would 
create more evils than it would remedy. "I am anxious, many other 
members of this house must be anxious, to avoid giving the police 
too much power of interference everywhere." Such legislation would 
likely inflict considerable harassment on a large number of people. 
"Personally, I would not pass such a measure unless it has the fullest 
support from the principal parties who are likely to be affected by it. 
If this measure apparently is meant to apply to Christian mission- 
aries carrying on this conversion, I would like the real decision to lie 
with the Christian members of this house. Let them decide. In 
principle there is no difference. Nobody wants deception; nobody 
wants coercion. In practice this attempt to prevent that may well 
give rise to other forms of coercion." 66 Nehru also urged the Lok 
Sabha to bear in mind the effect its decisions would have on the 
minorities: "We must not do anything which gives rise to any 
feeling of oppression or suppression in the minds of our Christian 
friends and fellow-countrymen in this country." At the conclusion 
of the debate the bill was rejected by the house by an overwhelming 

In March 1960 the Lok Sabha rejected the Backward Communities 

id., 1955, part 2, vol. 8, col. 16001. 
66 The text of this speech of December 2, 1955 is reproduced in full in N.C.C. 
Review, 1956, vol. 76, pp. 19-21. 



(Religious Protection) Bill moved by Prakash Vir Shastri of the 
Swatantra Party. This non-official bill sought "to provide for more 
effective protection of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and 
other backward communities from change of religion forced on 
them on grounds other than religious conviction." The bill sought 
to regulate conversions among these classes from Hinduism to "non- 
Indian religions," defined in the measure as Christianity, Islam, Juda- 
ism, and Zoroastrianism. Mr. Shastri asserted that the object was to 
stop the forced mass conversions being perpetrated by the foreign 
missionaries. He warned that if the government did not take note 
of it now the country might have to face a serious situation and there 
might be a demand for another partition. However, B. N. Datar, 
minister of state for home affairs, declared that there had been no 
mass conversions as alleged by Mr. Shastri. Furthermore, the bill 
was unconstitutional as it discriminated among the various religions. 
Datar asserted that Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism 
were as much Indian religions as Hinduism. The bill was rejected 
by a voice vote. 67 

Thus far, attempts to secure legislation regulating or restricting 
religious conversions have failed. Central legislation has touched the 
question of conversion only indirectly, in several of the acts dealing 
with Hindu personal law. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 lists as 
one of the nine grounds for divorce the other party's ceasing to be 
a Hindu by conversion to another religion. S. Natarajan commented 
that this provision is understandable from the viewpoint of Hindu 
marriage as a religious sacrament, but added: "It is rather strange 
that a secular state should not insist on further proof to establish that 
the conversion interferes with the religious life and practices of the 
other party." 68 

Under the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act of 1956, a 
Hindu wife is entitled to live separately from her husband without 
forfeiting her claim to maintenance if he has been converted from 
Hinduism to another religion. This provision would certainly consti- 
tute a serious obstacle to a husband contemplating conversion if his 
wife were unsympathetic to his new religious convictions. Note, 
however, the next clause of the act: "A Hindu wife shall not be 

67 The Hindu, March 6, 1960. 

68 S. Natarajan, A Century of Social Reform in India, Asia Publishing House, 
Bombay, 1959, p. 194. 



entitled to separate residence and maintenance from her husband if 
she is unchaste or ceases to be Hindu by conversion to another 
religion." 69 Unchastity and conversion must be penalized ! Thus, even 
if the husband treated her with cruelty, were a leper, or kept a concu- 
bine in the same house in which the wife was living (all grounds 
for separate maintenance under the act), she would still not be 
entitled to separate maintenance if she ceased to be a Hindu. The 
principle is broadened further; the act gives an elaborate definition 
of the relatives deemed to be dependents but then states (section 24) 
that no person shall be entitled to claim maintenance under these 
provisions upon conversion to another religion. 

It will be recalled that legislation enacted in 1850 protected a 
convert from the loss of his civil rights, especially the right to inherit 
property. This provision is still in force. However, the Hindu Suc- 
cession Act of 1956 made sure that none of the convert's children or 
their descendants would similarly benefit. "Where before or after 
the commencement of this act, a Hindu has ceased or ceases to be a 
Hindu by conversion to another religion, children born to him or 
her after such conversion and their descendants shall be disqualified 
from inheriting the property of any of their Hindu relatives, unless 
such children or descendants are Hindus at the time when the suc- 
cession opens." 70 Intentionally or unintentionally, this provision could 
in some cases constitute a powerful financial inducement for the 
children or descendants to be converted to Hinduism. 

There can be no doubt but that the net effect of these provisions is 
to discourage conversions from Hinduism and to reinforce the 
religious status quo. However progressive, even radical, these acts are 
in terms of the Hindu social system (the introduction of divorce, 
inheritance by daughters, etc.), they actively discourage change in 
religious affiliation. There are definite penalties to be borne if the 
exercise of freedom of conscience leads the Hindu outside the fold. 

Another area in which, intentionally or unintentionally, govern- 
ment policy has tended to perpetuate the solidarity of the Hindu 
community and to prevent defections to other religions is in the 
matter of educational and economic aid to the Scheduled Castes. 
For example, in 1947 the Bombay government issued an order which 
stated: "Scheduled Caste converts to Christianity should not be held 

69 Section 18(3). 

70 Section 26. 



eligible, even on individual certification basis, for the educational 
concessions provided by government for the Scheduled Castes." Seven 
months later another government order stated: "Scheduled Caste 
persons on reconversion to Hinduism should be held eligible for 
educational concessions intended for these castes." 71 Adjustments 
have been made since 1948, and in most states aid is now extended 
to the converts from these castes under the category of "other back- 
ward classes." However, there are still very few states in which it is 
as advantageous economically to be a Christian or Buddhist of Hari- 
jan background as it is to be a Hindu Harijan. The discouragement 
of full religious liberty implicit in such a situation is obvious; in a 
number of cases converts have renounced their new faith and re- 
turned to Hinduism, succumbing to "economic inducements" in a 
new form. This important problem is discussed in detail in chapter n. 

Problems of public order 

The problem is to balance a broad freedom to propagate negative 
or unpopular views of religion with the maintenance of public order. 
Religious beliefs being frequently cherished with intense devotion, 
virulent public attacks upon such beliefs may well lead to the break- 
down of law and order. India's delicate communal situation, espe- 
cially the tension between Hindu and Muslim, underlines the impor- 
tance of this fact. However, subjecting the religious beliefs of one's 
own community to ridicule or vilification may be equally disruptive. 
Article 25 of the Constitution grants freedom to propagate religion 
"subject to public order." 

In the Indian Law Commissioners' second report (1847) on the 
Penal Code, they made some interesting comments on what later 
became section 298 of the code. This section punishes the uttering of 
words with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feel- 
ings of any person. However, the commissioners did not wish this 
provision to become an obstacle to efforts to propagate Christianity. 
They pointed out that in England the attempt to convert anyone 
from the religion of the country even by the most gentle persuasion 
was by law an offense. Conversion was not recognized as a legitimate 
object since the law assumed the truth of Christianity. But it was 

71 The two government orders were dated July 17, 1947, and February 28, 1948. 
Quoted in Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, Report of the Wording and 
Standing Committees, Good Shepherd Convent Press, Bangalore, 1951, p. 21. 



obvious that in India the law could not assume the truth of any 
religion. "And, as free discussion, or, in other words, attempts at 
conversion, is the best criterion of the truth of anything the truth or 
falsehood of which is not already assumed by law to be beyond 
controversy, it seems to follow that a bona fide attempt to convert 
ought not in this country to be treated as a crime, even though the 
intention to convert be an intention to do so by wounding the reli- 
gious feelings of the persons addressed." 72 This is a remarkable argu- 
ment indeed; the best way to find out religious truth is by free 
discussion, unless, of course, a law has already settled the matter! 
The commissioners were very anxious to promote free religious 
discussion in India. They added that it was almost impossible to 
convert a sincere votary of any faith without wounding his religious 
feelings in the early stages of the process. 

In 1924 a Hindu bookseller of Lahore published a pamphlet en- 
titled Rangila Rasul "The Gay Prophet" a scurrilous and grossly 
abusive attack upon the prophet Mohammed. The bookseller, Rajpal, 
was prosecuted under section I53A of the Indian Penal Code, which 
penalized attempts to promote enmity between different classes of 
His Majesty's subjects. Numerous delays held up the progress of the 
case, but after two years Rajpal was convicted and sentenced to prison 
for eighteen months. An appeal to the High Court of the Punjab, 
however, resulted in his acquittal, on the technical grounds that sec- 
tion I53A was not intended to prevent criticism of deceased religious 
leaders. The High Court judge held that the attack was undoubtedly 
malicious but that it could not be punished under existing law. 73 

A few days after this decision was handed down, another attack 
on the prophet appeared in the Risala Vartman, a monthly journal 
published by several members of the Arya Samaj in Amritsar. This 
time, however, the defendant was convicted, fined, and imprisoned 
under section I53A of the Penal Code. As this decision was in direct 
conflict with that in the Rangila Rasul case and the law was conse- 
quently in doubt, the government of India introduced a bill which 
provided for the insertion of section 2g^A. 

This bill was passed by the legislative assembly in 1927, and in its 
present form section 2^A is as follows: "Whoever, with deliberate 

72 Second Report on the Penal Code by the Indian Law Commissioners, 1847, 
p. 255. 

73 W. R. Smith, op. cit., pp. 353-355. 


and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any 
class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by 
visible representations, insults or attempts to insult the religion or 
the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprison- 
ment of either description for a term which may extend to two 
years, or with fine, or with both." In the case of Ramji Lai Modi 
v. State of U. P., 1957, ^ e validity of this section was challenged 
on the ground that it interferes with a citizen's right to free- 
dom of speech guaranteed under article 19(1) (a) of the Consti- 
tution. It was contended that this right could be restricted only "in 
the interest of public order" and that insulting remarks about a 
religion do not lead to breaches of public order in all cases although 
they may do so in some. The Supreme Court upheld the constitu- 
tionality of section 2^K on the ground that it punishes only those 
aggravated forms of insult to religious beliefs which are perpetrated 
with malicious intentions and have a calculated tendency to disrupt 
public order. However, the language of the section itself and much 
of the earlier case law do not support this interpretation. The mali- 
cious outrage of religious sentiment, not necessarily leading to public 
disturbances, has been the basic offense. 74 

There can be absolutely no doubt, however, about the general 
tendency of spoken or written attacks on religion to engender violence 
in present-day India, A casual reading of any daily newspaper over 
a period of time will produce ample evidence of this tendency. To 
cite one example: in 1953 a Muslim poet of Lucknow, Yas Changezi, 
whose religious views were described as atheistic, wrote some verses 
derogatory to the prophet Mohammed. The verses were published in 
an Urdu weekly, and shortly thereafter the writer's house was at- 
tacked with brickbats. The following day a crowd seized the seventy- 
five-year-old poet, blackened his face with tar, hung a garland of 
shoes around his neck, and took him out in procession in a rickshaw 
drawn by a donkey. 75 Had the verses been written by a Hindu, it is 
most likely that bloodshed would have resulted. In 1954 riots took 
place in Madura over the staging of a drama which ridiculed Rama 
and other Hindu avatars and gods. Those responsible for presenting 

74 A.I.R. 1957 S.C., p. 620. See D. C. Pande, "Offenses against Religion: A 
Critical Review of Ramji Lai Modi v. State of /.P.,"S.C.J. 958, pp. 93-98. 
75 Times of India, April 3, 1953. 



the drama were Hindus convinced of the necessity of attacking what 
they regarded as superstitious beliefs. 

In the light of this tendency to violence, both central and state 
governments have frequently resorted to preventive action. In 1956 
the governments of Bihar and West Bengal banned the distribution 
of the book, Living Biographies of Religious Leaders, which was 
held to contain material likely to wound the religious feelings of the 
Muslim community. 76 Aubrey Menen's work entitled Rama Retold 
dealt with the characters of Rama and Sita in a satirical manner 
hardly calculated to please the orthodox Hindu. The government of 
India, mindful of Hindu susceptibilities, prohibited the importation 
of copies from England. K. M. Panikkar argued that this restriction 
on the right to propagate unpopular ideas should have been chal- 
lenged in a liberal democratic society. "It may be that the home 
ministry was justified in the action it took on the grounds of public 
security and the maintenance of law and order. But the point here 
is that the action of the government passed practically unnoticed 
and was not subjected to any criticism in India itself." 77 

In 1954 the Madras legislative assembly passed the Dramatic 
Performances Bill. This legislation gave the state government the 
authority to prohibit objectionable performances, one of the cate- 
gories of which was a play "deliberately intended to outrage the 
religious feelings of any class of the citizens of India by insulting or 
blaspheming or profaning the religion or the religious beliefs of that 
class." During the debate on this bill, the members of the Dravida 
Kazhagam, the Communists, and the Socialists accused the govern- 
ment of attempting to perpetuate the status quo with respect to 
religious belief. They declared that the real motive behind the meas- 
ure was to suppress the propagation of all rationalist, atheist, anti- 
religious, or progressive ideas. "Vested interests" could always curb 
the expression of such ideas by protesting that their religious feelings 
were being wounded. 78 

One member later moved an amendment to exclude from the scope 
of the clause performances which sought to "prove or condemn any 

76 Notes on Islam, 1956, vol. 9, p. 134. 

77 K. M. Panikkar, The State and the Citizen, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 
1956, p. 7. 

78 The Hindu, December 21, 1954. 



religious belief as irrational or unscientific and/or detrimental to 
the interests of the people." 79 The rejection of this and other amend- 
ments by the assembly led some opposition members to contend 
that the measure would surely be used to hinder social reform and 
the development of a more scientific outlook among the people. It 
seems probable, however, that the government's true concern was 
with the prevention of breaches of the peace, as stated. 

It cannot be denied that in India freedom of expression is rather 
consistently subordinated to the requirements of maintaining public 
order. By way of contrast we may note the words of the United 
States Supreme Court in 1940: "In the realm of religious faith and 
in that of political belief, sharp differences arise. In both fields, the 
tenets of one man may seem the rankest error to his neighbor. To 
persuade others to his own point of view, the pleader, as we know, 
at times resorts to exaggeration, to vilification of men who have been, 
or are, prominent in church or state, and even to false statement. But 
the people of this nation have ordained in the light of history, that, 
in spite of the probability of excesses and abuses, these liberties are, 
in the long view, essential to enlightened opinion and right conduct 
on the part of the citizens of a democracy." 80 Such an approach is 
at present clearly impossible for a country like India, with its mem- 
ories of recent religious and communal violence. But one may hope 
that the various aspects of modernization especially increased edu- 
cational opportunities and industrialization will gradually produce 
a situation in which the problems of public order will become less 
acute and freedom of expression enlarged. 

79 The Hindu, December 23, 1954. 

80 Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940). 



WE NOW COME to an aspect of the propagation of religion which 
is considerably more complex than the problems discussed in the last 
chapter. Even if the right to propagate religion, including the seeking 
of conversions, is established as a fundamental right, the admission 
of foreigners into a country to carry on such activities raises many 
additional questions. 


It is interesting to note that in its earliest recorded connection with 
organized missionary effort, India was the sending and not the re- 
ceiving country. In the third century B.C., the emperor Ashoka 
embraced the message of the Buddha and renounced his policy of 
military conquest in favor of dharma-vijaya ("conquest by piety"). 
He instituted royal tours in which he instructed his subjects in the 
fundamentals of morality and piety. He later appointed dharma- 
mahamatrasy high officers in charge of the promotion of religion. But 
Ashoka did not attempt to impose the Buddhist faith on his subjects. 1 
The moral instruction which was offered his people was based on 
broad, almost universal, ethical principles. 2 

The emperor also emphasized the importance of religious toler- 
ance. In one edict he wrote: "All sects deserve reverence for one 
reason or another. By thus acting a man exalts his own sect and at 
the same time does service to the sects of other people." Ashoka 
found this tolerant attitude to be completely compatible with his 
deep devotion to Buddhism. For he was an ardent Buddhist, "con- 
vinced of the truth of Buddha's teaching, of the efficacy of worship 
at the Buddhist holy places, of the necessity of making a confession 

1 R. C. Majumdar, H. C. Raychaudhuri, and K. Datta, An Advanced History of 
India, Macmillan Company, London, 1950, pp. 104-109. 

2 M. Searle Bates, Religious Liberty: An Inquiry, International Missionary Coun- 
cil, New York, 1945, p. 268. 



of faith in the Buddhist trinity, of keeping in close touch with the 
Buddhist Sangha and maintaining its solidarity." 8 Only occasionally 
did his Buddhist convictions bring him into conflict with the popular 
religious practices of the day, as when he prohibited the sacrificial 
slaughter of animals, ceremonies which were essential to Brahmanic 
religion. 4 

Ashoka's zeal for Buddhism caused him to send missionaries 
beyond the limits of his empire. His envoys achieved little success 
in spreading the message of the Buddha in Syria, Egypt, or Greece, 
but in central Asia, Burma, and Siam the progress of Buddhism was 
marked. The most spectacular success was achieved in Ceylon, where 
Mahendra and Sanghamitra (according to tradition, Ashoka's son 
and daughter) were able to convert the king and many of his 

This great missionary effort proceeded by peaceful methods, by 
patient exposition of the Dhamma, without recourse to any form of 
coercion. 5 Ashoka's missionary approach thus contained three basic 
elements: (i) a broad tolerance for all faiths; (2) the conviction that 
Buddhism was the path of enlightenment for all men; and (3) an 
organized effort to preach Buddhism at home and abroad in such a 
way that voluntary converts were won. 

The problem with which we are primarily concerned, of course, 
is the place of the foreign Christian missionary in the independent 
secular Indian state. This necessitates a quick look backward to the 
policies regarding missionaries evolved during the British period. 

Religious neutrality under the British 

Prior to 1813, the East India Company to some extent actively 
discouraged the spreading of Christianity in India. 6 This position 
reflected both the personal indifference of some of the directors to 
religion (although others were very devout), and their fear that 
meddling with the Indians' religion would endanger the company's 

8 Majumdar, op. cit., p. 108. 

4 William Theodore de Bary, ed., Sources of Indian Traditions, Columbia Uni- 
versity Press, New York, 1958, p. 148. 

5 Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, John Day Company, New York, 1946, 
p. 125. 

6 Arthur J. Mayhew, Christianity and the Government of India, Faber and Gwyer 
Ltd., London, 1929, pp. 26-38. 



lucrative commercial interests. 7 No missionary was allowed to land 
in British India without a license from the directors, and these were 
not easily obtained. One of the most notable missionaries, William 
Carey, was refused a license but found refuge in the Danish territory 
of Serampore, in Bengal, where he established his work. A few chap- 
lains were sent out by the company to look after the religious needs 
of the European employees, but even this was sporadic; not one 
chaplain was added to the establishment between 1760 and i8oo. 8 

On the other hand, in some cases company officials were extremely 
friendly toward missionaries, and the latter proved their usefulness 
to the company in many ways. In general, missionaries were well 
received by officials in Madras, while in Bengal they were usually 
regarded with coolness if not animosity. In 1715 the Madras author- 
ities actually invited the Danish mission, aided financially by the So- 
ciety for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, to open up work 
in their territories, promising every assistance and encouragement. 

The missionaries cooperated with the company in the capacity of 
translators, interpreters, experts in Indian customs, and even as politi- 
cal agents, for some had developed friendly relations with the Indian 
princes. The Madras officials prevailed on the directors to give free 
passage on company ships to some missionaries who had been of 
service. 9 Grants of land were often made for the establishment of 
mission stations. 

Lord William Bentinck, while governor of Madras, gave every 
encouragement to the missionaries to carry on their work of convert- 
ing Hindus. But the Vellore Mutiny of 1806, widely attributed to 
resentment of the government's attempts to promote Christianity, 
produced an immediate reaction. All public preaching by mission- 
aries in British territory was forbidden except by the express per- 
mission of the court of directors. Indian Christians could preach 
only if they dissociated themselves from the missions. Lord Minto, 
who became governor-general in 1807, established rigid control over 
the publications of the mission press at Serampore. 

A flurry of pamphlets published in England attacked the past 
policy of encouraging Christian missions, although the company 
officials who had favored this policy were not without their defenders. 

7 W. H. Moreland and A. C. Chatterjec, A Short History of India, Longman^ 
Green and Company, London, 1957, p. 341. 

8 Mayhew, op. cit., p. 47. 9 Ibid., p. 36. 



A retired servant of the company published in 1807 A Letter to the 
Chairman of the East India Company, on the Danger of interfering 
in the Religious Opinions of the Natives of India. 10 An author who 
identified himself solely as "a late resident at Bhagulpore" wrote a 
small volume entitled The Dangers of British India, from French 
Invasion and Missionary Establishments. The writer asked: "Shall 
we, for the precarious benefit of converting a few Hindus, plunge 
Hindustan in rebellion, and occasion the massacre of every English- 
man who resides there P" 11 His opinions were shared by the governor- 
general, who wrote: "The only successful engine of sedition in 
any part of India must be that of persuading the people that our 
government entertains hostile and systematic designs against their 
religion/' 12 

A few years later, however, persistent campaigning by evangelical 
leaders in England resulted in new recognition of the legitimate 
place of Christian missions in India. Despite the objections of some 
directors of the company, the Charter Renewal Act passed by Parlia- 
ment in 1813 included a clause admitting the principle of missionary 
activity in India. 13 Their right of entry was now firmly established. 

The attitudes and actions of the British government in India 
toward missionaries never followed a clear-cut, simple, or consistent 
pattern. The policies varied during different periods, in different 
regions, and under different governors-general and other officials. 
According to Mayhew, the British policy was one which "oscillated 
between covert acceptance, or even carefully veiled approval, of 
evangelists, who were spreading what was presumably their own 
religion, and nervous disavowal of them and all their work." 14 

However, from approximately 1840 to 1865 a succession of British 
officials publicly expressed their approval and support of the Chris- 

10 Thomas Twining, A Letter to the Chairman of the East India Company, on 
the Danger of interfering in the Religious Opinions of the Natives of India, London, 

11 "A late resident at Bhagulpore,'* The Dangers of British India, from French 
Invasions and Missionary Establishments, Black, Parry and Kingsbury, London, 
1808, p. 23. 

12 Letter written by Lord Minto in 1807. The Countess of Minto, ed., Lord Minto 
in India, Longmans, Green and Company, London, 1880, p. 62. For references to 
the defense of missionary activity and its relationship to the Vellore Mutiny, see 
Kenneth Ingham, Reformers in India 1793-1833: An Account of the Wor\ of Chris- 
tian Missionaries on Behalf of Social Reform, Cambridge University Press, Cam- 
bridge, 1956, p. 7. 

13 1 bid., p. n. 14 Mayhew, op. cit., p. 87. 



tian missionary enterprise in no uncertain terms. Governor-General 
Dalhousie brushed aside the misgivings of his subordinates when the 
decision was made in 1854 to extend grants-in-aid to mission schools. 
"Even from the political point of view," he declared, "we err in 
ignoring so completely as we do the agency of ministers of our own 
true faith in extending education among the people.' 515 During these 
years a governor of a province stated in a public ceremony that he 
looked forward to the Christianization of all India, and the commis- 
sioner of Sind signed a memorial urging the extension of mission 
work. 16 

The overt support extended to missions by government officials 
was one of the contributing factors in the situation which led to the 
Mutiny of 1857. Hilton Brown wrote: "With the best will in the 
world one cannot, I think, overlook as a cause of ruin the wave of 
militant Christianity on which the British in India were at that time 
riding." 17 In the following year the administration of the country 
was taken over by the crown, and the British East India Company 
ceased to function as the government of India. Thereafter, govern- 
ment officials practiced a much stricter adherence to the principle 
of religious neutrality, and it became generally accepted by Indians 
that the rulers did not intend to impose Christianity upon them. 18 

Religious liberty and religious neutrality were also interpreted to 
mean that there should be no unreasonable restrictions on the propa- 
gation of religion. Accordingly, in increasing numbers European 
and American missionary societies established work in India during 
the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But the unrestricted 
entry of missionaries was found undesirable, and so a system was set 
up in 1920 for granting recognition to responsible missionary societies 
which desired to work in India. 

This system of recognition, which was in effect until 1947, may 
be briefly described. The entire procedure was carried out in London 
by the secretary of state for India. Political reliability and financial 
stability were the key criteria in determining whether a missionary 

15 Arthur I. Mayhew, "The Christian Ethic and India," Modern India and the 
West, ed. L. S. S. O'Malley, Oxford University Press, London, 1941, p. 319. 

16 Ibid., p. 320. 

17 Hilton Brown, "Racial Incompatibility in the British Raj," The Hindu Weekly 
Review, July 7, 1958. 

18 For an interpretation of the British period which stresses the religious identity 
and motivation of the rulers, see B. D. Basu, Rise of the Christian Power in 
India, Prabasi Press, Calcutta, 1931. 



society should be recognized. Missionaries were debarred from any 
participation in politics and were required to pledge their support of 
lawfully constituted government. 19 This requirement created diffi- 
culties for those few missionaries who sympathized with the Indian 
nationalist movement. 

The secretary of state for India ordinarily acted in accordance with 
the recommendation of three sponsoring authorities: the Conference 
of Missionary Societies in the United Kingdom, the Foreign Missions 
Conference of North America, and the Archbishop of Westminster 
(for Roman Catholic missions). 20 The whole procedure of recog- 
nition was weakened, however, by the practice of allowing mission- 
ary societies not on the "recognized lists" to work in India. The 
attainment of independence in 1947 brought with it certain inevitable 
procedural changes in the relations between the government of India 
and Christian missionary organizations. But of far greater importance 
has been the search for a policy which would take into account the 
numerous facets of national life which impinge upon the problem. 

The first years of independence 

After independence, the home ministry of the government of 
India was authorized to regulate the entry and activities of foreign 
missionaries. Parallel with this transfer of regulating power from the 
United Kingdom to India, the ministry of home affairs began to deal 
exclusively with missionary organizations in India. The National 
Christian Council and the Catholic Bishops' Conference thus became 
the sponsoring authorities. In the early years of independence eleven 
new missionary societies recommended by the National Christian 
Council were accorded recognition. At present this organization 
represents about fifty recognized missionary societies, and the Catho- 
lic Bishops' Conference about sixty-five recognized Roman Catholic 
societies. 21 As in the period of British administration, however, mis- 
sionary societies have been permitted to start work in the country 
without securing recognition through these sponsoring authorities. 

19 Korula Jacob, "The. Government of India and the Entry of Missionaries," Inter- 
national Review of Missions, 1958, vol. 47, pp. 410-411. 

20 Roland W. Scott, "Christian Missionary Decline in India," Pacific Affairs, 
1957, vol. 30, pp. 366-367. 

21 Ibid., p. 367. 


In 1949 a slightly revised pledge required of foreign missionaries was 
published by the home ministry. 22 

Numerous tributes were paid to the work of Christian mis- 
sionaries during this period. Dr. P. Sitaramayya, then president of the 
Indian National Congress, commented publicly that the last British 
soldiers and many civilians had left the shores of India, "but the 
missionary lingers, and I hope he will stay for he is a desirable 
commodity." Dr. Sitaramayya commended particularly the "magnifi- 
cent social service" which had been rendered. 23 The work done in 
Christian missionary hospitals, schools, and colleges has always been 
highly esteemed by the general Hindu public. Many prominent 
Indian leaders have received part of their education in missionary 
institutions, and there has been no reluctance to acknowledge their 
great contribution to India. 

The number of Christian missionaries in the country increased 
considerably after independence, reaching a total of 4,683 in 1952. 
Many of the new missionaries were replacements for those who had 
retired or died during the war. But reports of a large influx of west- 
ern missionaries were alarming to those who interpreted their 
presence as a form of continued foreign influence and control. The 
historical link between western imperialism and the missionary 
movement had left a legacy of doubt in the minds of Indian na- 
tionalists, and some Hindus saw continued missionary activity as 
a vestige of western rule. 

While missionary institutions have been greatly appreciated, the 
popular image of the foreign missionary in India has never been a 
wholly favorable one. The sense of racial superiority which some 
missionaries have displayed in their relations with Indians, both 
Hindus and Christians, has not been forgotten. The nineteenth-cen- 
tury conception, far from unknown in the twentieth century, of 
messengers bearing the light of western Christian civilization to 
benighted "natives" was profoundly insulting to those who were 
struggling to reawaken pride in their own cultural heritage. As we 

22 "I ... hereby undertake to give all due obedience and respect to the lawfully 
constituted government of India and while carefully abstaining from participating 
in political affairs, it is my desire and purpose that my influence in so far as may 
be peacefully exerted in such matters, shall be so exerted in loyal cooperation with 
the government." National Christian Council Review, 1949, vol. 69, p. 162. 
p. 151. 



have seen, Gandhi and many others decried the "denationalization" 
of the convert by the Christian missionary. 

To these psychological factors must be added the Hindus' religious 
objections to activities aimed at securing conversions. Some of these 
objections are based on spiritual principles, others simply on the 
instinct of group self-preservation, since the conversions were made 
mostly from Hinduism. Christian missionary work constituted a 
challenge to the status quo, and hence had to be resisted. It is also 
true that the Hindu's instinctive distrust of highly organized religion 
has led him to regard the modern missionary movement with its 
committees, councils, secretaries, and sizable financial resources as 
extremely unspiritual. 

The generally friendly attitude toward Christian missions which 
prevailed during the first few years of independence gradually gave 
way to expressions of doubtful questioning and in some cases hos- 
tility. Although government reports concerning the number of 
missionaries in the country were not always accurate, the fact was 
that the number had increased greatly since 1947, and many Hindus 
found this fact alarming. The changed climate of opinion was 
reflected in government policy. In 1952 an unprecedented number 
of applications for visas for new missionaries of recognized societies 
was refused. Christian organizations which requested clarification 
and reconsideration by the home ministry were informed that there 
had been no change of policy. It seemed clear, however, that the 
ministry felt that there was need for a reduction in the number of 
missionaries coming to India. 24 It was suggested that the time had 
come for the transfer of both routine jobs and positions of leadership 
from missionary to Indian Christian hands to develop self-sufficiency 
of personnel in all aspects of the work of the church. 25 

A missionary pointed out that the philosophy of Christian missions 
developed over the past fifty years has stressed precisely this objective. 
He noted: "It seems strange that to make it really effective, it will 
take the action of a secular government. Still that action would be 
more welcome, or at least less disturbing, if the motive behind it were 
as pristine as some of us would like to believe, and if the statements 
of religious extremists of other communities seemed less intended 'to 

24 Jacob, op. cit., p. 412. 

25 E. C. Bhatty, "Visas for Missionaries," National Christian Council Review, 
1952, vol. 72, p. 552. 



smite the shepherds and scatter the sheep/ " 26 Recent developments 
have compelled the missionaries to work toward the goal of an inde- 
pendent, self-sufficient Indian church with a new sense of realism. 

Factors in the formulation of a new policy 

The heated public discussion of the problem which ensued clearly 
revealed that the antipathy toward religious conversions felt by many 
Hindus was an influential factor in official circles. Dr. K. N. Katju, 
the home minister at that time, spoke approvingly of the work car- 
ried on by missionary educational, medical, and social service institu- 
tions. But he also deprecated the "proselytization or propagation of 
religion" as a harmful aspect of missions as it involved a "compari- 
son between different faiths." 27 A member of the upper house of 
Parliament made the statement that missionary societies could not 
exist in India unless they did evangelistic work. In reply, Dr. Katju 
was reported as saying, "I think if they come here for evangelistic 
work, then the sooner they stop it the better." Bishop R. B. Manikam 
interpreted the anti-missionary sentiment as based more on the Hindu 
opposition to conversions than on anti-foreign nationalism. 28 

Anti-missionary agitations flared up in different parts of India. 
Many newspapers and magazines printed special reports on the 
problem, and Hindu communal groups organized demonstrations 
against missionary institutions. The Hindu Mahasabha, for example, 
conducted a public procession led by a former mayor of Poona to 
protest the presence of a Christian mission in Nasik, an important 
Hindu religious center. In 1954 the government of Madhya Pradesh 
appointed a Christian Missionary Activities Inquiry Committee 
(frequently referred to as the Niyogi committee). The work and 
report of this committee occasioned still wider discussion of the 
missionary question, and are of such importance that the subject is 
considered separately in a later section of this chapter. The radical 
recommendations of the Niyogi report were never implemented, 
but this official document is significant as an expression of the 
extremist Hindu sentiment which is sometimes found where it 
would not be expected. 

A point repeatedly made in the debate was the charge that mission- 

26 R. M. Bennett, "The Church and Foreign Personnel," Revolution in Missions, 
ed. Blaise Levai, The Popular Press, Vellore, India, 1957, pp. 67-68. 

27 The Mail, Madras, May i, 1953. 28 N.C.C. Review, 1953, vol. 73, p. 195. 



aries were involved in the political movement among the tribal 
peoples in Madhya Pradesh and Bihar (the Jharkand movement), 
and in the movement of the Naga tribesmen of Assam for an inde- 
pendent state. In both of these cases Christian tribal leaders partici- 
pated with others, but there was apparently little evidence to indicate 
any general missionary involvement in the instigation or encourage- 
ment of these movements. Investigations by the government of India 
led to the expulsion of only three out of about 300 missionaries in 
Assam. The National Christian Council denied that even these three 
missionaries were engaged in political activities. 29 

The council made it clear, however, that real violations of a mis- 
sionary's pledge to abstain from political activity should be dealt 
with sternly. "If there is a missionary who does not faithfully observe 
his pledge he should be sent out of the country. No responsible 
Christian, whether Indian citizen or foreigner, will protest against 
the government doing so for political reasons." 30 

It is unlikely that foreign missionaries in the Naga Hills of Assam 
have played any direct role in the separatist political movement 
there. The possible motives which might have led intelligent men to 
encourage the fantastic demand for a sovereign Naga state are diffi- 
cult to imagine. It is undeniable, however, that the very success of 
Christian missionary work among the Naga tribesmen has led to a 
considerable degree of western cultural influence and has accentu- 
ated the Nagas' sense of separateness from Hinduism and Indian 
culture. The hill peoples have always been suspicious of the Indians 
living on the plains and have sometimes been exploited by them. 
Conversion to Christianity has intensified differences with the major- 
ity of other Indians, and the differences tend to be perpetuated by 
the near-inaccessibility of the tribal areas. This cultural and religious 
background undoubtedly has had some indirect bearing on the 
separatist political movement. 81 

Another significant factor in the complex question of foreign 
missionaries has been the theological orientation of some of the 
missionary societies which have entered India in recent years. In 
1957 Prime Minister Nehru stated that since independence the 
number of missionaries sent to India by "regular" churches had 

29 Jacob, op. cit., p. 412. 

80 "The Church's Freedom for its Missionary Task," N.C.C. Review, 1955, vol. 75, 
p. 208. 

Yor^ Times, December 27, 1960. 



decreased while those from "irregular" churches had increased. 82 As 
has been pointed out, both before and after independence missionary 
societies not recognized through the sponsoring authorities have 
been permitted to work in India. The failure on the part of the 
government to make full use of the experience of these sponsoring 
authorities has led to some real problems. 

Some of the new missions represent what could be described as 
Protestant fringe groups, and others are nondenominational funda- 
mentalist groups. Many are characterized by a strong disinclination 
to become involved in ecumenical cooperation (such as is represented 
by the National Christian Council) and by a tremendous zeal for 
evangelism, with considerably less emphasis, sometimes none, on 
medical and educational work. One Indian Christian leader, Dr. 
Eddy Asirvatham, was distressed over the situation created by cer- 
tain "extreme sects." "By their type of theology and methods of work 
they have created some problems for Christian missions in general. 
Many a non-Christian fails to make a distinction between the well- 
established churches of India and the new sects which have come 
into the country recently." 83 

A significant constitutional point was raised when Dr. Katju, then 
minister of home affairs, declared in 1953 that the right to propagate 
religion guaranteed in the Constitution applied only to Indian na- 
tionals, not foreigners. 34 Justice Mukherjee of the Constitution bench 
of the Supreme Court of India, however, simply used the language 
of the Constitution to refute this view. In his March 1954 judgment 
on an appeal against the Bombay Public Trusts Act, Justice Mukher- 
jee declared: "Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees to every 
person and not merely to the citizens of India, the freedom of 
conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate 
religion." 36 

An Indian Lutheran bishop felt that the question of foreign 
missionaries did indeed involve a vital constitutional point, but his 
interpretation was quite different from Dr. Katju's. Rev. R. B. 
Manikam wrote: "The crux of the whole matter is this: today a 
church in India invites a foreign missionary and shows cause why; 

82 Religious News Service, October r, 1957. 

83 Eddy Asirvatham, "The Missionary in Present-Day India," Revolution in 
Missions, p. 20. 

84 The Mail, May i, 1953. 

85 Ratilal Panchand v. State of Bombay, 1954 Supreme Court Appeals, p. 546. 



then if its reasonable request is turned down by the state on the 
ground that the foreigner is only an addition to the existing mission- 
ary personnel and not a substitute, or that his work is not 'of value 
to India/ then to that extent the state does interfere with the work 
of the church and the religious freedom which has been guaranteed 
in the Constitution of India is being denied to it. 5 ' 36 The National 
Christian Council pointed out that increasingly, missionaries were 
going to India at the invitation of the Indian churches, to carry on 
their work "in association with, and very frequently under, the 
direction of Indian Christian leaders." 37 The new relationship meant 
that the denial of entry visas to missionaries hampered primarily the 
work of the Indian church rather than an enterprise directed from 
London or New York. 

Indian Christian statements made in defense of the missionaries' 
continued presence also stressed the idea of reciprocity in the inter- 
national exchange of diverse religious and cultural influences. It was 
pointed out that Hindu and Muslim missionaries from India are 
now going abroad to propagate their respective faiths and are per- 
mitted to do so by the governments of western countries. 38 While 
this is true, it is unrealistic to compare seriously the Vedanta Society, 
which maintains approximately fourteen "missionaries" in centers in 
the United States, with American Christian missionary societies 
whose representatives in India now number several thousands. How- 
ever, Indian Christians were on firmer ground when they pointed 
out that within the Christian church the sending of fraternal workers 
from one country to another is being practiced on an increasingly 
reciprocal basis. Indian Christian leaders are now going to the West 
in order to make their contribution there, especially in the field of 
church union, in which the Church of South India has pioneered. 39 

Indian Christian spokesmen have emphasized their desire to have 
fraternal workers from abroad continue their work in the Indian 
church. Until very recently the missionary was very far from being 
a "fraternal worker"; he was frequently the boss, the lord of the 
mission compound, the holder of the all-important purse-strings, and 
the Indian Christian was well aware of his financial and adminis- 

86 R. B. Manikam, "Some Living Issues before the Church in India," Revolution 
in Missions, p. 210. 

87 "The Church's Freedom for its Missionary Task," N.C.C. Review, 1955, vol. 
75, p. 209. 

**lbid., p. 210. 30 E. C. Bhatty, op. cit., p. 553. 



trative powers. Such relationships are fast disappearing in the light 
of Indian independence, and most missionaries today regard them- 
selves and are regarded as fraternal workers in a sense which upholds 
the dignity and the equality of the Indian church. Dependence on 
western financial support, however, is still so considerable as to make 
this "the weakest link in the freedom and self-determination of 
the church/' 40 

An important aspect of this problem involves the transfer of 
mission property to the Indian churches. During the last twenty years 
the attitude of the western missionary boards has changed radically 
with regard to the ownership of such property, so that now "the 
major missionary societies have frankly accepted the principle that 
the church in India is the ultimate heir to all their property in the 
country"** Strenuous efforts were made to effect such transfers, but 
certain practical difficulties arose, chiefly the great expense involved 
in the payment of stamp duty and registration charges. It was esti- 
mated, for example, that in the city of Madras alone it would cost 
the Church of South India about $100,000 just to accept the property 
given by related missionary societies. The National Christian Coun- 
cil in 1955 appealed to the government to make special provisions, as 
the duties and charges were beyond the resources of the churches to 
meet. 42 Since then, special government provisions have permitted the 
transfer of large mission holdings in land and buildings to the Indian 
churches, and the process continues. 

The 7955 policy statement 

As noted above, the refusal of visas to many missionaries in 1952 
was followed by an assurance that the ministry of home affairs had 
not adopted any change in policy. Nevertheless, the number of 
rejected visa applications continued to be high. In 1955 the govern- 
ment announced its new policy regarding the admission of foreign 
missionaries. The key provision was that missionaries "coming for 
the first time in augmentation of the existing strength of a mission 
or in replacement will be admitted into India, if they possess out- 
standing qualifications or specialized experience in their lines." 48 

40 Scott, op. cit., p. 376. 

41 "Mission Property" (editorial), N.C.C. Review, 1954, vol. 74, p. 409. (Italics in 

42 "The Church's Freedom for its Missionary Task." N.C.C. Review, 1955, vol. 75, 
p. 209. 

43 Jacob, op. cit., p. 413. 



Other features of the policy are: missionaries returning from leave 
after five or more years' service in India will ordinarily be eligible 
for admission; new missionaries will not be admitted for work in 
border and tribal areas; missions must obtain the approval of the 
government before opening new centers or institutions; and, mis- 
sionaries from Commonwealth countries will be dealt with on the 
same basis as other missionaries. The last provision introduced a 
system of visas for Commonwealth missionaries, who previously had 
needed none. A short time later, however, this was amended so that 
such missionaries are now required to obtain only a special endorse- 
ment in their passports, which has usually been granted without delay. 

However, the part of the policy which bears the most far-reaching 
implications is that which limits the admission of new missionaries, 
even replacements, to those who possess "outstanding qualifications 
or specialized experience." The government's position is that, where 
qualified Indians are available to fill a post, they should ordinarily 
be preferred. The consideration of providing employment for citizens 
of the country is undoubtedly a factor in official thinking; similar 
restrictions are placed on the personnel policies of western industrial 
and commercial concerns which establish plants or offices in India. 44 

How will the ministry of home affairs interpret "outstanding 
qualifications"? The government has made it clear that it should 
not be necessary to bring missionaries from other countries to become 
secondary school teachers or superintendents of hostels. It was re- 
ported that one minister of government interpreted "outstanding 
qualifications" by declaring that no man under thirty could be con- 
sidered an expert in his field. An N.C.C. secretary wrote that the 
new policy could be administered in such a way that the present 
missionary situation would not be greatly altered. "But it should be 
recognized," he added, "that the new policy can be used for a gradual 
closure of missionary work." 45 

The number of foreign missionaries in India has decreased some- 
what in the past few years. At the beginning of 1955 the figure was 
over 5,700; early in 1959 it was around 4,8oo. 46 However, the National 
Christian Council reported in November 1960 that since January of 
that year forty-five applications for missionary visas had been sub- 

44 Scott, op. cit., p. 375. 45 Jacob, op. cit., p. 414. 

46 Times of India Directory and Yearbook, Times of India, Bombay, 1960, p. 323, 
and Hindustan Times, October n, 1959. 



mitted and that only three had been refused (eleven were still pend- 
ing), indicating that the visa situation was "quite satisfactory." 47 


In 1954 the governments of two states, Madhya Pradesh and 
Madhya Bharat (an area which was later incorporated in the former 
state), appointed official committees to investigate the activities of 
Christian foreign missionaries. The reports of both committees were 
published in 1956, but it was the Madhya Pradesh inquiry which 
attracted nation-wide attention and which merits consideration here. 

The Christian Missionary Activities Inquiry Committee (the 
Niyogi Committee) was appointed by the government of Madhya 
Pradesh to investigate the numerous charges and countercharges 
made concerning missionary work. On one hand, representations 
were made to the government that missionaries were converting the 
illiterate aboriginals and other backward people through the use of 
fraud, coercion, or monetary inducements, and that this was creating 
widespread resentment among the Hindus. The missionaries denied 
these allegations and charged that local officials and others were 
harassing the Christian communities in the tribal areas. 48 

Dr. M. B. Niyogi, retired chief justice of the High Court, Nagpur, 
was named chairman of the six-man committee. The composition of 
the Niyogi committee became a matter of controversy as soon as 
it was announced. Five of the members were Hindus, and the one 
Christian member was S. K. George, who belonged to the Syrian 
Christian Church. The Roman Catholic archbishop of Bangalore 
wrote that the only Christian member of the committee did not 
believe in the divinity of Christ and had no representative status in 
the Christian community. 49 Answering such criticisms in a press note, 
however, the government stated that the members had been chosen 
as "men of unbiased and impartial outlook, who would function 
more as judges than as advocates of one side or the other." 50 

47 National Christian Council of India, minutes of Executive Committee, Novem- 
ber 1960. 

48 Report of the Christian Missionary Activities Inquiry Committee, Govern- 
ment Printing, Madhya Pradesh, Nagpur, 1956, vol. i, p. i. Hereafter referred to 
as the 'Niyogi Committee Report. 

49 Thomas Pothacamury, The Church in Independent India, Maryknoll Publica- 
tions, Maryknoll, N.Y., n.d. [1958?], p. 18. This was one of the points made in a 
memorandum (June 15, 1954) from the standing committee of the Catholic Bishops' 
Conference of India to the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. 

60 Press note of May 3, 1954. 



The committee was authorized to frame its own procedure, and it 
decided to tour the key districts of the state in order to ascertain the 
nature of the complaints on both sides. Having devoted six months 
to extensive tours, the committee then issued a lengthy questionnaire 
which any member of the public could answer. Indian Christians 
protested that the questionnaire revealed that the original scope of 
the inquiry had been greatly widened without authorization; "start- 
ing as an inquiry into the activities of Christian missionaries, pre- 
sumably in relation to those outside the Christian community, it has 
become in some respects an inquiry into the activities of the Christian 
church and community as a whole." 51 The Christians pointed to 
question n as an illustration of the tendentious nature of the ques- 
tionnaire: "Do you think that conversion to Christianity adversely 
affects the national loyalty and outlook of converts ? Give instances 
and state reasons." The Indian Christian reaction was: "It would 
appear that the whole community is on trial.' 


Findings of the Niyogi committee 

The committee's report was submitted to the government of 
Madhya Pradesh on April 18, 1956. The report contained a number 
of findings, some of which were simple statements of fact. For exam- 
ple, it was found that since 1950 there had been an appreciable 
increase in the American missionary personnel working in India 
and that large sums of foreign money were being spent in connection 
with educational, medical, and evangelistic work. Other findings, 
however, were unsubstantiated generalizations. For example: "Con- 
versions are mostly brought about by undue influence, misrepre- 
sentations, etc., or in other words not by conviction but by various 
inducements offered for proselytization in various forms." 53 The 
report reflected no awareness at all of the complex methodological 
problems involved in such an inquiry. 

Another finding was that, despite assurances that missionaries 
would not engage in political activities, "missions are in some places 
used to serve extra-religious ends." 54 But the committee's under- 
standing of "extra-religious activities" apparently embraced even 
agricultural and village development projects. "The (Indian) Roman 
Catholics support the Congress government mainly because they are 

81 N.C.C. Review, 1955, vol. 75, p. 3. 52 Loc. cit. 

53 Niyogi Committee Report, vol. i, p. 131. 54 Loc. cit. 



anti-communist. There seems to be an unholy alliance between 
Roman Catholics and American money to save India from commu- 
nism. The West must realize that this is none of their business and 
that Independent India needs no foreign help in solving its economic 
and social problems. For Christian missions to interest themselves in 
such economic and social problems and help in finding solutions for 
them would be regarded as extra-religious activity and as highly 
undesirable." 55 The committee resented the fact that large sums of 
foreign money were being spent on these projects "without the 
cooperation and advice of non-Christian leaders." 

The next finding, which drew an immediate and outraged protest 
from Indian Christian leaders, was: "As conversion muddles the 
convert's sense of unity and solidarity with his society, there is a 
danger of his loyalty to his country and state being undermined." 56 
As an example of the "denationalization" of the Christian convert, 
it was pointed out that in some cases after conversion the common 
salutation "Jai Rama" (Hail Rama) is dropped in favor of "Jai 
Yeshu" (Hail Jesus). 57 "Jai Rama" has never been used by Indian 
Muslims or Christians, and the criticism made in the report reflected 
its characteristic failure to distinguish between Indian culture and 
Hindu culture. 

The report declared that the Christian idea of a supranational 
loyalty to Christ had definite political implications smacking of extra- 
territoriality. Referring to Roman Catholicism it stated: "We have 
shown how supranationalism is propagated among Christians in 
India. It really means allegiance to a Theocratic State, styled the Uni- 
versal Church." 58 The report concluded that the missionary strategy 
was "to detach the Christian Indian from his nation" and that in 
times of crisis Christians might be used to promote foreign interests. 

Closely related was another finding which interpreted present-day 
missionary activities in terms of western imperialism. "Evangeliza- 
tion in India appears to be a part of the uniform world policy to 
revive Christendom for reestablishing western supremacy and is not 
prompted by spiritual motives. The objective is apparently to create 
Christian minority pockets with a view to disrupt the solidarity of 
the non-Christian societies." 59 According to the committee's inter- 
pretation, missions play a definite part in the West's cold-war strategy. 

65 ibid., p. 158. **IKd.,p. 131. 

57 Ibid., p. 125. B8 /fo'rf., pp. 144, 150. 

59 Ibid., p. 132. 



As the United States has lost military bases in Asia through the 
attainment of independence by several countries, "the drive for 
proselytization in India is an attempt to acquire an additional base 
which of course would be psychological." 60 

The report mentioned the American secretary of state, the late John 
Foster Dulles, a most unpopular figure in India, as one of the dele- 
gates to the World Council of Churches Assembly at Amsterdam in 
1948. His name is repeated several times (pages 45, 52, 100, 141) in 
such a way as to suggest a mysterious link between American foreign 
policy and the strategy of foreign missions in India. The committee 
felt that it could "safely conclude" that one of the major aims of 
accelerating conversions to Christianity was to disrupt the progress 
of national unity in the newly independent countries. 61 Another 
objective was "to create a Christian party in the Indian democracy on 
the lines of the Muslim League ultimately to make out a claim for a 
separate state, or at least to create a 'militant minority.' " 62 

A statement issued by the National Christian Council of India 
recorded the "sorrow and indignation" felt throughout the Indian 
Christian community over the committee's report. The council at- 
tacked the procedure of the inquiry; the committee had permitted 
witnesses to make sweeping charges without adequate cross-examina- 
tion, and had then included these unproved assertions in its report. 63 
The council repudiated the assertion that the Indian Christian com- 
munity was a "foreign pocket" in the nation. "The publication of 
this slander against a whole community in an official report is a 
grievous offense." 01 Acknowledging that errors may have been made 
by certain missionaries and other Christians, the council asserted that 
on the whole the record of missionary work had been a worthy one. 
The Christian group absolutely repudiated the charge that missionary 
work in India is a political instrumentality of any foreign power. 65 

Indian Christian statements also attacked the committee's lack of 
fairness in its treatment of the case of J. C. Christie, a British mission- 
ary who was sentenced to imprisonment. Detailed references to this 
fact were made in the report (pages 18-22). But, as an editorial 

80 7rf., p. 58. 61 //W.,p. 59. 

62 Ibid., p. 60. 

63 Statement on the Niyogi Committee Report adopted by the National Christian 
Council at its i3th Triennial Sessions at Allahabad, October 27, 1956, Revolution in 
Missions, p. 288. 

64 Ibid., p. 289. 65 Loc. cit. 



pointed out, no mention was made of his appeal to a higher court 
nor of "the judgment delivered by that court before the submission 
of the report, acquitting Mr. Christie of all the charges against him. 


Recommendations and reactions 

Of the principal recommendations made in the Niyogi report, the 
first point is: "Those missionaries whose primary object is proselytiza- 
tion should be asked to withdraw. The large influx of foreign 
missionaries is undesirable and should be checked." 67 A related 
recommendation calls for an amendment to the Constitution speci- 
fying that the right to propagate religion applies only to citizens 
of India. 

Another recommendation is that a law very similar to one in force 
in Greece be enacted. The effect of such legislation would be to 
eliminate the propagation of religion entirely. The report states that 
"any attempt or effort (whether successful or not), directly or in- 
directly to penetrate into the religious conscience of persons (whether 
of age or under age) of another faith, for the purpose of consciously 
altering their religious conscience or faith, so as to agree with the 
ideas or convictions of the proselytizing party should be absolutely 
prohibited." 68 The report makes no mention of a constitutional 
amendment at this point, but it is quite clear that article 25 would 
have to undergo vital changes if such legislation were to be enacted. 
It is very doubtful whether any of Gandhi's discussions with Chris- 
tians or Muslims, for example, would have been accounted legal had 
such a law been in force. 

Another recommendation urges a piece of advice on the Indian 
Christians: "The best course for the Indian churches to follow is to 
establish a United Independent Christian Church in India without 
being dependent on foreign support." 69 The National Christian Coun- 
cil Review asserted that it was well known that the churches were 
seeking a greater unity with less dependence on foreign assistance. 
"But in this they are not prompted by the reasons which actuate 
the committee, namely to free them from some imagined foreign 
domination." 70 

66 Af.C.C. Review ', 1956, vol. 76, p. 320. 

67 Niyogi Committee Report, vol. i, p. 163. 

68 Lo<r. cit. 

Loc. cit. 

70 N.C.C. Review, 1956, vol. 76, p. 367. 



The report recommends the creation of a department of cultural 
and religious affairs in the state government, with powers of censor- 
ship. "Circulation of literature meant for religious propaganda with- 
out approval of the state government should be prohibited." 71 An 
Indian Christian writer saw in these proposals the beginning of the 
end of the cherished ideal of the secular state. According to M. M. 
Thomas, such steps would initiate the process of making the state 
"the final arbiter of the religious and cultural life of the citizens." 72 
With the censorship of religious literature, he also wondered what 
would become of freedom of expression in other fields. 

Other recommendations are that the state government be solely 
responsible for maintaining orphanages and for providing education, 
health, and other services for members of the Scheduled Castes and 
Tribes. It is also specified that nonofficial organizations should be 
permitted to operate institutions only for members of their own 
faith, and only with the prior approval of the state. 73 Christians 
pointed out, however, that the schools and colleges run by Christian 
agencies are open to all people. In view of the fact that there are 
constant requests from the public to enlarge the services of these 
institutions, "we can easily imagine the reaction that a policy of 
exclusion would evoke among the people in general." 74 

In considering these recommendations the banning of conver- 
sions, rigid control of religious literature by a department of cultural 
and religious affairs, the total absorption of social services by the 
state M. M. Thomas asserted that the implications of the Niyogi 
report go far beyond the question of foreign missionaries or the 
Indian Christian community. "The philosophy of state and its rela- 
tion to religion, culture and society underlying the report and advo- 
cated by it is unashamedly totalitarian. ... In fact, the writer of these 
comments is frankly more afraid of the political idea it represents and 
its effect on the future of the state in India than about the effect of 
the report on Christianity. Christianity is an anvil that has survived 
many hammers. It will outlive one more. But the infant secular 
democratic state of India has yet to find roots in the indigenous 

71 Niyogi Committee Report, vol. i, p. 164. 

72 M. M. Thomas, "State and Other Spheres of Life," N.C.C. Review, 1956, vol. 76, 


73 Niyogi Committee Report, vol. i, pp. 164-165. 

74 N.C.C. Review, 1956, vol. 76, p. 366. 



cultural soil and is imperiled by totalitarian ideas finding their place 
in government committees." 75 The clear trend of the committee's 
thinking was that the state is everything and should bring virtually 
every aspect of society under its detailed regulation. 76 

Thomas also challenged the committee's assumption that Indian 
citizens should have no supranational loyalties and declared that the 
idea of democracy itself was threatened by this assumption. Only 
under fascism is the state made a law unto itself; democratic states 
always recognize supranational loyalties, whether they be to God, 
natural law, or humanity. Without such supranational loyalties there 
is no criterion for judging national policies. 77 Thomas wrote that by 
attacking the Christian's supranationalism as a form of extraterritori-j 
ality, the Niyogi report "has shown the kinship of its ideology with 
totalitarian fascism." 78 

In addition to the indignation which the report evoked in Christian 
circles, some prominent Hindu leaders also came forward to repudiate 
it. Dr. Hare Krishna Mahatab, governor of Bombay, expressed his 
sorrow over the controversy which the report had stirred up all over 
India, and intimated that the caste Hindus, not the Christian mis- 
sionaries, were the ones who had exploited the tribal people and 
other backward classes. 79 Nine distinguished non-Christian leaders 
issued a statement in November 1956 which paid tribute "to the high 
standards of integrity and public service generally maintained by 
Christian missionaries in their work." 80 While the statement did not 
specifically mention the Niyogi report, it took note of the recent 
"indiscriminate and extravagant attacks on missionaries." 

Dr. A. Krishnaswami, a member of Parliament and one of the 
signers of this statement, was given a special assignment by a sub- 
commission of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. 
Serving as special rapporteur, he prepared a draft report entitled 
"Study of Discrimination in the Matter of Religious Rights and 
Practices." In his discussion of the question of foreign missionaries, 
Dr. Krishnaswami pointed out that in India responsible men of 
differing political persuasions had criticized the Niyogi committee, 
"not only for erring in its presentation of facts, but also for over- 

75 Thomas, op. cit., p. 395. 78 Ibid., p. 396. 

Loc. cit. lbid., p. 397. 

79 Pothacamury, op. cit. y p. 20. 

80 N.C.C. Review, 1957, vol. 77, pp. 40-41. 



stepping the bounds of propriety and national interest in attempting 
to reverse the general trend in favor of a broad-based freedom." 81 

The Niyogi report has been discussed in considerable detail. It 
does not represent the majority viewpoint. But it is important because, 
more clearly than any other public document, it illustrates certain 
forces at work even outside the Hindu communalist groups, forces 
which challenge the democratic secular state in present-day India. 


It is worth noting the fact that in approaching this particular 
problem there are no precedents or analogous situations in the older 
western democracies which can be studied. This, incidentally, is not 
true of most of the problems dealt with in this book. The legislatures 
and courts of secular states such as France or the United States, for 
example, have had to define the status of the predominant religion, 
the rights of religious minorities, the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical law, 
the place of religious instruction in public schools, etc. In dealing 
with these problems modern India can and does profit from the 
political experience of the West. But in determining the policy 
toward foreign Christian missions working within her borders, 
India (and the other newly independent states of Asia and Africa) 
must face problems which have never arisen in the western world. 

The secular state does not operate from any theological position; 
it has no creed and no religious preferences, and its policies in every 
area of governmental activity should reflect none. Applying this idea 
to the question of foreign missionaries, the secular state cannot deny 
entry visas to missionaries on the basis of: hostility to Christianity, 
the desire to maintain the religious status quo, the idea that conver- 
sion from one religion to another is wrong, etc. The truly secular 
state has no view at all regarding the relative merits of Hinduism and 
Christianity, or regarding the desirability or undesirability of con- 
version from one religion to another. Obviously, what is suggested 
here is an ideal which has never been completely attained by any state. 
It is quite clear that, in India, religious considerations have had some 
influence on the shaping of policy regarding foreign missionaries. 

It is far easier to discern religious bias in the statements of Dr. Katju 

81 A. Krishnaswami, "Study of Discrimination in the Matter of Religious Rights 
and Practices." United Nations document E/CN.4/Sub.2/L.i23, November 15, 
PP- 59-6o. 



than it is to set out the positive secular considerations on which a 
sound missionary policy ought to be based. On what basis should the 
government of India decide whether the number of missionaries in 
the country should be closer to five thousand or one thousand ? There 
is obviously no formula; but even rough guidelines are not evident. 
One point, however, is clear. The secular state in the liberal demo- 
cratic tradition should strive to preserve the spirit as well as the letter 
of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. 

The issue of religious liberty (the spirit, not the letter) is relevant 
not at the point of the missionary himself, but at the point of the 
Indian Christian churches and their interests. Most missionaries 
from the West now go to India only at the invitation of the Indian 
church, to perform specialized tasks which that church feels need 
to be done. If the Indian church invites a missionary and the govern- 
ment refuses to allow him to enter the country, this decision un- 
doubtedly affects the work of the church and of the Indian Christians 
who constitute its membership. 

The controversy over the foreign missionary question has tended 
to obscure the fact that there is an area of basic agreement in the 
objectives of the government, the Indian Christian churches, and the 
missionary societies themselves. All three would like to see the Indian 
churches self-sufficient in leadership and resources. Given substantial 
agreement on this fundamental objective, it should be possible to 
move together in a spirit of cooperation, the state formulating its 
policies on the basis of consultation with responsible leaders of the 
Indian churches. It has been the lack of such consultation which on 
occasion has distressed the Indian Christian community. Despite 
certain problems, the government's policy regarding the missionaries 
has, on the whole, been a liberal one. The very presence, fourteen 
years after independence, of over 4,000 foreign Christian missionaries 
in a country which is over 85 per cent Hindu attests to this fact. 



APART from questions concerning the propagation of religion, 
which have been considered in the two preceding chapters, there are 
important areas of religious practice which the state has had to regu- 
late. Regulation in the interest of public health and safety and the 
maintenance of law and order became firmly established in the 
British period and continue today. While it is sometimes claimed 
that such regulations infringe on freedom of religion, this is not a 
serious problem in present-day India. In a later section we shall dis- 
cuss the historical role of the state in the reform of religious practices; 
in this connection there are acute problems in India, not only of 
religious liberty but of the limits of the secular state's activities in 
religious reform. 


The Indian Constitution recognizes that certain forms of religious 
practice may be physically or morally harmful to the individual or so- 
ciety. Hence article 25(1) provides: "subject to public order, morality 
and health and to all the other provisions of this Part, all persons are 
equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to profess, 
practice and propagate religion." [Italics added] Anti-social practices 
sanctioned by religion are not thereby shielded from state interference. 

It should be noted that the right of the state to legislate in matters 
of social and religious custom was first asserted only in the British 
period. Hindu kings had no legislative authority; their function 
was to uphold and enforce existing laws and customs. The coming 
of Islam to India strengthened this conception of a state without 
legislative power. The Muslim kings could not change Islamic laws 
based on the divinely revealed Koran, and so with few exceptions 
allowed their Hindu subjects to be governed by their own customs 
without state interference. K. M. Panikkar made the following cate- 



gorical assertion: " Til the East India Company, through the agita- 
tion of Rammohan Roy, took up the question of sati, there was no 
instance of an exercise of state authority for the purpose of pro- 
hibiting anti-social customs/' 1 In order to see our subject in proper 
historical perspective, we must now examine the nineteenth-century 
legislation which abolished certain customs despite their association 
with religion. 

The suppression of anti-social religious practices 

The Sanskrit word sati originally meant a chaste and virtuous 
woman, but by a curious development came to mean the self-immola- 
tion of a widow on the funeral pyre of her husband. The custom 
appears to have prevailed in India from very early times, and detailed 
descriptions of a case of sati were recorded by Greek writers in the 
fourth century B.C. In the epic Mahabharata the story is told of king 
Pandu's two wives, who, after his death, engaged in an agonizing 
dispute over which should have the privilege of being burned on their 
husband's funeral pyre. Sati, although highly praised by the ancient 
Hindu law-givers as a meritorious act, was never made a religious 
obligation. But the promised rewards for such an act were glorious 
indeed: "Dying with her husband she sanctifies her maternal and 
paternal ancestors; and the ancestry of him to whom she gave her 
virginity. Such a wife, adoring her husband in celestial felicity with 
him, greatest, most admired, with him shall enjoy the delights of 
heaven while fourteen Indras reign." 2 

Strong social pressure was frequently brought to bear on widows 
to make this sacrifice. In some cases the male members of the hus- 
band's family, anxious to secure for themselves the spiritual merits 
which would accrue upon the performance of sati, drugged the 
widow or used physical force to drag her to the pyre. Sati was not 
practiced in every part of India; it was more prevalent in Bengal and 
Rajputana than elsewhere. Nevertheless, in the early nineteenth 
century, more than five hundred cases of sati were reported in the 
districts around Calcutta every year. 

The basic policy of the British government was one of strict laissez 

1 K. M. Panikkar, Hindu Society at Cross Roads, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 
1955, p. 41. Actually, the British abolished infanticide earlier, in 1802. 

2 Quoted in Edward Thompson, Suttee: A Historical and Philosophical Inquiry 
into the Hindu Rite of Widow-Burning^ George Allen and Unwin Ltd., London, 
1928, p. 50. 



faire in all religious and social matters. This was the prevailing atti- 
tude, even with regard to sati. In 1789 the collector of Shahabad 
wrote to the governor-general regarding this practice: "The rites and 
superstitions of the Hindu religion should be allowed with the most 
unqualified tolerance, but a practice at which human nature shudders 
I cannot permit without particular instructions." His superior in- 
formed him, however, that as regards sati his action must be "con- 
fined to dissuasion and must not extend to coercive measures or to 
any exertion of official power." 3 

What was it that brought about the reversal of this policy forty 
years later? Several important factors converged at the right time. 
The Christian missionaries, convinced that sati should be abolished, 
were unsuccessful in their attempts to persuade the government in 
India to take such bold action. Thereupon, they launched a deter- 
mined campaign to arouse and inform public opinion in England, 
which would in turn influence Parliament. Many pamphlets were 
written, and an association called the Society for Promoting the 
Abolition of Human Sacrifices in India was formed. 4 In India the 
Hindu reformer Raja Rammohan Roy led a forceful attack against 
sati by pamphlet and petition and gradually gathered a group of 
influential progressive Hindus around him. In his pamphlets he 
examined all of the relevant Shastras (Hindu scriptures) to prove 
that sati was not strongly recommended in the oldest texts. Public 
opinion had thus been prepared in both England and India when 
Lord William Bentinck was appointed governor-general. 

Upon his appointment, Bentinck was instructed to consider meas- 
ures for the immediate or gradual abolition of sati. After careful 
study of the problem he decided on immediate abolition, although 
Raja Rammohan had urged a more cautious approach. Regulation 
XVII, passed in December 1829, declared sati illegal and punishable 
by the courts. This regulation applied only to the Bengal presidency, 
but a year later similar measures were passed by the governments 
of Bombay and Madras. The Madras measure declared that the 
governor-in-council was enacting the regulation "without intending 
to depart from one of the first and most important principles of the 

3 R. C. Majumdar, H. C. Raychaudhuri, and K. Datta, An Advanced History of 
India, Macmillan and Company, London, 1950, p. 824. 

4 Kenneth Ingham, Reformers in India 1793-1833, Cambridge University Press, 
Cambridge, pp. 44-54. 



system of British government in India, that all classes of the people 
be secure in the observance of their religious usages." 5 

Infanticide was practiced with religious motives among certain 
groups of Hindus: sometimes children were thrown into the sacred 
river in fulfillment of religious vows. A childless woman, for example, 
might vow that if the gods granted her more than one child, she 
would offer one to Mother Ganges. Although this practice was not 
as widely prevalent as sati, it was equally inhuman, and the inter- 
vention of the government was demanded. Bengal Regulation VI of 
1802 declared such an act of infanticide to be murder. 

The thags (term from which the English word "thug" was de- 
rived) were organized bands of criminals who travelled in disguise 
and murdered their victims by strangulation. Although the members 
of these secret bands were recruited from both the Muslims and the 
Hindus, they regarded themselves as devotees of the Hindu goddess 
Kali. The origin of thagi was explained as the result of a great battle 
between the goddess and an all-devouring demon. From every drop 
of the demon's blood a new demon was created, so Kali finally 
formed two men and gave them a strip of cloth. They strangled the 
demons with the cloth, and were then commanded by the goddess 
to go forth and overcome men by the same method. 6 Governor- 
General Bentinck appointed special officers to crush the secret bands 
and passed a series of acts to deal with this situation. During 1831- 
1837, more than three thousand thags were apprehended, and thagi 
was rapidly suppressed. 

Sati, infanticide, and thagi were special problems which called for 
vigorous state interference not regulation, but total suppression. In 
other areas, however, the state has been compelled to regulate the 
normal and lawful day-to-day religious activities of both Hindus and 
Muslims. The state has also had to legislate to prevent the eruption 
of public disturbances caused by the wounding of religious feelings. 
We must now examine these areas of state regulation. 

The preservation of public order 

There are two basic reasons for the extensive governmental regula- 
tion of religious festivals and pilgrimages in India. First, both Hin- 
duism and Islam lack the centralized organization and authority 

5 The Madras Sati Regulation (Regulation I of 1830). 

6 Percival Griffiths, The British Impact on India, MacDonald and Company Ltd., 
London, 1952, p. 206. 



necessary to provide for the orderly conduct of such religious activ- 
ities. Second, in both Hinduism and Islam great importance is at- 
tached to religious functions which take place in the out-of-doors, 
especially in the form of melas and processions. 

The Kumbha Mela is a religious fair of vast proportions which 
takes place every twelve years at the confluence of the rivers Ganges 
and Jamuna at Allahabad. Millions of Hindu pilgrims from all over 
India converge on the holy place to participate in the mela. The fair 
is a major administrative responsibility for the government, and it 
cannot well be otherwise. There is simply no other agency equipped 
to deal with the enormous problems of public health and safety 
created by the religious function. 

The Kumbha Mela was last celebrated in 1954, and a few details 
concerning the arrangements will indicate the magnitude of the 
problem and of the government's responsibilities. The district magis- 
trate of Allahabad was required to present the mela budget (specify- 
ing the needs of the various departments of the government in 
connection with the fair) by October 1952. Three-and-a-half months 
before the fair began a special officer-in-charge was sent, at the request 
of the district magistrate, to direct the arrangements for the health 
and safety of the pilgrims. The officer-in-charge had the powers of an 
additional district magistrate, and below him were seven area magis- 
trates. Directly responsible to him was an officer of the tahsildar 
grade who was appointed manager of the mcla^ with his eight subor- 
dinates. The staff included one senior superintendent of police, one 
superintendent of police, and ten gazetted officers, besides an assistant 
commandant of the provincial armed constabulary. There were 
ninety-eight non-gazetted officers (circle inspectors, reserve inspectors, 
etc.). Eight police stations were set up, with a fire station attached 
to each, and twenty-seven police outposts. The total strength of the 
police force deputed to the mela was 2,882; there were also 250 

An additional 550 policemen were deputed to the cholera inocula- 
tion barriers; the order requiring inoculation of all pilgrims was later 
cancelled, however. The director of the medical and health service 
set up eight hospitals and eight first-aid posts. There were seventeen 
medical officers, three lady doctors, twenty nurses, and the necessary 
number of ward boys, cooks, and stretcher bearers. In charge of the 
sanitary arrangements were forty medical officers of health, nine chief 



sanitary inspectors, thirty-three sanitary inspectors, and 926 provincial 
armed constabulary men. Over 6,000 sweepers were employed. The 
government sanctioned more than 1,700,000 rupees (over $360,000) 
for medical and public health arrangements. In order to accommo- 
date the millions of pilgrims, a vast area had to be provided with 
drinking water, lighting, and latrines. The public works department 
constructed six pontoon bridges and a number of new roads. 7 

To help defray the expense of such elaborate arrangements, a 
pilgrim tax has for many years been levied in various centers of 
pilgrimage throughout India. This tax generally took the form of 
a terminal tax levied on railway passengers to pilgrim centers. The 
Taxation Inquiry Commission recommended the extension of this tax 
to all pilgrim centers of relative importance. "A demand has been put 
forward on behalf of local bodies and supported by state governments 
that pilgrim taxes should be extended to places of pilgrimage generally 
and in particular to all such centers of pilgrimage as are called upon 
to provide various civic amenities to large visiting populations. We 
support the proposal." The government of India accepted this recom- 
mendation in 1955, and legislation was adopted to implement it. 8 

The role of government in the regulation of this kind of religious 
activity is international in the case of the Muslim Haj (pilgrimage 
to Mecca). Before independence there was a portfolio of Haj in the 
central government, but even now official responsibilities are exten- 
sive. Medical teams of doctors and compounders are sent to Saudi 
Arabia by the government of India every year during the Haj season 
to give medical assistance to Indian pilgrims. In 1955 the government 
granted exemption to deck class Haj pilgrims from the necessity of 
obtaining income-tax clearance certificates before departure. Pilgrim 
passes are issued in order to obviate the necessity of obtaining interna- 
tional passports. In 1959, the Reserve Bank of India announced that 
arrangements had been made for the issue of special Haj notes in 
denominations of 10 and 100 rupees, which could be spent by pil- 
grims in Saudi Arabia. 9 About 15,000 Indian Muslims undertake the 
Haj pilgrimage every year. 

7 Report of the Committee appointed by the Uttar Pradesh Government to 
Inquire into the Mishap which occurred in the Kumbha Mela at Prayaga on the 
yd. February 1954, Superintendent, Printing and Stationary, U.P., Allahabad, 1954, 
pp. 38-41. 

8 See the news article and editorial in The Hindu, July 17, 1955. 

9 Foreign Affairs Record, New Delhi, 1955, vol. i, p. 4; and The Hindu Weekly 
Review, May n, 1959. 



Extensive governmental regulation is necessitated by the im- 
portant part played by outdoor religious processions in both Hindu- 
ism and Islam. The use of public streets for such purposes inevitably 
creates certain practical difficulties which must be dealt with by the 
police and other authorities. This problem would exist even if all 
the inhabitants of a given city were Hindus or if all were Muslims. 
But it has been intensified a hundredfold by the sometimes uneasy 
coexistence of the two communities in many parts of India. The play- 
ing of music by Hindu processions passing by mosques at the time of 
prayer has led to countless bloody riots. The killing of cows as sacri- 
fice during the Muslim Batyr-ld festival has been another fruitful 
source of Hindu-Muslim conflict. When Hindu and Muslim festi- 
vals happened to fall on the same day, it has been almost taken for 
granted that communal clashes would occur in some of the cities 
of north India. 10 

One incident which took place in 1946 illustrates the kind of 
potential law-and-order problems with which local authorities have 
frequently had to deal. A Muslim procession at Banaras during the 
Muharram festival had to pass under a peepal tree which belonged 
to a nearby Hindu temple. A low branch of the tree obstructed the 
passing of the tazias (wood and paper representations of the tombs 
of the martyrs Hasan and Hussain) borne by the procession. Because 
the peepal tree is regarded by Hindus as holy, the Muslims were not 
permitted to cut down the projecting bough. The Hindus accused 
the leaders of the procession of having built the tazias bigger than 
usual. As the Muslims refused to take the tazias through in a slanting 
position, the procession was held up for three hours and the discus- 
sion became heated. With a communal clash imminent, a resourceful 
police officer ordered the road under the tree to be dug to a depth of 
one foot so that the tazias could pass in an upright position. 11 Such 
incidents have decreased greatly since the partition, but are still far 
from unknown. 

Indian law has long provided for regulatory measures to prevent 
breaches of the peace resulting from religious processions. Sections 
30 and 3oA of the Police Act provide for the licensing and regula- 
tion of processions; the exact course the procession is to take must 

10 Clifford Manshardt, The Hindu-Muslim Problem in India, George Allen and 
Unwin Ltd., London, 1936, pp. 40-46. 

11 Notes on Islam, 1946, vol. i, pp. 63-64. 



be approved in advance, and it is accompanied by policemen to pre- 
vent any disturbances. Under section 144 of the Code of Criminal 
Procedure a magistrate can prohibit processions and meetings alto- 
gether, and such an order is always promulgated during times of 
communal tension. 

Chapter 15 of the Indian Penal Code, "Of Offenses relating to 
Religion," deals with a variety of acts which would disrupt public 
order. The authors of the code, enacted in 1860, commented with 
regard to India: "There is perhaps no country in which the govern- 
ment has so much to apprehend from religious excitement among 
the people." 12 Section 295 punishes the destruction, damage, or defile- 
ment of any place of worship or any object held sacred by any class 
of persons with intent to insult their religion. Section 295A, con- 
sidered in some detail in chapter 6 of this book, punishes the use of 
spoken or written words with malicious intent to outrage the reli- 
gious feelings of any class of persons. Section 296 punishes the de- 
liberate disturbance of public worship; section 297, trespass on a 
sacred place with the intent to wound religious feelings; section 298, 
the utterance of words with that intent. 

A very important aspect of the state's role in the preservation of 
public order is the settlement of religious disputes in courts of law. 
There is a vast amount of litigation involving religious institutions 
which every year occupies the attention of the courts. Lawsuits are 
frequently filed in the district courts to determine the control of 
places of worship where there are conflicting claims made by two 
communities (for example, Hindus and Jains), or two factions of 
the same religious organization (Christian churches have been in- 
volved in numerous disputes of this nature). Sometimes the right to 
build a place of worship in a particular locality is challenged in the 
courts, especially if it is to be a mosque in a Hindu area or a temple 
in a Muslim area. The courts have had to decide the validity of 
orders issued by government officials under the Hindu religious 
endowment acts. To some extent the large amount of litigation 
involving religious institutions can be attributed to a factor men- 
tioned above, namely, the lack of hierarchical ecclesiastical authority 
which characterizes both Hinduism and Islam. But there are obvi- 
ously many other contributing factors. 

12 Quoted in R. Ranchhoddas and D. K. Thakore, The Law of Crimes, Bombay 
Law Reporter Office, Bombay, 1948, p. 671. 



Restrictions on political involvement 

It will be convenient at this point to mention the unsuccessful 
attempts which have been made to restrict the political role of reli- 
gious organizations and places of worship, although the object was 
not related to the public safety. In 1960 both houses of Parliament 
rejected Communist-sponsored bills seeking to restrict "the use of 
the Catholic Church for political purposes and the participation of 
ecclesiastical personnel of the Catholic Church in political activity." 
Catholic bishops had issued circulars at the time of the Andhra elec- 
tions of 1955 and the crucial Kerala elections of 1959, warning that 
Catholics who supported the Communist Party faced excommunica- 
tion. In early 1960 the Roman Catholic bishop of Trivandrum, 
Kerala, ordered the excommunication of all Catholics who were 
members of the Communist or Revolutionary Socialist parties. In a 
pastoral letter to churches in his diocese the bishop directed priests 
to deny the sacraments to anyone who had openly supported or was 
known to have voted for candidates of these parties in the state 

Moving the bill in the Lok Sabha, T^ Nagi Reddi, a Communist 
from Andhra Pradesh, declared that such threats of excommunica- 
tion constituted a dangerous interference in the political life of the 
nation. "Religious incursions in politics must be put an end to if 
the secular democracy in our country is to be strengthened." 13 Article 
25(2) (a) of the Constitution, he pointed out, permitted restrictions 
to be imposed on political activities which might be associated with 
religious practice. The bill provided that any person using the 
Catholic Church or church premises or resources for political activ- 
ity should be warned by the appropriate government and his name, 
together with the warning, published in the official gazette. "Politi- 
cal activity" was defined, very broadly, as any activity for or against 
any government or political party or group. 

The Communists and the Hindu communal parties, deadly enemies 
on most issues, found themselves in complete agreement on these 
bills. Some Congressmen supported the principle behind the legis- 
lation but objected to the discrimination involved in singling out 
the Catholic Church. Furthermore, the bills were widely interpreted 
in Congress circles as a kind of reprisal against the Kerala Catholics 

13 The Hindu Weekly Review, April n, 1960. 



for their significant part in the "liberation movement" and the 
Communists' defeat at the polls in 1959. Some opponents of the bill 
took the position that, as Indian citizens, the Catholic clergy had as 
much right to take part in politics as anyone else. B. N. Datar, min- 
ister in the ministry of home affairs, firmly declined to accept the 
bill moved in the Lok Sabha. He cited judicial pronouncements 
which supported the right of the Catholic clergy to tell their congre- 
gations not to support any party which was opposed to their spiritual 
concepts. 14 The bills were rejected by overwhelming majorities in 
both houses. 

It should be noted that the Representation of the People Act does 
contain a provision which would appear to have some relevance to 
this situation, although it refers to the undue influence of individuals 
over individuals, not to the general pronouncements of ecclesiastical 
authorities. The act states that any person who "(i) threatens any 
candidate, or any elector, or any person in whom a candidate or an 
elector is interested, with injury of any kind including social ostra- 
cism and excommunication or expulsion from any caste or com- 
munity; or (ii) induces or attempts to induce a candidate or an 
elector to believe that he, or any person in whom he is interested, 
will become or will be rendered an object of divine displeasure or 
spiritual censure, shall be deemed to interfere with the free exercise 
of the electoral right of such candidate or elector within the mean- 
ing of this clause." 15 

In February 1961 a nonofficial resolution asking the government to 
bring forward legislation to prevent the use of places of religious 
worship and pilgrimage for political propaganda and agitation was 
moved in the Lok Sabha by another Communist member, S. V. Paru- 
kekar. As his speech indicated, the mover of the resolution was 
mainly concerned with the political activities conducted from Catho- 
lic churches. However, the resolution made no specific mention of 
the churches, and in the inconclusive debate much attention was 
given to the extensive use made of Sikh gurdwaras as bases for the 
Punjabi Suba agitation. 16 Opposing any such regulation of the gurd- 
waras, the Chief Khalsa Diwan adopted a resolution declaring that 

14 Ibid., April 25, 1960. 

15 Representation of the People Act (43 of 1951), as amended by Act 27 of 1956, 
section 123(2) (2). 

16 This question is discussed in the section on the Sikhs in chapter 14, "A Report 
on the Minorities." 



the protection of religious rights could sometimes be interpreted as 
political activity. "We feel, therefore, that it is only the followers of 
that religion or worshippers of a particular place of pilgrimage and 
worship who have the sole right to prescribe do's and dont's for their 
holy places. Once it is conceded that government can interfere in 
such matters, there may be no end to such or even more drastic inter- 
ference depending upon the sweet will of the party in power or its 
dogmas." 17 Thus far, all legislative attempts to restrict the use of 
religious organizations or places of worship for political activities 
have failed. 


Another area of the modern Indian state's legislative activity which 
is of interest here is more than simple regulation; it can only be 
described as religious reform, the reform of Hinduism by the secular 
state. This area of state intervention raises acute problems of both 
freedom of religion and the proper limits of the state's role in reli- 
gious reform. In order to understand the implications of the state's 
assumption of this role some historical examples from the West will 
be useful. We shall then deal with the general problem in the light 
of Indian conditions. 

The historical perspective 

In the examples cited, no personal value judgment is implied by 
the use of the word reform. A reform is a change in the existing 
state of things which is regarded as an improvement by those who 
initiate it. In some cases the reforming state was motivated largely 
by genuine religious concern ; in others political considerations were 
primary, although the religious aspect was also present. In some cases 
the reforms were carried out by the state in a spirit of cooperation 
with the church; in other cases, in a spirit of hostility. 

Tsarist Russia presents a picture of the most comprehensive reform 
and regulation of religion by the state. Upon the death in 1700 of 
Patriarch Adrian, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Tsar 
Peter I (Peter the Great) did not appoint a successor. In 1721 he 
finally abolished the patriarchate altogether and vested the powers 

17 Resolution of the Chief Khalsa Diwan, Amritsar, adopted on February 9, 
1961. Legislation regulating the administration of gurdwaras is discussed in 
some detail in chapter 14, "A Report on the Minorities." 



of that office in a commission known as the Holy Synod. The synod 
was composed of bishops, abbots, and other clergy appointed and 
removable by the Tsar, and headed by a procurator-general, an army 
officer also chosen by the Tsar. 

The synod's powers of regulation covered practically the entire 
field of church doctrine, ritual, education, administration, and dis- 
cipline, and a sincere effort was made to reform the church. 18 But 
the state's own objectives also were openly promoted, and the clergy 
were required to inform against those who in confession disclosed 
any trace of disloyalty to the state. Whatever gains the church may 
have made through valid reforms imposed by the state, the price 
was ecclesiastical and spiritual freedom. A summary extract from a 
1905 petition sent by the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg to the Tsar 
stated : "All the religious duties of members of the Orthodox Church 
were strictly regulated (by the synod). ... It was laid down exactly 
how one should comport oneself in church . . . what attitude one 
should take before the sacred picture, how one should spend festival 
days, go to confession, and see that the members of the Orthodox 
Church remained loyal to their faith. . . . These efforts to subject to 
police prescription the facts and phenomena of spiritual life . . . un- 
doubtedly brought into the ecclesiastical sphere the mortifying breath 
of dry bureaucratism." 19 The religious reforms carried out by the 
state became an instrument of Tsarist autocracy and led to a stifling 
uniformity in spiritual matters. 

The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century provides 
many examples of the state in the role of religious reformer. The 
German princes who sided with Martin Luther were motivated by 
mixed religious and political considerations. The complex political 
situation of the day involved the Holy Roman Empire, the Pope, and 
the numerous German princes, some of whom found it expedient to 
support Luther in his struggle against both Empire and Pope. But 
religious concerns were also of great importance, for the church was 
widely regarded as corrupt, and Luther's teachings had made a great 
impact upon the people. 

As regards religion, the states of Saxony in 1527 were in the utmost 
confusion, due to the uneven acceptance of Lutheranism and the 

18 M. Searle Bates, Religious Liberty: An Inquiry, International Missionary Coun- 
cil, New York, 1945, p. 240. 

19 Quoted in Bates, op. tit., p. 242. 



lack of a central authority. Diverse forms of the liturgy were in use; 
the bishops had remained Catholics, and so the churches were with- 
out episcopal leadership. Under these circumstances the prince 
stepped into the breach (Luther viewed him in the role of an emer- 
gency bishop), and in 1527 appointed committees of clergy and laity 
to visit the churches in order to standardize their worship and 
organization in accordance with Lutheran teaching. The committee 
was referred to by the prince as "our authorized visitors" as if they 
were state officials, and Professor Bainton noted : "From this expres- 
sion may be dated the beginning of the state church/' 20 Thus, Luther 
supplied the ideas for reform but the princes assumed responsibility 
for their implementation. 

The state played an even more active role in the Reformation in 
the Scandinavian countries, and the motivation was largely secular. 
The Swedish king, Gustavus Vasa, wanted to secure the vast wealth 
of the church for his impoverished treasury, and so quickly threw 
his support to the Lutheran cause. In England also, the Reformation 
proceeded by royal decree and act of Parliament. Under Henry VIII, 
the Act of Supremacy (1554) declared that the king was to be "the 
only supreme head in earth of the Church of England." In the reign 
of the same monarch the monasteries were suppressed and the Eng- 
lish Bible installed in the churches. Under Edward VI the Book of 
Common Prayer was published, and in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 
Parliament enacted the Thirty-nine Articles, the first doctrinal state- 
ment of the church. The same pattern of religious reform by the 
state was followed in the turbulent seventeenth century, as in the 
case of the abolition of the episcopacy by the Parliamentary Party. 

Leaving aside these periods of religious and political upheaval, 
what has been the role of the state in religious reform in normal 
times ? In the first half of the nineteenth century, a remarkable series 
of ecclesiastical reforms was promoted by the British prime minister, 
Sir Robert Peel. These reforms were of such far-reaching effect that 
they have been described as "the Second Reformation." The spiritual 
and moral life of the Church of England was at low ebb. The laity 
and those outside the church clearly saw the need for reform, but 
most of the bishops and clergy were blind to the urgent necessity of 

20 Roland H. Bainton, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, Beacon Press, 
Boston, 1952, p. 71. 



extensive changes in church administration. 21 In 1835 Sir Robert Peel 
appointed a commission to investigate the need for church reform, 
and the recommendations made in its report were soon acted upon 
by Parliament. 

Legislation was enacted to reduce the huge incomes of some of 
the bishops (the bishop of Winchester formerly received ,50,000; 
this was reduced to ;8,ooo) and to use the surplus saved to raise 
the incomes of the poorer dioceses. New dioceses were created, and 
the boundaries of others altered. A permanent body with the title 
of Ecclesiastical Commissioners was created and given the responsi- 
bility of administering church property. The tithe was formerly paid 
to the church in kind, but a new law substituted a money payment 
assessed on a seven-year average. The Pluralities Act of 1838 at- 
tempted to eliminate the prevailing practice whereby a clergyman 
could hold several benefices and draw large incomes from them 
while leaving their care to underpaid curates. These and other 
reforms designed to remove abuses were almost entirely the result of 
the state's intervention. 

Twentieth-century reforms of the Church of England have fol- 
lowed a different pattern, however. The initiative has come from the 
church, and the reforms have been carried out either by the church 
on its own authority or by Parliament at its request. Under the 
Enabling Act, measures of reform have been adopted by the church 
assembly and then sent to Parliament for enactment. By the latter 
method measures have been passed dealing with the creation of new 
dioceses, the management of cathedrals, the reorganization of par- 
ishes, the selection of clergymen for particular parishes, the elimina- 
tion of simony, the power of a bishop to remove a parish minister, etc. 
However, in one very important area of reform, the revision of the 
Prayer Book, the measures were rejected by Parliament in 1927 
and I928. 22 

In chapter i we defined the secular state in terms of three prin- 
ciples: freedom of religion, equal citizenship, and separation of 
religion and state. Ordinarily, religious reforms will not be carried out 
by the secular state, simply because religious matters are not within 
its proper area of concern. That is, there are certain inherent limita- 

21 Cyril Garbett, Church and State in England, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 

1950, p. 173- 

22 Ibid., pp. 175-179. 



tions on the functions of a secular state. In the words of Jefferson, 
endorsed by the American Supreme Court, there is a "wall of 
separation" between church and state. The basic assumption must be 
that the secular state will have nothing to do with religious affairs; 
any departure from this principle must be justified on reasonable 
secular grounds. The only valid reason for state interference in re- 
ligion is for the protection of the interests of the public. 

Whenever the state touches religion, whether to reform it or for 
any other reason, there are two special dangers to the secular state: 
(i) that the state will violate freedom of religion, (2) that the state 
will seek to promote religion. But even in cases where these two 
dangers do not appear to be serious, state interference in religion is 
permissible only if it can be justified on valid secular grounds. 
Religious reform per se is not a function of the secular state. 

In several of these historical examples, the religious reforms im- 
posed by the state were accompanied by serious infringements of 
freedom of religion. The state's reforms of the Russian Orthodox 
Church thus resulted in the almost total loss of ecclesiastical inde- 
pendence and spiritual freedom. Whatever the merits of the Prot- 
estant Reformation, it was surely imposed by German princes and 
Scandinavian kings with scant concern for their subjects' consciences. 
The nineteenth-century reforms of the Church of England, salutary 
as they may have been, were opposed by many of the bishops and 
other clergy. 

In general, reforms of religion are a means of promoting religion. 
A religious body which has become careless or corrupt in its worship, 
discipline, or temporal affairs tends to lose public confidence, 
esteem, and support. Obviously, reforms which eliminate serious 
defects will enhance the prestige of a religion, strengthen its com- 
petitive position vis-a-vis other religions, and contribute to its ad- 
vancement. The normal expectation, therefore, is that a religious 
body will initiate internal reforms and carry them out on its own 

It is significant that in all these historical examples the state was 
reforming an officially established state church. That is, the state 
was legally and morally committed to promote the interests of one 
particular religion; reform was a means of doing this, and so the state 
assumed the role of religious reformer. In the German states, 
Catholicism was the official religion until some of the princes sided 
with Luther. But the method by which Luther's reforms were carried 


out, i.e., by state-appointed commissions, ensured the emergence of 
a new official religion, the Lutheran state church. In England, the 
numerous reforms of religion undertaken by the state in the nine- 
teenth century were a part of the state-church system by which the 
government was responsible for strengthening, supporting, and 
promoting the Church of England. Historically, the state's role as 
religious reformer has been closely tied to the state-church system. 
It has not been a function of states based on the principle of separa- 
tion of church and state. 

The problem for the modern Indian state 

There is very little recognition in present-day India of the limita- 
tions placed on the state's legislative powers by the conception of 
the secular state. The question is frequently asked: If the government 
can regulate in great detail vast areas of social and economic life, 
why can't it regulate religion in the same way ? It is widely assumed 
that legislation is the solution to most problems, and there is very 
little awareness of the reasons for excluding religion from its scope. 
In the West, the religious liberty of the individual and the freedom 
of the church from domination (as well as the freedom of the state 
from ecclesiastical interference) were achieved after centuries of 
struggle. In India, happily, such a struggle was never necessary ; but 
this fact has also resulted in the Hindu's willingness to entrust much 
of his religion to the state. As the government is now controlled by 
members of his own faith and not by foreigners, he has no hesitation 
in making the state the instrument of far-reaching religious reform. 

There is thus very little fear among Indians that freedom of re- 
ligion might be endangered by the intervention of the state. And 
completely absent from discussions of religious reform by the state 
is the consideration that such reforms are a means of promoting 
Hindu religion, which might also undermine the secular state. 

The tendency to look to the state is strengthened by the char- 
acteristic lack of organization of Hindu religion. It is composed of 
a large number of castes, sects, and subsects, most of which do not 
even have an effective organization of their own, to say nothing of 
Hinduism as a whole. The question which arises then is this: If 
Hinduism is in need of reform, who is going to reform it ? Lacking 
the effective organizational means to reform itself, Hinduism (rep- 
resented by progressive Hindus) turns to the state. 



An interesting situation which developed in Ceylon in 1949 
illustrates this tendency, A committee composed of seven Hindu 
members of Parliament was appointed to inquire into the need for 
legislation regulating the financial affairs of Hindu temples and 
prohibiting animal sacrifices in them. Several of the leaders of the 
Hindu community who presented their opinions to the committee 
spoke with the utmost frankness of Hinduism's organizational de- 
ficiencies and of the need for state intervention if reforms were to 
be effected. One gentleman stated: "The absence of recognized and 
authoritative Hindu 'Church' organization consisting of men of 
acknowledged authority is a great obstacle. This is a historical defect 
in the evolution of Hinduism as a religion, but of course it is also an 
advantage in that perfect freedom of conscience is assured. The 
Christians have their church, the Buddhists their Sangha, and so on, 
commanding unquestioned obedience to tenets religious and social." 23 
The consequence of this situation, according to another Hindu 
gentleman, was that "we are compelled to solicit state aid in the form 
of legislation to put our house in order, only because we are unable to 
organize ourselves as some other religionists have done." 24 

"State aid in the form of legislation" this is a phrase well worth 
pondering. Should the secular state, which is prohibited from grant- 
ing financial aid to religion, extend aid in the form of special legisla- 
tion for the reform of a particular religion ? Historically, separation 
of church and state has meant that the coercive power of the modern 
legislating state, with all of its machinery of enforcement, cannot be 
placed at the disposal of any religion on request. 

There is nothing sinister in the tendency to make the state the in- 
strument for the reform of Hinduism. It is the natural outcome of the 
factors which we have noted. There is no religious discrimination 
in this approach; the Hindu is perfectly willing to help in providing 
legislation to reform other religions as well. If there is a Hindu 
Religious Endowments Act, there is also a Muslim Waqf Act, and 
a Sikh Gurdwaras Act. In general, however, the minorities have 
understandably been reluctant to extend the scope of state control 
over their religious affairs beyond what is absolutely necessary. 25 The 

23 Report of the Special Committee on Hindu Temporalities, Etc., Government 
Press, Colombo, 1951, p. 216. 

24 Ibid., p. 430. 

25 With respect to the role of the state in the election of the unique ecclesiastical 
body which controls Sikh Gurdwaras, see chapter 14. 



Christian churches have their own ecclesiastical hierarchies, canon 
laws, constitutions, and traditions of autonomy in matters of doc- 
trine, discipline, and administration of property. Any regulation of 
their affairs by the Indian state comparable to the above-mentioned 
legislation would surely be regarded as an unwarranted interference 
in their corporate religious freedom. 28 

While there is nothing discriminatory in the trend to legislate 
religious reform, since the same means are available to the minorities, 
Hinduism (professed by 85 per cent of the population) naturally re- 
ceives the greatest attention. Hindu legislators become zealous re- 
formers when dealing with their own religion, with the result that 
elaborate governmental machinery has been set up in some states to 
regulate the affairs of Hindu temples. The powers of state control 
over these institutions are enormous, but, in the hands of sincere and 
devout Hindu administrators, have been used to enhance the prestige 
of Hindu religion. In the process, what has evolved resembles 
nothing so much as an official ecclesiastical department committed 
to the advancement of a state religion. 

In the opinion of the present writer, the proper approach of the 
secular state in the matter of religious reform is as follows. Religious 
reform per se is not a valid function of the secular state; it is not 
the business of the secular state to concern itself with religious 
matters. Furthermore, any such interference is likely to violate re- 
ligious liberty, lead to the state promotion of religion, or both. Re- 
ligious reform should never be the motive behind state legislation. 
Valid reforms of religion by the secular state are the incidental 
results of the state's protection of the public in cases where religious 
practices clearly tend to injure human beings physically or morally, 
where religious institutions grossly misuse offerings and endowments 
made by the public, or where social institutions connected with re- 
ligion violate basic human rights. 

If the dedication of Hindu women as devadasis leads to the 
practice of temple prostitution, and if the state prohibits such dedi- 
cation in order to protect the morals and welfare of women, then 
a reform in Hinduism is effected as a by-product of the state's action. 
If the caste system, which is supported by religious sanction, re- 
stricts and hampers the individual, and the state seeks to liberate 
him by abolishing certain aspects of caste, this naturally, although 

26 See chapter 9 for a discussion of the effect of the Bombay Public Trusts Act 
(1950) on the Christian churches. 



incidentally, effects a most fundamental reform of Hinduism. The 
secular state can only be neutral with regard to any religion, but it 
has a positive duty to protect the interests of the citizen. If in so 
doing the state incidentally reforms religion, there can be no 

This distinction between the basic objective and the by-product of 
legislation might appear to be academic and of no practical sig- 
nificance, but such is not the case. In the first place, measures of 
religious reform have been enacted which have no bearing at all on 
the public welfare (for example, the abolition of animal sacrifices 
in Hindu temples). Secondly, the failure to observe this distinction 
has enabled the state to penetrate deeply into the internal affairs of 
religious institutions, far beyond what is necessary to protect the 
interests of the public (for example, the regulation of Hindu religious 

As was pointed out in chapter 4, the Indian Constitution grants 
to the state sweeping powers to regulate and reform religious and 
social institutions. Article 25(2) empowers the state to regulate or 
restrict any economic, financial, political, or other secular activity 
which may be associated with religion. The state can interfere with 
religious practice in order to provide for social welfare and reform 
and to throw open Hindu temples to Harijans. Under article 26, a 
religious denomination has the fundamental right to own and ac- 
quire property, but its right to administer it must be exercised "in 
accordance with law." 

The complete abolition of Hindu and Muslim law, and their 
replacement by a uniform civil code, is directed elsewhere in the 
Constitution (article 44, one of the Directive Principles of State 
Policy). This will amount to a revolutionary reform of both Hindu- 
ism and Islam, for it will strip these two great faiths of the dis- 
tinctive socio-legal institutions which have made them total ways of 
life. The secularization of law, which has already taken place in the 
West, is essential to the emergence of a modern Indian state. But 
in the process of this radical reform, traditional religion may be re- 
duced to a matter of private belief and worship. 27 

In the light of this historical, theoretical, and constitutional back- 
ground, we must consider in the following chapter the most im- 
portant area of religious reform by the state in present-day India. 

27 Sec chapters 10 and ir. 



THERE was little doubt regarding the need for reform in the insti- 
tutions of Hindu worship when Indian independence was achieved 
in 1947. In many of the temples, primitive practices such as animal 
sacrifices had found a place alongside of the performance of Sanskrit 
rituals. Temple prostitution, while it had declined greatly since the 
end of the nineteenth century, still flourished in some places. In most 
parts of India, temple officers and priests forbade the entry of the 
ceremonially unclean untouchables, who represent a large minority 
within the Hindu fold. 

The administration of temple property was notoriously corrupt 
in many places; managers frequently embezzled temple funds, leased 
or sold temple lands to relatives and friends for a pittance. The 
traditional rituals and ceremonies were neglected, and many of the 
magnificent ancient temples were in a deplorable state of disrepair. 
The Hindu public's support of temple worship was at a low ebb. 
For the educated Hindu, the temple was more often a source of 
embarrassment than of pride. As one Hindu gentleman put it, 
"Hinduism desperately needed to be made respectable." 1 

This chapter considers the legislation which has sought to reform 
the Hindu temples. While reform movements in some of these areas 
have a considerable history, it is only since 1947 that most of the 
reform legislation has been enacted. 

Animal sacrifices and temple prostitution 

In 1950 legislation was enacted which bore the following title: 
"An act to prohibit the sacrifice of animals and birds in or in the pre- 
cincts of Hindu temples in the state of Madras." The debate in the 

1 Statement made in an interview with the author, February 1961. 



legislative assembly revealed the very considerable extent of the 
practice in various parts of the state. Shakti worship in Malabar (now 
a part of Kerala) involved a large number of sacrifices to gods and 
goddesses. One member referred to a temple in Dharapuram where 
every Tuesday thousands of kids were sacrificed and their blood 
poured in the deity Muni's cupped hands held in a drinking position. 
In another temple a man dressed like the goddess Kali received the 
blood of sacrificed kids in a silver cup and drank it in the presence 
of the worshippers. In one village in Koilkuntla taluq over three 
hundred buffaloes were sacrificed in one day. Special sacrifices were 
made to propitiate the deities during times of drought, famine, or 
epidemic. 2 

Among those who participated in the debate, there was complete 
unanimity as to the desirability of the measure but disagreement 
regarding the basis for its justification. One member attempted to 
interpret the legislation as a law-and-order measure, claiming that 
"hundreds and thousands" of riots and murders would be prevented, 
as disputes frequently arose among the villagers over whose animal 
was to be sacrificed first! This far-fetched argument apparently im- 
pressed no one in the assembly. Some attempt was made by the law 
minister to describe the object of the bill as the prevention of a 
public nuisance, but it was pointed out that ample legislation already 
existed to deal with any act which could be so described. A number of 
members stated that they supported the bill because they wished to 
end the revolting and gruesome scenes of animal slaughter. But 
it was obvious that no one was compelled to witness such scenes. 

The secular rationalizations were not altogether convincing. After 
all, what the assembly was doing was legislating a reform in Hindu 
religion. Animal sacrifice was a religious practice of which the 
members disapproved. As D. V. Ramaswami described it: "Under 
the pretext of gaining some merit in the eyes of God, and for the 
selfish purpose of rising in the estimation of the deity, this practice 
of sacrificing animals and birds is resorted to." It was pointed out that 
such sacrifices were practiced only by those who were at the "lowest 
rungs of the ladder of Hindu ceremonials." The practice conflicted 
with the Hindu precept of ahimsa according to which the killing 
of any creature is repugnant in the eyes of God himself. Some 

2 Madras Legislative Assembly Debates, 1950, vol. 4, p. 122. 



speakers referred to animal sacrifice as a "heinous sin" and quoted 
Gandhi's statement that this practice in the name of God was a 
"remnant of barbarism." The legislators conveniently overlooked 
the fact that animal sacrifices are prescribed by the highest scriptural 
authority of Hinduism, the Vedas. 3 

This reform of Hinduism had certain nationalistic as well as 
religious implications. In the West, the dominant impression of 
Hindu life still perhaps followed the lines of Katherine Mayo's 
Mother India. It was necessary to eradicate whatever primitive and 
barbarous practices tended to confirm this view. The international 
prestige of Hinduism and India would be raised by such legislation. 
V. I. Muniswamy Pillai referred to the Temple Entry Act and the 
bill under discussion and declared: "Taking into account how the 
world views the religion of the Hindus, I think it is high time that 
these small blemishes that are a blot on the Hindu religion should 
be removed. ... It will go a long way to show to the world how 
sacred our religion is and how pure its worship." T. Vishwanatham 
asserted: "I do not like any outsider, whether in this country or out- 
side India, to point his finger of scorn and say: 'Here are Hindus 
who kill animals in the name of religion.' " 4 

There was practically no concern expressed over the possibility 
that such legislation might interfere with freedom of religion, al- 
though no one could doubt that this issue was involved. One wor- 
shipper offers flowers and fruit to the image, another presents a 
slaughtered fowl because he believes it is more pleasing to the deity. 
What right has the state to forbid the latter act of worship when it 
does not endanger public order, morality, or health? D. S. Rama- 
chandra Rao touched on this problem while pointing out the in- 
herent limitations of religious reforms effected by the state. Legisla- 
tion could not change the worshipper's conception of God. "If they 
attribute to (the) godhead principles of cruelty demanding a partic- 
ular kind of sacrifice, we cannot possibly make them immediately 
give up their method of appeasing that cruelty. They will begin to 
feel that we have deprived them of a great religious consolation." 5 

3 Gandhi had a unique way of handling scriptural authority when it sanctioned 
a practice of which he disapproved. On the subject of animal sacrifices he said: 
"There is no smriti which countenances these sacrifices. If there is, it is not a 
smriti" Mahadev Desai, The Epic of Travancore, Navajivan Karyalaya, Ahmedabad, 

'937> P- 50- 

4 Madras Legislative Assembly Debate s> 1950, vol. 4, pp. 113, 629. 

pp. 135-136. 



The Madras Animal and Bird Sacrifices Abolition Act of 1950 is 
an example of religious reform per se, not the incidental result of the 
state's pursuit of a valid secular object. It constitutes an infringement 
of religious liberty and is clearly an attempt to promote and ad- 
vance the interests of the Hindu religion. The slaughter of goats and 
fowls in connection with worship is undoubtedly a primitive practice, 
and it is bound to decline with the rise in the general educational 
level and the impact of modern life. But the enforcement of such a 
reform by the state is contrary to our basic conception of the secular 

In addition to animal sacrifice arose the question of legislation 
abolishing devadasi dedication. In many Hindu temples it was a 
long established practice to dedicate young girls to the deities as 
devadasis (literally, "servants of God"). The devadasis danced and 
sang before the images in the temples and in religious processions. 
Despite the religious origin of the practice, in time it degenerated to 
such an extent that most of the devadasis became temple prostitutes. 

The dedication of girls to temples was first abolished in the progres- 
sive Indian state of Mysore in 1909. In Madras, similar legislation was 
introduced in the legislative assembly in 1927. In the statement of 
objects and reasons of the bill the framers explained their secular 
and religious motives: "It is necessary that the sanction of our temple 
authorities to such a practice of dedication which breeds immorality, 
promiscuity and irresponsibility in both men and women, be done 
away with in the interest of the individual and the nation at large; 
and thus the public be disabused of the notion that our religion 
encourages immorality in either man or woman and that the 
services of these women in any way form an essential part of the 
worship in temples." 6 The measure was completely justified on 
secular grounds alone; the state could certainly abolish such a 
practice in the interests of public order, health, and morality just as 
it had abolished sati. However, the framers declared also that one 
of their objects was to reform Hindu religion and raise it in public 

Several attempts were made to produce effective legislation on this 
subject in Madras, but the Devadasis (Prevention of Dedication) Bill 

6 Quoted in P. Ramanatha Iyer and P. R. Narayana Iyer, The Madras Hindu 
Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, Madras Law Journal Press, Madras, 
1953, P- 43- 



was not passed until 1947. In the debate preceding its passage there 
were few objections raised to the bill. One member declared that the 
devadasis performed legitimate functions in temple worship, that 
the number who became immoral was not great, and that, therefore, 
legislation was not necessary. Most members, however, had no 
doubts about the necessity for an effective law. The question was 
dealt with as a matter of social reform, and Muslims as well as Hindu 
members of the assembly spoke in support of the bill. 7 

Madras Act 31 of 1947 not only prohibits the ceremony of dedica- 
tion but also the acts commonly performed by devadasis, such as 
temple dancing. "Dancing by a woman, with or without J^umbha- 
harathy (the ceremony of dcvadasi dedication) in the precincts of 
any temple or other religious institution, or in any procession of a 
Hindu deity, idol or object of worship ... or at any festival or 
ceremony ... is hereby declared unlawful." 8 The act has been well 
enforced throughout the state, and it has effectively protected the 
individual and the public from the evils associated with devadasi 
dedication. In the process the law has also effected a significant and 
welcome reform in Hindu temple worship. 

Temple entry rights for Harijans 

The temple entry movement was first started in 1919 in the princely 
state of Travancore, when a member of the assembly made a repre- 
sentation to the maharaja's government urging that steps be taken to 
effect this reform. The government, however, refused to interfere 
on the plea that such action would be a breach of religious neutrality. 
Several other unsuccessful attempts were made in the following dec- 
ade, both in Travancore and in the province of Bombay. 

Considerable impetus was given to the movement by a conference 
of Hindu leaders in 1932 which resulted in the founding of the 
All India Anti-Untouchability League. A bill introduced in the legis- 
lative assembly of Delhi in 1933 did not provide for positive inter- 
ference with social or religious institutions, but merely sought to 
remove the official recognition of untouchability by the courts and 
the executive. The courts on occasion granted injunctions to prevent 
the entry of Harijans into temples from which they were excluded by 
long established custom. The bill would have eliminated such in- 

7 Madras Legislative Assembly Debates, 1947, vol. 7, pp. 643-660. 

8 Madras Devadasis (Prevention of Dedication) Act, 1947, section 3(3). 


junctions, but even this mild reform measure was bitterly opposed 
by the orthodox Hindus, and the bill was withdrawn. 

During this entire period Gandhi waged his vigorous campaign 
against untouchability in all forms. A major breakthrough, as far 
as temple entry is concerned, came with the 1936 proclamation of the 
maharaja of Travancore, which is here quoted in full: "Profoundly 
convinced of the truth and validity of our religion, believing that it 
is based on divine guidance and on all-comprehending toleration, 
knowing that in its practice it has throughout the centuries adapted 
itself to the need of the changing times, solicitous that none of our 
Hindu subjects should, by reason of birth, caste or community, be 
denied the consolation and solace of the Hindu Faith, we have 
decided and hereby declare, ordain and command that, subject to. 
such rules and conditions as may be laid down and imposed by us for 
preserving their proper atmosphere and maintaining their rituals 
and observances, there should henceforth be no restriction placed on 
any Hindu by birth or religion on entering or worshipping at temples 
controlled by us and our government." 9 The proclamation was 
acclaimed by many prominent leaders, including Brahmans and 
members of the Hindu Mahasabha, as a courageous and far-reaching 
reform. Srimati Rameswari Nehru declared that the opening of 
the temples to Harijans "will revitalize our religion and put new 
life and strength into it." 

The background of the maharaja's proclamation was a situation in 
which members of the untouchable castes were becoming increas- 
ingly restive and were openly talking of abandoning Hinduism in 
favor of a religion in which they would be treated as equals. Christian 
and Muslim missionaries saw their opportunity and vigorously pre- 
sented the claims of their respective faiths. Gandhi rejected the idea 
that the proclamation was simply a device to prevent mass conversions 
to Christianity or Islam. His own motivation, as he explained it, was 
the desire to purge Hinduism of something that was morally wrong, 
without regard to possible consequences. The eradication of un- 
touchability was a moral end in itself, and Gandhi denied that he 
was attempting to strengthen Hinduism in relation to other religions. 

9 Desai, op. cit., p. 5. Compare the first phrases of the maharaja's proclamation 
("Profoundly convinced of the truth and validity of our religion") with those in 
the paragraph on religious liberty in Queen Victoria's proclamation of 1858 ("Firmly 
relying ourselves on the truth of Christianity"). 



"I ask you to take me at my word," he declared, "when I say that I 
am wholly indifferent whether Hindu religion is strengthened or 
weakened or perishes; that is to say, I have so much faith in the 
correctness of the position I have taken up that, if ... (it) results in 
weakening Hinduism, I cannot help it and I must not care." 10 

Following the temple entry proclamation in Travancore, several 
legislative attempts to attain the same objective were made in the 
province of Madras. A bill was passed in 1939 which permitted the 
trustees to throw open a temple to Harijans if public opinion favored 
such a step, even though custom and usage might be opposed to it. 
On the basis of this permissive legislation a number of temples were 
opened to Harijans in various parts of the province. The logical 
culmination of this movement was reached in Madras in 1947 when 
new legislation compelled the throwing open of all temples in the 
state to all Hindus irrespective of caste or sect. 11 The Central Pro- 
inces, Bihar, Bombay, and other provinces rapidly followed suit. In 
1955 the Indian Parliament enacted the Untouchability (Offenses) 
Act. One of the provisions of this important piece of legislation 
makes it an offense punishable with six months' imprisonment to 
prevent any person on the ground of untouchability from entering 
or worshipping in a Hindu temple. 

Harijan temple entry legislation is specifically provided for in 
the Constitution of India. After the general statement of the right 
to freedom of religion, article 25(2) asserts: "Nothing in this 
article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent 
the state from making any law . . . (b) providing for social welfare and 
reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a 
public character to all classes and sections of Hindus." The temple 
entry provision was tacked on to the social reform clause by an 
amendment moved by K. M. Munshi, and approved by the Con- 
stituent Assembly. 

While the social reform and temple entry provisions are linked 
together by the Constitution, they represent two fundamentally dif- 
ferent categories of legislation. Laws attempting to remove the dis- 
abilities imposed by untouchability with regard to access to shops, 
public restaurants, hotels, etc., are properly described as measures 
of "social welfare and reform." Although the exclusion of Harijans 

10 //W., pp. 36-39, 115. 

The Madras Temple Entry Authorization Act (Act V of 1947). 




from temples is but another manifestation of untouchability, the fact 
that it involves the practices of religious institutions gives the problem 
a new dimension, and it becomes primarily a matter of "religious 
reform." As such, temple entry laws must be scrutinized in the light 
of the twofold danger to the secular state: that such legislation will 
either violate religious liberty or promote the interests of religion. 

The most orthodox Hindus certainly regard Harijan temple entry 
legislation as an undue interference in their religious affairs. Their 
position is that the Agamas explicitly lay down rules as to the places 
inside a temple from which persons of the different castes should 
offer worship. These authoritative scriptures clearly state that the 
Panchamas (Harijans) are not permitted to worship from inside a 
temple. Their place is in the outer courtyard, and it is for their 
benefit that the god or goddess is taken in procession during the 
annual festival. It is thus clearly the religious duty of the trustees to 
exclude Harijans from the temples, and for the state to interfere in 
the performance of this duty, is, according to them, a flagrant viola- 
tion of religious liberty. 

In a decision handed clown in 1958 the Supreme Court came to 
grips with this problem. The case involved a denominational temple 
belonging to the Gowda Saraswath Brahmans, which claimed not to 
be subject to the Madras Temple Entry Authorization Act. The 
trustees held that as a religious denomination they had the right to 
manage their own affairs in matters of religion under article 26(b) 
of the Constitution, and that it was a matter of religion as to who 
were entitled to take part in worship in a temple. After examining the 
regulations contained in the Agamas, the court agreed: "Thus, under 
the ceremonial law pertaining to temples, who are entitled to enter 
into them for worship and where they are entitled to stand and 
worship and how the worship is to be conducted are all matters 
of religion." 12 

Having reached this logical conclusion, however, the Supreme 
Court was confronted with an apparent conflict between two pro- 
visions of the Constitution. Under article 26(b) a denominational 
temple could exclude those who do not belong to that particular 
denomination, but under article 25(2) (b) a law throwing the temple 
open to all classes and sections of Hindus was valid. Finally the 

12 Sri Venfataramana Dcvaru v. State of Mysore, Supreme Court Judgments 
I95 8 > P- 390- 



court approved a compromise arrangement by which only Gowda 
Saraswath Brahmans could attend certain traditional ceremonies 
restricted to the members of that community, but which permitted 
other Hindus, including Harijans, to participate at all other times. 
The case is significant in that the court took the right of corporate 
freedom of religion seriously, contrary to the general trend in the 
legislatures; its significance is limited, however, because there are 
so few denominational temples to claim this right. 

Temple entry legislation, as we have seen, raises important prob- 
lems of religious freedom; it also raises the question as to whether it 
is a means for the promotion of Hinduism by the state. Gandhi re- 
jected the strengthening of Hinduism as an acceptable motive for 
the fight against untouchability. Harijans should be permitted to 
enter temples, but not out of fear that they will become Muslims or 
Christians if not granted equality. Other Hindu leaders, however, 
have not hesitated to state publicly that temple entry legislation is 
necessary to prevent conversions. The very survival of Hinduism, 
according to some leaders, depends on the eradication of untouch- 
ability, especially in temple worship. 

It is not suggested here that the fear of conversions to Christianity 
or Islam is the principal motive behind temple entry legislation. 
The day of the mass movements of Harijans to Christianity is past, 
and since the partition, conversions to Islam in India are few. Most 
Hindu legislators regard temple entry laws as simply measures of 
social reform, motivated by humanitarian considerations and concern 
for social justice. They fail to appreciate the predominant religious 
aspect in this area of reform. There is also a general desire, not 
necessarily related to the conversion question, to remove from Hindu- 
ism the glaring defects which have given it a bad reputation in the 
modern world. Few would dispute the fact that reform is needed, but 
the conception of secularism imposes certain limitations on the func- 
tions of the state. Not everything that needs to be done should be 
done by the state. 


The demand for effective state supervision of Hindu temple ad- 
ministration is intensified by the fact that some of the institutions 
possess vast wealth in the form of money, jewels, and especially 



income-producing agricultural lands. In many cases this land, or the 
revenue derived from it, was dedicated to the temple deity hundreds 
of years ago by devout Hindu rajas. It should be noted, however, 
that temple lands have not been exempted from a number of state 
land reform measures enacted since independence. 13 

We have noted in chapter 3 that the regulation and even direct 
administration of Hindu temples had long been regarded as an 
important function of the state, under both Hindu and Muslim 
rulers. The British East India Company assumed this traditional 
governmental role as early as 1810 but abandoned it around the 
middle of the century under pressure from Christian circles in both 
India and England. 14 

In the absence of proper supervision, the administration of the 
temples suffered considerably at the hands of unscrupulous trustees. 
Repeated requests by prominent Hindu leaders for legislation finally 
led the Imperial Legislature to pass Act 20 of 1863. This act set up 
local committees to exercise supervision over temples, but the com- 
mittees were so limited in both jurisdiction and powers of enforce- 
ment that it proved to be an ineffective measure. 

Numerous abortive amending bills were introduced during the 
following fifty years which would have given the government a 
larger role in the supervision of these institutions. The British, how- 
ever, were acutely aware of the dangers involved when the state 
assumes the role of religious reformer, and sought to avoid any action 
which might be interpreted as either interfering with or favoring 
Hindu religion. Constant representations from temple managers on 

13 The object of such legislation has been to transfer the ownership of agricultural 
land to those who actually work it. In Orissa, the High Court upheld the com- 
pulsory acquisition by the state, with the payment of compensation, of lands which 
had been dedicated to a Hindu deity. Chintamoni v. State of Orissa, A.I.R. 1958 
Orissa, p. 18. In Mysore, the Religious and Charitable Inams Abolition Act of 1955 
empowered the government to resume lands which had been assigned by the 
maharaja to religious institutions; as compensation the state now makes an annual 
payment to the institutions. A number of the state legislatures are presently in 
the process of fixing ceilings on land holdings. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, 
Orissa, Assam, and West Bengal have agreed to exempt temple lands from these 
ceilings. In some of the other states, especially in south India where some of the 
wealthiest temples are found, a maximum has been fixed for temple land holdings, 
although higher than that for individual landowners. See Message of India, New 
Delhi, vol. 2, June 1960, and The Hindu, June 8, 1961. 

14 See, for example, the chapter on "Government Support of Idolatry," in William 
Campbell, British India in its Relation to the Decline of Hinduism and the Progress 
of Christianity, John Snow, London, 1839. 



one hand and Christian missionaries on the other achieved their 
common purpose, and the government declined a more active role 
in temple supervision. 

In 1919, however, constitutional changes in both the central and 
provincial legislatures made them more democratic and representa- 
tive of the people, and so the stage was set for reforms which would 
emanate more clearly from the Indian representatives than from the 
British government of India. In 1920 central legislation was enacted 
to facilitate the obtaining of information regarding religious and 
charitable trusts. After much debate and some technical legal diffi- 
culties, the legislature of Madras province passed the Madras Re- 
ligious Endowments Act of 1927. Under this act the government 
appointed a board of commissioners headed by a president to super- 
vise the administration of Hindu endowments. 15 After independence, 
legislation imposing stricter supervision was demanded, and as a 
result the Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments 
Act, 1951, was passed. 

The Madras legislation 

The most basic structural change introduced by the act was the 
creation of a new department of government headed by a commis- 
sioner for Hindu religious and charitable endowments. The task of 
supervising temples and maths thus passed from a regulatory com- 
mission to an executive department directly under a cabinet minister. 
The administrative functions were decentralized and exercised by 
deputy commissioners (three were appointed in 1951) with approx- 
imately equal territorial jurisdictions. Under each deputy commis- 
sioner were a number of assistant commissioners in charge of ter- 
ritorial divisions of his area. Each assistant commissioner was as- 
sisted by a committee of five members drawn from the nonofficial 

The powers of the commissioner under the act of 1951 were ex- 
tensive indeed. The general provisions were stated in section 20: 
"Subject to the provisions of this act, the administration of all re- 
ligious endowments shall be subject to the general superintendence 
and control of the commissioner; ... the power to pass any orders 

15 Ramanatha Iyer and Narayana Iyer, op. cit. y pp. 31-41. See also Bijan Kumar 
Mukherjea, The Hindu Law of Religious and Charitable Trusty Eastern Law House 
Ltd., Calcutta, 1952, pp. 49-51. 



which may be deemed necessary to ensure that endowments are 
properly administered and that their income is duly appropriated for 
the purpose for which they were founded or exist." The commissioner 
and his subordinates were given the right to enter the premises of any 
religious institution in order to discharge their duties. The trustees 
of temples had to submit detailed reports and accounts and had to 
obtain the sanction of the commissioner before any sale or mortgage 
of immovable temple property could be effected. The act stipulated 
the purposes for which surplus temple funds could be spent, and 
particular expenditures in accordance with these purposes had to be 
sanctioned by the deputy commissioner. 

The commissioner or deputy commissioner had power in certain 
cases to suspend or dismiss trustees of religious institutions and to 
appoint others in their place. The commissioner was empowered to 
fix the fees which were to be paid to the religious functionaries in 
the temple worship. The commissioner, if convinced that a particular 
institution was being mismanaged, by notification could take over the 
administration of a temple or math entirely, and vest it in an ex- 
ecutive officer appointed by him. The trustees' annual budget had to 
be approved by the commissioner, and an annual audit made of 
their accounts. 

The salaries, allowances, and other remuneration of the commis- 
sioner and other public servants in the Hindu Religious and Chari- 
table Endowments (Administration) Department were to be paid by 
the government. The religious institutions, however, "in respect of 
the services rendered by the government and their officers," were 
required to pay to the government an annual contribution (not ex- 
ceeding 5 per cent of their income) as might be prescribed. The 
commissioner and every other officer appointed to carry out the 
purposes of the act had to be persons professing the Hindu religion, 
and would cease to hold office if they should cease to profess that 

This brief outline of the 1951 Madras legislation is sufficient to 
indicate the enormous powers of control over religious institutions 
which were vested in the department. It is no exaggeration to assert 
that the commissioner for Hindu religious endowments, a public 
servant of the secular state, today exercises far greater authority over 
Hindu religion in Madras state than the archbishop of Canterbury 
does over the Church of England. The contention that the commis- 



sioner is concerned only with financial and administrative affairs, and 
not with religious matters, will not stand close scrutiny; it is based 
on a sharp distinction between secular and religious which in this 
context is simply untenable. When a deputy commissioner sanctions 
the expenditure of surplus temple funds for the establishment of 
orphanages rather than for the propagation of the religious tenets 
of the institution, he is dealing as much with religion as he is with 
finances. Behind this preference lies a whole set of religious as- 
sumptions which are in effect being imposed on the temple trustees. 

The Madras act and similar legislation in other states are based 
on article 25(2) (a) of the Constitution. After the statement of the 
right to freedom of religion, it is provided that nothing in this article 
shall prevent the state from making any law regulating or restrict- 
ing any economic, financial, political, or other secular activity which 
may be associated with religious practice. Article 26 recognizes the 
right of a religious denomination to establish and maintain insti- 
tutions, to manage its own affairs in matters of religion^ to own and 
acquire property and to administer it in accordance with law. The 
right of a religious denomination to manage its own affairs in 
matters of religion is thus a fundamental right which no legislature 
can take away, but the administration of its property can be regu- 
lated by laws imposed by the legislature. 

The language of article 26 is closely patterned after that of the 1937 
Constitution of Eire, with the notable addition, however, of the 
above two italicized phrases. In a secular state in the West, a church 
has the right to manage its own affairs in all respects in doctrine, 
discipline, and administration of property; this broad conception of 
corporate religious freedom is not recognized by the Constitution of 
India. The western guarantee presupposes the existence of well- 
organized churches with a tradition of self-government; the Indian 
provision presupposes largely unorganized religious institutions over 
which the state has traditionally exercised considerable regulation 
and control. 

The Madras act of 1951 was quickly challenged in the courts, and 
some of the decisions which have been handed down are notable af- 
firmations of the right of corporate religious freedom against state 
interference. However, the powers of regulation left to the state are 
still extensive. The courts have struck down many of the main 
provisions of the act in so far as they relate to maths, monastic organ- 



izations over which the mathadhipatis (superiors or abbots) have 
traditionally exercised far greater spiritual and administrative au- 
thority than have trustees over temples. 

Parts of the act have also been declared unconstitutional as ap- 
plied to denominational temples, places of worship founded primarily 
for the use of particular sects or castes (for example, a temple be- 
longing to the Gowda Saraswath Brahmans, in Devaraja v. State of 
Madras, 1953). Both maths and, to a lesser extent, denominational 
temples have a significant tradition of autonomy which the courts 
have respected. However, the great majority of the Hindu religious 
institutions do not fall into either of these categories, but are temples 
belonging to the general Hindu public. 

In the well-known Shirur Math case, 1954, the Supreme Court 
pointed out that the religious tenets of a Hindu sect might prescribe 
the performance of very elaborate rituals in the worship of an idol 
and that "all these would be regarded as parts of religion and the 
mere fact that they involve expenditure of money or employment of 
priests and servants or the use of marketable commodities would 
not make them secular activities partaking of a commercial or 
economic character; all of them are religious practices and should 
be regarded as matters of religion within the meaning of article 
26(b)." 16 The court recognized the unique status of the mathadhipati 
or superior as both the manager of the temporalities of the math and 
the spiritual head of a fraternity devoted to the teaching of a certain 
set of religious doctrines. He should not be brought down to the 
level of "a servant under a state department." 

The Supreme Court declared invalid the provisions of the act by 
which: the commissioner or his subordinates had unrestricted right 
of entry into a math; the superior would have to be "guided" by 
the commissioner in the expenditure of surplus income; the com- 
missioner could require the superior to appoint a manager for ad- 
ministration of the secular affairs of the institution and, in case of 
default, make the appointment himself; the religious institution 
would have to pay up to 5 per cent of its annual income to the gov- 
ernment in respect of the "services rendered by the government." 

While the court regarded these provisions as too drastic an inter- 
ference in the administration of the math, other very drastic pro- 

10 Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments v. Sri LaJ^shmindra Thirtha 
Swamiar of Sri Shirur Mutt, A.I.R. 1954 Supreme Court, p. 290. 



visions were approved. For example, the judgment declared that 
a religious denomination had "complete autonomy" under article 26 
(b) to decide what rites and ceremonies were essential to its tenets 
but added: "Of course, the scale of expenses to be incurred in con- 
nection with these religious observances would be a matter of ad- 
ministration of property belonging to the religious denomination 
and can be controlled by secular authorities in accordance with any 
law laid down by a competent legislature." The court added only 
that the right of administration could not be taken from the hands 
of a religious denomination altogether and vested in some other 
authority. The court upheld the commissioner's power to make any 
additions to or alterations in the religious institution's budget. 

Following the adverse decision in the Shirur Math case, the 
Madras legislature amended the Hindu Religious and Charitable 
Endowments Act. But the 1954 amendments effected merely verbal 
changes in some of the provisions, and the extent of state control 
was actually increased in certain amended sections. The commis- 
sioner, for example, was empowered to direct the utilization of sur- 
plus funds for particular religious, educational, or charitable pur- 
poses, whereas previously the initiative lay with the superior who 
had to obtain the commissioner's approval. The Madras High Court, 
in Suhindra v. Hindu Religious Endowments Commissioner, 1956, 
quickly struck down a number of the same sections which had been 
held invalid before. The petitioners in the case were the superiors 
of the Shirur math and eight other maths. 

The 7959 version of the endowments law 

The Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Bill 
of 1959 was the next move in the legislature's struggle with the 
judiciary. In the drafting of this bill a more serious attempt was made 
to meet the objections of the courts, but without surrendering the 
commissioner's extensive powers of control over the temples. In 
the debate in both houses of the state legislature, members of the 
opposition pointed to the incongruity of claiming to be a secular 
state and at the same time interfering in such a drastic manner in 
the internal affairs of religious institutions. 

Some legislators indeed declared that the government was steadily 
moving in the direction of the "nationalization of temples." 17 As if to 

17 The Hindu, September 9, 17 and 18, 1959. 



confirm further the existence of this trend, some supporters of the 
measure had already suggested that temple executive officers and 
other temple employees be classified as government servants and 
that land rent owed to the temples be collected through the revenue 
department. 18 An editorial in The Hindu charged that the bill as 
drafted "sought to tighten further the hold of government over the 
temples and other religious institutions in the state, under the guise 
of better management and regulation, so that these stood virtually 
nationalized, functioning as a department of government and sub- 
ject to all the vicissitudes of party politics in a secular parliamentary 
democracy. Devout Hindus were naturally concerned at the inroads 
of the state into matters religious that the bill sought to perpetuate." 19 
Despite this fact, the editorial continued, the joint select committee 
which reported on the bill in the state legislature had failed to tone 
down the powers of the commissioner and had in some respects even 
increased them. The writer emphasized the view that the scope of 
legislation in such matters should be "strictly limited to the imme- 
diate ends in view, namely, the prevention of gross abuse of funds." 
Despite all objections, the bill was passed with few amendments. 

The 1959 act exempted maths from certain controls; for example: 
"Nothing in this section shall prevent the trustee of a math . . . 
from utilizing the surplus ... in such manner as he deems fit" 
(section 36). It is also stated (section 107) that the act is not to affect 
any rights of a religious denomination conferred by article 26 of the 
Constitution, so that denominational temples will not be subjected 
to as rigid control. The entry of the commissioner or his subordinates 
into a religious institution is regulated so as to remove the ob- 
jections expressed in previous court judgments. But the whole sys- 
tem of control over temples belonging to the general Hindu public, 
with vast powers vested in the commissioner, has remained intact. 
As has been mentioned, these temples constitute the great majority 
of the Hindu religious institutions. 

The Madras legislation has produced some very serious problems 
of religious freedom. The provisions which are most frequently crit- 
icized relate to the commissioner's control over surplus temple 
funds and his power to divert endowments to purposes different 
from those of the donors when in his opinion the original objects can 


/W., April 29, 1959. 
19 I kid., September 5, 1959. 


no longer be realized (the cy pres doctrine). Such powers were ex- 
tremely broad under the 1951 and 1954 acts, but have been restricted 
somewhat under the 1959 version. Even now a deputy commissioner 
may direct that a particular endowment be appropriated to any one 
or all of a number of purposes, some of which are distinctly religious 
(e.g. the propagation of the institution's religious tenets, the estab- 
lishment of schools for the training of temple priests, etc.), while 
others are of a philanthropic or educational nature (homes for the 
destitute, leper asylums, school and colleges in which Hinduism will 
also be taught, promotion of fine arts and architecture). It is for the 
official of the secular state, we emphasize, to choose from among 
these numerous valid purposes. 20 

The complaint has been that the commissioner has frequently 
used temple funds for social, educational, or philanthropic purposes 
to the neglect of distinctively religious objects. Funds from the 
famous temple at Tirupathi (regulated by special legislation) have 
been used to establish a university, schools, orphanages, hospitals, etc. 
Throughout south India, Tirupathi has become the symbol and the 
model of the new Hinduism which transforms the offerings of indi- 
vidualistic piety and devotion to God into social institutions, dedi- 
cated to the service of man. Hinduism is being infused with a 
modern outlook and a new sense of social responsibility. This is a 
religious reformation of a fundamental nature. But as the agency 
of this reform is to a large extent the state, it should not be surprising 
if devout Hindus object to the liberties being taken with their 

Another editorial complained: "Existing state legislation gov- 
erning Hindu endowments has erred on the side of stretching the 
doctrine of cy pres to such an extent that surplus resources of temples 
could be diverted to a variety of purposes, far removed from the 
intentions of the original donors. Such diversion could have little 
justification when, as against a few religious institutions with a 
surplus, there are thousands of others that have not the wherewithal 
for even the conduct of the daily pujas, or still worse, stand desolate 
or in ruins." 21 The Hindu Mahasabha passed a resolution at its 
thirtieth annual session in 1952 asserting that Hindu endowment 

20 Section 66 of the 1959 act. 

21 The Hindu, January 24, 1961. Puja is the general term used for Hindu 
worship or the ceremonies connected with it. 



funds should not be diverted to "profane, secular, non-Hindu and 
non-religious purposes, however laudable such purposes might be." 
The resolution condemned the Madras government especially and 
called on all Hindus to take effective measures "for protecting the 
religious freedom of Hindus against encroachments by a secular and 
anti-Hindu government." 

The Madras legislature has granted the power and the department 
of Hindu religious endowments has created the machinery for the 
extremely detailed regulation of Hindu institutions. As we have seen, 
the resulting interference with religious freedom has been considera- 
ble. The courts have invalidated some of the objectionable provisions 
of this legislation, but the basic powers of control remain. It is but 
natural that concern should be expressed over the future course of 
events in this area. An editorial in The Hindu Weekly Review com- 
mented on this question as follows: "We have fortunately a minister 
of endowments in this state who has the faith and courage to defend 
traditional religious values and temper the impact of the rather 
sweeping provisions of the Madras act by its sympathetic enforce- 
ment. But . . . other political groups with less faith or with atheism 
as their creed may be swept into power in future, both here and in 
other states of India." 22 The machinery for the complete domination 
of temples by the state already exists, and could be utilized to that 
end with little difficulty. 

While there is convincing evidence that important aspects of reli- 
gious freedom are in jeopardy, the secular state is also compromised 
by the official promotion of Hinduism which has resulted. The 
department of Hindu religious endowments has provided a kind of 
ecclesiastical structure which Hinduism previously lacked. Essen- 
tially, the department has become the central authority which historic 
Hinduism never developed. Within this structure, long-range plans 
are being made which will raise the prestige of Hinduism enor- 
mously. The new emphasis on social welfare institutions has already 
been mentioned. Hinduism, at least within the state, is being welded 
into some semblance of unity through the efforts of the department. 
Surplus funds from the wealthier temples are being diverted to aid 
the poorer institutions, and temple worship is being revived as old 
temples are restored. 

22 The Hindu Weekly Review, March 14, 1960. 



There is abundant evidence to indicate that the department charged 
with supervising the secular affairs of temples interprets its functions 
as being the general furtherance and promotion of the Hindu reli- 
gion. A glance at the 1958-1959 administration report of the depart- 
ment reveals the following items: (i) Drive for the renovation and 
repair of temples "A fillip was also given to the drive by giving 
government grants of Rs. 300,000 to the needy and important institu- 
tions numbering sixty-seven." (2) Drive toward "improvement of 
religious atmosphere of temples to make them serve as living centers 
of religious culture." (3) "Religious propagandists were recom- 
mended and religious discourses were arranged on ordinary and 
special occasions." (4) "Festival programs were arranged to be 
printed and pamphlets distributed to the worshippers. Important 
festivals were arranged to be published in newspapers." (5) "Publica- 
tion of religious books . . . under auspices of religious institutions 
were encouraged." (6) Devotional songs of eminent musicians "were 
encouraged to be recorded and gramaphone plates of such songs 
made available to be broadcast through amplifiers in temples." (7) A 
forty-five-day refresher course in the Agamas was provided for temple 
priests. (8) A monthly journal was published in Tamil by the depart- 
ment; along with administrative matters there are articles on the 
activities of temples, the importance of rituals and worship, the 
significance of certain festivals, and the history of saints. 23 

In Andhra Pradesh, formerly a part of Madras, the minister of 
Hindu religious endowments has urged publicly that the teachings 
of the Vedas and Shastras be more widely disseminated and that 
steps be taken to popularize the Hindu religion. One deputy com- 
missioner remarked that the department wanted "good propagan- 
dists to propagate and inculcate bhafyi (religious devotion) in the 
people." 24 It is unnecessary to multiply such illustrations; it is quite 
evident that many of the officials involved have no clear idea of the 
distinction between the regulation and the promotion of Hindu 
religious institutions. 

Alternative approaches to the problem 

The theoretical basis of Hindu religious endowments legislation 
is perfectly sound. The principle is simply that all endowments 

23 Administration Report of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments 
(Administration) Department^ Government of Madras, Madras, 1960, pp. 22-25. 

24 The Hindu, May 31, 1955. 



should be used according to the real intent and will of the grantor. 
This is a principle recognized by all modern democratic states, and 
all have procedures by which trusts for educational, charitable, or 
religious purposes can be established. All modern states exercise 
certain regulatory powers in order to see that the purpose of endow- 
ments are carried out; this is nothing more than another way in 
which the state protects the interests of the public. In India some of 
the temples and maths have been endowed with extensive properties 
by rajas and other people of wealth, and such endowments are still 
being made. The Indian state does have an obligation to supervise 
the administration of religious endowments, or endowments for any 
legitimate purpose. 

Thus, the state certainly has a valid negative function to prevent 
the misappropriation of endowment funds by establishing proce- 
dures for effective supervision. The question is how deeply involved 
the state should become in the positive function of furthering the 
objects of religious endowments. The intent of the grantors was, in 
general terms, to promote and advance the cause of Hindu religion. 
The secular state must provide the necessary conditions by which the 
grantors' intent can be fulfilled, yet must not itself become involved 
in promoting and advancing Hindu religion. The greater the powers 
which the state assumes in actively carrying out the intent of the 
grantors, the more directly the state becomes engaged in furthering 
Hindu religion. This is what has happened in the activities of the 
Madras department of Hindu religious endowments, and it has 
happened by such a natural development that very few people seem 
to sense the problem which is thus created. 

The only solution, unpalatable as it would be to the vested interests 
of bureaucracy, is that the functions of the state in relation to Hindu 
religious endowments be cut back to a minimum, with the emphasis 
on financial supervision to prevent misappropriation of funds. The 
annual audit of the accounts of religious institutions should be the 
most important aspect of governmental regulation. It is only by a 
drastic reduction in the state's enormous powers of control over 
religious institutions that full religious freedom and separation of 
state and religion can be secured in India. 

There can be no disagreement with the proposition that the best 
answer would be the development of an organization by which 
Hindu worshippers and trustees could manage their own temple 



affairs effectively. A workable regional organization, neither highly 
centralized nor with complete autonomy for the local temple author- 
ities, would seem to be desirable. If such an organization could 
administer temple property with a minimum of state interference, 
this would surely be better than having a governmental department 
do it all. 

In the past there has not been much evidence to make one believe 
that such a development is possible. Present legislation assumes that 
conditions will remain static, and that, therefore, government will 
have to continue its present extensive responsibilities in temple ad- 
ministration. But the Indian situation is anything but static. A 
massive attack on the problem of illiteracy has been undertaken. 
Universal adult suffrage and elections arc educating the people in 
one aspect of the democratic process. The new emphasis on village 
self-government (panchayat raj) is developing a sense of civic respon- 
sibility in local affairs. There is a marked proliferation of voluntary 
associations of all kinds in cities and towns, and this trend is begin- 
ning to reach the villages as well. In short, conditions are developing 
which will be more favorable to the growth of responsible self- 
governing religious associations. But, is voluntary responsibility in 
temple affairs likely to develop in an atmosphere of omnipresent 
state control ? Even if it should develop, history records few examples 
of the state's willing surrender of power, even when changing cir- 
cumstances make its imposition unnecessary. 

Extensive consideration has been given to the Madras legislation 
because it has gone farthest in controlling the administration of 
Hindu endowments. Less comprehensive regulation exists in Orissa, 
Mysore, Bombay, Bihar, and other states, although the extent of state 
control is by no means negligible. The Supreme Court, in Sri Jagan- 
nath v. State of Orissa, 1954, struck down a provision by which the 
commissioner could frame a scheme for the administration of the 
property of a math, with no provision for an appeal against his order 
to the court. An amendment to the Orissa act providing for such an 
appeal was sufficient to validate the section (Sadasib Prafysh v. State 
of Orissa, 1956). But other far-reaching powers of state control were 
upheld in the first case. 

Special mention should be made of the Bombay Public Trusts Act 
of 1950, for in several important respects it represents a much sounder 
approach to the question of religious endowments than the Madras 



legislation. 25 In the first place, it deals with all religious and charitable 
trusts on the same basis, whether managed by Hindus, Jains, Bud- 
dhists, Parsis, Christians, or Muslims. This is obviously an approach 
more in keeping with the secularity of the state, since whatever 
restrictions are imposed or benefits conferred will affect all religious 
denominations equally. In particular, this avoids the situation 
whereby the religion of the majority becomes closely identified with 
government through a kind of ecclesiastical department, as in Madras. 
Secondly, the powers of the charity commissioner to interfere in the 
internal administration of religious institutions are considerably less 
than those of his counterpart in Madras. This is the inevitable conse- 
quence of dealing with all religions on an equal basis, since the 
exercise of great regulatory powers in the affairs of the minorities 
would obviously create major problems. The great emphasis is placed 
on the registration of public trusts, the keeping of regular accounts, 
and the annual audit. 

In Ratilal v. State of Bombay, 1954, the Supreme Court voided two 
provisions of the act which were not in keeping with its otherwise 
sound approach. Section 44 laid down that the charity commissioner 
could be appointed to act as trustee of a public trust by a court. The 
Supreme Court pointed out that if the charity commissioner were 
appointed as the superior of a math, the result would be disastrous 
and would constitute a flagrant violation of corporate religious free- 
dom. Such a possibility was never contemplated by the legislature, 
and it was simply a case of poor drafting. More serious, however, 
was the very broad interpretation given to the cy pres doctrine in the 
act. In striking down this provision, the Supreme Court declared: 
"To divert the trust property or funds for purposes which the charity 
commissioner or the court considers expedient or proper, although 
the original objects of the founder can still be carried out, is to our 
minds an unwarrantable encroachment on the freedom of religious 
institutions in regard to the management of their religious affairs." 26 

The petitioners in this case were the manager of a Jain public 
temple and the trustees of the Parsi Panchayat Funds and Properties 
in Bombay. The Christian minority in the state, and especially the 
Roman Catholics, strenuously objected to the act on the ground that 
the administration of their properties was already well regulated by 

25 See K. S. Gupte, The Bombay Public Trusts Act, 1950, with Rules, Western 
India Law Printing Press, Poona, 1956, p. xix. 

26 Ratilal v. State of Bombay, A.I.R. 1954, S.C., p. 394. 



ecclesiastical authorities and canon law. "Canon law lays down pre- 
cise, definite and comprehensive regulations on various points con- 
nected with the acquisition, possession and administration of ecclesi- 
astical goods by various moral and juridical persons in the church." 27 
State interference was therefore unwarranted by circumstances, and 
the fee charged for the administration of these unnecessary regula- 
tory powers (2 per cent of the endowment income) constituted a 
heavy burden upon the church. 

There is certainly significance in the contention of the Christian 
churches that their property is well administered and that such state 
regulation is unnecessary. There would seem to be need for no more 
financial supervision of church property than that which is exercised 
in the United States, which is practically nil. Certainly it is true that 
if Hindu religious institutions were as well organized and adminis- 
tered as these churches, there would be little need for the Bombay 
Public Trusts Act at all. The approach of dealing with the property 
of all religious institutions on the same basis thus produces difficulties 
when the organizational differences among the institutions are so 
great. But in the long run, this general approach will prove to be 
sound in the building of a secular state. 

The centred government enters the picture 

Thus far we have considered only state legislation; in 1959 attention 
began to turn to the possibility of central legislation regarding Hindu 
endowments. Prime Minister Nehru announced that consideration 
was being given to legislation which would prevent the misuse of 
funds belonging to the many temples and maths all over the country. 
In March 1960 the government of India appointed a Hindu Religious 
Endowments Commission, the chairman of which was Dr. C. P. 
Ramaswami Aiyer, a respected elder statesman. The terms of 
reference of the commission were broad ; it was to examine the whole 
subject of the administration of Hindu religious endowments and 
recommend measures for its improvement. The commission pre- 
pared and circulated a comprehensive questionnaire on the subject 
and toured the country to hear and discuss the views of religious 
leaders, associations, and officials concerned with the problems of 
Hindu endowments. 

27 Report of the Meetings of the Wording and Standing Committees of the 
Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, 7952, Good Shepherd Convent Press, 
Bangalore, 1952, p. 172. 

2 57 


Within a month of the appointment of the commission, however, 
the law minister introduced the Religious Trusts Bill of 1960 in the 
Lok Sabha. Despite its title, the bill would apply only to Hindu 
trusts. It would provide for the appointment of a commissioner of 
religious trusts by each state government, and would grant him 
extensive regulatory powers over Hindu endowments. Opposition 
to the bill was chiefly based on the fact that the government had not 
waited for the commission report; the decision was later made not 
to proceed with the bill. 

In a sharply critical analysis of this hastily introduced legis- 
lation, Mahant Dig Vijai Nath, chief priest of the Gorakh- 
nath temple in Gorakhpur and working president of the Hindu 
Mahasabha, assailed the trend toward state control of every- 
thing despite continuous authentic reports of inefficiency, corruption, 
and waste of public funds in government offices. "In the opinion of 
our present government, Officialization is the panacea for all the 
evils of the country, whether social or religious or economic or 
cultural." The mahant pictured the proposed commissioner as the 
archbishop of the state, with absolute ruling power over all property- 
owning Hindu institutions but with no necessary knowledge of the 
Hindu scriptures or faith in the temple rites and ceremonies. 28 

The genius and continuity of Hinduism, he went on, has been 
directly related to the autonomy of its institutions. "This autonomy 
or freedom of self-development of the religious institutions and non- 
interference of all political powers with their special activities and 
distinctive modes of development has been the most powerful factor 
in the maintenance of the truly spiritual character of Hindu religion 
and in saving religion from becoming a department or an instrument 
of the rising and falling states. It is for this reason that Hinduism has 
never been secularized and its fate has never been linked up with 
the fates of the governing powers of the country." The mahant 
emphasized that all reforms and improvements must come from 
within the religious institutions. He proposed the establishment of 
all India organizations of the various Hindu sects, with powers to 
regulate the institutions within their respective jurisdictions. Unfor- 
tunately, such an attractive alternative to state control appears to be 
totally impracticable under present circumstances. 

28 Mahant Dig Vijai Nath, What the Religious Trusts Bill means to the Hindus, 
Shri Lakshmi Printing Press, Delhi, 1960. 



After more than two years of intensive work, the Hindu Religious 
Endowments Commission submitted its report (May 31, 1962). 
One of the commission's important conclusions was that "there is 
no insuperable difficulty or complication in enacting a uniform 
type of legislation dealing with the religious endowments of all 
communities in India."" This, however, was put forth as a con- 
sideration for the formulation of long-range policy. With reference 
to the immediate needs of Hindu institutions, the commission recom- 
mended that suitable legislation be speedily enacted in those states 
(Assam, Punjab, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh) which at present 
have no provision at all for governmental supervision of temples. 30 

The tone of the report is one of balanced moderation, and the 
recommendations are cautious. The commission made several ref- 
erences to the considerable volume of opinion opposed to the state's 
interference in day-to-day temple administration, and was apparently 
itself impressed by the force of these arguments. 31 Deeply concerned 
over the low educational level of the Hindu "clergy," the commission 
recommended that each state establish institutes for the systematic 
instruction of temple priests in Sanskrit, Hindu scriptures, and 
rituals. Also recommended was the creation of four Hindu theo- 
logical colleges, in which religion would be studied along with the 
humanities as in colleges of divinity in the West. 32 The important 
reforms of Hinduism proposed by the commission will be difficult 
to implement, however, since the chief responsibility for the regu- 
lation of temple administration will continue to rest with the state 

Regulation of the activities of sadhus 

It is interesting to note the non-governmental approach to re- 
ligious reform in the related problem of the Hindu sadhu the 
safifron-robed holy man who, having renounced the world, wanders 
about living on food provided by devout householders and some- 
times imparting religious teachings to those whom he meets. The 
number of sadhus in India runs into the hundreds of thousands and 
is said to be increasing. While some are attached to long-established 
monastic orders, large numbers are subject to no discipline at all. 

29 Report of the Hindu Religious Endowments Commission, Ministry of Law, 
New Delhi, 1962, pp. 31, 172-173. 

30 Ibid., p. 172. 31 Ibid., pp. 100, 123-124. * 2 Ibid., pp. 74, 174, 178. 



Nehru has on occasion severely denounced the numerous sadhus who 
simply wander around the country begging and stealing. 

In 1956 a private bill dealing with this problem was introduced in 
Parliament by Mr. Radha Raman. In the objects and reasons of the 
Sadhus Registration Bill it was stated : "In the guise of saintly order, 
most of them (the sadhus} indulge in vices, begging and other anti- 
social acts, which is undesirable and which, if not checked, will help 
the crime incidence to increase unabated." The bill required that 
every sadhu report to the local district magistrate for a license and 
have his name written in an all-India register. Anyone attempting 
to function as a sadhu without a license would be punished with 
two years' imprisonment. The general idea behind the bill was that 
registration would enable the government to keep some kind of 
check on the activities of these wandering ascetics, although it is not 
clear exactly how this measure would achieve the desired object. 
A few months before this bill was introduced, however, the Bharat 
Sadhu Samaj (India Sadhu's Association) was formed. The possible 
enactment of unfriendly legislation gave added impetus to the accept- 
ance of the Samaj by the sadhus\ it represented the organizational 
means by which they could attempt to put their own house in order 
without state interference. The Samaj formed a solid opposition to 
the bill, and in response to this pressure and to other criticism the 
bill was withdrawn. 33 

Although the Bharat Sadhu Samaj is a non-governmental organiza- 
tion, officials acting in their private capacity have played a large role 
in its formation and the development of its program. In fact, the 
union minister of planning, labor, and employment, Gulzari Lai 
Nanda, was chiefly responsible for the creation of the organization, 
and continued to serve as chairman of its central advisory committee. 
Both the president and the vice president of India addressed the 
members of the Samaj when the cornerstone of their new building 
(costing 500,000 rupees) was laid in 1959. The close personal link 
with the central government, especially through G. L. Nanda, has 
undoubtedly been of great help in extending the influence and 
raising the general prestige of the organization. 34 Critics, however, 
especially in the ranks of the Hindu Mahasabha, scornfully refer to 
the members of the Bharat Sadhu Samaj as "Congress sadhus"" 

33 Gyananand, "Bharat Sadhu Samaj," Message of India, 1959, vol. i, p. 177. 
This publication is the official organ of the Bharat Sadhu Samaj. 

34 But no government grants of money are made to this association. 



One of the main functions of the Samaj is to restore the dignity 
of the ascetic orders by eliminating the undesirable elements. Refer- 
ring to the saffron-clad impostors who have been exploiting the 
orthodox and devout Hindu public, one statement promised : "A list 
of sad h us and sannyasis is being compiled which will eliminate these 
bad elements and save the common man from their mischiefs and 
misdoings." 35 The constitution adopted in 1960 mentions the follow- 
ing among the objects of the organization: the promotion of the 
spiritual progress of society, the raising of moral standards, the 
development of appreciation for the cultural heritage of India, the 
promotion of sanitation in places of worship and pilgrimage, and 
the safeguarding of the administration of temples and maths. In 
addition to these religious objects, the following is listed separately: 
"To cooperate in the constructive activities associated with the eco- 
nomic and social development programs of the country, in ways 
suited to the position of sadhus\ and (i) To find and develop avenues 
of voluntary service for the citizens of India in order (a) to promote 
national self-sufficiency and build up the economic strength of the 
country, (b) to promote the social welfare of the community and to 
mitigate the hardships of its less privileged sections; (2) to mobilize 
the spare time, energy and other resources of the people and direct 
them into various fields of social and other economic activities." 36 

Planning Minister Nanda's idea of using sadhus to carry the mes- 
sage of the Five Year Plans to the villages, reflected in this quotation, 
has evoked much merriment among the cartoonists of the Indian 
press. However, the revolutionary nature of the religious changes 
which are being attempted must not be overlooked. The individual- 
istic sadhu who has renounced the world in order to follow the path 
leading to spiritual liberation for himself is now being charged with 
responsibility for promoting the economic welfare of society. "As 
far as I know, our scriptures do not enjoin indifference toward this 
world," President Rajendra Prasad told a conference of the Bharat 
Sadhu Samaj. "People like you who have taken to the sacrificial way 
of life should come forward to guide the people in worldly matters 
as well." 37 The development of a "social gospel" among this segment 

35 See the pamphlet by Swami Harinarayananand, Role of Sadhus in India, 
Bharat Sadhu Samaj, New Delhi, 1959. 

36 Bharat Sadhu Samaj Constitution, 1960, article 2. 

37 Address delivered at the annual conference of the Bharat Sadhu Samaj, 
Ahmedabad, 1958. 



of the Hindu "clergy" would involve a radical transformation of 
traditional values and practices. 

In the context of this chapter, the chief point to be made is that 
religious reform need not proceed by legislation and state interference, 
as is so often presupposed in present-day India. The Bharat Sadhu 
Samaj was clearly formed with official inspiration and encourage- 
ment, but this does not detract from its significance or value as an 
approach to the problem of religious reform. Once established, it 
can chart its own course. Given the competent leadership which the 
Samaj now seems to have, and the inherent vitality of Hindu religion, 
there is reason to believe that substantial progress can be made in 
bringing the ascetic orders into line with the requirements of the 
changing times. 

A government ecclesiastical department could probably perform 
part of this task faster and more efficiently. But this approach would 
entail the loss of the more creative impulses within Hindu religion. 
The Sarvodaya movement of Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave, surely one 
of the most creative developments in modern Hinduism, could not 
possibly have emerged from an official ecclesiastical department. 38 
Such creative ideas do emerge from religious groups which enjoy 
the freedom to think and to experiment. 

There are a number of devout Hindu intellectuals having no con- 
nection with the vested interests in temples, who are deeply convinced 
that a strict separation of state and religion is necessary for the 
expression of the essential genius of Hinduism. Hinduism's lack of 
ecclesiastical organization, they claim, is closely related to its spiritual 
greatness. If the state imposes organization and regulation, this 
cannot help but detract from spontaneous religious creativity. While 
the abuses within Hinduism are deplored, these Hindu leaders would 
prefer to promote reform from within, at the cost of slower progress, 
or even to tolerate the abuses, rather than sacrifice the freedom which 
they regard as essential to the real spiritual life of Hinduism. 

;{S Sarvodaya (literally, "the welfare of all") is the Gandhian term for the ideal 
society built upon cooperative effort and moral law, as opposed to the emphasis on 
the state and coercion. One expression of Sarvodaya is Vinoba Bhave's bhoodan 
(land-gift) movement of land reform through the landlords' voluntary sharing 
with the landless. 






TRADITIONAL Hinduism and Islam were far more than "religions" 
in the usual meaning of the word. Historically, both came very close 
to being total ways of life in the most literal sense; they prescribed 
detailed regulations for virtually every act of human existence, the 
great events which mark the life cycle and the day-to-day routine. 
All-pervasive religion regulated not only general social relationships 
but the whole area of what we now call criminal and civil law. In 
the Hindu or Muslim state the king had no legislative powers. The 
function of the state was to enforce the law but not to make it, since 
the law was already complete, enshrined in the sacred texts and in 
immemorial custom. Despite static conceptions of divinely ordained 
law, it did change by imperceptible degrees in response to new situa- 
tions. Changes in practice generally came first, and these were later 
rationalized by the interpretations of the doctors of the law or the 
writers of commentaries. But the state had no direct role in this 

Since the early nineteenth century, the impact of the West has 
produced drastic changes in the countries where Hinduism and 
Islam are professed. The rise of Asian nationalism in some ways 
intensified the processes of modernization begun by the European 
imperialist powers. The new independent states now seek to forge 
themselves into modern sovereign states after the western pattern. 
While religion in many cases served as a useful ally of Asian na- 
tionalism, its role must now be circumscribed if these modern states 
are to emerge. And nowhere is the tension more evident than in the 
area of law, where the authority of traditional religion and the mod- 
ern sovereign state lay claim to the same territory. The outcome is 
not in doubt; one side represents the static past and the other the 
dynamic present and future. The secularization of law is thus an 
important facet of the modernization of the state. The consequent 



restriction of religion to the area of private faith and worship consti- 
tutes a religious reformation of the first magnitude, although imposed 
by the state. 

India is the historic meeting-place of these two great civilizations, 
Hinduism and Islam. Hindu and Muslim law continue to regulate 
important civil matters such as marriage, divorce, adoption, guardian- 
ship, and inheritance. The existence of two major religious com- 
munities and systems of religious law within the state, and the 
consequent minority problem, inevitably produces complications in 
the process of modernization. A further complication is that India 
is committed to becoming not only a modern sovereign state but a 
secular state in the liberal democratic tradition. Some of the drastic, 
even ruthless, methods which have been elsewhere adopted to achieve 
the former objective (as in the case of Turkey) are thus denied to it. 
India must strive to attain the same ends within the procedural 
framework of parliamentary democracy. While the idea of the 
secular state certainly implies secular law, it also contains a concep- 
tion of freedom of religion which for many present-day Hindus and 
Muslims has a direct bearing on the continuance of their respective 
religious laws. In order to understand this problem, it must be 
examined in historical perspective, both in relation to the West and 
in India itself. 


The secularization of law in the West 

The Christian church began very early to develop its own legal 
system. In the beginning the bishops acted as arbitrators of disputes 
with no power beyond their spiritual authority to enforce decisions. 
Under Constantine, however, these decisions came to be regarded 
as binding. Canon law (church law) continued to evolve as a legal 
system following the collapse of the Roman Empire and reached its 
peak of influence during the Middle Ages. 1 Canon law drew its 
substance from a variety of sources: the scriptures, the traditions of 
the church fathers, papal decretals, the legislation of church councils, 
the customs of the clergy, and also secular legal sources such as 

1 H. D. Hazeltine, Ecclesiastical Courts," Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 
r 937> vo '- 3> P- 39- Cf. Rene A. Wormser, The Law, Simon and Shuster, New York, 
1949, p. 189. 



Roman law, Germanic law, and feudal custom. 2 This great variety 
of sources, plus the accumulated legal work of centuries, produced 
an enormous mass of unintegrated material. The first comprehensive 
codification was made around the year 1140 by Gratian, a Benedictine 
monk of Bologna. His Decretum served as the foundation for the 
later Corpus juris canonici, the officially approved body of canon 
law of the medieval church. 

The scope of the canon law was impressive indeed, as was the 
jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts (bishops' courts and papal 
courts) which enforced it. In the beginning the church had limited 
its jurisdiction to ecclesiastical matters. "In course of time, however, 
the church went beyond the purely ecclesiastical sphere and entered 
the domain of lay jurisdiction in criminal cases; and as an important 
aspect of its rise to a position of dominance in the medieval world 
it ultimately acquired a jurisdiction which was truly criminal in 
character and so extensive in scope that it materially curtailed the 
criminal jurisdiction of medieval territorial states." 3 The church 
claimed jurisdiction over all offenses of the clergy; but with regard 
to the laity certain distinctions were made. In cases of heresy, schism, 
apostasy, and simony, that is, offenses directed against the faith, the 
church claimed jurisdiction even though these were punished by the 
secular tribunals. Offenses such as perjury, blasphemy, sacrilege, 
sorcery, usury, adultery, and fornication were in a different cate- 
gory here the church could exact the punishments recognized by 
secular law only if the state did not prosecute. 4 

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the ecclesiastical courts 
exercised an equally impressive civil jurisdiction. Marriage was a 
sacrament of the church, and as such all questions of engagements 
to marry, dower, status, legitimation, and divorce came under its 
jurisdiction. The foundation of benefices, tithes, wills, and contracts 
confirmed by oath also were dealt with according to canon law. The 
basis for ecclesiastical courts' jurisdiction in all of these matters was 
the religious aspect involved. The taking of an oath to confirm a 
contract was a religious act. In matters affecting last wills and testa- 
ments, it must be remembered that the chief wealth was in land, 
which under the feudal system could not be left by will. Hence a will 

2 H. D. Hazeltine, "Canon Law," Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 1937, 
vol. 2, p. 182. 

u Loc. cit. *Ibid. 9 p. 183. 



could only deal with personal property. The church courts custom- 
arily allotted one-third of the deceased man's personal property to the 
priests, so that their prayers would help his soul to leave purgatory 
at an early date. 5 

The stability of the substantive canon law and the enlightened 
civil procedure of the church courts often combined to make the 
ecclesiastical legal system more popular than the secular one. The 
struggle for civil jurisdiction between the two systems was a feature 
of the larger church-state conflict in all the countries of Europe. As 
the states became stronger they centralized and improved their sys- 
tem of courts and enlarged their civil jurisdiction, although they 
generally recognized the church's jurisdiction over marriage. Hazel- 
tine noted: "From the end of the fifteenth century the growth of 
temporal justice, at the expense of spiritual justice, was ever more 
marked: one by one many of the subject matters of the civil juris- 
diction of the church were absorbed by the civil courts of temporal 
powers." 6 

Although the power of the ecclesiastical courts declined, canon 
law exerted a powerful influence on the development of secular law, 
especially in the laws of possession, contract, and marriage. In the 
conflict between canon law and Roman law the latter eventually won 
out, "but not until canon law had made such deep inroads into the 
legal systems of Europe, including England, that it remains as one 
of the most important ancestors of our own legal system." 7 Many of 
the principles of medieval canon law thus continue to be operative, 
although now embodied in the secular laws of many states. 

After the Reformation of the sixteenth century, the general tend- 
ency in both Catholic and Protestant states was to limit the jurisdic- 
tion of the church courts to ecclesiastical discipline and related 
matters. But this was by no means a rapid or uniform process. In 
medieval England ecclesiastical courts punished numerous offenses 
such as adultery, procuration, incontinency, incest, defamation, sor- 
cery, witchcraft, swearing, drunkenness, and profaning the Sabbath. 
This wide criminal jurisdiction continued in full force until abolished 
by Parliament in 1641, only to be restored twenty years later. 8 
Unnatural offenses and bigamy, however, were made felonies by the 

5 John Maxcy Zane, The Story of Law, Ives Washburn, New York, 1927, p. 219. 

8 Hazeltine, "Canon Law," op. cit., p. 184. 

7 Wormser, op. cit. y p. 189. 

8 H. D. Hazeltine, "Ecclesiastical Courts," op. cit., p. 311. 



beginning of the seventeenth century, and other offenses mentioned 
above gradually passed to the jurisdiction of the lay courts. Jurisdic- 
tion in cases of perjury, defamation, and brawling by laymen in 
church was not removed from the ecclesiastical courts until the 
nineteenth century, 1860 in the case of the last offense. With regard 
to civil law, it was not until 1857 that Parliament removed the 
jurisdiction in divorce and testamentary cases from the church 
courts and vested it in the Probate, Divorce, and Admiralty Division 
of the High Court of Justice. 9 

At the present time, the state courts in European countries gen- 
erally have exclusive jurisdiction in criminal cases. Theoretically the 
Church of England courts still have jurisdiction with respect to 
certain kinds of immorality, but in practice this is exercised only in 
cases involving the clergy. Significant power is still present, how- 
ever, for "the duly rendered sentences of the ecclesiastical courts are 
enforced by the state, even to the extent of imprisoning those who 
disobey its lawfully issued judgments." 10 Throughout Europe the 
state courts generally have exclusive jurisdiction in civil cases, and 
the only discipline exercised by the ecclesiastical courts over the 
laity is penitential. In Spain, Portugal, and Peru, however, the courts 
of the Roman Catholic church still have competence within certain 
limits in cases of marriage and divorce, and the decisions are en- 
forced by the state. 

In considering the development of India's legal system, it is neces- 
sary to remember this often uneven progress of the secularization of 
law in the West. India is a few paces behind the western world in 
the evolution of its law, but it is on the same path which the West 
itself has trodden. 11 

The early legal system of British India 

The seventeenth-century official of the British East India Company 
had come to a country in which two ancient and very different sys- 
tems of law prevailed, each rooted in a religion which claimed the 
totality of life for its proper jurisdiction. Law was an integral part 
of both Hinduism and Islam. 

g lbid., pp. 311-312. 

10 Leo Pfeffer, Church, State and Freedom, Beacon Press, Boston, 1953, p. 47. 

11 William A. Robson, Civilization and the Growth of Law, Macmillan Company, 
New York, 1935, p. 51. 



Hindu law is of great antiquity and is derived from several 
sources: (i) Shruti, that is, the divinely inspired Vedas, some of 
which date back to the middle of the second millennium B.C.; (2) the 
Dharmashastras, or law codes, the oldest and most influential of 
which is the Code of Manu written sometime between 200 B.C. and 
100 A.D.; and (3) custom. 12 The central conception of Hindu law 
is dharma, and it is important to grasp the essentials of this concep- 
tion. S. V. Gupte wrote: "The law of the Dharmashastras is a 
mixture of morality, religion and law. The distinction drawn by 
modern jurists between positive law and moral law is not observed 
in Hindu jurisprudence. According to Hindu conception, law in 
the modern sense was only a branch of dharma, a term of the 
widest significance. The term dharma includes religious, moral, 
social and legal duties and can only be defined as the whole duty of 
man; positive law was therefore regarded as only a branch of 
dharma" Indicative of the broad meaning of dharma is the fact 
that it is impossible adequately to translate it by a single English 
word, although duty, virtue, religious creed, religion, justice, and 
law have all been used. 14 

Muslim law (s hart ah} is derived from four sources: (i) the Koran; 
(2) hadith, the teachings of the prophet Mohammed preserved by 
tradition and handed down by authorized persons; (3) ijma, the 
consensus of those learned in Islamic law; and (4) qiyas, deduction 
by analogy from the first three sources when they do not apply to 
a particular case. 15 The comprehensive scope of this law was such that 
virtually every aspect of life was brought under the regulation of the 
faith. Writing of the integrating power of Islam among the Arabs 
of an earlier period, W. C. Smith comments: "The center of this 
unifying force was religious law, which regulated within its powerful 
and precise sweep everything from prayer rites to property rights." 16 

12 Ludwik Sternbach, "Law," India, Pakistan, Ceylon, ed. W. Norman Brown, 
Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y., 1951, pp. 119-120. 

13 S. V. Gupte, Hindu Law in British India, N. M. Tripathi Ltd., Bombay, 

J 947> P- 3- 

14 D. Mackenzie Brown, The White Umbrella: Indian Political Thought from 
Manu to Gandhi, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1953, pp. 15-17. See also 
P. V. Kane, History of Dharmashastra y Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 
Poona (4 vols., 1930-1946), vol. 2, p. 2. 

15 Sternbach, op. cit., p. 123. 

18 Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Islam in Modern History, Princeton University Press, 
Princeton, 1957, p. 29. 



Islamic law, more than any other agency, effectively integrated the 
ethnically diverse peoples which later embraced the faith. 17 

India at the beginning of the seventeenth century had none of 
the essential factors which would have been conducive to the secular- 
ization of law such as took place in the West. Effective political uni- 
fication was lacking. There was no law available based on non- 
religious sources like the secular laws of Europe (based on Roman or 
Germanic law, or feudal custom). Not only was all law religious law 
but there were two widely differing systems of religious law. Both 
of these systems sought to regulate every detail of life with a thorough- 
ness never approached by Christian canon law. Custom, the one 
possible source of secular law, was generally absorbed by religion. 

Christianity from the beginning recognized two distinct spheres 
of life, each with its own functions, powers, and institutions: the 
temporal and the spiritual, the state and the church. In Europe there 
were two systems of law and courts, secular and ecclesiastical. 
Because of this theoretical and institutional duality there could be 
and was conflict between the two. In general, Hinduism and Islam 
did not recognize this duality, so there was little conflict Without 
the conflict there could be no triumph of the secular. 

Upon their arrival in India, the British found both of these ancient 
systems of law in at least partial operation. However, during the first 
century of the East India Company's exercise of judicial powers (1661 
to 1765) the courts applied only the law of England, only in the small 
settlements of Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta, and for the most part 
only to European British subjects. In 1765 the company obtained 
from the puppet Mughal emperor at Delhi the diwani (vice regency) 
with governmental powers over Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. After 
an unsuccessful experiment of delegating the administration of the 
land revenue and civil justice to two Indian officers, in 1772 the 
company decided to "stand forth as Diwan" and discharge these 
functions directly through its own officers. Warren Hastings there- 
upon proceeded to establish a new system of courts of justice. 18 

In the provinces of the Mughal Empire civil law was administered 
by the diwan, but the function of maintaining law and order and 

17 H. A. R. Gibb, Mohammedanism, New American Library, New York, 1955, 

P- 17- 

18 George C. Rankin, Background to Indian Law, Cambridge University Press, 
Cambridge, 1946, pp. 1-3. M. P. Jain, Outlines of Indian Legal History, Delhi Uni- 
versity Press, Delhi, 1952, pp. 60-61. 



enforcing the criminal law was exercised by another officer, the 
nizam. These latter powers also were obtained by the company, and 
the courts set up by Hastings in 1772 were based on this well-estab- 
lished division of jurisdiction. In each district there was created a 
Diwani Adalat to apply civil law and a Nizamat Adalat with crim- 
inal jurisdiction. Superior courts were established to hear appeals 
from these district courts. 19 

The criminal law enforced by the Nizamat Adalat was the Muslim 
law, which the British regarded as defective. The principle of tysas 
or retaliation was applied to wilful killing, and gave to a murdered 
person's next of kin the right to demand the criminal's death. If 
the next of kin did not demand it, the death penalty could not be 
exacted by the public or the state, and diya or blood-money was 
simply paid to the victim's family. Two male eye-witnesses were 
necessary to establish a charge of murder, but if the defendant were 
a Muslim, the testimony of non-Muslims would be invalid. Cutting 
off the criminal's hands was the prescribed penalty for theft, but, 
as Rankin points out, "the savagery of the penalty was compensated 
by difficulty in getting a conviction." 20 

At first the company permitted Muslim law officers, \azis or muftis, 
to sit as judges in the criminal courts, and the British collectors ex- 
ercised only a general supervisory control over them. From 1790, 
however, the company directly assumed criminal jurisdiction, and 
the Muslim criminal law was continued as part of the public law 
of the land as it had been under Muslim rulers. 21 This law applied 
to Hindus as well as to Muslims in Bengal, in Madras, and later on 
in other parts of India. 22 British officials became the judges, but the 
Muslim kazis continued to serve the courts as authorized exponents 
of the law, although the judges were able to circumvent their 
opinions. Gradually a substantial body of secular criminal law was 
developed through numerous regulations passed by the government 
in order to supplement and amend the Muslim criminal law. Regula- 

19 Jain, op. cit., pp. 57-66. 

20 Rankin, op. cit., p. 165. 

21 Ibid., p. 164. 

22 In Bombay the situation was quite different, for at the time of annexation by 
the British, large territories in western India had not been under Mughal rule. 
Here both the civil and criminal law which was to be applied depended on the 
religion of the individual involved, Hindu or Muslim. Christians and Parsis came 
under the English law. Criminal law was thus a personal law in Bombay until 
1827, when a uniform criminal code was enacted. 



tion 6 of 1832 finally marked the end of the Muslim criminal law 
as a system of general law applicable to all persons. 23 

The revolutionary legal principle introduced by the British during 
this period was that of equality before the law. This western concep- 
tion was diametrically opposed to the basic assumptions of both 
Hindu and Muslim law. Hindu law assumed the hierarchical caste 
system, and the ancient codes prescribed different penalties for the 
same crime, varying with the respective castes of the offender and 
the person against whom the offense had been committed. Muslim 
law assumed a basic distinction between the Muslim and the Kafir 
(infidel), as illustrated above. The radically new principle of the 
equality of all before the law was to lay a solid foundation for the 
establishment of a common citizenship in a secular state. 

The Diwani Adalats established by Warren Hastings in 1772, 
as we have noted, were to apply civil law. In contrast with the decision 
by which Muslim criminal law became the law of the land, applicable 
to Hindus as well as to Muslims, Hastings' plan provided that "in 
all suits regarding marriage, inheritance, the laws of the Koran 
with respect to Mohammedans, and those of the Shastras with 
respect to Gentus (Hindus) shall be invariably adhered to." 24 Thus, 
Hindu law and Muslim law were treated equally, although the 
granting of this status to the former was bitterly resented by high- 
ranking Muslims as completely improper in a territory under the 
(nominal) dominion of the Mughal Emperor. 25 Nevertheless, Hast- 
ings' plan prevailed, and soon Brahman pandits were appointed to 
expound the Hindu law in courts presided over by English officers 
of the company, just as the \azls interpreted and applied the Muslim 

The judges, administrators who knew very little English law, 
were completely ignorant of the laws contained in Sanskrit, Persian, 
and Arabic texts, and thus had to rely heavily on the opinions of 
the Indian law officers. The judges disliked being in the position of 
dependence, and there was also reason to believe that the Indian 
law officers were often open to corruption and bribery. Even if 
the law officers were thoroughly honest, the legal texts represented 
such a mass of unintegrated and sometimes conflicting provisions that 

23 Rankin, op. cit. y pp. 180-181. 

24 Courtenay Ilbert, The Government of India, Clarendon Press, London, 1898, 

PP- 389-390. 

25 Rankin, op. cit. 9 pp. 4-5. 



decisions were bound to be arbitrary. The one remedy for this tangled 
situation was the preparation of digests of Hindu and Muslim laws, 
translated into English. 

Hastings therefore obtained the services of ten learned pandits who 
prepared a Code of Hindu Law in Sanskrit, based on the most 
authoritative texts (1775). This was later translated into Persian and 
then English. As to Muslim law, Hastings also had an English 
translation made of the Arabic Hidaya. Later, under Governor-Gen- 
eral Cornwallis, English translations of the Muslim laws of intestate 
succession and inheritance (1792) and the Hindu Ordinances of 
Manu (1794) were made by Sir William Jones. Jones began the 
preparation of a Digest of Hindu Law but died before its completion; 
the work was finally finished by his pandit Jaganath. Later scholars 
continued this work of codification and translation. However, it was 
not until 1864 that the government discontinued the services of the 
pandits and kazis in the courts of civil justice. 26 

This, then, was the essence of Hastings' plan the application of 
Hindu law to Hindus, Muslim law to Muslims, in all matters re- 
garding "inheritance, marriage and caste and other religious usages 
and institutions." An act of 1781 added to this list cases of succession, 
contract and dealing between party and party. This system of 
personal law (as opposed to territorial law) was not without defects. 
It entirely ignored the fact that the Hindus were and are divided into 
numerous sects and subsects with differing laws and customs, and 
that different schools of Hindu law prevail in various parts of India. 
Similarly, there are two major divisions in Islam, the Shi'as and the 
Sunnis, as well as local variations in Muslim law and custom. Never- 
theless, Hastings' basic plan, although modified in details, has con- 
tinued in operation to the present time. As M. P. Jain states: "To 
a very great extent this scheme holds the field today after a period 

26 Jain, op. cit. y pp. 490-495. This decision created great resentment among the 
Muslims, who claimed that according to their usage the presence of f^azis appointed 
by the government was required at the celebration of marriages and the per- 
formance of certain other rites and ceremonies. Responding to these pressures, 
the government of India in 1880 enacted the Kazis Act, which empowered the 
provincial governments to appoint fazis for these ceremonial functions. The act 
did not confer any judicial or administrative powers on the fyizis, nor did it 
render their presence necessary at the performance of any ceremony, nor did it pre- 
vent any person from discharging the functions of a fyzi. This act is still in force, 
and has been extended to certain places in the states of Bombay (now Maharashtra 
and Gujarat), West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, and Assam. 



of one hundred and eighty years. Today the Hindu law governs the 
Hindus in topics of marriage, adoption, joint family, debts, partition, 
inheritance and succession." 27 

It seems clear that the system evolved during the British period 
tended to rigidify Hindu personal law and to prevent its normal 
development in accordance with changing social custom. The pandits 
who served as law officers until 1864 were basically religious teachers, 
not lawyers, and were given no training for their official work. They 
tended to rely heavily on the most ancient texts and often neglected 
the role of usage and custom in Hindu law. 

But the same was frequently true of the British judges; Mayne 
stated that, far from reading modern European legal principles into 
Hindu law, "My belief is that their influence was exerted in the 
opposite direction, and that it rather showed itself in the pedantic 
maintenance of doctrines whose letter was still existing but whose 
spirit was dying away." 28 Referring to the great influence of the 
eleventh-century MitaJ^shara in the courts of south India, the same 
author commented : "The consequence was a state of arrested progress 
in which no voices were heard unless they came from the tomb." 29 
Furthermore, the British were most reluctant to modify Hindu or 
Muslim law by legislation, fearful of alienating their Indian subjects 
over religious questions. Thus the Second Law Commission reported 
in 1855 that it was not advisable to attempt to codify the personal 
laws: "The Hindu law and the Mohammedan law derive their 
authority respectively from the Hindu and Mohammedan religion. 
It follows that as a British legislature cannot make Mohammedan or 
Hindu religion so neither can it make Mohammedan or Hindu 
law." 30 

Codification and legislation under the British 

Nineteenth-century England was profoundly influenced by Jeremy 
Bentham, who advocated many legal reforms, but especially the 
codification of law. India became the testing-ground for the Ben- 
thamite principle of codification. In 1833 Lord Macaulay urged upon 

27 Ibid., p. 490. 

28 John D. Mayne, Hindu Law and Usage, Higginbothams, Madras, 1900, 
pp. 42-43. 

29 Ibid., p. 44. See also Justice Gajendragadkar, The Hindu Code Bill, Karnatak 
University, Dharwar, 1951, pp. 10-13. 

30 Quoted in Rankin, op. cit., p. 158. 



Parliament India's great need for a code or codes of law. "We do not 
mean that all the people of India should live under the same law: 
far from it. We know how desirable that object is but we also know 
that it is unattainable. . . . But whether we assimilate those systems 
or not, let us ascertain them, let us digest them. . . . Our principle is 
simply this uniformity where you can have it diversity where 
you must have it but in all cases certainty." 31 The Charter Act of 
that year provided for a legislature with jurisdiction over the whole 
of India (previously regulations were passed only at the provincial 
level), and the appointment of a Law Commission in India. The 
proper instrumentality for carrying out the codification of law had 
now been created. 

Under Macaulay's leadership the Law Commission drafted a 
penal code based on the English criminal law and submitted it to 
the government in 1837, but nothing was done by the legislature. 
In 1858, however, when government was assumed by the crown, in 
rapid-fire succession the codes were enacted: the Code of Civil Pro- 
cedure (1859), the Penal Code (1860), and the Code of Criminal 
Procedure (1861). The Indian Succession Act (1865), based on 
English law, applied to all those who did not come under either the 
Hindu or the Muslim inheritance and succession laws Europeans, 
Jews, Christians, Armenians, Eurasians, and Parsis. The Indian Con- 
tract Act (1872) moved into an area formerly reserved to personal 
law, and was made applicable to all Hindus, Muslims, and others. 
In the same year the Indian Evidence Act was passed, and a decade 
later the codes relating to trusts, transfer of property, and easements. 32 

Although the process of codification seemed to be moving apace, 
it did not touch the important areas of personal law. Indeed, the 
Fourth Law Commission reported in 1879 that since this law was 
mingled with religion for the great mass of the people, no further 
codification was advisable. Isolated acts had been passed, however, 
which modified the personal laws. The Caste Disabilities Removal 
Act of 1850 (also known as the Freedom of Religion Act) set aside 
the provisions in both the Hindu and the Muslim law by which 
conversion to another religion meant forfeiture of inheritance rights. 
The Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act (1856) legalized the re- 
marriage of a Hindu widow. 

31 Ibid., pp. 136-137. 
82 Jain, op. cit., pp. 



In the twentieth century further legislation was passed, much of 
which sought to improve the social status of Hindu women, such as 
the Hindu Women's Rights to Property Act (1937) and the Hindu 
Married Women's Right to Separate Residence and Maintenance 
Act (i946). 33 It must be remembered that these last measures, un- 
like the former ones, were passed by a legislature in which the large 
majority of the members were Indians. Thus, despite the general 
reluctance of the British rulers to legislate in this field, these and other 
acts did modify the Hindu personal law; the changes in Muslim law 
were exceedingly few. 84 


Important areas of civil law, including marriage, divorce, inherit- 
ance, succession, thus remain under the religious personal laws. On 
a given point relating to inheritance, for example, three entirely 
different laws are applied by the courts to a Hindu, a Muslim, and 
a Christian. India is committed by its Constitution to the elimination 
of this system of personal laws. Thus, in the Directive Principles of 
State Policy, article 44, we find: "The state shall endeavor to secure 
for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of 
India." In this part of the chapter we shall discuss the steps which 
have been taken toward this objective and the issues which these 
steps have created for the secular state. 

The Special Marriage Act and the Hindu Code Bill 

The most important developments since independence concern 
the codification of Hindu law as a necessary step before Hindu, 
Muslim, and other personal laws can yield to a uniform code. At the 
same time a different, more direct approach is being made to a uni- 
form civil code, based on legislation passed in the nineteenth century. 
We shall first consider this direct approach. 

The Special Marriage Act of 1872 provided for a civil marriage 
before a registrar between persons neither of whom professed the 
Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, Muslim, Jewish, Parsi, or Christian 
religion. The marriage could be solemnized in any form, provided 
that each party said to the other in the presence of the registrar and 

83 Gajendragadkar, op. cit. f pp. 22-23. 

34 None of the changes in Muslim law dealt with questions of social reform 
as did the Hindu law legislation. 



witnesses, "I (A) take thee (B) to be my lawful wife (or husband)." 
Before the marriage could be solemnized, both the bridegroom and 
the bride had to make declarations in the prescribed form that they 
did not profess any of the religions mentioned above. The basic 
object of the act was to make legal provision for marriages celebrated 
in repudiation of personal laws. Inter-caste marriages among Hindus 
or marriages across religious lines (for example, a Hindu with a 
Muslim) were not permitted by personal laws. All who wished to 
marry under the Special Marriage Act were therefore compelled to 
renounce their religion in order to escape the restrictive provisions 
of their personal laws. 35 

The Special Marriage Act of 1954 seeks the same objects as the 
old act but does not require any denial of faith by the individual in 
order to come under its provisions. Furthermore, in the case of a valid 
marriage already contracted according to personal law, it is possible 
for the parties to apply for the registration of their marriage under the 
act so that its provisions become applicable to them. Among these 
provisions are: liberalized grounds for divorce, the automatic sever- 
ance from a joint family of a Hindu who marries under the act, and 
a new legal basis for succession to property the Indian Succession 
Act (based on English law) rather than the Hindu law of succession 
or other personal law. In the debate in the Lok Sabha, the law min- 
ister, C. C. Biswas, pointed out that when two people of different 
religions married, it would not be possible to apply the personal law 
of either party. It was therefore necessary to make some other pro- 
vision in matters such as succession. 86 

The Special Marriage Act of 1954 ' IS thus, in a sense, a uniform 
civil code in embryo. Prime Minister Nehru described it as a first 
step toward bringing about uniformity in social observances. Those 
who voluntarily decided to come under the provisions of the act 
became a kind of community to which all Indians could belong 
without giving up their religion in any way. In regard to certain im- 
portant functions such as marriage and succession, they gave up 
their personal law but not their religion. 37 

35 Mayne, op. cit. 9 pp. 74-75. Act 30 of 1923 amended this act so that certain of 
its provisions could be secured by those professing the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, or 
Jain religions. 

38 Times of India, September 16, 1954. 

87 Loc. cit. The act was strongly criticized by orthodox Hindus and Muslims 
alike for the effect which it would have on personal laws. Indicative of the type 



Although the Special Marriage Act is a direct step toward a 
uniform civil code, it is of course a voluntary and permissive piece of 
legislation which people may or may not accept. The number of 
Indian citizens who come under its provisions represents an ex- 
tremely small percentage of the total population. In seeking to achieve 
the secularization of civil law, the major effort must therefore be 
directed at the modification of the personal laws themselves in the 
direction of uniformity. This brings us to the subject of the Hindu 
Code Bill and the bills which succeeded it. 

During most of the British period the government rejected pro- 
posals that Hindu personal law be codified. Hindu law was thus 
far from uniform throughout India. Baroda had a Hindu Code dif- 
ferent from that of the rest of India. In Kerala and Mysore the Hindu 
law with regard to women's property rights differed from that 
found in other areas. Two principal schools of Hindu law existed: 
(i) the Dayabhaga school, which prevailed in Bengal and Assam, 
and (2) the Mitakshara school, with four main subdivisions, through- 
out the rest of India. The two schools differed in the matter of joint 
family property, and succession and inheritance laws, and the dif- 
ferences were by no means trivial. As one authority put it: "Anyone 
who compares the Dayabhaga with the Mitakshara will observe that 
the two works differ in very vital points, and that they do so from 
the conscious application of completely different principles." 38 
Clearly, the most pressing need was to introduce greater uniformity 
in the sphere of Hindu law itself before reaching out toward a 
uniform civil law for all communities. 

The history of the Hindu Code Bill is a checkered one. In 1941 
the government of India appointed a Hindu Law Committee with 

of criticism was the statement of M. Mohammed Ismail, president of the Indian 
Union Muslim League, who appealed to all Muslims to observe April 29, 1955, as 
"Shariat Law Preservation Day." He urged that they send telegrams to the president 
and prime minister requesting that steps be taken to exempt Muslims from the 
operation of the Special Marriage Act Mr. Ismail commented: "The spokesman of 
the government (Mr. Nehru) . . . stated that the enacting of the Special Marriage 
Act was only the beginning of the process of replacing the Muslim Shariat and 
other personal laws by uniform civil code. This is really a serious and grave matter. 
Muslims hold religion as the most valuable thing in life and their whole life is 
governed by their religion. Shariat or Personal Law is a vital part of their religion 
and they cannot conceive of the possibility of the abrogation of Shariat Law on 
any account." The Hindu, April 27, 1955. 
38 Mayne, op. cit. y pp. 54-55. 



Sir B. N. Rau as chairman. The Rau committee, as it came to be 
known, recommended the codification of Hindu law in gradual 
stages, beginning with the laws of intestate succession and marriage. 
Drafts of these bills produced by the committee were introduced in the 
central legislature in 1943 but were eventually allowed to lapse because 
of opposition from the orthodox Hindus. However, the committee was 
reappointed, toured the country extensively taking evidence from 
representative individuals and associations, and after three years of 
hard work submitted its report with the draft Hindu Code Bill. The 
bill was introduced in the old central assembly in 1947 just before the 
partition of India, but the tremendous upheavals which accompanied 
the latter event made it necessary to shelve the measure for the 
time being. 89 

The bill was finally reported out by the select committee of the 
Constituent Assembly (Legislative) in 1948, after which it was de- 
bated at length on the floor, with no little use of the filibuster and 
other delaying tactics by some orthodox Hindu members. Despite 
the able leadership of the law minister, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the 
bill failed to reach the final stages of enactment, and in September 
1951 it was dropped by the government. In announcing this decision, 
Prime Minister Nehru pleaded shortness of time as the reason, 
although a news article suggested that "there was no doubt that 
government have responded, though only partially, to the pressure 
of public opinion against the bill." 40 Others believed that the real 
reason was simply the approaching general elections. The dropping 
of the bill was the occasion for Dr. Ambedkar's resignation from the 
cabinet, and also for Swami Satyananda Saraswathi's giving up his 
ten-day-old fast. The swami had undertaken his fast outside the 
Parliament chamber to protest against the Hindu Code Bill. 41 

In the general elections campaign of 1951-1952, however, Nehru 
took a strong stand on the issue and repeatedly declared that he 
would never disown the Hindu Code Bill. In his statements he 
frequently emphasized the progressive social attitudes behind the 
provisions of the bill. "Thus, the Hindu Code Bill, which has given 
rise to so much argument, became a symbol of the conflict between 
progress and reaction in the social domain. I do not refer to any partic- 

89 Renuka Ray, "The Background of the Hindu Code Bill," Pacific Affairs, 
1952, vol. 25, pp. 273-275. 
40 The Hindu, September 20, 1951. 41 //W., September 27, 1951. 



ular clause of the bill . . . but rather to the spirit underlying that bill. 
This was a spirit of liberation and of freeing our people and, more 
especially, our womenfolk, from outworn customs and shackles that 
bound them." 42 Shortly after the election of the new Parliament, 
the main parts of the code were introduced as separate bills and 
were finally passed in rapid succession by heavy majorities. In 1955 
and 1956 the following received legislative approval: the Hindu 
Marriage Bill, the Hindu Succession Bill, the Hindu Minority and 
Guardianship Bill, and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Bill. 
Having noted the background and the tortuous course of these 
measures through the legislative process, we may now turn our at- 
tention to their implications for the secular state. 

Hindu marriage, divorce, adoption and succession 

The debate on this legislation which took place both in Parliament 
and from public platforms was not centered in the issue of the 
secular state. Although the question of the effect on Hindu religion 
was generally present to a certain extent, the problems which en- 
gaged the attention of most participants in the debate were of 
a social nature. They were more concerned with the probable effect 
on the Hindu social structure of such provisions as divorce, inter- 
caste marriages, women's inheritance rights, and provisions af- 
fecting the joint family system. Codification of Hindu law was not 
the central issue; it was the progressive social provisions which sought 
to modify (some said "destroy") the traditional Hindu social pattern. 
Thus The Hindu complained editorially: "The object with which 
the Hindu Code Committee was first set to work was to codify and 
simplify the personal law of the Hindus, not to amend it in con- 
formity with the promptings of social reform." 48 Although we are 
here concerned only with the aspects which touched upon the secular 
state, the discussion should not be interpreted as implying that these 
were the most prominent aspects of the debate. 

One of the anomalous situations created by the debate in Parlia- 
ment was the role assumed by the law minister who piloted the bills. 
An official of the secular state, he became an interpreter of Hindu 
religion, quoting and expounding the ancient Sanskrit scriptures in 

42 Speech of October 18, 1951, Presidential Address to the Indian National 
Congress, pp. 9-10. 

43 The Hindu, December 10, 1954. 



defense of his bills. In a speech on the Hindu Marriage Bill, 
H. V. Pataskar explained the Hindu concept of dharma and con- 
trasted it with the elements of dogma in Christianity and Islam. He 
urged that the objections raised by opponents of the bill were based 
on a rigid interpretation of the Sanskrit texts, and this was attrib- 
utable to the influence of these other religions which stressed their 
sacred scriptures as the final authority. 44 The law minister quoted 
from the Bhagavad Gita, the Art has has tr a, the Manu Smriti, and the 
Narada Smriti in order to support the provision for divorce in 
the bill. 

Other members of Parliament were quick to take the minister 
to task for this approach. Acharya Kripalani pointed out that the 
search for religious authority for legislation was not in keeping 
with the secular state. "We call our state a secular state. A secular 
state goes neither by scripture nor by custom. It must work on 
sociological and political grounds." V. Muniswamy decried the fact 
that both proponents and opponents of the bill based their arguments 
on the Vedas. He chided: "I am submitting with all respect to 
the honorable minister of law that the trouble started only with him. 
I should submit that there was no necessity to bring in quotations 
from the Vedas to introduce the bill." 45 Once the law minister had 
chosen this approach, all the opponents of the bill very readily 
followed suit. Mr. Muniswamy quoted a Tamil proverb: "A man 
gave half an anna for a beggar to dance and then had to give one 
anna to stop the dance because it was so awkward." 

Furthermore, if the arguments in support of legislation are based 
on ancient scriptures, one must logically accept the authority in its 
entirety. Muniswamy pointed out that isolated verses in the Bhagavad 
Gita might be used, but the basic framework was totally opposed 
to progressive legislation. "In the very first chapter of the Gita you 
will find Arjuna telling Krishna, 'If I start fighting against my 
friends, then there will be inter-caste marriages, therefore I will not 
fight.' ... If you want to quote the Gita, therefore, you must be 
prepared to accept the caste system." 46 

Delivering the presidential address at the All India Convention on 
the Hindu Code in April 1955, Dr. Radhabinod Pal emphasized the 

44 Lo\ Sabha Debates, 1955, part 2, vol. 4, cols. 6476-6477. 
45 /&W., col. 7343. 
46 Ibid., col. 7347. 



same point. "If the legislature is thinking of reverting to the Vedic 
age in respect of the Hindu law then I believe many other changes 
will have to be introduced and I do not think the particular change 
proposed in the code will be at all justifiable." 47 Muniswamy's at- 
titude toward those who dreaded any alteration of ancient principles 
was humorously expressed: "Some of the people say, do not touch 
the Vedas, do not touch the principles of the Vedas, and so on. 
I should like to tell them that I quite approve of what they say, and 
I would tell them, keep the Vedas untouched not only now but 
forever. Then only we shall be able to make any progress." 48 

The Hindu Marriage Bill contained three provisions which 
represented revolutionary departures from the principles of tradi- 
tional Hindu law: inter-caste marriage, monogamy, and divorce. 
Inter-caste marriages had already been legalized by the Hindu 
Marriages Validating Act of 1949, and this position was reaffirmed 
in the new legislation. Hindu bigamous marriages had already been 
prohibited by state legislation in Bombay (1946) and Madras (1949), 
and the new bill sought to extend the principle to the whole country. 

The provisions in the Hindu Marriage Bill for divorce elicited 
a lively debate in Parliament over whether Hindu marriage is a 
sacrament. N. C. Chatterjee, then leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, 
quoted many modern authorities on Hindu law to show that in the 
Hindu conception, marriage is regarded as one of the ten sans\aras 
or sacraments, necessary for the regeneration of men of the three 
highest castes, and the only sacrament for women and Shudras. 
According to this conception "marriage is not a mere contract; it 
is a part of the life of the soul." Chatterjee made a fervent appeal to 
the Parliament: "Manu himself says that Vedic marriage is a 
sansfora. That is a solemn injunction. It is an inviolable union, an 
indissoluble union; it is an interminable union; it is an eternal 
fellowship. ... In all humility ... I appeal to all sections of the 
House, don't tamper with the Hindu sacramental marriage and 
introduce divorce into it." 49 Divorce was an institution completely 
foreign to the thinking of the ancient Hindu law-givers, Manu and 
Yajnavalkya, who were "God-given, God-intoxicated men, inspired 
by ... intense devotion to eternal values." 50 

47 The Hindu, April n, 1955. 

48 LoJ^ Sabha Debates, 1955, part 2, vol. 4, col. 7347. 

id., col 6855. BO /faW., col. 6536. 



To these assertions the law minister replied, rather ineffectually, 
that the Sanskrit sanstyra was not the exact equivalent of the English 
word "sacrament" as generally understood by Christians. Prime 
Minister Nehru, on the other hand, readily admitted that Hindu 
marriage was sacramental, a sacrament being something which had 
religious significance, a religious ceremony. Nehru then went on to 
neutralize Mr. Chatterjee's argument by insisting that not only 
marriage but all forms of human relationship should have an 
element of sacrament; more so in the case of the intimate relationship 
of husband and wife. But is it a sacrament "to tie up people to bite 
each other and to hate each other?" 51 The bill was passed. 

During the debate on the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Bill, 
a much-disputed point involved the provision for the adoption of 
daughters as well as sons. The law minister, Pataskar, declared: 
"It is as a result of wrong readings of some of the original Sanskrit texts 
that we have regarded the adoption of a daughter as something 
which is irreligious." 52 He then quoted from the texts Dattafa 
Mimansa and Sans bar Kausthuba in order to establish his point, 
and asserted that although not commonly practiced among Hindus, 
the adoption of daughters was not inconsistent with any religious 

N. C. Chatterjee and other conservative Hindus, however, main- 
tained that adoption among Hindus was based on a spiritual concept, 
namely, the necessity of having a son to offer pindas (oblations) 
after the father's death, a function which could not possibly be 
performed by a daughter. Another member of Parliament, Mr. 
Barman, stated: "My objection is that after all this law of adopting 
a son as it obtains now under the Hindu shastras has been intro- 
duced into Hindu customs because of some religious beliefs, and in 
Dayabhaga it is said: 'Putrarthey tyiatey Bharjya, Putra Pinda 
Prayo]a\a! That is, a man requires a son, a man marries because he 
requires a son, a son is required because of the religious performances, 
the oblations that the son can offer for the salvation of the father 
after his death. That is the religious foundation for adoption ac- 
cording to Hindu law and Hindu shastras, and it is for that reason 
that if a man has got a son, he cannot adopt another, and even if he 
had got no son, he cannot accept a girl." 58 Although Pataskar was 

51 The Hindu, May 7, 1955. 

52 Lok Sabha Debates, 1956, part 2, vol. 10, col. 2854. 

53 Ibid., cols. 2979-2980. 



again accused of trying to destroy the Hindu religion by this bill, 
he insisted that the Dattafa Mimansa was an authoritative Hindu 
text, and that the adoption of daughters was valid. 54 What would have 
happened had no text been available to the law minister of a secular 
state can only be left to conjecture. The bill was passed. 

The Hindu Succession Bill introduced another significant in- 
novation, namely, the granting to the daughter of rights as a 
simultaneous heir along with the son, widow, etc. Under the old 
Hindu family system a daughter never received a part of the 
father's estate, the assumption being that she was either already a 
member of another family (if married) or soon would be. The 
Muslim law of succession, on the other hand, did grant such rights 
to daughters. In the debate in Parliament on the Hindu Succession 
Bill, several members claimed to see in the measure a wholesale en- 
grafting of a principle "more Mohammedan than the Mohammedan 
Law." It was an attempt to impose certain aspects of the shariah 
(Muslim law) on Hindus. 55 Despite such protests, the bill was passed. 

The points raised over divorce and the Hindu sacramental mar- 
riage, the adoption of daughters, and the granting of succession rights 
to daughters, have been cited in order to illustrate the numerous 
religious implications of personal law. The critics who stressed the 
view that the Hindu law derives not only its authority but its content 
from the religious tenets of Hinduism are in fact supported by the 
unbroken tradition of Hindu legal scholarship. The constant effort 
of orthodox scholars has been to emphasize the spiritual and cosmic 
basis of the regulations of the law. The following definition of 
Dharmashastra, found in a book published in 1952, illustrates the 
point: "Dharmashastra is a comprehensive code to regulate human 
conduct in accordance with the unalterable scheme of Creation, and 
to enable everyone to fulfill the purpose of his birth. The whole life 
of man, considered both as an individual and as a member of groups 
(small and large) as well as man's relations to his fellow men, to 
the rest of animated creation, to superhuman beings, to the cosmos 
generally and ultimately to God come within the purview of 
Dharmashastra." 50 

. y col. 2991. 
55 The Hindu, May 7, 1955. 

50 K. V. Rangaswami Aiyangar, Some Aspects of the Hindu View of Life, 1952, 
p. 62. 



J. D. M. Derrett, however, suggested that in the context of civil 
law, Hindu jurisprudence in some cases deliberately utilized religious 
doctrines in order to justify rules which on purely secular grounds 
were found to be sound and desirable. Furthermore, historically, 
Hindu law achieved an authority quite independent of its formal 
religious basis. The Buddhists ridiculed the alleged authority of the 
Vedas but apparently followed the regulations of the Hindu law 
regarding civil disputes and other matters. "Thus, while the authority 
which justified the application of the law was admittedly religious, 
the rules themselves could and in fact did persist by virtue of their 
own merit and not merely by reason of a superstitious sanction 
attaching to their alleged source." 57 If this interpretation of Hindu 
law were to gain broader acceptance in present-day India, it would 
surely make the task of reform less painful to the religious-minded. 

Interpretations of Hindu law legislation 

N. C. Chatterjee frequently complained that, despite the fact that 
Nehru's government prided itself on its secularism, the legislation 
modifying Hindu law which it was sponsoring was communal in 
nature. 58 Chatterjee held that it was contrary to the fundamental 
rights of the Indian Constitution for the state to discriminate by law 
against a particular religion or community. "Again, why is this at- 
tempt to change the personal laws confined to Hindu society alone ? 
Is not this communal legislation repugnant to the clear directive 
principles of the Constitution that there should be a uniform civil 
code for all the citizens of India?" 59 

Acharya Kripalani, a leader of the Praja Socialist Party and very 
far from being a Hindu communalist, took the same position. In 
the debate on the Hindu Marriage Bill he declared: "If we are a 
democratic state, I submit we must make laws not for one com- 
munity alone. Today the Hindu community is not as much prepared 
for divorce as the Muslim community is for monogamy. . . . Will 
our government introduce a bill for monogamy for the Muslim 
community? Will my dear law minister apply the part about 
monogamy to every community in India? ... I tell you this is the 

57 J. D. M. Derrett, "Religion and Law in Hindu Jurisprudence," All India 
Reporter, 1954, vol. 41, p. 80. 

58 Speech in Delhi under the auspices of the All India Convention on the 
Hindu Code, April 15, 1955. 

60 Ibid. 



democratic way; the other is the communal way. It is not the 
Mahasabhites who alone are communal; it is the government also 
that is communal, whatever it may say." 60 

Chatterjee charged that the Congress government professed to hate 
communalism, but was in fact anxious to enact communal legislation 
to moralize only one community. 61 Dr. Gokul Chand Narang, one 
of the speakers at the All India Convention on the Hindu Code, 1955, 
declared that if Parliament were to launch a program of reasonable 
social reform applicable to all communities in India, he would have 
no objection, "but to pass a measure affecting the Hindus alone with 
votes which will include the votes of non-Hindus, is anything but 
fair and just." 

Evidence is not lacking that many orthodox Hindu leaders 
regarded the legislation as a deliberate frontal attack on Hindu 
religion. V. G. Deshpande of the Hindu Mahasabha told Parliament 
that the various measures constituted a "big conspiracy to encroach 
upon the personal laws of the Hindus" and a direct attack on 
Hinduism. 62 Nandlal Sharma of the Ram Rajya Parishad declared 
that the present government, by changing Hindu law, was perpe- 
trating something so terrible that it had not been attempted even by 
the Mughal Emperor Aurangzib or the British. He was surprised to 
hear people who did not believe in the Hindu shastras quoting 
scripture "It is like the devil quoting scriptures when it suits him." 63 

Contending that divorce provisions violated the ideal of the Hindu 
sacramental marriage, Chatterjee declared: "Imbued with western 
ideas some people in power are seeking to change the basic concepts 
of Hindu dharma by making laws which are repugnant to the basic 
principles of Hinduism." 64 He noted that all this is being done in 
the name of secularism. "But what is this secularism ? Secularism is 
not the negation or the destruction of religion." Dealing with the 
prohibition of bigamous marriage, Chatterjee pointed out that the 
act would encourage the conversion of Hindus to Islam. Any Hindu 
who wanted to marry more than one wife could simply embrace 

60 Lo\ Sab ha Debates, 1955, part 2, vol. 4, col. 7376. 

61 Presidential Address to All India Hindu Mahasabha, 30th session, 1952, New 
Delhi, p. 14. 

62 The Hindu, December 10, 1954. 

63 Ibid., May 4, 1955. 

04 Speech in New Delhi under the auspices of the All India Convention on the 
Hindu Code, April 15, 1955. 



Islam and automatically come under a different personal law which 
still permitted polygamy. Chatterjee asked: "Is it the intention of 
the Parliament of India or the government of this country to facili- 
tate and encourage the conversion of Hindus to non-Hindu faiths? 
This bill, if enacted, will, therefore, accentuate the evils of conversion 
and disrupt Hindu society." 65 

Most of the critics of the various bills which codified Hindu law 
could see only these negative aspects that the legislation would in 
one way or another prove detrimental to the interests of Hindu 
religion. They tended to see in the legislation the violation of free- 
dom of religion. Acharya Kripalani, however, perceived an entirely 
different interpretation of the same facts the secular state was giving 
special advantages to the majority religion and community. "If they 
(members of the legislature) single out the Hindu community for 
their reforming zeal, they cannot escape the charge of being com- 
munalists in the sense that they favor the Hindu community and are 
indifferent to the good of the Muslim community or the Catholic 
community in the matter of divorce. Do we want some one com- 
munity to be in advance of other communities in India, simply be- 
cause it happens to be in the majority ? The charge levelled against 
Hindu communalists is that they want their community to be in a 
more advantageous position than other communities." 66 Kripalani's 
conclusion was inescapable: "Whether the marriage bill favors the 
Hindu community or places it at a disadvantage, both ways, it becomes 
a communal measure." If monogamy and divorce are good and 
desirable features of a marriage law, why favor the Hindus and 
withhold monogamy from the Muslims and divorce from the 
Catholics ? If, on the other hand, these reforms are not so good and 
desirable, why punish the Hindus alone? 

As we have seen in chapter 4, legislation which prohibits the 
practice of polygamy among Hindus has been upheld as constitu- 
tional by the courts. In State of Bombay v. Narasu Appa, 1952, 
the Bombay High Court declared that polygamy could not be 
regarded as an integral part of Hindu religion. While Hinduism 
recognizes the necessity of a son to perform certain religious cere- 
monies after the father's death, Hinduism also provides the possi- 
bility of adoption if no son is born to him. The religious necessity of 

65 Speech at the All India Convention on the Hindu Code, April 10, 1955. 
06 The Hindu, May 21, 1955. 



polygamy is therefore eliminated. The court held, furthermore, that 
such legislation (in this case enacted in Bombay state) did not dis- 
criminate against the Hindus and that it was not contrary to the 
principle of equality before the law. The constitutional position of 
the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 is therefore not in question. 

If we are thinking only of the principles involved, there can be 
little doubt but that the critics of this legislation are right. The 
enactment of civil laws for one community only is discriminatory, 
it does represent a communal approach, it does undermine the basic 
principle of equality before the law, it does place the state in a posi- 
tion where it is either persecuting Hinduism or promoting it, depend- 
ing on one's point of view. Looking at the total picture quite 
objectively, it is true that the principles of secularism are not being 
adhered to. But several other comments are in order. 

First, it must be remembered that the critics who represent the 
Hindu Mahasabha, the Jana Sangh, the Ram Rajya Parishad, and 
other communalist Hindu parties cannot be credited with any real 
concern for the maintenance of the secular state in India. Leaders of 
these parties who argued very cogently that the bills discussed above 
are opposed to the secular state, on other occasions argued that 
secularism is a curse and that India must become a Hindu state. 
Motivated largely by a deep-seated distrust of any efforts to change 
ancient Hindu social usages, these critics are quite willing to buttress 
their position with any arguments that are handy, including the 
secular state. Although they are calling for a uniform civil code 
rather than a codified Hindu law, it is certain that their opposition 
will be no less vociferous if and when a uniform civil code bill is 
introduced. The sacramental Hindu marriage and other Hindu socio- 
religious institutions are not likely to fare better under a uniform 
civil code than under the measures which have been enacted. Regard- 
less of motives, however, we cannot dismiss arguments which are 
perfectly valid. 

Second, many of the criticisms of the Hindu Code Bill and the 
bills which succeeded it are in reality criticisms of the whole structure 
of religious personal law inherited from the British. The communal 
nature of such personal law, the denial of equality before the law, 
the different provisions found in the various systems of personal 
law these are not innovations introduced by the Hindu Code Bill, 
but an inherent part of the legal system which goes back to Warren 



Hastings' plan of 1772. Nehru's government cannot be blamed for 
a situation which it did not create but only inherited. 

Third, it is clear that a uniform code is the answer to the whole 
problem. Why has it not been enacted? When asked this question 
the law minister, Mr. Pataskar, replied that even these bills would 
apply to 85 per cent of the people, and would thus constitute a big 
step toward uniformity. 67 The codification of Hindu law was re- 
garded as a preparatory step toward the fulfillment of article 44 of the 
Constitution. The following exchange with a member of Parliament 
brought out Nehru's approach. Commenting on the proposal of some 
that a uniform civil code be enacted, the prime minister declared: 

Well, I should like a civil code which applies to everybody, but . . . 

Mr. More: What hinders? 

Mr. Nehru: Wisdom hinders. 

Mr. More: Not wisdom but reaction hinders. 

Mr. Nehru: The honorable member is perfectly entitled to his view 

on the subject. If he or anybody else brings forward a Civil Code 

Bill, it will have my extreme sympathy. But I confess I do not 

think that at the present moment the time is ripe in India for me to 

try to push it through. I want to prepare the ground for it and 

this kind of thing is one method of preparing the ground. 68 

Nehru commented that arguments in favor of a uniform civil code 
immediately might appear very progressive and advanced, but might 
prevent the nation from taking even one step in that direction. 

Undoubtedly, much of Nehru's hesitation over a uniform civil code 
derives from his concern that nothing be done which would have an 
unsettling effect upon the minorities, especially the Muslims. The 
shanah (Muslim law) occupies an even more central place within 
Islamic religion than Hindu law does within Hinduism. As we have 
noted, Indian Muslims would be likely to regard any alteration at all 
of their personal law as a grave violation of freedom of religion. 89 
With clear memories of the tragic fratricidal Hindu-Muslim con- 
flicts of the recent past, Nehru is understandably cautious. The situa- 
tion is indeed paradoxical: in order to build up the confidence of 
religious minorities in the non-communal secular nature of the Indian 

67 Ibid., May 4, 1955. 68 Times of India, September 16, 1954. 

69 For an analysis of this important problem facing the Indian Muslims see 
chapter 14, "A Report on the Minorities." 



state, Nehru is constrained to sacrifice for the time being other 
significant principles of the secular state such as a uniform civil code. 
But the day of such a uniform code is coming, and Indian Muslims, 
like their Hindu and Christian fellow-citizens, and as their coreli- 
gionists in other countries have done, should prepare themselves for 
these inevitable changes. 

In conclusion, what can be said of India as a secular state with 
respect to its civil laws ? The right objective of a uniform civil code 
is being aimed at, and considerable progress has been made through 
the codification of Hindu law; but serious difficulties remain. India's 
problem is by no means unique. Thus the state of Israel, despite the 
European origin of most of its leaders, has a system of rabbinical 
courts which control all cases of marriage, divorce, and guardianship. 
According to Pfeffer, the perpetuation of this system of religious 
courts which existed under Turkish and British rule "has resulted in 
the continuation of laws that are grotesquely anachronistic and out 
of place in a modern, democratic republic with a distinctly western 
orientation." 70 

India's progress must be measured in terms of its starting-point, in 
terms of what has been done with the situation which was inherited 
in 1947. In this connection it is not inappropriate to compare the 
courses of action taken in India and Pakistan. In March 1957 an 
Indian Christian weekly, The Guardian of Madras, made some inter- 
esting comments in this regard. The editor referred to two news items 
which had appeared in the general press during that week. In 
Pakistan the government had just announced the appointment of a 
commission under the provisions of the 1956 Constitution to make 
recommendations "as to the measures for bringing existing law into 
conformity with the Injunctions of Islam" (article 198). In India the 
Allahabad High Court had just upheld the Hindu Marriage Act, 
although one of the petitioners contended that bigamy was an integral 
part of the Hindu religion. The Guardians comment was: "While 
Pakistan is reforming secular law to conform to traditional religion, 
India is legislating to change traditional practices to be brought into 
keeping with a modern, progressive outlook." 71 

70 Leo Pfcffer, Church, State, and Freedom, Beacon Press, Boston, 1953, p. 59. 

71 The Guardian, Madras, 1957, vol. 35, p. 122. The 1956 Constitution of Pakistan 
was abrogated, however, following the imposition of military rule in 1958. In 1961 
the military government of President Ayub Khan promulgated the Muslim Family 
Laws Ordinance which, among other things, makes polygamy all but impossible. 



JAWAHARLAL NEHRU, in discussing his conception of the secular 
state, once wrote: "a caste-ridden society is not properly secular." 1 
This chapter investigates government policies toward caste in the 
light of the secular state. The subject is one of some complexity and 
can only be dealt with after considering the historical relationships 
of the caste system to Hindu religion and to the state. 


Is caste to be regarded as an integral part of Hindu religion, or is 
it simply the social structure which happened to develop in India, 
ultimately not dissimilar from rigid class systems elsewhere? On 
one hand, Hutton wrote that "the social habits of caste are inextrica- 
bly tied up with religion" ; 2 on the other, is the assertion of Panikkar 
that the social institutions of the Hindus "are unconnected with their 
religion and based wholly on law and custom and are therefore 
secular." 3 It is a matter of considerable importance whether caste is 
"inextricably tied up" or "unconnected" with Hindu religion. If the 
latter interpretation is correct, government policies regarding caste 
have no real relevance to the conception of the secular state. We shall 
first attempt to define the relationship between caste and traditional 
Hindu religion, and then move on to consider this relationship under 
the impact of modern reformist influences. 

Caste and traditional Hindu religion 

A number of points can be made in support of the view which 
emphasizes the close association of caste and Hindu religion. In one 

1 Circular to the Pradesh Congress Committees, New Delhi, All India Congress 
Committee, 1954. 

2 J. H. Hutton, Caste in India: Its Nature, Function, and Origins, Oxford Uni- 
versity Press, Bombay, 1951. 

3 K. M. Panikkar, Hindu Society at Cross Roads, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 
i955> P- 3- 



of the later Rigvedic hymns, the Purushasufya, it is stated that the 
four original classes emanated from the sacrifice of the Primeval 
Being. The Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras are said to 
have come respectively from the mouth, the arms, the thighs, and 
the feet of the Creator. This explanation is repeated with slight varia- 
tions in most of the later works; in some of them, according to 
Ghurye, "not only is the origin of the classes interpreted theologi- 
cally, but also a divine justification is sought to be given to their 
functions and status." 4 Another writer suggested that the Rigvedic 
reference was only a poetic image portraying the organic nature of 
society, but which later came to be interpreted quite differently. "In 
later ages the Hindu lawgivers, epic poets, and authors of popular 
religious works persistently maintained this theocratic ideal so that . . . 
people looked on the fourfold caste system as a divine institution to 
which they should conform if they would save their souls." 5 

Dharma (frequently translated as religion, duty, or law) is the 
central conception of Hindu religious thought, and has traditionally 
been closely associated with caste duty. Max Weber wrote that 
Hinduism did not possess a universally valid ethic, for the religious 
and moral code (dharma) of each caste was different. Each status 
group had a dharma corresponding to its position on the caste scale. 
There is thus nothing in Hindu thought comparable to the western 
conception of natural law. Weber noted: "The conception of an 
'original sin' was quite impossible in this world order, for no 'abso- 
lute sin' could exist. There could only be a ritual offense against the 
particular dharma of the caste." 6 Dharma depends, then, upon the 
caste into which the individual is born. A nineteenth-century observer 
wrote: "With many Hindus the highest form of religious observance 
is the complete fulfillment of the claims of caste; and most of them 
conceive of sin as a breach of caste discipline rather than of 
moral law." 7 

The Bhagavad Gita, one of the most important of the Hindu 
sacred scriptures, stresses the supreme merit of performing one's 

4 G. S. Ghurye, Caste and Class in India, Popular Book Depot, Bombay, 1957, 
p. 44. 

5 D. S. Sarma, "The Nature and History of Hinduism," The Religion of the 
Hindus, ed. Kenneth W. Morgan, Ronald Press Company, New York, 1953, p. 17. 

Max Weber, The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Bud- 
dhism, Free Press, Glencoe, Illinois, 1958, p. 144. 

7 M. A. Sherring, Hindu Tribes and Castes y Calcutta, 1881, vol. 3, p. 276. 



particular caste duties. "One's own duty (i.e. dharma or caste rules), 
though defective, is better than another's duty well performed." 
Other scriptures assert that perfection can be attained only by one 
who fulfills his caste obligations without deviation. The laws of 
Manu (second century B.C.), according to Dandekar, lay down that 
"obedience to caste rules is the very essence of dharma"* 

Another important Hindu conception which undergirds the caste 
system is farma. This conception is accepted by almost all Hindus, 
heterodox as well as orthodox, despite wide divergences on other 
beliefs. The doctrine of \arma occupies a central place in Hindu 
ethical theory. Based on belief in the transmigration of souls, the 
doctrine of \arma asserts that every single ethically relevant act 
produces inevitable consequences which constitute the individual's 
fate in the next existence. 9 The caste into which the individual is 
reborn is an important aspect of this ethically-determined fate. 
Wrong-doing in this life leads to low birth in the next. 10 

The doctrine of karma thus justifies caste inequalities as being part 
of the divine order of the universe. Weber referred to it as "the 
unique Hindu theodicy of the existing social, that is to say, caste 
system." 11 The doctrine enabled the orthodox Hindu to regard an 
untouchable's miserable lot as nothing but his just punishment for 
sins committed in a previous existence. There was hope for the 
untouchable, for right action in this life might result in his rebirth 
in a high caste. 12 

There appears, then, to be considerable evidence to support the 
thesis that caste is so integral a part of Hinduism that "a Hindu 
without a caste is almost a contradiction in terms." 13 In terms of 
traditional Hinduism this statement is for the most part accurate. 14 
But it does not take into account the many new developments which 
have vigorously challenged traditional Hindu society in the past one 

8 R. N. Dandekar, "The Role of Man in Hinduism," The Religion of the Hindus, 

P. 146- 

9 Max Weber regarded the belief in the transmigration of souls and the doctrine 
of }(arma as the only "dogmatic" doctrines of Hinduism. Op. cit., p. 118. 

10 L. S. S. O'Malley, Indian Caste Customs, Cambridge University Press, Cam- 
bridge, 1932, p. 18. 

11 Weber, op. cit., p. 118. 

12 Ibid., p. 122. 

18 O'Malley, op. cit., p. 19. 

14 Even so, seventeenth-century Jesuit missionaries found it possible to interpret 
caste as a social custom without religious significance, and fully observed caste 
distinctions in dealing with their converts. 



hundred and fifty years. In particular, it ignores the work of the 
Hindu social and religious reformers, many of whom made a de- 
liberate effort to separate caste from Hindu religion. 

Caste, religion, and reform 

The renascence of Hinduism began with the work of Raja Ram- 
mohan Roy in the early part of the nineteenth century, largely as a 
result of the confrontation of traditional Hinduism with Christianity 
and western social values. 15 The sectarian movements which emerged 
were primarily concerned with religious reform, but could not ignore 
Hindu social institutions which were in open conflict with the new 
ideas of freedom and equality. The reformers held that religion was 
not responsible for social injustices, but that the objectionable prac- 
tices were the excrescences of which Hindu society must be purged. 

The Paramahansa Sabha, organized, in Bombay in 1840, was com- 
mitted to the abolition of caste, but it soon failed due to intense 
opposition. Two decades later Keshab Chandra Sen and his followers 
were openly celebrating inter-caste marriages. 16 Swami Dayananda 
Saraswati, founder of the Arya Samaj, raised his voice against caste 
restrictions and urged that personal merit, not birth, should deter- 
mine social status. Intelligence and knowledge should entitle a man 
to be called a Brahman regardless of his caste background. Swami 
Vivekananda, the first internationally-known apologist of Hinduism, 
declared in 1893 th 31 while caste had once performed a useful func- 
tion, it now was only "filling the atmosphere of India with its 
stench." 17 

Twentieth-century leaders of the Hindu renascence, according to 
Roland W. Scott, were motivated in their opposition to caste practices 
by both social idealism and religious self-preservation. A new sense 
of responsibility for the depressed castes made their uplift an end 
in itself. But the possibility of their conversion to Christianity or 
Islam was also a powerful consideration. 18 Gandhi asserted that unless 

15 Sec J. N. Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements in India, Macmillan Com- 
pany, New York, 1915, and D. S. Sarma, The Renaissance of Hinduism, Benares 
Hindu University, Benares, 1944. 

16 R. C. Majumdar, H. C. Raychaudhuri, and K. Datta, An Advanced History of 
India, Macmillan Company, London, 1950, p. 878. 

17 Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Worths of Swami Vivekananda, Prabuddha 
Bharota Office, Almora, 1922, vol. 5, p. 19. 

18 Roland W. Scott, Social Ethics in Modern Hinduism, YMCA Publishing House, 
Calcutta, 1953, p. 161. 



untouchability were destroyed it would destroy Hinduism. Any 
religion was doomed to perish if it could not eradicate "invidious 
and iniquitous distinctions between man and man." 

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, leader of the depressed classes, insisted that 
caste, based on the authority of the Vedas and Shastras, was a part 
of Hindu religion. "To ask people to give up caste is to ask them 
to go contrary to their fundamental religious notions." 19 This analysis 
led him to the position that the only hope for the untouchables was 
to embrace any religion or religions which promised equality of 
status. Within the mainstream of Hindu reform, such a solution was 
obviously unacceptable. The religious reformers had to continue their 
efforts on two fronts: first, the interpretation of caste in more egali- 
tarian terms than those found in the traditional conception, and, 
second, the interpretation of religion in terms which would facilitate 
its dissociation from the traditional caste system. 

Both Gandhi and Radhakrishnan produced idealized conceptions 
of caste. 20 Gandhi's theory, however, simply demonstrated to one 
writer that caste could not readily be dissociated from religion. 
O'Malley noted: "Hindu reformers who condemn untouchability 
also maintain that a caste system, though not perhaps in its present 
form, is essential to Hinduism." 21 By 1936, however, Gandhi's posi- 
tion had shifted significantly, and he was able to declare that caste 
had nothing to do with religion but was simply a custom, the origin 
of which was unknown. 

The new interpretation of Hindu religion necessitated a radical 
departure from the traditional understanding of dharma. This was 
no longer defined in terms of caste regulations, but in terms of the 
free individual's search for truth and morality. Gandhi asserted 
repeatedly that true morality meant not obedience to rules but finding 
out the true path for oneself and following it. A metaphysical founda- 
tion for the new Hindu social ethic was supplied by the conception 
of the ultimate unity of all beings in the Absolute. If all individual 
souls are part of the same ultimate Reality, all are equal. Radha- 
krishnan could thus construct a new social ethic which emphasized 

19 B. R. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste, Bharat Bhushan Publishing Press, 
Bombay, 1937, pp. 37-39. 

20 See especially S. Radhakrishnan, Eastern Religions and Western Thought, 
Oxford University Press, London, 1939, pp. 366-373. 

21 O'Malley, op. cit., pp. 175-177. 



the principle of equality on the basis of ancient Hindu metaphysi- 
cal thought. 22 

Scott rightly observed that "it is possible to understand the dissocia- 
tion of religion from caste only as a rational procedure in the devel- 
opment of new religious and social attitudes." 23 In the traditional 
Hindu society, religion and caste were bound together by the 
strongest ties of mythology, metaphysics, ethics, and ritual. It was 
only a radically reformulated Hindu religion, which frankly accepted 
modern democratic values, which could be separated from social 
institutions based on inflexible inequality. 

The history of Hindu religious reform should suffice to indicate 
clearly that caste is not "inextricably tied up" with Hindu religion. 
There are obviously many educated Hindus to whom religious values 
are of great importance, although quite unrelated to rigid social 
patterns. It must be remembered, however, that the reformulated 
Hinduism of Gandhi and Radhakrishnan is still far from being the 
religion of the masses, In terms of popular religion, Dr. M. N. Srinivas 
wrote in 1956: "If and when caste disappears, Hinduism will also 
disappear." 24 

Regardless of future developments, it is surely true that, in general, 
the present connection between caste and religion is a fairly strong 
one. This relationship cannot be ignored by the secular state in its pro- 
gram of social legislation. We shall deal with this problem in a later 
section of the chapter. But first we must consider the historical rela- 
tionships which have obtained between caste and political authority. 

Caste and the Hindu state 

The ancient Hindu literature refers repeatedly to the king's special 
responsibilities toward the priestly caste. The laws of Manu regard 
the Brahman as by right the chief of this whole creation. As such he 
may take a Shudra's property for the purpose of sacrifice without 
fear of the slightest punishment. The king shall never execute a 
Brahman "though convicted of all possible crimes," for banishment 
(with all his property intact) is the maximum penalty which can be 

22 S. Radhakrishnan, Religion and Society, George Allen and Unwin Ltd., London, 
1947, p. 42. 

23 Scott, op. cit., p. 158. 

24 M. N. Srinivas, "A Note on Sanskritization and Westernization," Far Eastern 
Quarterly, 1956, vol. 15, p. 495. 



inflicted upon a member of that caste. "No greater crime is known 
on earth than slaying a Brahman; and the king, therefore, must not 
even form in his mind an idea of killing a priest." 25 

The Brahman's superior legal status and other special preroga- 
tives were established by the laws of Manu (second century B.C.), and 
have in some cases been recognized and maintained in modern times. 
Lands owned by Brahmans were assessed at considerably lower rates 
than those levied upon others, and the ancient law exempting 
Brahmans from capital punishment was rather widely respected. 26 
A British writer noted in 1834: "The Brahmans of Travancore, as in 
most other parts of India, have taken care to be exempted as much 
as possible from punishment; at least, their sentence is far more 
lenient than that passed on the other castes for the same crimes." 27 

In addition to the special protection of Brahmans, the traditional 
Hindu state was charged with the general enforcement of caste 
regulations. One ancient text states: "Let the king, paying attention 
to all the laws of countries, castes and families, make the four varna 
(castes) fulfill their particular duties. Let him punish those who 
stray." 28 To a large extent each caste was permitted to govern itself 
and to enforce its own regulations, but ultimately the political author- 
ity had extensive jurisdiction over caste. There is abundant evi- 
dence that the king actually exercised considerable authority in caste 
matters, issuing marriage regulations for castes, and promoting or 
demoting subcastes in the social hierarchy. 29 

The 1911 census report stated that the maharaja of Cochin (a 
Kshatriya) exercised final authority over the caste matters of the 
Nambudri Brahmans, and that final expulsion from any caste re- 
quired his sanction. 30 The maharaja of Kashmir established a Dharma 
Sabha, a council of persons learned in Hindu law, which met in his 
temple at Srinagar and delivered judgments not only in religious 
but also in caste matters, and could deprive people of their castes. 31 
In the larger states of Rajputana the civil courts performed this func- 
tion, and their powers even extended to the excommunication of 

25 Quoted in Hutton, op. cit., p. 93. 20 Ghurye, op. cit., pp. 14-15. 

27 lames Forbes, Oriental Memoirs, R. Bentley, London, 1834, vol. i, p. 256. 
Quoted in Ghurye, loc. cit. 

28 Quoted in Hutton, op. cit., p. 93. See also D. Mackenzie Brown, The White 
Umbrella: Indian Political Thought from Manu to Gandhi, University of California 
Press, Berkeley, 1953, p. 21. 

20 O'Malley, op. cit., p. 56. 30 Hutton, op. cit., p. 94. 

31 O'Malley, op. cit., pp. 67-68. 

29 8 


Brahmans. Authority over caste matters, in one form or another, was 
exercised by the Hindu governments of Indore, Gwalior, Baroda, the 
Simla Hill States, Bastar, Jashpur, Manipur, and many other Indian 
states. Early in the twentieth century, however, the maharajas of 
most of the larger states allowed their jurisdiction in caste matters 
to lapse. 

The untouchables suffered under state-imposed disabilities in many 
of the Hindu kingdoms until fairly recent times. In Travancore the 
members of certain untouchable castes were slaves and could be 
dealt with precisely as any other form of property. It was not until 
1855 that the maharaja issued a proclamation liberating all state 
slaves and forbidding the law courts to recognize the private owner- 
ship of slaves. The untouchables were forbidden by law to wear shoes 
or carry umbrellas, and their women could not wear any clothing 
above the waist. Only in 1859 was f his latter privilege granted by 
royal proclamation, but even then it was specified that the untoucha- 
ble women should not dress "like women of high castes." 32 

Until 1911 the state of Jaipur maintained separate courts of law 
for untouchables, and members of the unclean sweeper caste were 
required to wear crow's feathers on their turbans. The low caste 
people were admitted to the regular courts, but had to transmit papers 
to the judge through other hands. Many of the hereditary Indian 
princes enforced untouchability in their territories, and in some states 
the untouchables were not permitted to enter the same schools with 
caste children until after India became independent. 

Nepal is the only remaining Hindu kingdom in the world. Until 
recently the penal code of Nepal was based on the Shastras, and 
social, religious, and criminal offenses were dealt with by identical 
procedures. Brahmans were immune from capital punishment, and 
the crime of killing a cow could bring the death penalty. In the 
latter part of the nineteenth century the judge of the Chief Court 
of Nepal remarked: "Below (i.e. in the plains of India) let any man 
and woman commit what sin they will, there is no punishment pro- 
vided, no expiatory rite enjoined. Hence Hinduism is destroyed; the 
distinctions of caste are obliterated. Here, on the contrary, all those 
distinctions are religiously preserved by the public courts of justice, 
which punish according to caste and never destroy the life of a 
32 Ibid., p. 148. 



Brahman. Below, the Shastras are things to talk of; here they are 
acted up to." 33 

In 1956 the coronation of King Mahendra took place in Kathmandu, 
the capital of Nepal. The Hindu monarch is regarded by the 
Nepalese as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu the Preserver. Despite 
his divinity, a most important part of the coronation ceremony came 
when Mahendra prostrated himself at the feet of the priests. The 
Brahmans then sprinkled him with clarified butter from a golden 
jar, curds from a silver pot, milk from a copper bowl, and water 
from an earthen vessel. By this act of obeisance the Kshatriya ruler 
"acknowledged the superior ranking of the Brahmans and sym- 
bolically guaranteed their age-old privileges; in Nepal no Brahman 
may be executed, not even by the king." 34 Only after this and other 
rites did the priests cry out: "O people! This man is your king! He 
is the king of us Brahmans!" 

Caste and the British government of India 

Early British policy regarding caste was largely an inheritance 
from the Muslim rulers whom the East India Company displaced. 
The Muslims looked down upon the Hindus as idolatrous heathens, 
and were at first inclined to allow them to settle caste questions as 
they pleased. Nevertheless, during the eighteenth century the Mughal 
government in Bengal asserted its right to sanction readmission to 
caste, and with the Mughal downfall this traditional prerogative of 
government passed to the British. Hutton pointed to this fact as a 
striking illustration of the time-honored principle that "the secular 
power is the final arbiter of caste." 35 

The instructions drafted in 1769 for British revenue officers in 
Bengal included the following: "When any man has naturally for- 
feited his caste, you are to observe that he cannot be restored to it 
without the sanction of government; which was a political supremacy 
reserved to themselves by the Mohammedans." 36 In the same year, 
however, this power over restoration to caste was waived by the 
British government. 

For some time a Caste Cutcherry (court), with fairly extensive 

83 Brian Houghton Hodgson, Miscellaneous Essays Relating to Indian Subjects, 
Triibner and Company, London, 1880, vol. 2, p. 241. 

84 E. Thomas Gilliard, "Coronation in Katmandu," National Geographic Mag- 
azine, 1957, vol. 112, p. 150. 

85 Hutton, op. cit., p. 96. 86 Quoted in O'Malley, op. cit., p. 60. 



jurisdiction over caste disputes, was maintained by the government 
in Calcutta. The British governor, Warren Hastings, was nominally 
the president of the court, although its proceedings and decisions 
were actually in the hands of Hastings' Hindu agent. The cutcherry 
was soon abolished, however, and, apart from isolated instances 
involving individual officers, the British government thereafter de- 
clined to interfere in caste questions except when the civil courts had 
to decide cases of Hindu law. 

The legal system of British India produced drastic changes in the 
traditional working of the caste system. The establishment of British 
courts restricted the judicial powers of caste panchayats, for offenses 
such as assault, adultery, and rape were now dealt with by courts 
administering a uniform criminal law. The British government, by 
refusing to recognize the caste as an agency empowered to administer 
justice, deprived it of one of its most significant functions as a com- 
munity. Closely related was another change, one of revolutionary 
significance, namely, the introduction of the principle of equality 
before the law. The British refused to accept the proposition that 
the seriousness of a crime was affected by the respective castes of the 
offender and the one against whom it was committed. 37 

In certain areas of civil law, however, caste continued to be a 
significant factor. As the Hindu law relating to marriage, succession, 
adoption, etc., was based on the Shastras and regarded as an important 
part of Hindu religion, it was maintained intact and applied in the 
ordinary courts. As the Hindu law based many of its regulations on 
caste distinctions, these too had to be recognized and enforced by 
the British courts. The question of marriage was especially important, 
and caste panchayats were stripped of their power to regulate it. In 
1876 the High Court of Bombay ruled: "Courts of law will not 
recognize the authority of a caste to declare a marriage void, or to 
give permission to a woman to remarry." 38 

Inter-caste marriages being strictly prohibited by the Shastras, 
some of the early court decisions even held invalid marriages between 
Brahmans belonging to different subcastes. Later decisions, however, 
took a more liberal position. It was not until the enactment of the 
Special Marriage Act of 1872 that inter-caste marriages became legal, 

37 M. N. Srinivas, "Caste in Modern India," Journal of Asian Studies, 1957, 
vol. 16, p. 530. 

38 Quoted in Ghurye, op.cit., p. 186. 



provided that both parties solemnly renounced their caste and reli- 
gion. The 1923 amendment to the act deleted this requirement but 
added other handships. The parties to the marriage had to forfeit 
certain rights of adoption and succession under Hindu law. Amazing 
as this might seem, it is nevertheless true that inter-caste marriages 
without such penalties did not become possible until after India's 
attainment of independence. 

Of the multitudinous divisions of Hindu society, the untouchable 
castes naturally gained most from the British policy of legal equality 
for all Indian subjects. One of the government's administrative meas- 
ures concerned the admission of untouchable children in schools. 
In 1858 the Bombay government resolved that all government schools 
would be open to all classes of its subjects without distinction. 39 In 
1923 the government resolved that no grants would be paid to any 
aided school to which untouchable children were denied admission. 
As in any situation in which social mores are involved, implementa- 
tion lagged behind official policy to a considerable degree. The 
significant point, however, is that at a relatively early date these 
policies, so important in the evolution of India as a secular state, 
were debated and affirmed. 

But it was not enough to secure the untouchables' legal rights; 
centuries of social and economic oppression had left these castes in 
circumstances which called for more positive measures of aid. In 
1878 Chatfield, the director of public instruction in Bombay, initiated 
the policy of allowing the children of these castes in primary schools 
special concessions in fees. This policy was gradually adopted in 
other parts of India, and fee concessions and scholarships were also 
extended to secondary school and college students. 40 

In the years following World War I, attempts were made to ensure 
adequate representation for the untouchables in both legislative 
bodies and government services. The Government of India Act of 
1919 provided for special representation through mixed electorates. 
In Bombay Presidency, for example, the Hindu population was 
divided into three political tiers: Brahmans and other high castes, 
Marathas and other intermediate castes, and the backward castes 
including untouchables. The same classification was used in recruit- 
ing for government posts. A 1923 resolution of the government of 
Bombay finance department prohibited recruitment to the lower 

*lbid. t p. 189. "Ibid., p. 190. 



services from the higher castes until the representation of the inter- 
mediate and backward classes came up to a certain level. During this 
same period the government of Madras worked out an elaborate 
communal rule for appointments: out of twelve posts, five had to 
go to non-Brahman Hindus, two to Brahmans, two to Muslims, two 
to Anglo-Indians and Christians, and one to a member of the 
Depressed Classes. 

The principle of communal reservation was extended still further 
in proposals for constitutional reform a decade later. At the first 
session of the Round Table Conference held in London (1930-1931), 
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, leader of the Depressed Classes, insisted on 
separate electorates for his group. 41 He regarded the untouchables as 
a minority group quite distinct from the caste Hindus, and entitled 
to the same constitutional safeguards claimed by the Muslims and 
other minorities. In 1932 the British prime minister, Ramsay Mac- 
Donald, announced the government's constitutional proposals. These 
included the Communal Award, under which the depressed classes 
were granted the separate electorates sought by Ambedkar. 

Gandhi, who was then in prison, was dismayed at the news of the 
award. A separate electorate for the depressed classes would be 
"harmful for them and for Hinduism," for it would "simply vivisect 
and disrupt" the Hindu community. 42 If the untouchables were 
treated as a separate political group, a constitutional wall would be 
erected between them and the caste Hindus, and the moral evil of 
untouchability would be harder to eradicate. Gandhi's fervent crusade 
against untouchability, begun in the early 1920*5, was imperiled by 
the award. He announced a "fast unto death" unless Ambedkar and 
the caste Hindus could reach an agreement eliminating the separate 
electorates. Under the emotional and political pressures of the fast, 
negotiations were begun. Ambedkar finally gave up the separate 
electorates, but his price was high; the number of seats reserved for 
his community in the legislature was increased from 71 to 148. This 
agreement was known as the Poona Pact and was later incorporated 
in the Government of India Act of I935- 43 

41 "Depressed Classes" is another term for the untouchable castes. In the Govern- 
ment of India Act of 1935 and in the Constitution of 1950 the term "Scheduled 
Castes" is used to denote in general the same groups. "Harijans" (children of God) 
was Gandhi's term for the untouchables, and is also widely used in present-day 
India, both in common parlance and in official documents. 

42 The Indian Review, March n, 1932, quoted in Scott, op. cit. y pp. 155-156. 

43 William Roy Smith, Nationalism and Reform in India, Yale University Press, 
New Haven, 1938, pp. 410-416. 



Indian writers have charged that the British policy of giving 
preference to the low castes was a deliberate attempt to divide the 
Hindu community even more completely, as part of the technique 
of "divide and rule." Srinivas wrote that the policy of the British 
government "was in accordance with its humanitarian sentiments, 
but it also had the effect of making the lower castes look up to the 
British for protection." 44 Another British practice which frequently 
came under fire was that of recording caste in the decennial census. 
At each recurring census the authorities received innumerable peti- 
tions from different castes requesting the government to recognize 
their claims to higher rank. The practice of recording caste clearly 
provided a new field for caste conflict and tended to perpetuate caste 
consciousness. The British census commissioner eliminated the 
return of caste in the 1941 census schedule, but more because of the 
questionable accuracy of such returns than because of their harmful 
social consequences. 

The broad significance of the British impact must not be obscured 
by differences over details. Essentially, the foundation was laid for 
the building of a modern sovereign state. The state expanded its 
jurisdiction at the expense of the traditional caste regime by drastically 
reducing the powers of the caste panchayats. Within the enlarged 
scope of the state's jurisdiction, the basic assumptions of the old caste 
regime were rejected in toto. Equality before the law and equal 
citizenship constituted the basic premises of the new Indian state 
which was emerging. Furthermore, caste regulations based on sacred 
texts and immemorial custom were no longer permitted to hold 
unchallenged sway over Hindu social life. With the British came 
the revolutionary principle that it was within the province of the 
state to regulate and change society by legislation. It was only the 
prudent caution of a European ruler in dealing with Hindu religio- 
social matters which accounted for the relatively small amount of 
such legislation. 


The basic lines of present policy were drawn during the British 
period, but independence brought with it greatly increased oppor- 
tunities for social reform through legislation. These opportunities 
were eagerly seized. In this part of the chapter it is our task to 

44 M. N. Srinivas, "Caste in Modern India," p. 532. 



examine present policies in the light of the conception of the secu- 
lar state. 

Non-recognition of caste 

The Indian secular state disregards the individual's caste in the 
same way that it disregards his religion in defining the rights and 
duties of citizenship. Discussing the concept of the secular state in its 
Indian context, Percival Spear wrote: "It represents the substitution 
of the idea of the individual with equal rights and duties as the unit 
of society and a society of such equal units, for the idea of groups 
of unequal individuals with varying rights and duties arranged in 
an ascending order of magnitude. An egalitarian society of indi- 
viduals has become the official basis of society instead of a hierarchy 
of under- and over-privileged groups." 45 Equality before the law is 
the positive expression of this principle. As stated in article 14 of the 
Indian Constitution: "The state shall not deny to arty person equality 
before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory 
of India." As has already been pointed out, untouchability involved 
a legal status recognized by some of the princely Indian states right 
up to the time of independence. In addition to the private social 
discrimination involved in the practice of untouchability, certain 
disabilities were directly imposed and enforced by the state. Article 
17 declares that untouchability is abolished and its practice in any 
form forbidden. 

The basic constitutional guarantee of non-discrimination is found 
in article 15(1): "The state shall not discriminate against any citizen 
on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any 
of them." Chapter 4, "The Constitutional Framework," examined in 
detail the three areas in which this principle is applied: public em- 
ployment, admission to state educational institutions, and representa- 
tion in legislatures. In 1951 the Supreme Court, in two key cases, 
declared unconstitutional a Madras government order under which 
qualified Brahman applicants for a government job and admission 
to an educational institution, respectively, were rejected on the basis 
of caste and community quotas. 46 

In the area of civil law, the principle of non-recognition of caste 

45 Percival Spear, "Christian Higher Education in India,*' International Review 
of Missions, 1951, vol. 40, p. 87. 

46 Venfataramana v. State of Madras, A.I.R. 1951 S.C., p. 229; and State of 
Madras v. Sm. C/iampaf^am Dorairajan, A.I.R. 1951 S.C., p. 226. 



was applied in the Hindu Marriages Validating Act of 1949. This 
legislation validated without qualification, for the first time in the 
history of Hindu law, all inter-caste marriages. The state thus refused 
to recognize caste status as in any way affecting the individual's right 
to enter into the civil contract of marriage. This position was re- 
affirmed in the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. 

The non-recognition of caste was impressively illustrated in the 
realm of practical politics when in 1960 Damodaram Sanjivayya, a 
Harijan, assumed office as the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. 
The Harijans represent only 15 per cent of the state's population, 
but other factors operated in his favor. The choice of Mr. Sanjivayya 
came after weeks of maneuvering by the sharply divided factions of 
the state Congress Party. He emerged as the only experienced cabinet 
minister who was acceptable to all sides. 

Legislation to protect the individual 

It is not enough for the state to refuse to discriminate among its 
citizens on the basis of caste; it must also use its coercive power to 
protect the citizen from the social disabilities imposed by other citi- 
zens. This has necessitated a massive campaign against certain social 
practices associated with untouchability. "The government of inde- 
pendent India," wrote A. M. Rosenthal, "was the first in the country's 
history that declared total war on untouchability." 47 

On November 29, 1948, the Constituent Assembly of India 
approved the constitutional provision abolishing untouchability, 
amidst cries of "Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai!" (Victory to Mahatma 
Gandhi!). 48 Article 17 not only abolishes the legal status of 
untouchability but goes on to declare: "The enforcement of any 
disability arising out of 'Untouchability' shall be an offense punishable 
in accordance with law." Similarly, article 15(2) prohibits restric- 
tions not only with regard to the use of facilities maintained wholly 
or partly out of state funds but also with regard to access to shops, 
public restaurants, hotels, etc. The Constitution goes beyond the 
sphere of government and prohibits discriminatory acts by individuals 
against other individuals. 49 

47 A. M. Rosenthal, "India Spurs Fight to End Caste Bias," New Yor\ Times, 
February 23, 1958. 

48 Constituent Assembly Debates, 1948, vol. 7, pp. 665-669. 

40 Om Prakash Aggarawala, Fundamental Rights and Constitutional Remedies, 
Metropolitan Book Co., Delhi, 1953, vol. i, p. 212. 



The language of the Constitution clearly indicated the need for 
legislation by the Indian Parliament to enforce these provisions. Even 
before the Constitution came into force, however, a number of the 
state legislatures sought to protect the Harijans from various forms 
of discrimination by individuals. An example of such legislation is 
the United Provinces Removal of Social Disabilities Act of 1947. 
Similarly titled laws were enacted in West Bengal, Bombay, Madras, 
and other states. The United Provinces act makes it a criminal offense 
to prevent any person merely on the ground that he belongs to a 
Scheduled Caste from having access to or using streams, wells, or 
other sources of water, public roads and sanitary conveniences, pub- 
lic conveyances, places of public entertainment, educational institu- 
tions, hospitals, etc. It is also a criminal oflfense to refuse any profes- 
sional service to a Harijan, or to annoy him when exercising any 
lawful right. 

In an interesting case the Allahabad High Court upheld the con- 
viction under this act of two dhobis (washermen) who had refused 
to wash the clothes of Chamars, an untouchable caste. 50 In a similar 
case, in West Bengal, a barber had refused to cut the hair of indi- 
viduals belonging to a caste of cobblers and leather workers. He was 
thereupon charged with having committed a criminal offense under 
the Hindu Social Disabilities Removal Act of 1948. On a reference 
to the Calcutta High Court, it was held that the act did not prevent 
the petitioner from carrying on the profession of a barber, as he 
alleged, but really enlarged the scope of his business by compelling 
him to serve all alike. The court held that whatever restrictions were 
imposed by the act were reasonable ones which in no way deprived 
the petitioner of his constitutional rights. 51 A number of the state 
legislatures have also enacted laws specifically concerned with the 
right of Harijans to enter Hindu temples. One example of such 
legislation is the Madras Temple Entry Authorization Act of 1947. 
This problem has been considered in some detail in chapter 9. 

Thus far we have considered the role of state legislation in the 
campaign to eradicate untouchability. The Untouchability (Offenses) 
Act of 1955, enacted by Parliament, covers much the same ground. 
Penalties are provided for preventing an individual, on the ground 
of untouchability, from equal access to roads, wells, shops, hotels, 

60 State of U.P. v. Banwari, 1951, A.I.R. 1951 Allahabad, p. 615. 
^Banamali Das v. Patyu Bhandari, A.I.R. 1951 Calcutta, p. 167. 



public hospitals, educational institutions, employment in any trade 
or profession, etc. The act prescribes penalties for refusing to sell 
goods or render services to a Harijan because of his caste, or for pre- 
venting a Harijan from entering and worshipping in a Hindu temple 
or taking water from a sacred tank. 

It is widely recognized by Indian officials that legislation alone is 
not likely to be effective in eradicating untouchability. Extensive 
educational campaigns have therefore been launched by central and 
state governments. "Harijan Days" and "Harijan Weeks" are ob- 
served in almost all the states in an effort to focus public attention 
on the problem. 52 Legislation and education combined, however, can 
claim but limited success, and in India's villages caste orthodoxy is 
still largely unchallenged. Recent reports of the commissioner for 
Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes tell of thousands of villages 
in which a Harijan still dare not draw water from a public well, 
carry an umbrella, or ride a bicycle. 

One of the reasons for the persistence of untouchability, despite 
such vigorous frontal attacks against it, is the close connection be- 
tween caste and traditional Hindu religion. "Much of the propa- 
ganda against untouchability is wasted," declared one Harijan leader. 
"The voice of reason doesn't carry because most Hindus still feel 
that it is their religious duty to shun the Harijan. For generations this 
teaching has been drilled into them by mothers and grandmothers." 53 
The orthodox Hindu is strongly inclined to the opinion that the gov- 
ernment's all-out attack on untouchability constitutes an interference 
with his own freedom of religion. His interpretation of the state's 
policy will resemble the following. The present government is for 
the most part a godless one, having rejected the counsel and com- 
mands of the Hindu Shastras. The secularizing state seeks to impose 
its own social pattern in place of the divinely ordained pattern of 
the caste system. The state attacks caste and hence Hindu religion 
(for the two are inextricably tied together) while regimenting the 
individual in religio-social matters. 

" Legislation permitting inter-caste marriages, the high-caste ortho- 
dox Hindu might continue, runs directly counter to the Shastras and 
undermines caste and hence Hinduism. The state coerces the ortho- 

52 Report of the Commissioner jor Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes , 795$- 
> Government of India Press, New Delhi, 1959, pp. 37-42. 

53 Elie Abel, "India's Untouchables Still the 'Black Sin/ " New Yor^ Times 
Magazine > March i, 1959. 



dox man's conscience when it compels him to send his children to a 
school attended by untouchables. The state offends his religious 
scruples when it compels him to use water from a well polluted 
by those who are ceremonially unclean. In short, the present gov- 
ernment's entire policy of breaking down the distinctions between 
varna and avarna (caste and outcaste), confounding the hierarchy 
of caste functioning in accordance with the law of f(0rma, constitutes 
an attack upon the Hindu religion. 

The government's interpretation of its policy is naturally quite 
different. While the historical connection between caste and Hindu 
religion is generally recognized, this aspect of the present problem 
is minimized. Untouchability and caste discrimination in general is 
looked upon as a purely social problem. Certain caste practices clearly 
restrict and injure the individual citizen. The function of the state is 
to protect the individual; it is therefore necessary for the state to 
restrict caste. The state uses its coercive power to punish those who, 
on the ground of caste, would prevent the individual from exercising 
his lawful rights. 

The liberal democratic secular state is above all concerned with the 
welfare of the individual, and religion cannot be allowed to protect 
practices which clearly injure the individual, whether these be human 
sacrifices, sati, temple prostitution, or untouchability. There is no 
necessity for the state to deny the patent fact that the practice of 
untouchability is regarded by many Hindus as a religious duty. 
Whether religion, social custom, or both, if it clearly harms the 
individual in visible and tangible ways, the secular state has every 
right to abolish it. 

Are there, then, no aspects of the caste system which are protected 
from state interference by the principle of religious freedom ? There 
are, chiefly in family and infra-caste matters. The orthodox Hindu 
who abhors inter-caste dining and inter-caste marriages as a matter 
of religious conviction will certainly never be compelled by the 
secular state to participate in such practices in his home. Caste associa- 
tions will continue to enjoy full freedom to carry on their activities 
to advance their respective communities. But as soon as an individual 
or a caste seeks to impose disabilities on other individuals or castes, 
or prevent them from exercising their lawful rights, state inter- 
vention is justified. 

But the orthodox Hindu statement is correct on one important 



point. The ultimate objective of the present government goes far 
beyond the protection of the individual from caste-imposed disa- 
bilities. .Nehru's government is committed to a fundamental recon- 
struction of Indian society along egalitarian lines. Its hostility is 
aimed not only at untouchability but at the caste system in its entirety. 
Nehru wrote in 1945: "In the context of society today, the caste 
system and much that goes with it are wholly incompatible, reac- 
tionary, restrictive, and barriers to progress. There can be no equality 
in status and opportunity within its framework, nor can there be 
political democracy, and much less, economic democracy. Between 
these two conceptions conflict is inherent, and only one of them 

can survive." 54 

Several currents of thought coalesced in the condemnation of 
caste liberalism, democracy, socialism, and others. Increasingly, the 
implications of socialism for Indian society were emphasized. Thus, 
in 1951 Nehru could interpret the Constitution in the following 
terms: "After all, the whole purpose of the Constitution, as pro- 
claimed in the directive principles, is to move towards what I may 
call a casteless and classless society. It may not have been said precisely 
in that way; but that is, I take it, its purpose, and anything that 
perpetuates the present social and economic inequalities is bad." 55 
The Indian National Congress in 1955 adopted as its objective the 
attainment in India of a "socialistic pattern of society." "Casteless and 
classless society" has become a popular catch-phrase in present- 
day India. 

The state is attacking untouchability and other overt expressions of 
caste which are clearly detrimental to the individual. But what can 
the state do about caste as a social system based on endogamous units 
outside of which normal social relations are very limited ? In 1962 
the Kerala state government sanctioned a plan for the grant of finan- 
cial assistance to inter-caste married couples, in cases in which one 
spouse is a member of a Scheduled Caste. This novel method of at- 
tacking untouchability, by promoting such marriages, will surely 
create other problems. 50 The most important step which has been 
taken thus far is the attempt to bring about greater equality through 

64 Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, John Day Company, New York, 
1946, p. 254. 

55 Parliamentary Debates, 1951, part 2, vol. 12, col. 9831. (Italics added.) 

56 The Hindu Weekly Review, July 23 and 30, 1962. 



the special political, educational, and economic rights which have 
been accorded the former untouchable castes. 

Special aid to Harijans 

As we have seen, the state refuses to recognize caste in dealing 
with the individual, and also uses its coercive power to protect the 
individual by preventing certain harmful caste practices. The first 
principle indicates a largely passive role for the state; the second 
indicates an active but negative role. We now come to the third main 
principle; here we see the state assuming an active and positive role. 

The special rights and privileges extended to the Harijans con- 
sist of: (i) reserved seats in legislatures, (2) reserved posts in govern- 
ment service, and (3) special educational and economic aid. 
The Constitution (articles 330, 332, and 334) provides for the reser- 
vation of seats for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes in both 
central and state legislatures. The reservation of seats is proportionate 
as far as possible to their population in the states. This system was to 
last only for a period of ten years from the inauguration of the 
Constitution (1950), but was extended for another ten years by 
the eighth amendment At present the Lok Sabha reserves seventy-six 
of its 500 seats for members of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes. 
These groups constitute about one-seventh of the total population | 
of India, and their representation is roughly the same. There are 1 
also three members of these groups in the Lok Sabha who have been 
elected to unreserved seats by the free choice of the voters. 

The same article which guarantees equality of opportunity for 
all citizens in the field of public employment also contains a pro- 
vision for the reservation of posts. Article 16(4) is as follows: 
"Nothing in this article shall prevent the state from making any 
provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favor of 
any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the state, 
is not adequately represented in the services under the state." 57 In 
1950 the government decided to reserve i2 l / 2 per cent of the civil 
service jobs for Harijans when the recruitment is on an all-India 

57 This is a statement of the principle in negative terms. Article 335, however, 
is a positive directive: "The claims of the members of the Scheduled Castes and 
the Scheduled Tribes shall be taken into consideration, consistently with the 
maintenance of efficiency of administration, in the making of appointments to 
services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a state." 



Special adjustments in qualifications have been made in an effort 
to fill the quota of posts reserved for Harijans. The age limit for 
their recruitment has been raised, their examination fees have been 
drastically reduced, and appointing officers have been given con- 
siderable discretion to waive requirements in the case of Harijan 
applicants. Government employing authorities must submit annual 
reports on the number of Harijans appointed, and cases of default 
are taken up by the commissioner for the Scheduled Castes and 
Scheduled Tribes. 58 A number of the state governments have also 
established quotas for Harijans. Despite such efforts, the Harijans' 
representation in government services has increased very slowly, 
mainly because of the lack of suitable candidates. 

In May 1961 the Supreme Court settled by a majority judgment 
of three to two an important point of interpretation concerning 
article 16(4) of the Constitution. The question was whether the 
phrase "reservation of appointments or posts" enabled the state to 
fix Scheduled Caste quotas for promotions as well as for initial 
appointments. The court decided that it did. The case involved a 
railway employee belonging to a Scheduled Caste. He was rejected 
for a promotion earlier when judged solely on the basis of merit. 
On the strength of the Railway Board's circular providing for com- 
munal reservation in promotion, however, he was advanced to the 
new post. It is inevitable that both efficiency and morale in the 
public services will suffer under a system in which caste, not merit, 
determines to such a large extent the possibilities of advancement. 59 

Statutory devices such as reserved seats in the legislatures or posts 
in the civil service are of but limited usefulness. What the Harijans 
most need is to be strengthened educationally and economically so 
that they can stand on their own feet. The Indian Constitution 
recognizes this fact, and article 46 affirms: "The state shall promote 
with special care the educational and economic interests of the 
weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled 
Castes and the Scheduled Tribes." Active steps have been taken by 
the central and state governments in the implementation of this 
constitutional directive. The states have established Harijan welfare 
departments which administer numerous and varied programs, 
supported in part by sizable grants from the government of India. 

58 India: A Reference Annual 1957, Publications Division, Government of India, 
Delhi, 1 957, pp. 157-150. 

59 The Hindu, April 30 and May 3, 4, and 5, 1961. 



Educational concessions available to Harijan children include 
free tuition, stipends, scholarships, books, stationery, and in some 
cases, clothing and midday meals. Special schools and hostels for 
Harijans have been built. In addition, the central government's 
program of college scholarships for qualified Harijan students has 
produced startling results. In 1954-1955, the number of students 
who received such scholarships was about 10,000; by 1958-1959 the 
figure had risen to over 32,ooo. 60 The Harijan welfare departments 
have undertaken various projects of economic aid: the provision of 
free reclaimed wasteland, irrigation facilities, house sites, wells, 
sanitary amenities, and the establishment of an extensive system of 
credit cooperatives which facilitate the purchase of livestock, ferti- 
lizer, tools, seed, etc. 

We have briefly surveyed the special rights and privileges which 
are being extended to the members of those castes which have suffered 
the greatest disabilities in the past. It is abundantly clear that this 
third main principle is in logical contradiction with the first prin- 
ciple that the state deals with the individual only as a citizen and 
not- on the basis of caste. The first principle is completely sound and 
an essential of the secular state. It is also obviously the more funda- 
mental of the two principles in the structure of the Indian Constitu- 
tion. The third principle therefore comes under suspicion and must 
be examined more closely. 

The provision for reserved seats in the legislatures expires in 1970 
(unless extended by another constitutional amendment, as was done 
in 1960) and hence need not be commented upon at length. As has 
already been pointed out in a slightly different context, the device 
is generally detrimental to the development of secularism. As a 
purely temporary measure toward the solution of a practical prob- 
lem, however, it is not without merit, and it has probably served its 
purpose well in the past twelve years. The provision for reservation 
of posts in the government services, similarly, is not in strict keeping 
with the democratic concept of citizenship, but, as a practical measure, 
has value. The number of civil service jobs reserved for Harijans is 
roughly in proportion to their strength in the total population. The 
arrangement is an equitable one, although it is recognized that it 
does not coincide with the ideal of the secular state. In these areas, 

60 Report of the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes, 1958-1959, pp. 56-57. 



the state resorts to protective discrimination in favor of those who are 
unable to compete with other sections of the population. 

In State of Madras v. Sm. Champakam Dorairajan, 1951, the 
Supreme Court relied on the non-discrimination principle found in 
article 29(2) in invalidating a government order which established 
communal quotas for admission to state educational institutions. 
This decision undermined the legal basis for the system of reservation 
of seats in such institutions for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes 
and necessitated a constitutional amendment. The amendment took 
the form of article 15(4) : "Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of 
article 29 shall prevent the state from making any special provision 
for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward 
classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled 

In defending his proposed amendment in Parliament in 1951, 
Prime Minister Nehru remarked that it meant essentially giving up 
a strict interpretation of equality in favor of the gradual elimination 
of the inequalities to which the backward classes had been subjected. 
Nehru conceded that for the state to deal with people as castes or 
communities did go against certain explicit or implied provisions 
of the Constitution. Nevertheless, the fact was that certain commu- 
nities were socially, educationally, and economically backward, and 
something had to be done for them. In attempting to give them 
special opportunities, the government had come up against court 
decisions which interpreted strictly the constitutional provisions re- 
garding equality and non-discrimination. In raising the backward 
classes equality was the ultimate goal, but the paradox was that 
"in trying to attain equality we come up against certain principles 
of equality laid down in the Constitution." 61 Nehru declared that, 
while aiming ultimately at a casteless society in which individuals 
would not think in terms of group loyalties but of the country at 
large, the government still could not ignore the present divisions in 
Indian social life. 

The crucial point in Nehru's argument was the assertion that 
a close relationship exists between economic backwardness and mem- 
bership in a Scheduled Caste. The government's assumption that 
there is a high correlation between caste status and economic cir- 

61 Jawaharlal Nehru's Speeches, 1949-1953, Publications Division, Government 
of India, New Delhi, 1954, p. 518. 



cumstances has drawn heavy fire from the critics. One editorial in 
The Hindu stated the case very well: "Our governments proclaim 
their fidelity to secularism and their hostility to casteism. Their 
policies for uplifting the backward are, however, fundamentally 
vitiated by identifying backwardness with caste and sub-caste. The 
result is that casteism flourishes, while no attempt is made to find 
out who are really backward and to give them a helping hand ir- 
respective of whether they belong to this or that caste or sect or other 
socio-religious group. Poverty, ignorance, ill-health are to be found 
in every community; and the recognition of the citizen's funda- 
mental rights involves the acceptance by our governments of their 
obligation to remedy the condition of every citizen who is handi- 
capped and not to assume without question that a man must be 
well off because he belongs to a particular community or that an- 
other must be badly off because he belongs to a community which 
the government have chosen to describe as backward." 62 

This same criticism has been voiced in the Lok Sabha from time to 
time. 63 There are well-to-do Harijans, and there are poverty-stricken 
Brahmans. 64 One paper complained of the undemocratic anomalies 
which exist when "many continue to receive benefits by virtue of 
their birth in a Harijan caste irrespective of their economic status, 
while others in real distress are deprived of state help because of 
their traditionally high caste." 65 

Closely related to this point is the criticism that the special aid 
to Harijans tends to perpetuate the caste system by establishing new 
vested interests. The Harijan is not encouraged to forget his un- 
touchable caste background for it is precisely because of it that he 
receives special benefits from the state. For him to surrender his 
membership in one of the Scheduled Castes would mean the loss 
of his children's free tuition in school, his opportunity of acquiring 
free land, etc. 

The inherent contradiction between the Indian government's ob- 
jective of a casteless society and its policy of granting special aid 
on the basis of caste was clearly revealed in a parliamentary debate 

62 The Hindu, August 7, 1955. 

63 See, for example, the comments of Pandit S. C. Mishra, Lo\ Sabha Debates^ 
1955, part 2, vol. 3, col. 5377. 

64 The poor Brahman, in fact, is one of the frequently encountered characters 
in popular Indian literature. 

65 The Guardian, 1954, vol. 32, p. 90. 


in April 1955. A private member's bill entitled the Caste Distinctions 
Removal Bill was introduced by Fulsinghji B. Dabhi. The basic 
object of the measure was to remove caste distinctions among Hindus 
for official and public purposes. This would appear to be completely 
in line with the government's goal of a casteless society. However, the 
bill was immediately attacked by Dr. Monomohan Das, parliamen- 
tary secretary for education (and a Scheduled Castes member), on 
the ground that if the recognition of caste distinctions for official 
purposes were withdrawn, the Scheduled Castes would immediately 
be deprived of their special rights and privileges. How could 
Scheduled Castes be recognized, another M. P. asked, if caste dis- 
tinctions were removed in official matters ? He regarded the bill as 
positively "mischievous." 66 

In April 1960 the government of India sent a circular to the state 
governments asking them not to include any reference to caste or 
sect in registers or forms used for purposes of the public services and 
judicial proceedings. In September of the same year a similar circular 
requested the deletion of such references to caste or sect in application 
forms for admission to schools, colleges, and universities. In both 
circulars an exception was made with respect to the Scheduled 
Castes and Tribes, in order to give effect to the reservations which 
have been made for these sections of the population. General re- 
action to these steps was very favorable; they were interpreted as 
attempts further to implement the principle of the secular state. 
However, backward-classes associations in various parts of the 
country immediately protested the government circulars. Their 
prospects for special aid and reservations, like those of the Scheduled 
Castes, depend entirely on the continued official recognition of caste. 
There is a profound contradiction between the objective of a 
casteless society and the method of elevating the backward on a 
caste basis, 67 

Backward classes to the fore 

Despite such criticisms, some individuals in official circles are 
urging not only the continuation but the extension of this system. 
The Backward Classes Commission was appointed to determine the 
criteria by which any section of the people, in addition to the 

60 LoJ^ Sabha Debates, 1955, P art 2 > v l- 3> co ' s - 5J 2 4'5386. 

67 The Hindu Weekly Review, April 25, 1960; The Hindu, September 28 and 
29, 1960. 



Scheduled Castes and Tribes, could be treated as socially and 
educationally backward. In its report of 1955, a majority of the com- 
mission's members felt that the position held by an individual in the 
social hierarchy based on caste determined the extent and degree 
of backwardness. The commission therefore listed 2,399 additional 
castes which it regarded as backward and recommended that these 
be made eligible for benefits similar to those granted to the Scheduled 
Castes and Tribes. 

The report of the commission is a curious document indeed. The 
chairman, Kaka Kalelkar, in his forwarding letter to President 
Rajendra Prasad upon the submission of the report, repudiated the 
fundamental conclusions of his commission. He wrote that, almost 
at the end of the committee's labors, he realized that the remedies 
suggested were worse than the evils they sought to combat. "I could 
not stem the current of opinion within the commission itself and 
ultimately decided, though reluctantly, to side with the majority 
with whom I had cooperated throughout in formulating remedies 
on caste basis. It is [sic] only when the report was being finalized 
that I started thinking anew and found that backwardness could be 
tackled on a basis or a number of bases other than that of caste." 68 
Kalelkar was driven to this conclusion by observing how Indian 
Christian and Muslim converts, whose respective religions reject 
caste, were nevertheless trying to revive their former caste identities 
with the hope of obtaining government aid. He was also impressed 
by the anomalies created when extremely poor and illiterate members 
of the upper castes were denied state aid on the basis of caste. 

Kalelkar's belated enlightenment (the commission had been at 
work for two years) found eloquent expression in his letter. He 
decided that the whole line of investigation pursued by the commis- 
sion was "repugnant to the spirit of democracy," since in democracy 
it is the individual, not the family or the caste, which is the unit. He 
recommended that the state regard as backward and entitled to 
special educational and economic aid all persons whose total 
family income is less than 800 rupees per year, regardless of their 
caste or community. Kalelkar opposed the reservation of posts for 
the backward classes in the government services, which was recom- 
mended by the commission. 

68 Report of the Backward Classes Commission, Government of India Press, 
Delhi, 1956, vol. i, p. vi. 



The government of India issued a memorandum in which it 
took issue with the findings and recommendations of the commis- 
sion and warned that such an approach would serve to perpetuate 
existing caste distinctions. While statements made by the union 
home minister seemed to support the idea of adopting economic 
criteria for backwardness, no clear-cut policy has yet been announced 
by the central government. 69 Grants and scholarships for members 
of the backward classes are granted by the government of India on 
the basis of recommendations made by the states which maintain 
their own lists of these classes. 

In several of the states the lists of Scheduled Castes and Tribes and 
backward classes now represent a majority of the total population 
of the state. In Andhra Pradesh 55 per cent of the posts in the gov- 
ernment services are reserved for these groups, and the reservation 
extends to promotions as well as initial appointments. 70 But the 
ultimate extension of this principle was reached in Mysore state. In 
the 1956 case of Kesava lyengar v. State of Mysore the High Court 
upheld a government order by which all communities other than 
Brahmans were classified as backward, and seven out of ten govejrn- 
ment jobs were reserved for them. According to a 1959 Mysore 
government order, in addition to the reservation for the Scheduled 
Castes and Tribes, 57 per cent of government posts and of seats in 
technical institutions were reserved for 165 castes and communities 
listed as "Other Backward Classes." A system of rotation was fol- 
lowed in allotting seats in colleges and making appointments to the 
public services. If no eligible candidate from a caste were found for 
a particular opening, candidates were considered from the next 
caste in turn. 71 In 1960, however, the Mysore High Court found 
that this policy violated article 15(4) of the Constitution. 27 It was 
therefore necessary to make a fresh approach to the whole problem. 

In January 1960 the Mysore Backward Classes Committee was 
appointed, with Dr. R. Nagan Gowda as chairman, for the purpose 
of determining the criteria for the classification of the backward 

69 See law minister A. K. Sen's answer in the Rajya Sabha to complaints that 
the central government had not implemented the recommendations of the Back- 
ward Classes Commission. The Statesman, February 22, 1961. 

70 The Hindu, May 8, 1961. 

71 L. M. Shrikant, Report of the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled 
Tribes, 1958-1959, Government of India Press, Delhi, 1959, p. 12. 

72 S. H. Partha and others v. State of Mysore and others, Mysore Law Journal 
1960, p. 159. 


classes in the state. In its interim report submitted a month later, 
the committee recommended that "backward classes should be listed 
only on the basis of their caste or community and their backward- 
ness judged on the basis of the percentage of literacy in the com- 
munity and their representation in government service." 73 

The whole approach, however, has created vested interests in back- 
wardness, and the attempt to reverse the process met with the op- 
position which was expected. The Lingayats, formerly listed as a 
backward community, were deprived of this valuable label by the 
committee's interim report, while a rival community, the Vok- 
kaligas, retained it. The controversial report was attacked from 
public platform and on the floor of the legislative assembly, and 
charges of communal bias were freely made. Lingayat associations 
throughout the state passed resolutions denouncing the discrimina- 
tion against their community and demanding that they be re- 
instated as "backward." 74 The final report of the Nagan Gowda 
committee recommended that the backward communities be divided 
into "backward" and "more backward" classes, and reaffirmed 
the* earlier decision to classify the Lingayats as a forward com- 
munity. But the state government finally gave in under extreme 
pressure and the Lingayats retained their legal status as a backward 
class. 75 

Since the committee had encountered considerable difficulty in 
gathering statistics about the numerous castes and communities in 
the state, it recommended in its final report that the state government 
request the government of India to have caste recorded in the census. 
This was done by the British until the 1941 census, and, as has been 
noted, the practice was condemned by Indian nationalists as a cal- 
culated effort to perpetuate the divisions in Hindu society. 76 

On July 31, 1962 the Mysore government issued an order providing 

78 Mysore Backward Classes Committee: Interim Report, Government Press, 
Bangalore, 1960, p. 3. 
1 ^The Hindu, June 10, 1961. 

75 Mysore Backward Classes Committee: Final Report, Government Press, 
Bangalore, 1961, p. 20. See the note of dissent by M. S. Patil on the classification of 
the Lingayat community, pp. 33-38. The Lingayats, the largest single community 
in the state, constitute 15.6 per cent of the population. Their representation in 
high political office is by no means insignificant; in 1961 the chief minister and 
three other members of the cabinet were Lingayats. Regarding the cabinet decision 
to classify the Lingayats as one of the backward classes, contrary to the committee 
report, sec Deccan Herald, Bangalore, June 29, 1961. 

76 Final Report, p. 26. 



for reservation of 68 per cent of the seats in medical and engineering 
colleges for backward classes and Scheduled Castes and Tribes. The 
order listed 81 "backward classes" and 135 "more backward classes." 
In striking down the order two months later, the Supreme Court de- 
clared that it was "a fraud on the Constitution." The judgment held 
that the classification of backward classes on the sole basis of caste was 
not permitted by article 15(4). Furthermore, the reservation was 
clearly excessive, as it reduced the field of general competition to a 
mere 32 per cent of the seats. The special provision, in other words, 
had so weakened the fundamental rule (equality of opportunity) as 
to rob it of most of its significance. 77 

It is obvious that this approach of the state governments to the 
problem of educational and economic backwardness is based on 
fundamentally unsound premises which must inevitably tend to 
undermine the secular state. Let us for a moment consider how 
the problem of economic need is handled in a modern democratic 
country. In any program of state aid to the underprivileged, the 
ascertainment of the existence and extent of need is a major ad- 
ministrative problem. Many thousands of welfare workers are en- 
gaged exclusively in the task of investigating applications for state 
aid. Each application is filed by an individual, and his case is 
dealt with strictly on the basis of actual proved need. 

India has taken a gigantic administrative shortcut. By identifying 
certain castes as underprivileged, the state has reduced its problem 
to the relatively simple one of verifying a given applicant's mem- 
bership in one of these castes. This procedure is not followed by 
any modern state, even where a high correlation exists between 
economic need and membership in certain religious or ethnic groups. 

Such a correlation does exist, for example, in the case of the 
Negroes in the United States. But the fact that an individual belongs 
to this group does not entitle him to state aid. This would be 
patently unfair, for some Negroes are professional people with high 
incomes, and there are many white tenant farmers in some areas of 
the country whose standard of living is not much above that of 
bare subsistence. But apart from the basic unfairness of such a system, 
it would meet with strong objections from the Negro community 
itself, which would resent the official label of social or economic 

77 The Hindu, September 30, 1962. 



Equality before the law and equal protection of the laws can 
only mean that the state deals with the individual as a citizen and 
not as a member of a group. If the state is concerned about the 
problem of economic backwardness, it must seek to help individuals 
who are economically backward. India's administrative shortcut 
is proving a very costly one, for the price being paid is the per- 
petuation of caste and the general weakening of the foundations 
of the secular state. 

As an example of a sounder approach, in 1955 the government of 
Madras announced its intention to exempt all poor children from 
the payment of school fees in elementary and secondary schools. 
A pupil was to be considered poor if the annual gross income from 
all sources of the parent or guardian did not exceed 1,200 rupees 
(about $255). 78 It was not possible, however, to implement the new 
policy immediately in the higher classes. At the end of 1960, free 
education was available to all children in the state up to the fifth 
standard and to poor children up to the eighth standard. Beyond 
this, free education was available only to children belonging to the 
Scheduled Castes and the backward classes. In February 1961 the 
Madras government resolved to extend free education up to the 
eleventh standard to all poor children. 79 

Bombay state was the first to extend this principle to all levels 
of primary and secondary education. An editorial in the Times of 
India pointed out: "By offering free education at all levels to those 
whose parents' annual income is below 900 rupees, the Bombay 
government has taken a first major step toward destroying the old 
basis of classification and establishing a rational system in which 
financial disabilities rather than caste considerations are the de- 
cisive factors." 80 Similar steps in the field of education are being 
taken in Andhra Pradesh, Mysore, and other states. This sound 
approach, although more difficult to administer, is likely to gain 
increasing acceptance throughout India. 

As India becomes a welfare state in fact as well as in theory, many 
of the present anomalies and injustices will automatically disappear. 
Before too many years will have passed, free elementary and second- 
ary education will be available throughout India. With the extension 
of welfare services to all citizens, caste discrimination by the state 

7 *The Hindu, June 17, 1955. 7d Ibid., March i, 1961. 

80 Times of India, April 17, 1959. 



will cease. The reservation of government jobs, however, is a dif- 
ferent matter. This system cannot be absorbed in a larger scheme of 
things. The only way to end the reservation of posts for caste groups 
is by the painful process of withdrawing such reservations. And it 
can be taken for a certainty that the vested caste interests will op- 
pose this necessary democratic decision tooth and nail, whether it 
comes ten years or fifty years from now. 

The problem of Harijan converts 

The objections to the caste approach to backwardness are re- 
inforced when one considers the uncertainties and injustices which 
have at times characterized official policies toward Scheduled Caste 
converts to other religions. Before the Constitution came into force, 
the special benefits available to Christians of Harijan background 
varied widely from one state to another. For example, in 1946 the 
government of Bombay extended the same educational concessions 
provided for the Scheduled Castes to Christian converts, on the 
ground that they continued under the same social and economic dis- 
abilities after conversion. 81 In the United Provinces some aid was 
available for the converts when classified as backward, rural Chris- 
tians, while Hindu children of the same social background but en- 
rolled as Scheduled Caste members received stipends many times 
greater. 82 The government of Madhya Pradesh issued orders in 1947 
that even individuals classified as members of backward classes 
should cease to be eligible for educational concessions upon their 
conversion (from Hinduism) to another religion. 88 

The Constitution of 1950 should have resulted in a clear, uniform 
policy of equal treatment. Indeed, article 15(1) declares that the 
state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of 
religion, caste, etc. However, the interpretation of other articles 
produced almost the opposite effect. Article 341(1) gives the presi- 
dent the authority to specify by public notification the castes "which 
shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be Scheduled 
Castes." In accordance with this provision the Constitution (Sched- 
uled Castes) Order was promulgated in August 1950. The order 

^National Christian Council Review, 1946, vol. 66, p. 86. 

82 lbid. y 1949, vol. 69, p. 322. 

88 L. M. Shrikant, Report of the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and 
Scheduled Tribes for the Period Ending ^ist December, 7957, Government of 
India Press, New Delhi, 1952, p. 56. 



stated that "no person who professes a religion different from Hindu- 
ism shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste." The 
order went on, however, to include in the list of Scheduled Castes 
several castes which profess Sikhism. 84 

As soon as this order was published, a number of the state gov- 
ernments withdrew whatever educational and economic benefits 
they had been extending to Christians of Scheduled Caste back- 
ground. Representations were made to the president and prime 
minister, who explained that the order applied only to the Sched- 
uled Castes' reserved seats in the legislatures, not to other forms of 
special aid. But the fact remained that in many cases this aid had 
been withdrawn. A memorandum drawn up by the Christian mem- 
bers of Parliament stated in part: "A great source of distress to the 
Christian community has been the refusal, by almost all the state 
governments, to give to Harijan converts to Christianity the educa- 
tional, social and economic assistance which is being given to Hindu 
Harijans. We realize that the Scheduled Caste Christians are not to 
be included in the provision for the reservation of seats in the legis- 
latures which has been judged necessary for the Hindu and Sikh 
Harijans for a time. But the case for economic assistance is based 
on other grounds. It used to be given to Scheduled Caste Christians 
even when they were politically merged with the other Christians. 
They live in the same economic and social conditions as Hindu 
Harijans and need the protection of government as much as the 
others. 5 ' 85 

By dint of innumerable resolutions, representations, and deputa- 
tions to state governments, considerable progress has been made since 
1951 in securing comparable educational and economic assistance for 
Christians of Harijan background. The governments of Andhra 
Pradesh in 1956, and Madras and Kerala in 1957 recognized their 
claims for educational concessions. 86 In some of the states, converts 
from the Scheduled Castes are classified as backward classes and 
given state aid on the same basis as castes included in this category. 
In some cases this is considerably less than the aid extended to the 
Scheduled Castes; significant inequalities continue to exist. It is 

84 The order was amended in 1956. It now excludes persons professing "a religion 
different from the Hindu or the Sikh religion." 

85 N.C.C. Review, 1951, vol. 71, p. 105. 

86 Catholic Bishops' Conference of India: Report of the Meetings of the Standing 
Committee, 1958, St. Mary's Industrial School Press, Bangalore, 1959, pp. 15-16. 



still true, despite improvement in the situation, that it is economically 
far more advantageous to be a Hindu Harijan than a Christian of 
Harijan background. 87 The situation in some places represents a 
significant economic inducement to reconversion to Hinduism, and 
such cases are not unknown. 

In previous chapters we mentioned the mass conversions of Sched- 
uled Castes members to Buddhism, which began under the leader- 
ship of the late Dr. Ambedkar in 1956. The new converts to a re- 
ligion which originated in India experienced precisely the same 
difficulties encountered by those who embraced Christianity. The 
Bombay government passed an order annulling the educational and 
other concessions which were formerly extended to them. A delega- 
tion of eight members of the Scheduled Castes' Federation, who were 
also members of Parliament, met with Prime Minister Nehru in 1957 
in order to plead the case of those converts to Buddhism who con- 
sequently lost their special privileges. The neo-Buddhists began a 
vigorous agitation for the restoration of these privileges. In May 1960 
the bilingual state of Bombay was divided, and the chief minister of 
the new state of Maharashtra promised that the neo-Buddhists would 
be made eligible for all the concessions and facilities available to 
the Scheduled Castes. This promise was fulfilled under the watchful 
eye of R. V. Bhandare, prominent neo-Buddhist and leader of the 
opposition in the Maharashtra legislative assembly. 88 

In Maharashtra, the neo-Buddhists now enjoy an impressive list 
of privileges. They are granted exemption from payment of all 
fees in educational institutions regardless of the family income, re- 
ceive the same scholarships provided for the Scheduled Castes, and 
are admitted to seats reserved for these castes in educational institu- 
tions. They are eligible for the grant of government waste lands for 
cultivation and housing purposes, and for financial help to start 
trades and businesses. However, the success of the neo-Buddhists' 
political agitation in Maharashtra underlines the injustice of the 
whole approach. Christian converts in the same state or Buddhist 
converts in other states, less effective politically, still have not re- 
ceived many of these benefits. 

Neo-Buddhists in Uttar Pradesh and the Punjab are still at- 
tempting to secure the restoration of their old concessions as mem- 

87 See, for example, the memorandum submitted by the Andhra Provincial 
Harijans and Christians Association. N.C.C. Review, 1958, vol. 77, p. 100. 

88 The Hindu, October i, 1960. 



bers of Scheduled Castes. In 1961 the Lok Sabha rejected by a vote 
of 74 to 23 a non-official resolution seeking the extension of educa- 
tional and economic provisions made for Scheduled Castes under 
the Constitution to the neo-Buddhist converts. Supporters of the 
resolution contended that the constitutional safeguards were pro- 
vided because of the backwardness of certain sections of the popula- 
tion and should not be taken away simply because those people 
changed their religion. Those who opposed the resolution claimed 
that this would import the stigma of untouchability into other 
religions. The government opposed the resolution, claiming that in 
so doing the spirit as well as the letter of the Constitution was being 
followed. 89 

The basis for exclusion of Christians and Buddhists from Sched- 
uled Caste aid is that theoretically their respective faiths do not 
recognize caste and hence upon conversion untouchability ceases. 
In point of fact, caste consciousness is rather firmly entrenched 
among many Christian groups, especially in south India, and is 
the source of many problems for the churches. 90 But the most 
significant point is that conversion has not usually led to much im- 
provement in economic status. The converts frequently continue 
to be treated as untouchables by high-caste Hindus. Even if real 
equality does exist within the Christian fold, this group is after all 
a small minority whose members are frequently dependent on 
high-caste employers. 

It is impossible to escape the conclusion that religious discrimina- 
tion is at the bottom of some of the present policies. The Hindu 
Harijans are looked upon as a group which remained loyal to 
Hinduism despite the terrible disabilities which they suffered. They 
resisted the temptation to seek social equality and economic uplift 
through conversion to another religion. The present state aid 
represents Hindu society's long-overdue reward for their faithfulness. 
But the reward would lose much of its significance if granted 
equally to those who have abandoned their ancestral faith. The 
present discrimination in the treatment of Hindu and non-Hindu can 
operate as a powerful deterrent for any Harijan who is contem- 
plating conversion. "Economic inducements," rightly condemned 
if offered by foreign missionaries seeking converts, are now being 

89 The Hindu, April 29, 1961. 

90 See the special number on "Caste in Church and Nation," Religion and Society, 
Bangalore, 1958, vol. 5, no. 3. 



extended by some state governments in such a way as to perpetuate 
the religious status quo. 

It is likely that such considerations play a part in the thinking 
of some legislators and administrators. For the most part, however, 
the politicians and officials are simply unable to get away from the 
whole approach of state aid on the basis of caste and are unwittingly 
drawn into the problems of religious discrimination discussed above. 
The fundamental point is not that Christian and Buddhist converts 
from the Scheduled Castes should be given equal privileges with 
Hindu Harijans. This would simply rectify a few of the numerous 
injustices of the present system. The ultimate solution of the larger 
problem can only come with the complete abandonment of the 
policy of dealing with economic need on the basis of the irrelevant 
factor of caste. Only in this way can the ideal of the secular state 
be approximated. 

Caste in Indian politics 

The chief concern of this chapter has been with government policy 
toward caste. It is clear that at some fundamental points this policy 
has been defective, has tended to strengthen caste consciousness and 
correspondingly weaken the secular state. But various other factors, 
for which government policy cannot be held responsible, tend to 
produce the same result. The basic fact, of course, is that Hindu 
social life, for the vast majority, is still based on caste divisions. 
Caste loyalties are still second only to family loyalties in the thinking 
of the Hindu masses. When an individual moves into the area of 
politics, it is ridiculous to imagine that the basic assumptions of his 
social existence can be left behind. When the masses move into the 
area of active political participation through adult suffrage, caste 
loyalties and prejudices go with them. 

The democratic process enshrined in the Indian Constitution 
has given caste a new lease on life. Caste solidarity makes for bloc- 
voting. The objective of the politician, then, is to secure a majority 
of votes by a careful manipulation of appeals to caste loyalties. To 
maintain the support of an effective combination of such caste in- 
terests is in many parts of India the crux of the political process. 
In the selection of candidates, the formation of ministries, and the 
composition of patronage-dispensing committees and boards, the 
factor of caste is omnipresent. Democratic elections have injected 



new vigor into the life of caste associations and have encouraged the 
proliferation of such organizations. Their political role is already 
a very important one in certain parts of the country. By and large, 
the Congress Party has been as guilty as any other in playing this 
kind of politics, despite frequent resolutions condemning the evils 
of casteism and calling for the emotional integration of the nation. 
Jayaprakash Narayan was hardly exaggerating when he declared 
in 1960 that under the present system of elections, "caste has become 
the strongest party in India." 91 

An excellent recent study of caste associations considered in some 
detail the political role of the Vanniya Kula Kshatriya Sangham 
in Madras state. 92 The Vanniyars are primarily a caste of agri- 
cultural laborers and cultivating owners, but as early as the 1871 
census they had petitioned to be classified as Kshatriyas (the second 
highest caste, traditionally composed of rulers and warriors). By 
dint of several books on the "history" of the caste, the imitation of 
high caste social customs (child marriage, vegetarianism, prohibi- 
tion of widow remarriage), and constant pressure on the census 
authorities, their Kshatriya status was fully recognized in 1931. The 
formal organization of the caste association took place at about the 
same time. The Vanniyars were fairly well prepared for a vigorous 
political role when independence was achieved; they had a well- 
established organization, leaders who understood pressure group 
techniques, and a past history of effectiveness in dealing with the 

Failing to secure guarantees of adequate representation in civil 
service appointments and in Congress Party nominations, the 
Vanniya Kula Kshatriya Sangham decided in 1951 to test its own 
electoral strength. A state-wide caste association conference formed a 
political party called the Tamilnad Toilers Party under the leader- 
ship of N. A. Manikkavelu Naicker and S. S. Ramaswami Padayachi. 
The party soon split over local rivalries, however, and the Vanniyars 
of two districts rallied to the new Commonweal Party formed by 
Naicker. During the elections, the caste organization was effectively 
utilized at the village level to assure solid Vanniyar voting for one 
or the other party. The Commonweal Party captured 6 seats and 

61 Deccan Herald, October 31, 1960. 

02 Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hocber Rudolph, "The Political Role of 
India's Caste Associations," Pacific Affairs, 1960, vol. 33, pp. 5-22. 



the Tamilnad Toilers 19 in the state legislative assembly, giving the 
Vanniyars 13 per cent of the seats (they numbered only 10 per cent 
of the population). Because of the Congress Party's failure to win 
a majority, Naicker and later Padayachi were given cabinet posts 
in exchange for legislative support. With two ministers in the eight- 
man cabinet, both Vanniyar parties were dissolved and their members 
joined the Congress. Similar tactics have been employed by caste 
associations in other states. 93 

Selig S. Harrison's important study sought to establish "the 
crucial importance of caste manipulation as a source of Andhra 
Communist strength." 94 Neither ideologies nor economic interests 
were as important as caste alignments in the 1951 election contest 
between the Congress and the Communists. A single subcaste, the 
Kamma landlords, has provided the leadership of the Andhra Com- 
munist Party since its founding. In the elections, the Communists 
were able to appeal effectively to their Kamma brethren, warning 
them of the Congress dominated by the Reddis (a rival landlord 
caste). "The victorious Communist in 1951 drew on the numbers 
of the landless laborers and protest votes of erstwhile Congress. sup- 
porters, but powerful Kamma backers gave him in a substantial 
number of cases even more decisive support identification with 
village-level authority." 05 However bewildering the whole process 
of elections might be to the villager, the appeal to his caste loyalty 
was something he could understand and respond to. 

These illustrations of the importance of caste in Indian voting 
behavior, however, should not lead one to too broad a generalization. 
Caste is undoubtedly a highly significant factor in elections, but 
it is usually one factor among many, and one which is sometimes 
cancelled out. Thus, in a constituency where one caste is numerically 
very strong, all parties will generally put up candidates belonging to 
that caste. This indeed demonstrates the importance of the caste 

93 The authors of this study argue that the caste association, which has character- 
istics of both the natural and the voluntary group (one must be born in the 
caste and also "join* 1 the association), may serve a useful purpose in the develop- 
ment of democratic political life. "Ironically, it is the caste association which links 
the mass electorate to the new democratic political processes and makes them 
comprehensible in traditional terms to a population still largely politically illiterate." 
Ibid., p. 22. However, in other and more obvious ways the caste association clearly 
tends to undermine the values of secular democracy, as the authors recognize. 

04 Selig S. Harrison, "Caste and the Andhra Communists," American Political 
Science Review, 1956, vol. 50, p. 378. 
p. 395. 



factor, but also its limitations, since the candidates are then forced 
to appeal to the voters on the basis of other considerations. In many 
constituencies the candidates, to secure a majority of votes, must 
appeal to five or six caste groups. The very multiplicity of castes in 
some situations tends to reduce their importance, and the more sig- 
nificant considerations may be economic interests, the personalities of 
the candidates, or purely local issues. 

In the reporting and analysis of political developments, the Indian 
press generally deals with the caste factor in a very matter-of-fact tone. 
Consider, for example, the following account which appeared in 
a weekly news magazine of the Bihar chief minister's visit to New 
Delhi to seek advice on the selection of his cabinet. "The caste 
groups constituted a challenge to the High Command. The Bhumi- 
hars had considered themselves to be the ruling community in the 
state so far and in order to avoid creating in them an impression 
of having been dethroned it was necessary to give them representa- 
tion in the new ministry. But they wanted 'adequate' representation. 
And if they were recognized as a caste group, the Rajputs too 
wanted representation on caste basis, and on par. How could the 
Kayasthas be ignored when their claims were backed by 'high 
quarters?' What are described as backward communities and classes 
claimed privileged positions and their present representation was not 
to be disturbed." 96 The article went on to describe the negotiations 
and the settlement which was reached, and commented that, despite 
its efforts to curb casteism and groupism, the Congress High Com- 
mand ultimately had to recognize and deal with the powerfully 
entrenched caste interests. 

This kind of politics is obviously very different from that re- 
quired by the conception of a secular state. What is the solution? 
In the long run, education, economic development, and nationalism 
will push caste into the background and ultimately eliminate it. 
The forces of modernization will prevail in the end, but caste is 
likely to remain powerful for another generation. 

90 Link, February 19, 1961, pp. 15-16. 

3 2 9 



IN THESE two chapters dealing with law and caste we have noted the 
continuing process by which the state in India is expanding its 
jurisdiction at the expense of traditional Hindu religion. Religion 
has been largely stripped of its authority as the regulator of society. 
Hindu personal law based on the ancient Shastras has been drastically 
modified by legislative acts, and will shortly be discarded altogether 
in favor of a uniform civil code. Caste regulations supported by re- 
ligious texts have been repudiated in favor of a Constitution and 
laws which embody egalitarian principles. These developments are 
of revolutionary significance for the state, religion, and society. From 
the point of view of the state, they mark the emergence of a modern 
sovereign state exercising the full panoply of powers of its western 
model. The consequences for Hindu religion and society need to be 
examined carefully. 

As long as social institutions were totally integrated by Hindu- 
ism, the demand for social change was equivalent to an attack upon 
religion. The protest against social injustice could only be made by 
relatively small religious reform movements which were usually 
later accommodated within Hinduism as new sects, by individual 
religious reformers, or by westernized social reformers who ap- 
proached the problem from a basically secular point of view. Since 
the middle of the nineteenth century, the state has become the prin- 
cipal instrumentality for social reform. Individual Hindus, whether 
motivated by religious or secular considerations, quickly grasped 
its significance as the only agency capable of bringing about some 
of the desired changes. The important point is that Hindu religion, 
apart from the sectarian movements or individual reformers like 
Gandhi, had no prophetic role to play. It was impossible for Hindu 
religion to stand apart and criticize the gross social injustices per- 
petrated by institutions of its own creation, or with which it was at 
least intimately associated. Far from being the critic of society, to a 
large extent religion was society. 

The power to regulate society has now shifted decisively from re- 



ligion to the state. The entire field of law must be brought within 
the state's jurisdiction. Apart from the egalitarian basis of the polit- 
ical structure, legislation is steadily being enacted to further a pro- 
gram of social reform. The welfare state is increasingly assuming 
responsibilities formerly borne by the joint family and caste. Never- 
theless, the state in India recognizes certain definite limits to its 
own jurisdiction. It is not totalitarian in its objectives. The liberal 
and democratic principles on which the state is based assert the pre- 
eminent value of freedom in individual and social life. In the new 
situation which is emerging, society is for the most part free from the 
totalitarianism of both religion and state, although ultimate author- 
ity over it is now firmly held by the latter. 

If society is being liberated from the strangle-hold of static Hindu 
orthodoxy, it is also true that this very process liberates Hindu re- 
ligion from the dead past. While this forcible liberation is painful 
to the orthodox, it opens up new areas of creativity for a reformulated 
Hinduism. Hinduism is now called upon to face a new situation. 
As one element in a free pluralist society, Hindu religion must now 
atterppt to relate its ethical and spiritual resources to a vast array 
of new problems. 

The role of Hinduism is being reduced approximately to that of 
religion in western society : private faith and worship, and corporate 
religious life expressed through voluntary organizations. Hinduism 
must now face the problem which Christianity has had to face 
since the impact of the Industrial Revolution began to be felt. The 
problem is simply whether religion is or can be made relevant to 
the needs of modern society. Having been stripped of its traditional 
regulatory functions within society, must Hindu religion now be 
concerned solely with individual faith and morality, or does it have 
a broader social relevance for the twentieth century ? This is surely 
one of the great challenges which faces Hinduism at the present 

In the West, Christianity has to a limited extent met this challenge 
(i) through the development of a social ethic which relates theology 
to social, economic, political, and international problems, and (2) 
through the working of organizations which seek to influence the 
makers of public policy to pay heed to the imperatives of the social 
ethic. The church is frequently ineffective but rarely silent on the 



great issues of the day; its role as the conscience of society may be 
denied by many, but it cannot be totally ignored. 

There are indeed some notable interpreters of the new Hindu 
social ethic. Gandhi's satyagraha contributed a philosophy and tech- 
nique of effective political action in the nationalist movement, and 
its successful use in the continuing struggle for racial equality in 
parts of the United States illustrates its potency. Vinoba Bhave's 
reinterpretation of Hindu religious values produced his remarkable 
movement of non-coercive land reforms by bhoodan (land-gift). 
The entire Sarvodaya movement, of which this is a part, is evidence 
of the vitality of Hinduism in meeting the challenge. 

However, there is no connection at all between this movement and 
what goes on in the temples and in the festivals which express the 
real religious life of the Hindu masses. Sarvodaya, as a social philos- 
ophy, may well fail to exercise any significant influence on the devel- 
opment of Hindu religion as a whole. The lack of organization in 
Hinduism, to which reference has already been made, makes it dif- 
ficult to introduce any substantial changes except through an outside 
agency the state. The same organizational deficiencies militate 
against the assumption of an effective prophetic role as proclaimer 
of a social gospel, as critic of government and society. Hinduism 
is not lacking in individual prophetic voices, but its corporate in- 
fluence as one factor within a pluralist society is all but nonexistent. 
This would indeed be a radically new role for Hindu religion, and 
the opportunities for creative experimentation are clearly present. 
Hinduism can relate itself meaningfully to society under the new 
circumstances, but it must do so by a completely different process 
than that of the past. 





IN INDIA as in the West, education was for many centuries closely as- 
sociated with religion. William Meston was quite correct when he 
asserted that "the Indian mind finds it hard to think of an education 
worthy of the name which is dissociated from religion. The schools 
of the past owed their distinctive features to what was taught in the 
precincts of Hindu temple and Mohammedan mosque." 1 One may 
therefore expect that education will be one of the most crucial 
areas in which India's commitment to secularism will have to be 
defined. This has indeed been the case in other secular states such as 
France and the United States, where controversy-begetting problems 
continue to appear in one form or another. We must first examine 
the historical background of educational policy in India. 


In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, diverse factors 
contributed to the evolution of the East India Company's educational 
policy. Among these factors were: the role of the former Mughal 
rulers which had presumably been inherited by the British, the sig- 
nificant educational work carried on by Christian missionaries, and 
the open disagreement among the British themselves over the relative 
merits of oriental and western learning. 

Early policy decisions 

At the beginning of the British period, elementary education con- 
sisting of the three R's, and religious teaching was imparted in Hindu 
pathsalas and Muslim ma^tabs. Higher education was confined to 
the study of classical Sanskrit, Persian, and Arabic texts and was 
thus also oriented toward religion. 2 The East India Company was at 

1 William Meston, Indian Educational Policy: Us Principles and Problems, 
Christian Literature Society for India, Madras, 1936, p. 419. 

2 R. C. Majumdar, H. C. Raychaudhuri, and K. Datta, An Advanced History 



first completely unconcerned with education, but it could not long 
evade the traditional duty of an Indian ruler to patronize the classical 
learning of the country. 3 

Accordingly, Warren Hastings encouraged the revival of Indian 
learning by founding in 1781 a school of Islamic studies known as 
the Calcutta Madrasa. Three years later Sir William Jones founded 
the Asiatic Society of Bengal in order to promote classical studies. 
In 1792 the Banaras Sanskrit College was established by the govern- 
ment with the object of preserving and cultivating the literature, 
laws, and religion of the Hindus. Customary stipends were also 
paid to Brahmans and Muslim scholars at various centers. 

Christian missionaries took the lead, however, in establishing 
many elementary and secondary schools in Madras and Bengal. A 
Baptist missionary, William Carey, came to Calcutta in 1793 and 
began establishing schools as soon as his command of the Bengali 
language would permit. By the early nineteenth century a large 
number of missionary societies of different denominations were at 
work in India, and they all founded educational institutions. The 
mission schools, and later colleges, provided education on western 
lines and to a large extent through the English language. Some gov- 
ernment grants were made to the missionary societies for their 
educational work, but these were usually quite small. 4 

The missionaries undoubtedly assumed that the diffusion of true 
knowledge on almost any subject would help to prepare the way 
for the acceptance of Christianity. Thus, as Ingham points out, "the 
introduction of history and geography, taught in the light of western 

of India, Macmillan Company, London, 1950, p. 816. Despite the fundamentally 
religious orientation of traditional Indian education, a valuable experiment was 
undertaken by the emperor Akbar. According to Husain, "Akbar, perhaps for 
the first time in the history of India, opened a large number of government schools 
in which Hindu and Muslim children were taught together through the medium 
of Persian." This system of common education for all citizens necessarily included 
a purely secular syllabus. Among the subjects taught were Persian literature, ethics, 
logic, arithmetic, geometry, physics, medicine, political science, and history. 
This experiment was short-lived, however, for the objective of Hindu-Muslim 
cultural understanding was violently rejected by later Mughal emperors, especially 
Aurangzib. See S. Abid Husain, The National Culture of India, Jaico Publishing 
House, Bombay, 1956, p. 71. 

8 W. H. Moreland and Atul Chandra Chatterjee, A Short History of India, 
Longmans Green, London, 1957, p. 343. 

* Kenneth Ingham, Reformers in India 1793-1833, University Press, Cambridge, 
1956, pp. 59-60. 



knowledge, made possible an attack upon the cosmography of the 
Hindus and so helped to weaken the faith of the students in their 
traditional superstitions/' 5 Along with this indirect approach, there 
was of course the direct instruction in Christian doctrine which was 
compulsory for all students. Regardless of their precise motivation, 
the missionaries' educational contributions were remarkable, and 
more than one modern Hindu writer would be willing to call 
them "noble bands of workers to whom India owes the beginning 
of English education." 6 

William Carey's example was followed by Raja Rammohan Roy 
and other liberal-minded Hindus, and several English schools were 
established by them in Calcutta. When the company's charter was 
renewed in 1813, Parliament directed that 100,000 rupees be set 
apart each year for the "improvement of literature and the en- 
couragement of the learned natives of India, and for the introduction 
and promotion of a knowledge of the sciences among the inhabitants 
of the British territories in India." 7 Parliament's directive thus en- 
visaged financial aid to both oriental and English education. But 
it was not until 1823 that sufficient surplus revenue was available, 
and in that year a Committee of Public Instruction was appointed 
in Bengal. 

The first decision of the new committee was to continue the cau- 
tious policy of leaving undisturbed the cultural traditions of Indian 
society. The committee decided to establish a Sanskrit College in 
Calcutta. The Hindu reformer, Raja Rammohan Roy, vigorously 
and eloquently protested this decision in an historic petition to the 
governor-general. The proposed Sanskrit College, he wrote, could 
only be expected "to load the minds of youth with grammatical 
niceties and metaphysical distinctions of little or no practical use 
to the possessors or to society. The pupils will there acquire what was 
known two thousand years ago with the addition of vain and empty 
subtleties since then produced." 8 Rammohan Roy expressed the 
hope that the sum of money set aside for education might be used 
to employ European gentlemen of talent to instruct the Indians in 

6 ibid., p. 67. 

6 Majumdar, op. cit. y p. 816. 
* Ibid., p. 817. 

8 William Theodore dc Bary, ed., Sources of Indian Tradition, Columbia Uni- 
versity Press, New York, 1958, p. 593. 



mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry, anatomy, and other 
useful sciences. 

The Sanskrit College was, however, established. Yet the argu- 
ments and example of both liberal Hindus and Christian missionaries 
in support of western education were not without effect. The Com- 
mittee of Public Instruction became divided into two camps: the 
"Orientalists," who favored the policy then prevailing, and the 
"Anglicists," who urged the adoption of liberal education on 
western lines through the medium of English. 

The appointment of Thomas Babington Macaulay in 1834 as 
president of the committee turned the tide in favor of the Anglicists. 
Declaring that "a single shelf of a good European library was 
worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia," Macaulay 
was able to convince the governor-general of the rightness of his 
position. 9 In 1835 the decision was made: the existing oriental insti- 
tutions were to continue, but with sharply reduced grants; hence- 
forth the available public funds were to be spent in importing "a 
knowledge of English literature and science." 

The British policy of religious neutrality in India had been de- 
clared some years before this historic decision. 10 What were the 
religious implications of the government's new educational policy ? 
Macaulay dealt with this problem in his famous "Minute on Educa- 
tion" quoted above. The Orientalists had argued that the study of 
Sanskrit and Arabic should receive special encouragement because 
these were the languages in which the sacred books of Hinduism and 
Islam were written. Macaulay noted: "Assuredly it is the duty of 
the British government in India to be not only tolerant, but neutral 
on all religious questions." But, he went on to argue, from an educa- 
tional point of view one could not justify the teaching of a barren, 
sterile body of learning simply because of its close connection with 
religion. He ridiculed the Orientalists by exclaiming, "We are to 
teach false history, false astronomy, false medicine, because we find 
them in company with a false religion." 11 

Macaulay went on to suggest that the principle of religious neu- 
trality must be applied to the government's policies toward Hindu- 
ism as well as toward Christianity. "We abstain, and I trust shall 

g Ibid., p. 597. 

10 Discussed in detail in chapter 3. 

11 de Bary, op. cit., p. 600. 



always abstain, from giving any public encouragement to those who 
are engaged in the work of converting natives to Christianity. And 
while we act thus, can we reasonably and decently bribe men out 
of the revenues of the state to waste their youth in learning how they 
are to purify themselves after touching an ass, or what text of the 
Vedas they are to repeat to expiate the crime of killing a goat?" 12 

While Macaulay's basic position was that English education was 
intrinsically superior, and would be vastly more productive of an 
improved social and material life for India, he was well aware of 
the secularizing effect it would have. "No Hindu who has received 
an English education ever remains sincerely attached to his religion," 
he wrote in 1836. "It is my firm belief that if our plans of education 
are followed up, there will not be a single idolater among the respect- 
able classes in Bengal thirty years hence. And this will be effected 
without any effort to proselytise; without the smallest interference 
in their religious liberty; merely by the natural operation of 
knowledge and reflection." 13 Indeed, Macaulay and Bentinck, the 
governor-general, shared with many others the belief that a purely 
secular western education would ultimately result in the Christianiza- 
tion of India. 14 This was regarded, however, as the inevitable by- 
product not the basic object of English education. History has 
proved Macaulay mostly right as regards the secularization and 
westernization of the Indian elite, but wrong on the question of its 
religious conversion. 15 

The principle of religious neutrality was explicitly applied to the 
government's new educational policy almost immediately. Before 
leaving India in 1835, Lord William Bentinck was honored in a 
farewell address presented by some of the missionaries. In his reply 
Bentinck asserted: "The fundamental principle of British rule, the 
compact to which the government stands solemnly pledged, is 
strict neutrality. To this important maxim, policy as well as good 
faith have enjoined upon me the most scrupulous observance. The 
same maxim is peculiarly applicable to general education. In all 
schools and colleges supported by government, this principle cannot 

12 Loc. at. 

13 James Johnston, Our Educational Policy in India, John Maclaren and Son, 
Edinburgh, 1880, p. 36. 

14 Arthur Mayhew, Christianity and the Government of India, Faber and Gwyer 
Ltd., London, 1929, pp. 165-166. 

15 dc Bary, op. cit. 9 p. 589. 



be too strongly enforced. All interference and injudicious tampering 
with the religious belief of the students, all mingling of direct or 
indirect teaching of Christianity with the system of instruction 
ought to be positively forbidden." 16 This policy was so rigorously 
applied that, up to 1854, the Bible was even excluded from the 
libraries of government schools. Furthermore, the teachers were 
strictly forbidden to give any explanation of the Bible or Christianity, 
even if asked by the pupils. 17 

Thus, strange as it might at first appear, India became one of 
the very first countries in the world to develop a system of secular 
public schools. In a book published in 1872, Arthur Howell com- 
mented on "that most remarkable feature in Indian education, the 
religious neutrality of the government." 18 Whether this policy was 
a wise one or not was a complex question ; Howell was chiefly con- 
cerned at this point with its uniqueness: "But it is, I believe, ab- 
solutely without precedent or parallel elsewhere, besides being 
entirely opposed to the traditional idea of education current in the 
East. In Europe, it is almost an axiom that the connection of any state 
system of education with religion is not the mere result of tradijion; 
'it is an indissoluble union, the bonds of which are principles in- 
separable from the nature of education.' This is admitted almost 
universally." 19 Howell then went on to describe the close connection 
between religion and education in Europe. He pointed out that in 
Germany, for example, religion had always been a standard subject 
in the elementary schools, and that the teacher's religion had to 
correspond to that of the majority of his pupils. The American 
system, "while repudiating all doctrinal or dogmatic teaching, pro- 
vides everywhere for the regular daily reading of the Bible and for 
prayer." 20 

The dispatch of 1854 

The dispatch of Sir Charles Wood, dated July 19, 1854, laid the 
foundations of present-day India's educational system. This "Magna 

16 Quoted in Arthur Howell, Education in British India, Superintendent of 
Government Printing, Calcutta, 1872, p. 34. 

17 Mayhevv, op. cit., p. 178, and Eugene Stock, The History of the Church Mis- 
sionary Society, Church Missionary Society, London, 1899, vol. 2, p. 240. 

18 Howell, loc. cit. 

19 Howell's quotation is from J. K. Shuttleworth, Public Education, p. 290. 

20 Howell, op. cit., p. 35. It was not until 1962 that the United States Supreme 
Court declared that it was unconstitutional for the state of New York to prescribe 
a short non-sectarian prayer for use in the public schools. 



Charta of Indian education," as it has been called, provided for 
a coordinated system of elementary, secondary, and higher educa- 
tional institutions. The policy of religious neutrality was reaffirmed. 
Religious instruction in government institutions was forbidden, for 
as these "were founded for the benefit of the whole population of 
India . . . the education conveyed in them should be exclusively 
secular." 21 

It should be noted that this principle was under constant fire from 
several quarters, Indian as well as European. One of the most out- 
spoken of the Christian missionaries, Dr. Alexander Duff, made 
the following comment before a committee of the House of Lords 
in 1853: "While we rejoice that true literature and science are to be 
substituted in place of what is demonstrably false, we cannot but 
lament that no provision whatever has been made for substituting 
the only true religion Christianity in place of the false religion 
which our literature and science will inevitably demolish." 22 Indians, 
on the other hand, found the exclusion from the curriculum of their 
respective religions equally distasteful, so that complaints of "godless 
" were heard on all sides. 

A new feature of educational policy introduced by the dispatch 
was the system of government grants-in-aid to private institutions. 
It was recognized that the government alone was financially unable 
to undertake the whole educational task. Government schools and 
colleges would therefore provide the educational models, and the 
grants-in-aid the stimulus to encourage voluntary effort. Aided 
private schools had to comply with official regulations and were sub- 
ject to government inspection. 

These aided schools might be conducted by Hindus, Muslims, 
Christian missionaries, or others, and the managers were at liberty 
to provide whatever religious instruction they desired without gov- 
ernment interference. The inspectors of the education departments 
were strictly required to take "no notice whatsoever ... of the re- 
ligious doctrines that may be taught in any school." 23 An educa- 
tionally sound private institution would be equally entitled to gov- 

21 Selections from Educational Records, Bureau of Education, Calcutta, 1920, vol. i, 

pp. 388-389- 

22 Report of the University Education Commission, Government of India Press, 
Simla, 1950, vol. i, p. 288. 

23 Bhagwan Dayal, The Development of Modern Indian Education, Orient 
Longmans, Bombay, 1955, p. 455. 



ernment aid whether it taught the religion of the Bible, the Shastras, 
or the Koran. 

While this principle of strict impartiality was clearly enunciated 
and faithfully adhered to, the immediate effect of the grant-in-aid 
system cannot be overlooked. The various religious communities 
were unequally prepared for this new educational opportunity. The 
Christian missionary schools were in a position to take immediate 
advantage of it. In fact, at that time the missionary institutions con- 
tained four times as many pupils as the government schools. Ingham 
states that in 1854 the latter had only 12,000 students, while the 
number of mission school pupils had exceeded this figure a genera- 
tion earlier. 24 Schools under Hindu or Muslim auspices, by contrast, 
were few. 

It is undeniable that the system of government grants to mis- 
sionary schools contributed to the propagation of Christianity. When 
a new elementary school was opened in a village, the Indian Chris- 
tian who was placed in charge of it was expected to be an evangelist 
as well as a teacher. Bishop Stephen Neill frankly stated the facts: 
"The church in south India has been largely built up by the work 
of the village teacher-catechist, by far the greater part of whose 
salary has been met from government grants." 25 The educational 
work in itself was undoubtedly of great value, and this was what 
the government was supporting. But in the earlier period, the mis- 
sionary school was often more important as a base for Christian 

The policy of excluding religious instruction from the curriculum 
of government schools was challenged and reaffirmed from time to 
time. In 1858, on the occasion of the transfer of the government of 
India from the company to the British crown, the Church Mission- 
ary Society presented a memorial to Queen Victoria. The queen was 
urged to declare that since the adoption of the Christian religion 
would be of "incalculable benefit" to the people of India, the gov- 
ernment's policy henceforth would be to use any legitimate measures 
for bringing that religion to their attention. In particular, the memori- 
alists suggested that the queen's declaration should include the an- 
nouncement "that the Bible will be introduced into the system of 
education in all the government schools and colleges, as the only 

24 Ingham, op. cit., p. 66. 

25 Stephen Neill, East and West Review, April 1954, p. 35. 



standard of moral rectitude, and the source of those Christian prin- 
ciples upon which your Majesty's government is to be conducted." 20 
Victoria's proclamation of that same year, however, emphatically re- 
affirmed the principle of religious neutrality, to the disappointment 
of the missionaries. 

But the exclusion of religious teaching from government schools 
was also criticized on other grounds. Many British writers, regard- 
less of their personal religious beliefs, were convinced that India's 
moral welfare could not be furthered without regular religious in- 
struction in Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, or whatever religion 
the pupils might profess. Arthur Howell wrote that "it seems a 
tremendous experiment for the state to undertake . . . the direct 
training of whole generations above their own creed, and above that 
sense of relation to another world upon which they base all their 
moral obligations." 27 James Johnston, zealous Christian though he 
was, readily admitted the useful role of Hinduism and Islam in 
upholding public and private morality. 28 The whole moral fabric of 
society seemed to be imperiled by an educational system which at- 
tempted to teach morality apart from religion. 

The Commission of 1882 

The report of the Indian Education Commission explicitly recog- 
nized the limitations and inadequacies of an educational system 
which excluded religious teaching. Religious feeling in India was 
so inflammable, however, and sectarianism so prevalent, that no 
departure from existing policy could be recommended. The religious 
neutrality of the state forbade the teaching of one faith, and the 
alternative of providing instruction in the several religions of the 
country involved insuperable practical difficulties. However, the com- 
mission recommended the preparation of a textbook on morality based 
on the principles of "natural religion." In a vigorous note of dissent, 
K. T. Telang, an Indian member of the commission, rejected this 
proposal. 29 

26 Julius Richter, A History of Missions in India, Oliphant, Anderson and Ferrier, 
Edinburgh, 1908, pp. 207-208. 

27 Howell, op. cit. y p. 35. 

28 Johnston, op. cit., pp. 9-10. 

20 Report of the Indian Education Commission: Appointed by the Resolution of 
the Government of India dated yd February 1882, Superintendent of Government 
Printing, Calcutta, 1883, P- 614. 



The government of India also rejected it in a resolution passed 
in 1884, "It is doubtful whether such a moral textbook as is proposed 
could be introduced without raising a variety of burning questions; 
and strongly as it may be urged that a purely secular education is im- 
perfect, it does not appear probable that a textbook of morality, 
sufficiently vague and colorless, to be accepted by Christians, Moham- 
medans and Hindus would do much, especially in the stage of col- 
legiate education, to remedy the defects or supply the shortcomings of 
such an education." 80 

The commission felt that the emphasis in the educational system 
should be shifted from the maintenance of government schools to 
the aiding of privately managed institutions. Hence it recommended 
the "progressive devolution of primary, secondary and collegiate 
education upon private enterprise and continuous withdrawal of 
government from competition therewith." Government institutions 
were to be gradually transferred to responsible local bodies com- 
posed chiefly of Indians. The commission explicitly excluded mis- 
sionary societies from this new role, recording its unanimous opinion 
that "departmental institutions of the higher order should not be 
transferred to missionary management." The missionaries them- 
selves, both those on the commission and those who appeared as 
witnesses, were in unanimous accord on this point. 31 

Rather inconsistently, however, the commission envisaged the 
imparting of religious instruction in the institutions to be taken 
over by local Indian committees, and listed "the encouragement to 
religious instruction" as one of the advantages to be gained from 
government withdrawal. 32 In effect, then, the new policy would have 
resulted in greatly increased activity in the teaching of Hinduism 
and Islam, the religions professed by the vast majority of the pupils. 
The question is an academic one, however, since the new policy was 
never implemented and was later officially abandoned. 33 The number 
of both government and aided educational institutions increased 
steadily during the early decades of the twentieth century. ^ 

80 Government of India Resolution No. 10/309, dated October 2, 1884. 

81 James Johnston, Abstract and Analysis of the Report of the Indian Education 
Commission, Hamilton, Adams and Company, London, 1884, p. 76. 

82 Report of the Indian Education Commission, p. 460. 
88 Dayal, op. cit., p. 259. 



Grants-in-aid and religious instruction 

It might be well at this point to consider some of the implications 
of the grant-in-aid system, so important in Indian education from 
1854 to ^e present. As has been pointed out, the grants-in-aid were 
given to all sound educational institutions in support of the secular 
instruction imparted, regardless of the particular religion which was 
also taught. This strict impartiality satisfied the requirements of 
the British policy of religious neutrality. But did the system meet 
the standard set by the conception of separation of church and state, 
or the secular state, as defined in our first chapter ? 

This interesting question was debated by American Baptist mis- 
sionaries in India as early as 1893, but no clear-cut answer was found. 
In 1919 the problem was taken up again at the Telugu Baptist Mission 
Conference. The findings of the conference were contained in a state- 
ment which frankly acknowledged certain inconsistencies in the 
application of Baptist principles at home and abroad. "After making 
all due allowance for the difference in the two systems as followed in 
America and in India, free schools under public management against 
privately managed schools under grants-in-aid, it may still be difficult 
to explain how a religious body like the Baptists, who believe in 
liberty of conscience and in the entire separation of church and state, 
can make the study of the Bible compulsory in its mission schools, and 
how it can accept state aid for maintaining those schools." 34 

The pressure was intensified when the Northern Baptist Con- 
vention, meeting at Buffalo, New York, in June 1920, adopted a 
resolution calling for an amendment to the United States Constitu- 
tion. The proposed amendment provided for a more perfect ap- 
plication of the principle of complete separation of church and state, 
especially as it applied to the use of state funds for support of schools 
and other institutions under ecclesiastical management. In January 
1922 the representatives of the various American Baptist missions 
in India gave further consideration to the question. The joint con- 
ference affirmed its agreement with the proposed constitutional 
amendment. It expressed the hope that India would in time develop 
a universal system of government schools and disavowed any intention 

34 Report of the Joint Conference of Representatives of the American Baptist 
Missions in British India on Policy Regarding Government Grants-in-aid y Baptist 
Mission Press, Calcutta, 1922, p. 12. 



of perpetuating its system of mission schools through grants-in-aid 
beyond the transitional period. 

The key resolution of the joint conference, however, was as 
follows: "That we recognize that the acceptance of grants-in-aid is 
not in perfect accord with the historic Baptist principle of the 
separation of church and state as applied in a resolution of the 
Northern Baptist Convention adopted at Buffalo on June 29, 1920. 
We maintain, however, that the subject of the acceptance of grants-in- 
aid from the government in India cannot be properly dealt with by 
the same arguments as would apply to the discussion of the relation 
of church and state in America." 35 The sharply divided conference 
passed the resolution by a vote of six to five. 

Closely related to the question of grants-in-aid to educational insti- 
tutions managed by religious groups is the problem of compulsory 
religious instruction for the pupils in such institutions. The Indian 
Education Commission of 1882 had recommended the adoption of a 
"conscience clause" by which, under certain circumstances, pupils 
could be excused from religious instruction. This recommendation, 
however, was not implemented by the government of India. 

Henry Whitehead, the Anglican bishop of Madras, devoted a 
chapter to the question of a conscience clause in a book published 
in 1924. He took note of the dilemma which confronted some of 
the British free church missions working in India (very similar to 
that of the American Baptists mentioned above). He observed: "It is 
perhaps a little difficult for those Christian churches, that have 
in times past vigorously protested in England against any grants 
being given to schools in which denominational teaching was made 
compulsory, to reconcile their principles in England with their ac- 
ceptance of grants for missionary schools in India." 36 But the bishop 
himself claimed to see no infringement of the principle of religious 
neutrality, since the grants were given to the institutions of all 
religious bodies alike with strict impartiality. 

He did concede, however, that the position of the Indian nation- 
alists who were agitating for a conscience clause was "quite intel- 
ligible." If a conscience clause was considered fair and just in 
England, why not in India ? "Why, it is asked, should Hindus and 

86 Henry Whitehead, Indian Problems in Religion, Education and Politics, 

Constable and Company, London, 1924, p. 189. 



Mohammedans contribute out of their taxes towards the maintenance 
of schools which are established in order to propagate a religion that 
they dislike ? If Christians of one denomination may reasonably ob- 
ject to contributing through their taxes to the support of schools 
in which the doctrines of another Christian denomination are 
taught, is it not reasonable for Hindus and Mohammedans to ob- 
ject to contributing through their taxes to the support of schools and 
colleges in which Christianity is compulsorily taught?" 37 Whitehead 
stated the case for the opposing viewpoint much more convincingly 
than his own. 

The essence of his rebuttal was that the government would have 
to increase its budget for education by 30 per cent if the missionary 
schools and colleges were closed. It would be a serious blow if the 
government had to provide direct instruction for the many thou- 
sands of Hindus and Muslims then being educated in mission institu- 
tions. Yet the latter might well be closed if a conscience clause were 
introduced, for their basic purpose was religious; the supporters 
of missionary work in Great Britain would never subscribe a penny 
to provide a cheap secular education for Hindus and Muslims. 88 
Hardly a statement of high principle! 

During the British period the government of India never enacted 
a conscience clause; various provincial governments did, however. 
In 1920 the United Provinces forbade making religious instruction 
in Christian schools compulsory. Each student was given the right 
to be excused from the classes in religion on the request of his 
parent or guardian. Similar regulations were subsequently intrcb 
duced in various other parts of India. 89 

Having surveyed the main lines of development of educational 
policy in relation to religion in the British period, we shall now turn 
our attention to the policies of independent India. To a great extent 
the problems are the same, and the solutions being found are also 
generally similar, with certain notable exceptions. 


The dominant pattern regarding religious instruction which 
emerged from the British period was twofold: no such teaching in 

87 Ibid., p. 191. 

3S Ibid. 9 p. 192. 

89 National Christian Council Review, 1947, vol. 67, p. 474. 



government schools and instruction in one religion only (that of 
the management) in private aided schools. A third possibility, how- 
ever, was explored in several private institutions patterned after the 
British "public schools." Aitchison College in Lahore, for example, 
regarded the necessity for religious instruction as "axiomatic." Ac- 
cordingly, a temple, gurdwara, and mosque were maintained in the 
college compound for the use of the Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim 
students. Services of worship were conducted every morning and 
evening by a pandit, bhai, and moulvi, and attendance was required 
unless parents expressed a desire to the contrary. Regular classes 
in religion were conducted by three senior Indian masters, who 
instructed the pupils in their respective scriptures, history, beliefs, 
prayers, and observances. 40 

This arrangement of having the institution provide instruction in 
the pupils' respective creeds was also quite compatible with the 
principle of religious neutrality, as some interpreted it. With the 
attainment of independence, this and other possibilities were actively 
considered by those in authority. Despite the history of the past 
century, there was no foregone conclusion as to how the ques.tion 
of religious instruction in government schools would be answered. 

Proposals for religious instruction 

One of the most significant statements was made in January 1948 by 
the late Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, minister for education in the 
government of India, and a devout Muslim. Addressing the Central 
Advisory Board of Education, Azad declared that India's difficulties, 
unlike those of Europe and America, were not due to materialism 
and rationalism but rather to religious fanaticism. But the solution 
to this problem did not lie in a purely secular curriculum for govern- 
ment schools, for if this path were followed people would naturally 
try to provide religious education for their children through private 

But what could be expected of these private teachers of religion ? 
Azad asserted that most of them were literate but not educated, and 
to them "religion means nothing but bigotry." The conclusion to 
which the rnimsterof education was led by this line of reasoning was 
as follows: "If we want to safeguard the intellectual life of our 

40 The Indian Public School: An Outline of the Aims of Members of the Indian 
Pvblic Schools Conference, Oxford University Press, Bombay, 1942, pp. 74-77. 

34 8 


country against this danger, it becomes all the more necessary for us 
not to leave the imparting of early religious education to private 
sources. We should rather take it under our direct care and super- 
vision. No doubt, a foreign government had to keep itself away 
from religious education. But a national government cannot divest 
itself of undertaking this responsibility." 41 

Prime Minister Nehru, however, strongly disagreed with this 
proposal. The Constituent Assembly also disagreed, and so article 
28(1) of the Constitution of 1950 simply declares: "No religious 
instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly 
maintained out of state funds." But this statement in the Consti- 
tution has by no means laid the matter to rest. On the contrary, a 
constant flood of misgivings and protests, emanating from official 
as well as private circles, has questioned the desirability of the present 

The late John Matthai, vice-chancellor of Bombay University, 
referred in a convocation address to the inadequacy of general secular 
education and noted: "Religion has a place in the formation of right 
motives which is of greater importance than is recognized in this 
age of the cult of the intellect." 42 S. R. Das, chief justice of India 
until 1959, declared in a public address that "education which does 
not bring any spiritual enlightenment is not education at all." While 
noting the restriction imposed by article 28 of the Constitution, Das 
stated, nevertheless, that education with a spiritual orientation was 
a vital necessity, and that religious instruction should commence 
early in life. 43 

C. Rajagopalachari, India's last governor-general, declared in 1957 
that there should be no divorce between school and religion in the 
early training of the child. He asserted that even the present secular 
government could be persuaded to change its mind if enough 
people demanded that religion be taught in the schools. 44 Rukmini 
Devi Arundale, in her contribution to a symposium on education 
published by the government of India, complained: "India's basis 
and root are in religion, yet we do not allow religious education. 

41 Speeches of Maulana Azad 1947-55, Publications Division, Government of India, 
Delhi, 1956, p. 25. 

42 The Hindu Weekly Review, September 10, 1956. 
^Educational India, December 1958. 

44 Christian Century, 1957, vol. 74, p. 368. 



Just because the religious spirit has deteriorated we decide to give up 
the whole basis of our civilization." 45 

Dr. Sampurnanand, then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, pre- 
sented a Hindu religious and philosophical view of education in the 
same publication. He expounded the following thesis: "The 
highest object of a man's life should then be mokjha and his life 
so molded as to be an embodiment of dharma. . . . This being the 
purpose of human life, the purpose of education itself is clearly 
defined. A system of education will be judged by the extent to which 
it equips a man to achieve this object." 46 Sampurnanand went on 
to suggest the best metaphysical basis for religion, society, and 
therefore education: "The whole universe is one organism, we are 
all indissolubly connected with one another as cells in the body of the 
Universal Being. Like the blood-stream which gives nourishment 
equally to all parts of the body, we are all bathed in, and derive 
sustenance from, the Super-Prana, the Divine Spirit." 47 The chief 
minister saw a bright future for Indian education if it could sur- 
mount the obstacles of "a false emphasis on secularism" and "spurious 
intellectualism." India would have to break free from the leading 
strings of the West, ignore the accusation of revivalism, and devote 
herself to the remolding of the whole educational system on the 
basis of dharma. 

The growing demand for religious instruction in independent 
India was not at all reflected in the 1953 report of the Secondary 
Education Commission. The commission dealt with this subject in 
a very brief section; it referred to the nature of the secular state, 
the relevant provisions of the Constitution, and the limitations of 
the classroom approach to moral and religious teaching. The com- 
mission cited with approval the practice followed in some schools 
of holding a daily assembly of all teachers and pupils, when a 
"general non-denominational prayer" is offered. But apart from 
this, religious instruction would have to be organized on a private 
basis. 48 

45 Rukmini Devi Arundale, chapter in The Future of Education in India, Publica- 
tions Division, Government of India, Delhi, 1956, p. 48. 
40 Dr. Sampurnanand, chapter in ibid., p. 73. 

/</., P. 74. 

48 Report of the Secondary Education Commission, Government of India, Delhi, 
1953, P- 134- 



The Radhafyishnan report 

The University Education Commission, on the other hand, went 
into the subject of religious instruction in great detail. The chairman 
of this ten-man commission was Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, and chapter 8 
of the report ("Religious Education") clearly bears the imprint 
of his philosophical and religious convictions. The basic line of 
reasoning developed in the chapter may be analyzed as follows: 
(i) dogmatic religion leads to conflict; (2) religious conflict leads 
to the secular state; (3) the secular state bans only dogmatic religious 
instruction in state schools; (4) the state can and should provide 
for the teaching of universal religion. These four steps of the argu- 
ment should be considered in greater detail. 

First, dogmatic religion leads to conflict. The existence of differing 
dogmatic creeds has in the past tended to produce intolerance. "Other 
religions may teach the same doctrines, even use the same words, 
but still we were taught that the one Voice came from Heaven and 
the other from the opposite region." 49 Divisive creeds and group 
loyalties thus encouraged social disharmony and the spirit of strife. 

Second, religious conflict leads to the secular state. The report 
presents an extremely negative interpretation of the origin of the 
secular state. "The abuse of religion has led to the secular conception 
of the state." 50 It is specifically stated that the difficulties through 
which India had passed in recent years (Hindu-Muslim and other 
communal conflicts) led to the adoption of the principle of the 
secular state, as found in the American and Australian Constitutions. 
Most interpreters of the principle in those countries, however, would 
regard it as a great achievement for the protection of the individual's 
freedom of conscience. The commission seemed almost to regard the 
secular state as a necessary evil. 

Third, the intention of the secular state "is not to ban all religious 
education but to ban dogmatic or sectarian religious instruction in 
state schools." 51 Since this is the only kind of religion which creates 
conflict and necessitates the secular state, the teaching of dogmatic 
religion alone is prohibited by the Indian Constitution. "To prescribe 

40 The Report of the University Education Commission, Government of India 
Press, Simla, 1950, p. 294. 
60 Loc. cit. 
* l Loc. cit. 



dogmatic religions in a community of many different faiths is to 
revive the religious controversies of the past. To turn the students 
over to theologians of different denominations for instruction in the 
conflicting systems of salvation is to undermine that fellowship of 
learning which defines a college or a university." 52 

Fourth, the state can and should provide for the teaching of 
universal religion. The idea of universal religion is held to be one of 
the central features of "the Indian view of religion." There is no 
constitutional problem, for "the adoption of the Indian outlook on 
religion is not inconsistent with the principles of our Constitution." 53 
This view of religion regards the various historic faiths as simply 
diverse expressions of the hunger of the human heart for the Infinite. 
The report urges a syncretistic approach: "A religion worthy of 
the all-embracing God must harmonize all faiths in one universal 
synthesis." This would necessitate at the very least a new interpreta- 
tion of historical uniqueness, for "if religion concerns itself with 
peculiar historical events, there is not much meeting ground among 
followers of different religions who adopt different historical events 
as their religious bases." 54 

The report rejects the view that moral instruction can take the 
place of religion in the educational curriculum. Furthermore, "if 
we exclude spiritual training in our institutions we would be untrue 
to our whole historical development." 55 Near the end of the chapter 
the question of the secular state is once more raised but quickly 
disposed of: "The absolute religious neutrality of the state can be 
preserved if in state institutions, what is good and great in every 
religion is presented, and what is more essential, the unity of all 
religions." 50 

The report makes four recommendations. The first is that all 
educational institutions begin each day with a few minutes of 
silent meditation. Second, that the lives of great religious leaders 
like Gautama the Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, Jesus, Ramanuja, 
Mohammed, Gandhi, etc., should be studied in the first year of the 

52 Ibid., p. 296. 5S I bid., p. 295. 6 * Ibid., p. 298. 

55 Ibid., p. 299. Note also the earlier statement: "We do not accept a purely 
scientific naturalism as the philosophy of the state. That would be to violate our 
nature, our svabhava, our characteristic genius, our svadharma. Though we have 
no state religion, we cannot forget that a deeply religious strain has run throughout 
our history like a golden thread." Ibid., pp. 294-295. 

56 Ibid., p. 302. 

35 2 


degree course. Third, that selections "of a universalist character" 
from the scriptures of all religions be studied in the next year. 
"We should not prescribe books which feel an obligation to prove 
that their religion is true and often that it alone is true." 57 Finally, 
that various problems of the philosophy of religion be considered in 
the third year. 

In a previous chapter we have discussed the limitations of a syn- 
cretistic view of religion as the theoretical basis for the secular 
state. 58 These limitations are equally relevant to the question of 
religious instruction in state schools. The commission rejects the 
teaching of the dogmas of individual sectarian religions as opposed 
to "the critical methods of inquiry followed in other disciplines of 
the curriculum." 59 Rather, what is to be taught is "the unity of all 
religions." Yet this too is a religious dogma explicitly rejected by most 
Indian Muslims and Christians. Will this dogma be propagated 
among non-Hindu students in the university under the guise of 
"the Indian view of religion"? And will the critical methods of 
inquiry in the classroom be permitted to challenge this dogma? 
Or will this quasi-official universal religion be regarded as The 
Truth (as it apparently was by the commission) and not a matter 
for inquiry? And finally, what of the student whose parents are 
atheists or agnostics? Serious problems of freedom of conscience 
are involved. 

The unity of all religions is one dogma. The identity of the soul 
with the absolute is another and is discussed in Rev. J. D. M. Stuart's 
critique of the report: "The impossibility of a religion existing 
without dogma is admirably illustrated by the commission's own 
proposals. Probably the most important of these is the provision of a 
daily period for meditation. And how is this described? in terms 
of self -realization. 'We will find the Supreme, the only Supreme, 
which it is possible for us to know, when we are taught to look 
within.' To the orthodox Christian or Muslim this is based on a 
dogma, which they cannot fail to recognize, because it is a dogma 
which they both alike reject, namely the identity of the soul with 
Brahma. (No one presumably claims that this belief is rationally 
verifiable?) And to this extent the state is being asked to foster, not 

57 Loc. cit. 

58 Sec chapter 5, "The Theoretical Undergirding." 

59 Report, p. 296. 



a truly universal religion, but a form of neo-Hinduism, based on 
a single, but essentially dogmatic, article of faith." 60 Stuart went on 
to criticize the report's misinterpretation of various passages from 
the Bible, which had been quoted in support of the above doctrine. 

The four recommendations made by the commission are in them- 
selves unobjectionable. A few moments of silent meditation each day 
could not possibly harm anyone. No one would deny that a balanced 
university curriculum might very well include the study of the great 
men of religious history, the various religious books, and the 
philosophy of religion. What is disturbing is the fact that these sub- 
jects are all to be taught from a particular point of view, determined 
by the doctrinal assumptions of neo-Hinduism. This being the case, 
scholarly objectivity as well as religious neutrality are bound to suffer. 
The Koran, like the Rig Veda, will be made to teach that "the Real 
is one; sages call it by various names," for the commission has al- 
ready announced that "this is the teaching of Islam when taken in 
its profoundest sense." 

The limitations of universal religion have often been pointed out. 
Writing in 1937, A. N. Basu asserted that if one were to seek the 
common denominator of all the sects of Hinduism alone, the result 
would be "like the chemical properties of hydrogen, tasteless, 
colorless and odorless, in a word absolutely ineffective." 61 He con- 
ceded that it might be argued that in their essence all religions are 
the same, but this is only true of religions in their philosophical, not 
their theological, aspects. 

In an article published in 1959, C. Rajagopalachari emphatically 
affirmed the view (also held by the commission, as noted above) 
that morality could not be effectively taught apart from religion. 
Rajagopalachari's article was significantly entitled "Religion, our 
Only Real Policeman." But what kind of religion will be effective 
in this role? The idea of universal religion is rejected, for "myths and 
icons are indispensable for expressing as much as we can express of 
the ineffable." Therefore Harischandra, Rama, Krishna, Sita, Hanu- 
man, etc., and even Ravana, all have a rightful place in "the glorious 
galaxy that Hindus have inherited." 

60 J. D. M. Stuart, "Religious Education: Some Comments on Chapter vin of 
the Report of the University Education Commission," N.C.C. Review, 1950, vol. 70, 
p. 321. In Hindu thought Brahma is the soul of the universe. 

61 A. N. Basu, Education in Modern India: A Brief Review, Orient Book Com- 
pany, Calcutta, 1947, p. 170. 



The chief weakness of universal religion is simply that it has no 
emotional appeal. Rajagopalachari's conclusion: "No religion appeals 
to the heart as well as the religion one has been brought up in, 
with all its great images and myths and traditional history. It is 
therefore necessary that we should all be strengthened each in his own 
religion" [italics added]. The writer pointed out that Gandhi's 
central theme was to combine equal respect for all religions with 
wholehearted adherence to one's own faith. It should be possible for a 
government which reveres Gandhi to evolve a system of religious 
instruction which avoids conflict without falling into "the error of 
avoiding trouble by a formless artificial synthesis that has no holy 
tradition or myth or ancient ritual to support it." 62 

The University Education Commission submitted its report in 1949. 
The next official body to review the question in detail was the Com- 
mittee on Religious and Moral Instruction, appointed by the govern- 
ment of India in 1959. The chairman of the four-member com- 
mittee was Sri Prakasa, governor of Bombay, and the membership 
of the committee included one Muslim and one Christian. The terms 
of reference of the committee were to examine the desirability and 
feasibility of providing for "the teaching of moral and spiritual 
values" in educational institutions and to define the content of 
such instruction. 

After discussing the problems of student indiscipline, anti-social 
activities, and the general absence of wholesome ideals in campus 
life, the committee concluded that the teaching of moral and spir- 
itual values in educational institutions was definitely needed, and 
within certain limits was quite feasible. The content of the recom- 
mended instruction would include the following: "A comparative 
and sympathetic study of the lives and teachings of great religious 
leaders and at later stages, their ethical systems and philosophies. 
The inculcation of good manners, social service and true patriotism 
should be continuously stressed at all times." 63 

While the Committee on Religious and Moral Instruction was 
strongly influenced by the specific curriculum recommendations 
made by the Radhakrishnan commission, it did not attempt to base 

62 C. Rajagopalachari, "Religion, our Only Real Policeman," Swarajya, January 3, 


63 Report of the Committee on Religious and Moral Instruction, Government 
of India Press, New Delhi, 1960, p. 16. 



these on a Vedantic "Indian view of religion." In this sense its report 
marked a definite advance over that of the earlier commission. The 
recommendations are simply founded on the sound observation 
that religious diversity is one of the most important features of 
Indian life and that every educated citizen should understand the 
basic principles and values of religions other than his own. The ob- 
jective is to promote the spirit of tolerance through the understanding 
of differences, not to prove the unity of all religions by syncretistic 
harmonization. Of course, it could be expected that many Hindu 
teachers would take the latter approach in actually presenting this 
material in the classroom. 

Religion in basic education 

Another area in which significant differences over religious issues 
have arisen is that of basic education. This is the system of elementary 
education first proposed by Gandhi in 1937 (frequently referred to as 
"the Wardha Scheme") and adopted by the government since in- 
dependence. 64 Sectarian religious instruction was deliberately omitted 
from the plan, for which Gandhi was roundly criticized. 65 Although 
he too was deeply convinced personally that all religions are true, 
he did not propose the teaching of a syncretistic universal religion but 
only basic morality. Gandhi wrote: "Fundamental principles of 
ethics are common to all religions. These should be regarded as 
adequate religious instruction so far as the schools under the Wardha 
scheme are concerned." 66 

Gandhi's decision to exclude the formal teaching of religion was 
approved by the Central Advisory Board of Education in 1939 and has 
been reaffirmed since then. Shrimali points out, however, that "the 
Wardha Scheme aims at developing tolerance and mutual respect 
for all religions." 67 Accordingly, the syllabus included stories of the 
ancient Indian, Chinese, Christian, and Islamic religions and civiliza- 
tions. The University Education Commission Report, however, 
quotes with approval the following sentence from the revised syl- 

64 S. N. Mukerji, Education in India Today and Tomorrow y Acharya Book 
Depot, Baroda, 1950, pp. 16-23. 

65 For a discussion of these criticisms, see K. L. Shrimali, The Wardha Scheme: 
The Gandhian Plan of Education for Rural lndia y Vidya Bhavan Society, Udaipur, 
1949, pp. 212-231. 

OQ Harijan y July 16, 1938, quoted in M. K. Gandhi, Basic Education, Navajivan 
Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1951, p. 70. 
67 Shrimali, op. cit. y p. 225. 


labus used in training teachers for basic schools: "Reverential study of 
the different religions of the world showing how in essentials they 
meet in perfect harmony the Religion of Man." 68 By a subtle twist the 
teaching of respect for all religions becomes the propagation of re- 
ligious syncretism. 

But the most important religious question with respect to basic 
education has arisen over the practice of common worship. It was 
reported in 1955 that as a matter of general practice all students in 
basic training schools were expected to take part in common daily 
worship, which included "the reading of the scriptures of various 
religions and prayers addressed to God under various names/' 69 In 
response to this situation the executive committee of the Church of 
South India Synod issued a statement for the guidance of members of 
that church. 

Basic education sought to develop a sense of community among 
pupils and teachers, and this was approved of by the church, in ad- 
dition to the religious orientation given to education. But the exec- 
utive committee dissented vigorously from the theological implica- 
tions which it found in the practice of common worship. "As 
Christians we do not and cannot believe that the knowledge of God, 
and true community based upon that knowledge, can be achieved by 
adding together or pooling all men's beliefs about God. On the con- 
trary, we believe that God had provided the final and sufficient 
revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ." 70 

Holding that it was "impossible" for Christians to accept this form 
of common worship, the statement went on to raise the issue of 
religious liberty. "In taking this stand we are entitled to appeal to 
the Constitution of India which defines the Republic as a secular 
state in which the differing beliefs of the religions concerning God 
and man are to be acknowledged and respected, and the power of 
the state is not to be used to enforce one view as against others. If 
the present practice of requiring attendance at common worship is 
continued, it will be a breach of the clear provisions of the Constitu- 
tion." 71 The statement recognized that the Christians who took 
this unpopular position and refused to participate might well become 


J Report of the University Education Commission, p. 302. 
09 "Common Worship in Basic Training Schools," N.C.C. Review, 1955, vol. 75, 
p. 288. 
Loc. cit. 
71 Ibid., p. 289. 



the objects of misunderstanding and resentment, but it pointed out 
that it has often been thus, "from the days when the first Christians 
had to suffer wrath rather than take part in the officially sponsored 
religious rites of the Roman Empire." On the other hand, some 
Christian groups quickly responded positively and introduced basic 
education, including the provision for common worship, in their 
mission schools/ 2 

What general conclusions may be drawn from this discussion? 
During the British period the problem was handled very simply by 
providing for no religious instruction. In the preceding pages we 
have discussed a number of other proposals and experiments. In the 
opinion of the author, however, they all create more problems of 
religious liberty for the secular state than they solve for the religious- 

In March 1958 Dr. K, L. Shrimali, the present minister for educa- 
tion, announced that it had been suggested to the states that schools 
and colleges hold a daily assembly of all teachers and pupils for a 
universal prayer or a brief period of silent meditation. 73 This is 
certainly unobjectionable. But any more elaborate form of common 
worship creates substantial problems relating to freedom of con- 
science. Comparative religion and philosophy of religion are certainly 
valid subjects of study for inclusion in a university curriculum. But 
they should be taught with some measure of scholarly objectivity, 
without attempting to prove that all religions are saying essentially 
the same thing as Hinduism, but in slightly different words. 
Formulators of present-day Indian educational policy, in short, 
might profitably reconsider Bentinck's speech of 1835 in which he 
sternly warned against "all interference and injudicious tampering 
with the religious belief of the students." 


We now come to the second broad problem area, which chiefly 
concerns government control over state-aided private schools 
managed by religious bodies. 

72 See Lloyd Lorbeer, "Basic Education in Christian Schools," N.C.C. Review, 
1955, vol. 75, pp. 427-428. 

73 The Hindu Weekly Review, March 17, 1958. 



New aspects of religious instruction 

By 1947 a conscience clause similar to that described earlier in 
the chapter had been included in the educational codes of many 
provinces. Most of these conscience clauses provided for "opting out" 
that is, each pupil was expected to attend the religious and moral 
instruction classes given in the institution unless his parent or 
guardian requested in writing that he be excused from them. In 
Madras, for example, the announcement of religious instruction in 
a Christian secondary school included the following: "Attendance at 
these classes is voluntary, and other arrangements are made for en- 
gaging during these periods pupils not being eighteen years of 
age, whose parents have conscientious objections to the instruction 
provided in these classes. Such objections should be stated in writing 
and addressed to the principal." 74 

The "opting out" procedure provided by this form of conscience 
clause generally tended to discourage requests for exemption. 
Whether due to this procedure or simply because of a tolerant will- 
ingness to learn about another religion, the fact is that relatively few 
Hindu parents withdrew their children from such instruction. 
Indeed, it was reported in 1948 that only one out of 1,000 students 
at Madras Christian College had asked to be excused, and he later 
withdrew his request. 75 

The conscience clause adopted in Travancore, on the other hand, 
provided for "opting in" that is, religious instruction could not be 
imparted to anyone without the written consent of the parent. 
Under this regulation there were many who declined to receive re- 
ligious instruction in mission schools. 76 This was the form of con- 
science clause which was incorporated in the Constitution of India. 
Article 28(3) states: "No person attending any educational institu- 
tion recognized by the State or receiving aid out of state funds 
shall be required to take part in any religious instruction that may 
be imparted in such institution or to attend any religious worship 
that may be conducted in such institution or in any premises at- 

74 Rev. D. Chellappa, "Religious Teaching in Schools," N.C.C. Review , 1948, 
vol. 68, p. 385. 

75 Robert Root, "The Christian Prospect in India," Christian Century, 1948, vol. 
65, p. 708. 

76 Chellappa, op. cit., p. 386. 



tachcd thereto unless such person or, if such person is a minor, his 
guardian has given his consent thereto." When this provision ap- 
peared (in a slightly different form) in the draft Constitution, a 
conference under the auspices of the National Christian Council 
passed a resolution calling for the substitution of the "opting out" 
procedure. 77 The Constituent Assembly, however, retained the 
"opting in" wording. 

In 1947 the government of Madras amended its educational rules 
to include the regulation that religious instruction should not consti- 
tute an attack on any other faith, and that "staffs, pupils and buildings 
of any school or college shall not be utilized for proselytization 
purposes" (Rule 9-A). The word "proselytization" remained un- 
defined and gave rise to considerable controversy. 78 A public meeting 
that assembled under the auspices of the South India Christian 
Association condemned this part of the amendment as "a serious in- 
fringement of the fundamental rights of every citizen in a free 
India to preach and propagate his faith" and appealed to the gov- 
ernment to cancel it. 79 

Another aspect of the problem was the demand, frequently voiced 
in Hindu circles as national independence drew near, that Christian 
educational institutions be required to provide instruction in other 
religions for their non-Christian pupils. The General Synod of the 
Methodist Church in India, Burma, and Ceylon, meeting in Feb- 
ruary 1946, passed the following resolution: "The Synod declares 
that no recognition of, or aid to, our schools by the state should 
result in acceptance of the state's dictation of religious policy. The 
Synod recognizes the right of parents to claim exemption for their 
children from attendance at Christian worship and instruction on 
conscientious grounds, but it cannot accept the proposal which has 
been made requiring the teaching of other religions in our schools." 80 

No such regulations have been issued by the state governments, 
but since independence difficult situations have arisen over the de- 
mand made by students for permission to conduct non-Christian 
worship. At St. Columba's College in Hazaribagh some Hindu 

77 "Minutes of the Joint Conference of the Central Board of Christian Higher 
Education and the Committee on High Schools," N.C.C. Review, 1948, vol. 68, 
pp. 417-418. 

78 Chellappa, op. cit., p. 385. 

79 The Guardian, 1947, vol. 25, p. 331. 

80 Chcllappa, op. a/., pp. 386-387. See also The Guardian, 1946, vol. 24, p. 152. 



students demanded that they be allowed to install an image of 
Saraswati in the college premises and to organize and celebrate 
Saraswati puja there. The request was refused. Several years later, 
when a similar request was turned down by the authorities of 
St. Paul's College in Calcutta, a student filed a writ petition in the 
Calcutta High Court. In a 1957 judgment dismissing the petition, the 
judge examined the question in relation to articles 25, 29(2), and 30 
of the Constitution and upheld the right of Christian institutions to 
exclude non-Christian worship. 81 

While certain problems remain, the official policies evolved with 
respect to religious instruction in private schools have generally been 
fair and reasonable. Independent India has sought to protect the 
individual's freedom of conscience, yet with due regard for the 
rights of others to teach their faith. 

State control of private school administration 

The system under which government grants-in-aid are given to 
educational institutions conducted by religious bodies is inconsistent 
with a strict interpretation of the secular state. The system involves 
the indirect subsidization of religion by the state and thus violates a 
basic principle of secularism. 

It is important to examine the raison d'etre of educational institu- 
tions administered by religious groups. Clearly, their establishment 
does not come about because of a deep conviction that such institu- 
tions will be able to teach the facts of literature, geography, or 
mathematics better than state schools. Rather, such schools are started 
with a primarily religious objective to secure the opportunity for 
direct religious instruction and to develop a religious atmosphere 
and viewpoint even for the study of literature, geography, and 
mathematics. In other words, a religious body establishes and main- 
tains schools in order to create a total environment which will be 
favorable to the promotion of its particular religious values. 

On the other hand, the state which aids these institutions (this 
is true at least of India) is motivated primarily by secular considera- 
tions. As far as the state is concerned, the teaching of literature, 
geography, and mathematics to the child is an end in itself. The 
grant-in-aid system is a method of partially discharging the state's 
recognized responsibility for the education of the population, within 

81 Sanjib Kumar v. St. Paul's College, A J.R. 1957 Calcutta, p. 524. 



the stringent limits of its financial resources. The partnership with 
private agencies maximizes the educational result. But the state 
cannot ignore the concomitant religious effects which its actions 
produce. The state, inevitably, also contributes to the realization of the 
religious aims of the private agency. 

The basic incompatibility of the secular state with state aid to 
church-operated schools is sensed most acutely when the latter have 
compulsory religious instruction. But even when this form of coercion 
in spiritual matters does not exist (this is the case under the present 
Constitution of India), the problem for the secular state still remains. 
For the private agency is still using state funds to promote, propagate, 
and enhance the prestige of its particular religious values. For this 
reason, the first amendment of the United States Constitution, as 
interpreted by the Supreme Court, prohibits state financial aid to 
church schools. One observer wrote in 1948: "There is irony in the 
fact that while almost all Protestants in America object to any kind 
of government subsidy for religion, Protestant mission schools in 
India, including American schools, depend heavily on grants from 
the government which, quite naturally, expects to have something 
to say about the operation of the schools/' 82 

The last part of this quotation introduces the other problem con- 
nected with the grant-in-aid system. State aid to religion is almost 
invariably a two-edged sword; the state frequently interferes with 
religion by the same action which promotes it. Stated differently, 
state interference is the price of state aid. 

Despite the negative tone of these comments on the theory of the 
grant-in-aid system, it would be unfair to ignore the great practical 
benefits in the field of education which have been made possible 
by that system. In India the grant-in-aid system has over a century 
behind it. During this century, thousands of schools were estab- 
lished by religious bodies at great expense, with the understanding 
that the state would grant them financial aid without interfering 
with their distinctive religious purposes. On the whole this partner- 
ship between the state and private agencies has worked well. 
Christian mission or church schools, which still constitute in many 
areas the majority of aided institutions, have often been highly 
praised by prominent non-Christians for their significant educational 

82 Root, op. cit., p. 708. 



Since independence, however, the basis of the partnership between 
the state and private agencies has been undergoing radical changes. 
Some of the state governments have adopted measures which severely 
limit the authority of private agencies over their own institutions. 
The tightening of state control is explicitly based on the principle 
that where state funds are expended, state control is justified and 
must be expected. As there are no a priori limits to such control, 
official policy in some states seems to be moving steadily in the 
direction of nationalization of private aided schools. 

The record of some private schools in the country has undoubtedly 
been bad: poor teaching, lack of discipline, abuses in the appoint- 
ment and payment of teachers, embezzlement of school funds by 
unscrupulous managers. Increasing governmental regulation of 
private institutions is in part a response to this record of mismanage- 
ment by a minority of their number. But other factors contribute 
to the trend toward greater state control. There is a strong under- 
lying assumption in all of present-day Indian life that state control 
makes for greater efficiency. Along with this goes the bureaucratic 
demand for standardization. Furthermore, the present political 
leadership is committed to the goal of a socialist society, with the 
consequent emphasis on the public sector at the expense of the 
private sector. 

Certain methods of state control over private educational institu- 
tions have long been exercised, and their validity has not been 
questioned. For example, no one disputes the government's powers 
of inspection, granting of recognition, auditing of accounts where 
public funds are involved, and prescription of the qualifications of 
teachers. But the present tendency is to go beyond these accepted 
methods of control and to assume new powers in the internal manage- 
ment of private aided institutions. In Bihar and Assam (and formerly 
in Uttar Pradesh), for example, every board of managers must 
include three members appointed by the government. Christian 
organizations operating schools have expressed the fear that their 
distinctive religious purposes "may be thwarted by the inclusion in 
the managing body of men and women who may not be in sympathy 
with the ideals and purposes of these institutions." 83 

In the former Bombay state (now Maharashtra and Gujarat) and 
other states, the appointment of headmasters must be by seniority. 

S3 N.C.C. Review, 1953, vol. 73, p. 240. 



In a report to the 1958 Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, it 
was pointed out that this rule could prove most embarrassing for a 
Catholic school, for the senior master might well be a non-Catholic. 84 
In Bihar, teachers in aided schools may be appointed only from an 
approved list drawn up by state authorities. In Madras and Andhra 
Pradesh, teachers may not be transferred except with the consent and 
approval of the educational department, and in several states no 
teacher may be dismissed without the consent of this department. 

A 1950 Madras act permits aided institutions which are found 
to be poorly managed to be taken under the temporary control of 
the government (buildings, playgrounds, equipment, and staff). 
The government will then either manage them directly or transfer 
their management to different bodies of the same or similar de- 
nomination. After a period not exceeding two years, the future 
management will be finally decided. The trend toward increased 
state control became most evident in the Andhra Educational Insti- 
tutions Act of 1956. This legislation empowers the state govern- 
ment to withdraw permission granted to private agencies to operate 
educational institutions and to take over the management of prop- 
erties after paying "reasonable compensation" to the owners. This 
was a step in the government's announced policy of bringing all 
schools under unified control and of raising their level of efficiency. 
The government decided to implement the legislation first by taking 
over all aided elementary schools in Nellore district, and would 
eventually extend the plan to secondary schools. 85 

Many of the private educational institutions are managed by 
Christian agencies, and the question must be raised as to whether the 
increasing state control reflects an anti-Christian bias on the part of 
governments manned mostly by members of the majority com- 
munity. A 1958 Roman Catholic report stated: "Since complaints 
have been made of the steady encroachment of educational depart- 
ments in the states on what ought to be the exclusive province of 
the private school, it is necessary to remember that such steps are not 
inspired by any prejudice against our schools, but (are) merely the 
result of the present climate in the country which is less favorable to 

84 Catholic Bishops' Conference of India: Report of the Meetings of the Standing 
Committee, 1958, St. Mary's Industrial School Press, Bangalore, 1959, p. 61. 

85 Christian Century, 1956, vol. 73, p. 1432. 



private enterprise and would rather encourage the public sector. 
That the encroachments are serious can hardly be denied; but 
except in Kerala and certain districts of M. P., they are not proof 
of anti-Catholic prejudice, and all private schools are similarly af- 
fected." 86 Most Christian leaders in the field of education would 
concur in this analysis of the problem. 

The Kerala Education Bill 

The Kerala Education Bill, introduced by the Communist gov- 
ernment of that state in 1957, deserves special attention. The 
ideological and political struggle between Catholicism and Commu- 
nism was indeed one aspect of the twenty-eight months of Com- 
munist rule. But the controversy over control of private education 
had a considerable history, in which the conflict chiefly involved 
religious and caste communities in the state. In 1945-1946 the Travan- 
core government unsuccessfully attempted to put into operation 
its long declared intention of taking over primary education in its 
entirety, to the exclusion of private agencies. In 1950-1951 an acute 
controversy in the Travancore-Cochin state developed over the 
government's plan to increase the salaries of private school teachers, 
with the accompanying requirements that 80 per cent of the school 
fees be remitted to the government, and that teachers be appointed 
only from an approved list published by the state. 87 This crisis was 
resolved by a compromise. Rules later adopted also required that 
the headmaster of a school be appointed by seniority. 

Underlying much of the conflict was the fact of the dominant 
position long occupied by Christian agencies in the field of education. 
Christian enterprise in Kerala was largely responsible for producing 
the highest literacy rate in India, twice as high as that of neighboring 
states. Control of a large segment of the state's education inevitably 
meant considerable social and political influence in a Hindu-majority 
area, and this influence was utilized effectively. The political pressure 
exerted by the Catholic hierarchy in its controversies with the gov- 
ernment produced much resentment among Hindu leaders. 

Thus, the tendency toward increased state control of private 
schools, and even nationalization, was evident long before the 

86 Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, 1958, p. 58. 

87 The Indian states of Travancore and Cochin were merged after independence, 
and formed the largest part of the state of Kerala after the 1956 states reorganization. 



Communists came to power. Their opposition to the church as a 
"reactionary vested interest" was reinforced by communal rivalries 
of long standing. The "totalitarian approach" incorporated in the 
Kerala Education Act was made the focal point of the struggle 
against the Communist government, but this was not the most 
important issue, even for the Catholics. 

Christians, a majority of whom are Roman Catholics, constitute 
22 per cent of Kerala's population of 15 million. Out of about n,ooo 
schools in the state, 7,000 are under private management. The pro- 
portion of privately managed schools was even higher before inde- 
pendence. Of these 7,000 private institutions, about 3,000 are operated 
by Christian agencies (again, mostly Catholic) and another 3,000 by a 
Hindu caste organization, the Nair Service Society. While state 
grants to these private schools were once small, they increased 
steadily until the teacher's entire salary was being paid by the state. 
Impartial opinion recognized the existence of fairly widespread 
abuses in the appointment and remuneration of staff. In some cases 
teachers were compelled to make monthly "donations" to the school 
in order to retain their jobs. Teachers in many private institutions 
had no provident fund benefits and no security of service, being 
subject to arbitrary dismissal at any time. 

The Communist ministry's Kerala Education Bill received the 
enthusiastic support of most of the private school teachers for its 
provisions accorded to them most of the rights and privileges en- 
joyed by teachers in government schools. Many Hindus welcomed 
the measure as a blow against the power of the Catholic Church. 
But a substantial body of opinion, both in Kerala and elsewhere, 
regarded the legislation as a necessary attempt to achieve educa- 
tional reform and social justice, although some of the provisions of 
the bill were unduly restrictive of the rights of management. 

The key provisions of the bill, as introduced in 1957, were as 
follows: all teachers' salaries to be paid directly by the government, 
and all fees collected by the management to be remitted to the gov- 
ernment; appointment of teachers only from a state register pre- 
pared by the government; the extension to teachers in aided schools 
of provident fund, pension, and insurance at state expense; power 
granted to the government to take over the management of any 
school for five years if the manager neglects to perform his duty; 
power to take over any category of aided schools if this step is re- 



garded as necessary in order to standardize general education or 
improve the level of literacy. Private agencies were compelled to agree 
to these regulations as a condition for the receipt of state aid. 

The agitation against the bill was based on the assertion that it 
represented an attempt to "communize" education, that its pro- 
visions were an unprecedented interference with the rights of 
managers. However, a pro-Communist account is quite correct in 
pointing out that the bill was hardly more radical than the Andhra 
Educational Institutions Act of I956. 88 A later modification of the 
bill permitted the management of an aided institution the option 
to operate it as a recognized school without government grants. An 
institution might thus be exempted from the drastic state regulation 
provided for by the bill. 

The bill was passed with some changes by the state assembly in 
September 1957 and sent to the president for his approval; in an 
unusual move it was referred to the Supreme Court for an advisory 
opinion. The court held that clauses 14 and 15 of the bill, which 
empowered the government to take over entirely the management of 
aided schools, were unconstitutional. However, it rejected the view 
that the bill as a whole constituted an attack on the right of minorities 
in Kerala to establish and administer schools of their choice, as 
guaranteed by article 30(1) of the Constitution. There was nothing 
in the bill which discriminated against minorities; if any private 
school solicits state aid, it must be willing to submit to reasonable 
regulations. The court held that, with the exception of clauses 14 
and 15, the conditions laid down in the bill were reasonable, although 
they constituted "serious inroads on the right of administration and 
appear perilously near violating that right." 89 The bill was revised in 
the light of this judgment, passed by the Kerala legislature, and 
received the president's assent in February 1959. 

The Nair Service Society and the Christian churches had already 
united in a massive campaign of opposition to the legislation. Private 
schools were closed by managers in protest against the Communist 
regime, and violent clashes occurred in many places. Virtually all 
of the non-Communist political and religious organizations in 
the state combined to fight the Communist ministry and finally 

88 H. D. Malaviya, Kerala: A Report to the Nation, People's Publishing House, 
New Delhi, 1958, pp. 31, 33. 

89 In re Kerala Education Bill, 7957, A.I.R. 1958 S.C., p. 956. 



succeeded in securing the intervention of the central government and 
the proclamation of president's rule in the state on July 31, 1959. 

Probably the most fundamental Christian objection to the Kerala 
Education Act was that it took away the freedom of the management 
to appoint the kind of teachers needed to maintain the distinctive 
orientation and atmosphere of a Christian school. 90 In late 1960 
the Kerala assembly (by this time controlled by a non-Communist 
majority) debated and passed an amendment to the education act. 
The controversial section n of the act had provided that appointment 
of teachers should be made by the Public Service Commission with 
due regard to the principle of communal reservation. According to 
the 1960 amendment, the managers were given the power to ap- 
point teachers from among persons who possessed the prescribed 
qualifications. But the element of state control would come at the 
earlier stage of selection of candidates for training in private teachers' 
colleges; 80 per cent of these candidates would be chosen by the 
Public Service Commission on the basis of communal reservation. 91 
The communal reservation (45 per cent of the seats for the backward 
communities, the rest according to a communal population ratio) 
would effectively control the composition of the candidates qualified 
for appointment as teachers. Regulation by the state in this in- 
stance may have changed its form, but it had not decreased. 

Trends and countertrends 

The U. P. Intermediate Education (Amendment) Act of 1958 
contains at least one provision of questionable constitutionality. 
Clause 14 of the Kerala Education Bill, held invalid by the Supreme 
Court, empowered the government to take over the management 
of aided schools. The U. P. act, however, grants power to the govern- 
ment under certain circumstances to take over not only aided 
institutions but also government-recognized institutions not re- 
ceiving aid. According to the U. P. legislation, the selection of a 
principal or headmaster is vested in a three-member committee, 
one member of which is chosen by the institution's committee of 
management from a panel of names prepared by the director of 
education. Thus one member out of three might well be of a 

90 C. P. Mathew, "Churches in Kerala and the New Education Act," N.C.C. 
Review, 1959, v l 79> PP 271-272. 

91 The Hindu, December 30, 1960. 



different religion than the management of a minority educational 
institution. The selected candidate must be approved by the regional 
deputy director of education. In the appointment of teachers, can- 
didates are also selected by a committee, but the final authority 
rests in the hands of the district inspector of schools. 

One of the regulations made under the act does attempt to relax 
the official control in the appointment of principals, headmasters, 
or teachers in schools managed by minorities. "In the case of 
institutions run by religious and linguistic minorities, especially for 
the benefit of their children, the approving authority will not 
normally interfere with the selection made by the selection com- 
mittee provided the person so selected fulfills the conditions of 
minimum qualifications prescribed for the post and is otherwise 
eligible." 92 The interpretation of the phrase "especially for the 
benefit of their children" would appear to offer a sizable loophole, 
since in most Christian schools the Christians are far outnumbered 
by the Hindu and Muslim pupils. 

It is evident that the system of state-aided private schools, a basic 
part of the pattern of Indian education since 1854, is undergoing 
radical changes. State control of the internal administration of these 
institutions is constantly being tightened, and the distinction between 
private and government schools is rapidly becoming blurred. Per- 
ceiving the handwriting on the wall, some religious agencies are 
voluntarily turning their schools over to the government. When the 
distinctive religious and educational purposes for which these insti- 
tutions were founded are no longer being served, they reason, it is 
better to let the state shoulder the whole responsibility. In December 
1960 the government of Ceylon assumed control of about 2,500 
aided private schools throughout the island, despite the intense op- 
position of the Roman Catholic Church. It is not unlikely that the 
nationalization of schools in Ceylon will give added impetus to the 
trend in the same direction already evident in some parts of India. 

However, the trend is by no means a uniform one. In 1959 Dr. K. L. 
Shrimali, union minister of education, declared that the central gov- 
ernment intended to do everything possible to keep secondary educa- 
tion in the hands of private management. "Even if the government 
gives 99 per cent grants to voluntary educational institutions, I find 
no reason why secondary education should not be left to the super- 

92 No. AI-5365/XV-i692-58, chapter 2, regulation 18. 



vision of private management." 93 In April 1961 Dr. Shrimali told 
the Lok Sabha that it was the government's policy to encourage 
private educational institutions; he praised the contribution made by 
these schools to the cause of Indian education. 94 

In Mysore state the education minister, Anna Rao Ganamukhi, 
gave assurances that there was no intention to take over aided primary 
and secondary schools. Furthermore, in April 1961 he announced that 
the government's policy was to encourage private enterprise in re- 
gard to the opening of new high schools by giving them substantial 
grants. He explained that the government could thus save money 
which was needed to start new primary schools in the state. 
Replying to a question in the assembly whether the standard of 
teaching in aided schools had not declined, the minister stated that, 
on the contrary, the standard had deteriorated in government schools. 
A nonofficial resolution urging an increased scale of grant-in-aid 
for aided secondary schools (these constitute the majority of the 
secondary schools in Mysore) received unanimous support from all 
sections of the state legislative council. 95 

There are, thus, trends in opposite directions, toward the nationali- 
zation of privately managed schools in some states and toward the 
extension of the system of aided schools in others. There are two im- 
portant factors which restrain the zeal of those who would like 
to press for nationalization: constitutional and financial considera- 
tions. Since many of the institutions are managed by religious 
minority communities, especially Christian agencies, article 30(1) 
and the Supreme Court judgment on the Kerala Education Bill are 
.serious obstacles. This decision showed that the state could consti- 
tutionally go very far indeed in controlling the internal administra- 
tion of educational institutions managed by religious minorities, 
but it could not take them over entirely. There would be no consti- 
tutional difficulty in taking over private schools not managed by 
minorities, except that the government would have to pay compensa- 
tion for the assets of the institutions in the shape of buildings and 
equipment. This would necessitate a heavy outlay of money which 
the states are not in a position to make. Thus, even in Kerala where 
almost the entire expenditure of aided schools is met from govern- 

QB The Mail, November 18, 1959. 

94 The Hindu, April 6, 1961. 

95 1 bid., April 5, 1961. 



ment funds, the additional outlay for compensation would be dif- 
ficult to make. The state governments cannot easily abandon the 
system of grants-in-aid to privately managed schools, even where 
there is a strong desire to do so. 

The privately managed schools have indeed made a great con- 
tribution to the cause of Indian education. Their continued existence 
will help to strengthen certain liberal democratic values. In a day 
when the state's powers are growing, they help to counterbalance 
the tendency toward too much regimentation. All autonomous* cul- 
tural institutions have an important role in preserving a free society. 
However, the negative aspects of the situation must not be overlooked. 
At a time when India desperately needs to strengthen the emotional 
integration of the most heterogeneous population in the world, a 
large segment of education is controlled by various religious agencies 
each of which is committed to its own set of values. These need not 
be and, in most cases, are not narrow or communalist values. 
Nevertheless, the religious agencies represent units which are less 
than the whole Indian nation. In the very nature of things, the state 
must assume the major burden in the educational task of consoli- 
dating national unity. The powerful role of the American public 
school in molding one nation out of many diverse groups is directly 
relevant to India's present situation. As the financial resources of 
government increase, the state will assume a much larger proportion 
of the responsibility for elementary and secondary education. 



WHAT is CULTURE ? A valuable study cited 164 definitions of 
culture taken from the writings of anthropologists, sociologists, psy- 
chologists, and philosophers. 1 A number of the definitions stress the 
idea that culture is a collective name for the material, social, religious, 
and artistic achievements of human groups, including traditions, 
customs, and behavior patterns, all of which are unified by common 
beliefs and values. Values provide the essential part of a culture and 
give it its distinctive quality and tone. 

What is the relation of religion to culture? It is religion which 
most explicitly articulates the distinctive values of a culture. If we 
think in terms of a traditional, pre-industrial culture, the role of 
religion is a basic one, for it effectively formulates, interprets, and 
transmits the values which permeate the entire culture. In a modern 
secularized society such a relationship does not exist; but this is a 
recent phenomenon in terms of the sweep of history. 

"Throughout the greater part of mankind's history, in all ages 
and states of society, religion has been the great unifying force in 
culture," wrote Christopher Dawson. "It has been the guardian of 
tradition, the preserver of the moral law, the educator and the 
teacher of wisdom. ... In all ages the first creative works of a 
culture are due to a religious inspiration and dedicated to a religious 
end. The temples of the gods are the most enduring works of man. 
Religion stands at the threshold of all the great literatures of the 
world." 2 This relationship between religion and culture was em- 
phasized by S, Radhakrishnan when he wrote that it is after all 
the norms, beliefs, and values which determine the social frame- 

1 A. L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn, Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts 
and Definitions, Harvard University Printing Office, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 
1952, p. 149. 

2 Christopher Dawson, Religion and Culture, Meridian Books, Inc., New York, 
1948, pp. 49-50. 



work of a historic culture. The very names Hindu India, Buddhist 
Asia, Western Christendom, or Islamic society suggest the funda- 
mental role of spiritual traditions in the shaping of each society. 3 

All that has been said in general about the important role of re- 
ligion in culture applies a fortiori to India. Social organization, law, 
customs, traditions, architecture, sculpture, literature, music, and 
dance have all been shaped, or at least powerfully influenced, by 
religion. In the entire field of classical Indian art, what we would 
regard as secular art did not exist. 4 Given the intimate relationship 
between Indian culture and religion, what is the relevance of this 
fact to India as a secular state ? In India the state is deeply involved 
in problems of culture, to a far greater extent than are the democratic 
states of the West. Decisions regarding cultural problems have to be 
made, and many of these problems have serious religious implications. 
It is impossible for the secular state to avoid these sensitive areas by 
declining to deal with questions of culture. Three factors make 
this involvement necessary. 

First, as a newly independent state, India has had to make and is 
making some very basic decisions. The necessity for formulating 
policies in certain areas of culture has been thrust upon the state. 
The question of a national language was probably the most im- 
portant, and the Constituent Assembly had to deal with this knotty 
problem. As we shall see, the religious implications of the Hindi- 
Urdu question are important. The ministry of education has had 
to decide the lines of future development of the Banaras Hindu 
University and the Aligarh Muslim University. What is to be the 
role of these state-administered institutions in relation to their 
respective religious and cultural traditions? Directors of public in- 
struction in the state governments have had to decide matters of 
school curriculum. Are the mythological stories of the Ramayana 
a part of the Indian culture which every child should be taught? 
These and similar questions were there, and had to be dealt with 
whether the state welcomed them or not. 

8 S. Radhakrishnan, East and West: Some Reflections, George Allen and Unwin 
Ltd., London, 1955, p. 17. Note also the statement of Harold E. Fey: "Religion 
is the main instrument for the expression of values. It is the carrier of ethics, the 
molder of personal and social behavior. It supplies the ethos, the prevalent tone or 
sentiment, of a culture." "Religion and Culture in Japan," Christian Century , 1958, 
vol. 75, p. 405. 

4 Benjamin Rowland, The Art and Architecture of India, Penguin Books, Balti- 
more, 1956, p. 7. 



Second, Indian nationalism was nurtured by memories of India's 
glorious past, of the lofty ancient culture which flourished at a time 
when Europe was still in the stone age. Cultural decline in India, it 
was asserted, was connected with political subjugation, and the im- 
position of an alien western culture. With the attainment of inde- 
pendence, the natural demand was made that the state reject the 
cultural vestiges of foreign rule and set about restoring the past 
greatness of Indian culture. In its extreme revivalist form this 
demand has been decisively rejected. Nevertheless, nationalist senti- 
ment still compels the state to do its part in promoting the renascence 
of Indian culture. 

Third, the state has had to become the chief patron of the arts, 
largely because it eliminated the old patrons. During the long period 
of alien domination, the maharajas of the princely states and the 
zamindars, who held vast tracts of land, did much to maintain the 
country's cultural traditions. With the integration of the Indian 
states and the abolition of the zamindari system, the government 
felt constrained to shoulder the responsibility for the promotion of 
cultural activities. As stated in a government publication, "now that 
the princes and the former landed interests are no longer able to 
sustain them, the central government has assumed direct patronage 
of art and culture/' 5 In a later section the activities of the ministry 
of scientific research and cultural affairs and of the three national 
academies which seek to encourage the various arts will be discussed. 


It is clear, in the light of these three factors, that the state's in- 
volvement in the problems of culture is fairly deep, and that it is 
likely to continue for a long time to come. It is therefore necessary 
that the state have a basic theory of culture. The most fundamental 
question, which, Vishnu-like, has manifested itself in many forms, 
concerns the definition of Indian culture. Two divergent conceptions 
are struggling for supremacy. 

Indian culture as Hindu culture 

One view simply equates Indian culture with Hinduism and 
Hindu culture; all non-Hindu aspects which have been assimilated 

6 India: A Reference Annual, 7956, Publications Division, Government of India, 
Delhi, 1956, p. 309. 



are regarded as contaminating influences. The Hindu communal 
political parties are the most vocal exponents of this view. 6 

In an interesting speech a Hindu Mahasabha leader attempted to 
list the cultural changes which Indian Muslims would have to under- 
go in order to become acceptable nationals of the Indian (Hindu) 
state of the future. First, they would have to accept the Ramayana 
and Mahabharata as their epics and reject the Arabic and Persian 
classics. They would have to regard Ramachandra, Shiva ji, and the 
Hindu gods Rama and Krishna as their heroes, and condemn various 
Muslim historical figures as foreign invaders or traitors. The Muslims 
would also need to discard their Arabic names (Abdulla, Moham- 
med, Ibrahim) in favor of Hindu names such as Ram, Krishna, Hari, 
etc. If the Muslims of India would accept the Hindu manner of 
dress, personal laws, and customs from birth to death, they could 
then retain their own religion! "We would not much mind their 
following any path for their personal salvation." 7 The conception is 
clear; the extent to which cultural manifestations diverge from the 
Hindu norm is the measure of their un-Indian nature. Indian culture- 
is identical with Hindu culture. 

One of the most interesting phenomena of recent Indian history is 
the way in which Hindu communalism and Muslim communalism 
(represented by the Muslim League), poles apart on most questions, 
were in agreement on the interpretation of Indian culture. According 
to M. A. Jinnah, India consisted of two nations, Hindu and Muslim, 
each with its own religion, history, traditions, and culture. Hindu 
communalism, while vehemently opposed to the partition of India, 
propounded precisely the same view of Indian culture which was 
used to justify the demand for partition, 8 

The Hindu communal parties are not the only spokesmen for the 
view which equates Indian culture with Hindu culture. Many in- 
fluential Indian leaders have expressed similar ideas, although 
usually without the bitter anti-Muslim sentiments which charac- 
terize the communalists. P. V. Rajamannar, chief justice of the 
Madras High Court, delivered an address in August 1955 which 
merits careful attention. He pointed out that the political inde- 

6 Presidential Address by Sri N. C. Chatter jee, M. P., President All India Hindu 
Mahasabha, New Delhi, 1952, p. 17. 

T V. G. Deshpande, Why Hindu Rashtra? All India Hindu Mahasabha, New 
Delhi, 1949, p. io. 

*lbid., p. 4. 



pendcnce achieved by India in 1947 would have no real meaning 
without cultural advancement. So far as Indian culture ("by which 
I mean Hindu culture") was concerned, its essential characteristic 
was that it was thoroughly infused with religion. From the earliest 
historical times India had a culture which was essentially religious. 
Mr. Rajamannar declared that the religious basis could be seen in every 
festival, social institution, and custom (including the practice of 
giving to their children the names of gods and goddesses), and in 
all of art and music. 9 While these facts are perfectly true, the con- 
ception of Indian culture which emerges allows no room for the 
recognition of Muslim or western contributions. As Rajamannar 
frankly stated, by Indian culture he meant Hindu culture. 

The Indian Muslim and Christian minorities have become in- 
creasingly sensitive to what they regard as the anti-national cultural 
exclusivism of some segments of the majority community. K. G. 
Saiyidain, joint educational adviser to the government of India and 
a Muslim, decried the tendency of some to interpret normative Indian 
culture in terms of the pre-Islamic past. "The people in the dock are 
really those who advocate or indulge in dreams of an exclusive 
cultural revivalism which would intolerantly reject the great gifts 
which, say, the civilization of Islam or the civilization of the West 
has brought to India and who hanker after an ancient and exclusive 
'Hindu' way of life which is gone beyond recall." 10 A group of Pro- 
testant Christians expressed their concern over the widespread iden- 
tification of Indian culture with Hinduism. "There has been a 
tendency to regard Indian culture as synonymous with the religious 
practices of the majority community. Consciously or unconsciously, 
those who wield authority seek to impose these outward forms of 
the religion of the majority on others." 11 The statement urged the 
necessity of distinguishing between those aspects of Indian culture 
which are the possession of all and those aspects which are intimately 
associated with Hindu religion. 

In an editorial entitled "What Is Indian Culture?" the Times of 
India noted that the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) had de- 
clared that its aim was the revival of India's ancient culture. But the 

9 The Hindu, August 17, 1955. 

10 K. G. Saiyidain, Education, Culture and the Social Order, Asia Publishing 
House, Bombay, 1952, p. 126. 

11 The Secular State in India: A Christian Point of View, Y.M.C.A. Publishing 
House, Calcutta, 1954, p. 6. 



precise components of that culture which the RSS wanted to resur- 
rect were not explained in any detail "So far as we can gather from its 
slogans and shibboleths its aim is the revival of militant Hinduism 
reaching not so much into an enlightened future but groping back to 
a past lost in the mists of mythology and time." 12 The writer saw 
the greatest danger lurking precisely in this extreme vagueness, for 
"Indian culture then becomes a thing clothed in the airy fancies of its 
progenitors." He deprecated the RSS's talk of Indian culture as if 
it were a "special exalted cult." 

Indian culture as composite culture 

Leaders of the various religious minorities are, of course, firmly 
committed to the view that Indian culture is a composite thing, to 
which many different religions and traditions have contributed. 
K. G. Saiyidain, quoted above, regarded Indian culture as a fusion 
of many different strands, including the Dravidian, the Aryan-Hindu 
(with its Buddhist variation), the Muslim (with its Turkish, Persian, 
and Mughal variations), and the western culture brought by the 
British. Regarding the contributions of the Muslim culture, he 
stated that they were "so many and so varied and they are so securely 
woven into the total pattern of Indian culture that they cannot be 
disentangled and removed without weakening and impoverishing 
the whole pattern." 13 The genius of India has been its ability to 
welcome and to assimilate within its culture elements of value from 
many different sources. On the foundation of this confluence of 
cultures India should strive to build "a broad-based cultural synthesis." 
In similar vein, two Christians wrote of the pressing need to re- 
integrate India's national culture, although with due regard for its 
multi-patterned character. 14 

Although spokesmen for the minorities have stressed this view 
of a composite Indian culture, some of its strongest statements have 
come from Hindu national leaders. Gandhi refused to narrow his 
cultural heritage as an Indian. "Indian culture," he wrote, "is neither 

12 Times of India, August 13, 1949. 

18 Saiyidain, op. tit., p. 108. Sec also Speeches of Maulana Azad 1947-1955, 
Publications Division, Government of India, Delhi, 1956, pp. 225-229; and S. Abid 
Husain, The National Culture of India, Jaico Publishing House, Bombay, 1956, 
pp. xxiii-xxiv. 

14 P. D. Devanandan and M. M. Thomas, India's Quest for Democracy, Y.M.C.A. 
Publishing House, Calcutta, 1955, p. 64. 



Hindu, Islamic nor any other, wholly. It is a fusion of all." 15 Prime 
Minister Jawaharlal Nehru gave one of the clearest expositions of 
the composite nature of Indian culture in his book The Discovery 
of India. He wrote that it is entirely misleading to equate Indian 
culture with Hindu culture. An Indian Buddhist or Jain has roots 
only in the thought and culture of India, yet neither is a Hindu by 
faith. Nehru agreed that in ancient times, the Hindu religion, 
philosophy and way of life were largely synonymous with Indian 
culture; but later, cultural influences from outside the subcontinent 
became extremely important. During the Mughal period, India's 
culture was profoundly influenced by Islam, yet remained dis- 
tinctively Indian. Especially in northern India, music, painting, 
architecture, food, clothes, language and traditions were affected by 
the impact of Islam, and a composite culture emerged which was 
neither Hindu nor Muslim. Nehru wrote that "some inner urge 
toward synthesis" has been the dominant impulse which has char- 
acterized India's long cultural development. 16 

Our task is now to evaluate these two opposing views of Indian 
culture adhered to in present-day India. Hindu culture or composite 
culture which view comes closer to the truth? If forced to choose 
between them, one would immediately select the latter. Indian 
culture is a complex pattern, a composite culture into which have 
gone many diverse elements, foreign as well as indigenous. To 
equate Indian culture v/ith Hindu culture is factually wrong. How- 
ever, a second statement must follow immediately, namely, that 
despite the composite nature of Indian culture, Hinduism remains 
by far the most powerful and pervasive element in that culture. 
Those who lay great stress on the composite nature of Indian culture 
frequently minimize this basic fact. Caught up in their enthusiasm 
for the idea of cultural synthesis, and with the best of motives 
(usually the desire to strengthen communal harmony and national 
unity), they seem to suggest that the cultural fusion is of a kind 
which might have resulted from blending together equal quantities 
of the principal ingredients. This, of course, is simply not the case. 

Hinduism has indeed provided the essential genius of Indian cul- 
ture; this cannot be denied. Significant cultural synthesis has not 

15 Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, John Day Company, New York, 
1946, p. 366. 

/W., pp. 64-65, 266-267. 



taken place everywhere; with the exception of Christianity in the 
small state of Kerala, there is much less non-Hindu cultural in- 
fluence in south India than in the north. Thus, while not denying 
the reality and importance of the composite culture, we must be 
prepared to deal with an Indian culture largely rooted in Hinduism. 
Those who equate Indian culture with Hindu culture can produce 
considerable evidence in support of their position, although that 
part of empirical Indian culture which they ignore or reject makes 
their equation factually wrong; the use to which their argument is 
put is frequently disruptive and anti-national. 


How does this discussion bear upon the problem of India as a 
secular state? If Indian culture were in actuality a complete fusion 
of several contributing cultures of relatively equal influence, the 
problem would be less difficult, for it would be impossible to single 
out one religion as the fundamental basis of the culture. Hence there 
would be no temptation to seek the renascence of national culture 
through the promotion of any one religion. But this is not the case 
in India. Although Indian culture is composite, Hinduism is clearly 
the most potent factor within that culture. The state is charged with 
responsibility for the promotion of Indian culture, but as a secular 
state must not promote Hinduism. The state, then, must actively 
encourage the valuable cultural contributions of all religious tradi- 
tions. In a sense the state becomes a catalytic agent in the process of 
cultural synthesis which has been going on for centuries. 

The chief responsibility for the formation of the Indian govern- 
ment's policies regarding culture rests with the Ministry of Scientific 
Research and Cultural Affairs. This ministry was created only 
in 1958; while scientific research had previously been attached to 
other ministries (natural resources, education), cultural affairs re- 
ceived this status for the first time. Professor Humayun Kabir has 
headed this ministry since its inception, and it is surely indicative of 
Nehru's deep convictions about the secular state that a Muslim should 
be in charge of cultural affairs. 17 

17 The same, of course, was true of the late Maulana Azad's position as union 
minister of education. Culture and education are obviously sensitive areas in 
which the natural tendency would be for official policy to be strongly influenced by 
the religion of the majority. 



Some of the recent activities of the ministry are as follows: the 
sanctioning of grants to cultural and literary organizations, making 
grants to individuals engaged in literary activities, the establishment 
of an institute of Indology, the publication of rare manuscripts, 
the writing of a three-volume history of the Indian freedom move- 
ment, the establishment of open-air theatres at Delhi and the state 
capitals, the interstate exchange of cultural troupes, the sponsoring 
of the Rabindranath Tagore centenary celebrations in 1961, the re- 
organization and development of museums and libraries, and ex- 
cavations carried out by the department of archaeology. 18 

The ministry of cultural affairs also makes grants to the three 
national academies established by the government in 1953 and 1954. 
The Sangeet Natak Akademi (Academy of Dance, Drama, and 
Music) seeks to promote through these arts "the cultural unity of 
the country/' 19 This institution coordinates the activities of regional 
organizations, promotes research, sponsors festivals, and awards 
prizes for outstanding achievement in dance, drama, and music. The 
Sahitya Akademi (National Academy of Letters) seeks to coordinate 
literary activities in all the Indian languages. The Lalit Kala Akademi 
(National Academy of Art and Architecture) encourages and 
promotes study in painting, sculpture, architecture, and applied arts. 

The ministry also sponsors various activities aimed at promoting 
cultural relations with foreign countries. Financial assistance is 
granted to cultural societies abroad which seek to strengthen ties 
with India (for example, the Indo-Iranian Cultural Association in 
Teheran). Cultural agreements have been concluded with numerous 
foreign countries, and delegations of musicians, dancers, poets, and 
scholars are exchanged. Exhibitions of Indian art are sent abroad, 
and the work of foreign artists is displayed in the major cities of 
India. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations is specifically con- 
cerned with relations with foreign countries, and administers some 
of the above-mentioned programs. The council was established by 
the government of India as an autonomous body; however, its 
president is Professor Kabir and it is maintained by grants sanctioned 
by the ministry of cultural affairs. The present (1962) secretary of 

18 See Report 7960-7967, Ministry of Scientific Research and Cultural Affairs, 
Government of India Press, New Delhi, 1961. 

19 India: A Reference Annual, 7956, p. 309. 



the Indian Council for Cultural Relations is Inam Rahman, a 

How does the ministry of cultural affairs deal with the problem of 
religion and culture? In general it encourages and promotes those 
aspects of Indian culture which can be appreciated for their secular 
aesthetic values alone, quite apart from whatever religious associa- 
tions, past or present, they might have. However, there is no thor- 
ough-going attempt made to separate the relatively non-religious 
from the relatively religious aspects of Indian culture. 

The position taken by Professor Kabir is that as long as the cultural 
contributions of all the religious traditions are recognized and en- 
couraged, there is no conflict with the principle of the secular state. 
Thus, grants have been made by the ministry for the translation of 
various Hindu, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian scriptures and of Maulana 
Azad's Urdu commentary on the Koran. While laying the founda- 
tion-stone of the new building of the Vedic Shamshodan Mandal, 
an institute devoted to research in the Vedas, Kabir stressed the 
need for research in all the religious scriptures in India. He com- 
mended the institute for also undertaking a comparative study of the 
A vesta the religious scriptures of the Parsis. 20 

This position, of course, is quite in keeping with the traditional 
role of the Indian state as the patron of all creeds and cultures. The 
scriptures are a part of Indian literature, but their primary sig- 
nificance is overwhelmingly religious. In aiding all religions the state 
is fair, but is it secular? We have already noted the persistent ten- 
dency in present-day India to define secularism simply in terms of 
non-discrimination in the promotion of religion. To most Indians, 
secular means non-communal or non-sectarian, but it does not mean 
non-religious. For most, the basis of the secular state is not a "wall 
of separation" between state and religion, but rather the "no- 
preference doctrine" which requires only that no special privileges 
be granted to any one religion. As defined in this book, the secular 
state includes the principle that the functions of the state must be 

It is therefore necessary to make some distinctions in choosing the 
elements of Indian culture which the secular state can promote. 
Bharata natyam, one of the schools of the south Indian classical 

20 The Hindu, January n, 1961. 

3 8i 


dance, was developed in the temples as an integral part of Hindu 
worship. But the performance of bharata natyam today is generally 
regarded as art, not religion, and is universally appreciated as 
a valuable form of artistic expression in its own right. There is 
absolutely no reason why the secular state should not encourage and 
promote such elements of culture. But the translation of religious 
scriptures is obviously in a different category. The valuable cultural 
contributions associated with all the religious traditions of India 
should be encouraged by the state, provided that these are dis- 
tinguishable from religion itself. 

As has already been noted, in the actual promotion of cultural 
activities, the ministry of cultural affairs operates chiefly through 
various quasi-autonomous bodies (the three national academies, the 
Indian Council for Cultural Relations) and through non-govern- 
mental cultural organizations to which grants are made. The only 
alternative to this approach would be to administer all cultural 
programs through a government department; the effect of bureauc- 
racy on artistic creativity need hardly be commented upon. But 
the subsidization of private cultural organizations also produces 

The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture in Calcutta is one 
such organization which has received large grants both from the 
ministry of cultural affairs and from the West Bengal government. 
Recently a magnificent building was constructed to house the insti- 
tute, and a very high percentage of the cost was met by government 
grants. The program of the institute is excellent and includes lectures 
on a wide variety of social, economic, political, religious, and philo- 
sophical subjects, delivered by scholars representing all possible 
points of view. International seminars and symposia, facilities for 
research, the preparation and publication of the multi-volume work 
The Cultural Heritage of India, Sanskrit and Hindi classes, etc., 
are also important aspects of the institute's work. The intellectual 
atmosphere is cosmopolitan and free. 21 

However valuable the program of the institute, the stated prin- 
ciples which underlie it cannot but raise serious questions. The 
Ramakrishna Mission is, after all, a religious organization interested 
in propagating a definite point of view, namely, the philosophical 
and religious affirmations of Vedanta. The first aim of the institute 

21 Bulletin of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, 1961, vol. 12, 
pp. 68-72. 



is "to present a proper interpretation and appraisal of Indian 
culture." 22 The basic idea of Indian culture, we are told, is sum- 
marized by the word "religion," and the result of India's religious 
quest was the discovery of the spiritual oneness of all things in the 
universe and the divinity of man. In other words, what is really 
important in Indian culture is religion, not all religion nor even all 
Hindu religion, but Hindu religion which is based on metaphysical 
monism. If this is the "proper interpretation" of Indian culture, many 
will find it a highly selective one. 

We have already referred to India's cultural relations with foreign 
countries. This is a significant factor in reinforcing the policy of 
promoting impartially the cultural contributions of all religious 
traditions. In a religiously pluralist society, there are built-in checks 
to restrain the tendency of the state to become identified with one 
religion. In the case of India, the minorities play an important role 
in the building of the secular state. In a religiously pluralist inter- 
national society, similar checks are operative. 

Hostility or even indifference to the cultural heritages associated 
with Buddhism or Islam within India would make friendship with 
other Asian countries difficult. The Indian Council for Cultural Re- 
lations publishes a quarterly journal, The Indo-Asian Culture, which 
attempts to strengthen the ties with predominantly Muslim and 
Buddhist countries. The Indian approach to the Muslim world 
is evidenced even more clearly in the council's publication of a 
quarterly journal in Arabic, Thaqafat'ul-Hind. The complete neg- 
lect of the Islamic heritage at home would make flourishing cultural 
and political relations with the numerous Muslim countries of Asia 
and Africa virtually impossible. The question of culture in India has 
international implications which cannot be ignored. 

With these general remarks on the role of the state in the promo- 
tion of Indian culture, we must now turn to a consideration of the 
policies which have been adopted in specific areas of culture. 


Official policies must deal with both ancient and contemporary 
Indian culture. In the case of ancient culture the aim is to preserve 
the cultural heritage of the past and to increase people's understand- 

22 Swami Nityaswarupananda, The Threefold Cord: Statement of the Principles 
Underlying the Aims of the Institute, Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, 
Calcutta, 1959, p. i. 


ing and appreciation of it. With regard to contemporary Indian 
culture, the government must seek to give recognition and encourage- 
ment to the valuable elements of popular culture, and to promote 
the best creative effort in the various artistic media. There are nu- 
merous problems for the secular state in both these areas of culture, 
past and present. 

Ancient Indian culture 

One of the questions of government policy involves those Hindu 
temples which are not only places of worship but important centers 
of ancient Indian sculpture and architecture. Are these valuable 
achievements of historic Indian culture to be neglected simply 
because of their present association with religious worship? An 
editorial in The Hindu of Madras warned of the dire consequences 
which would result from continued neglect of the temples. "Unless 
prompt steps are taken to restore and preserve them, all the archi- 
tectural and sculptural wealth embodied in them and the traditions 
they stand for may be lost to us and to posterity." The temples are 
"rich treasure houses of art" and "the repositories of our ancient 
culture." 23 Both the government and the general public were urged 
to contribute toward the repair of these historic shrines. The Madras 
government selected sixty-two temples for renovation and made 
grants totaling 400,000 rupees for this purpose. 24 Other states have 
made similar grants. 

It is very doubtful that there is any clear distinction in the minds 
of most people between the religious and the cultural aspects of the 
Hindu temples which the government is helping to restore. The 
preservation of Indian sculpture and architecture by the state must 
inevitably entail the improvement of a place of Hindu worship and 
to that extent the promotion of Hindu religion. Whatever problem 
this situation poses for the secular state is not a matter of serious 
concern for legislators, administrators, or the general public. 

It seems obvious that, if private efforts are inadequate, the state 
does have a valid function to perform in the preservation of ancient 
temples which represent sculptural and architectural achievements 

28 The Hindu, January 24, 1961. 

**The Hindu Weekly Review, March 21, 1960; The Hindu, January 24, 1961; 
Administration Report of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments 
(Administration) Department, 1957-1958, Government of Madras, Madras, 1960, 
pp. 11-12. 



of outstanding significance. 25 These are cultural attainments of the 
past of which all Indians ought to be proud, and the use of state 
funds to preserve them is justified. But, if public funds are used to 
protect these "repositories of ancient culture," they must surely be 
open to people of all creeds. 

The ancestors of the Indian Muslim or Christian also contributed 
to the building of ancient Indian civilization. But how can one expect 
their descendants to feel pride in these cultural achievements when 
they are refused admission to the temples? In a number of the 
temples throughout India, a non-Hindu is not even allowed into 
the outer courtyard. Harijans, formerly excluded as ceremonially 
unclean, by law must now be admitted. But no matter how sincerely 
the non-Hindu might wish to understand and appreciate his cultural 
heritage, he will be turned away from many temples. If public funds 
are used for the preservation of Indian culture, temple authorities 
must also discard the exclusivist and sectarian approach to that culture. 
If the temples are to continue to be regarded as centers of Hindu 
culture only, then there is no justification for the use of state 
fund ? s. "Public funds for public purposes" is an axiom of the demo- 
cratic state. 

It is interesting to note that legislation enacted by Parliament 
in 1958 made specific provision for the practice objected to in the 
previous paragraph. The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological 
Sites and Remains Act provides for the acquisition by the central 
government of a "protected monument" deemed to be of national 
importance. Where such a monument or any part thereof is used for 
any form of religious worship, "the collector shall make due pro- 
vision for the protection of such monument or part thereof, from 
pollution or desecration (a) by prohibiting the entry therein, 
except in accordance with the conditions prescribed with the con- 
currence of the persons, if any, in religious charge of the said 
monument or part thereof, of any person not entitled so to enter 
by the religious usages of the community by which the monument or 
part thereof is used." 26 

As a result of this provision there can be "national" monu- 
ments open only to Hindus, and others open only to Muslims. 

25 The qualification contained in the last part of this sentence is important, and 
would exclude a majority of the temples. 

26 Section 16(2). 



Respect for existing religious practices is understandable, but 
this never hindered the state from legislating and enforcing 
Harijan temple entry measures. Is it not highly incongruous to have 
a provision protecting a national monument from the "pollution 
or desecration" caused by the mere presence of people who happen 
to belong to a different religion? In the light of this provision, 
section 18 of the act has a very hollow ring to it: "Subject to any 
rules made under this act, the public shall have a right of access to 
any protected monument." 

Nehru wrote that the ancient past of India belonged to all of the 
Indian people, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and others, because 
their forefathers had helped to build it. Subsequent conversion to 
another religion could not deprive them of this heritage, any more 
than the Greeks, after their conversion to Christianity, could have 
ceased to feel proud of the achievements of their ancestors. "If all 
the people of India had been converted to Islam or Christianity, her 
cultural heritage would still have remained to inspire them and give 
them that poise and dignity which a long record of civilized existence 
with all its mental struggles with the problem of life givjes a 
people." 27 The past of India, with all its greatness, is a common 
heritage of all Indians, and in no sense a monopoly of the Hindus. 
Nehru vividly expressed this idea in an address delivered in 1948 at 
the Aligarh Muslim University. "You are Muslims and I am a 
Hindu," he declared. "We may adhere to different religious faiths 
or to none; but that does not take away from that cultural inheritance 
that is yours as well as mine." 28 Yet the sound approach expressed 
in Nehru's words has not always been adopted. 

A few months after the attainment of independence, Deputy Prime 
Minister Sardar Patel vowed not to rest until the Somnath temple 
in Gujarat, partially destroyed by Muslim invaders in the eleventh 
century, was reconstructed. There can be no doubt that for many 
Hindus this project represented not the restoration of an example of 
ancient architecture, but something of religious and communal sig- 
nificance. It symbolized the repudiation of almost a thousand years of 
Muslim domination in India, and the reassertion of Hindu su- 
premacy. A campaign was begun to raise funds for this project. In 
the state of Uttar Pradesh, a system of indirect taxation was devised 

27 Nehru, op. cit. 9 p. 343. 

28 The Hindu, January 25, 1948. 



to pay for the restoration of the temple. A Muslim writer noted 
bitterly: "And so indirectly all Hindus and non-Hindus, mono- 
theists, polytheists and atheists have been paying this religious levy 
in the twentieth century to the government of the secular state of 
India, for the rebuilding of an ancient Hindu shrine." 29 

In May 1951 elaborate Hindu ceremonies, with the chanting of 
Vedic hymns by Brahman priests, hailed the partial restoration of 
the temple. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, president of India, took a prominent 
part in the function by installing the jyotilingam image in the temple. 
An Indian Christian writer noted with irony: "President Rajendra 
Prasad took occasion to speak some words of religious tolerance 
when he consecrated the idol in the renovated temple of Somnath." 30 
It seems clear that the whole inspiration of this project, with which 
high government officials (but not Nehru) were so closely identified, 
was very far indeed from the approach which is expected of the 
secular state. The plea that the deputy prime minister and the 
president were acting as individuals in their private capacities is not 
adequate justification for such activities; the influence and prestige 
of high office inevitably becomes associated with whatever they do 
in public. 

The failure to distinguish between Indian culture and Hindu 
religion is illustrated by the large stone image of reclining Vishnu 
located at the entrance to the headquarters of the inspector-general 
of police in Bangalore. The piece was excavated a few years ago, and 
is a fine example of Indian sculpture. However, it is not understood 
in these terms, but as a religious object. Thus, the visitor finds that 
Vaishnavite sect marks have been placed on the forehead of the 
statue, fresh garlands of flowers are regularly placed around its 
neck, and some government servants entering the building to go 
to their offices can be seen in an attitude of reverence with palms 
together as they approach it. 

If temples represent ancient Indian architecture and sculpture, the 
great literature of the past is found in the Sanskrit classics. Regarding 
the importance of Sanskrit, many would agree with K. M. Panikkar: 
"The basis of our cultural unity is Sanskrit. It is the literature that 
is embodied in that great language that provides us all over India with 

20 Prem Nath Bazaz, The History of Struggle for Freedom in Kashmir, Kashmir 
Publishing Company, New Delhi, 1954, p. 360. 

80 P. Oomman Philip in Christian Century, 1951, vol. 68, p. 831. 



the background of our culture. It is to the classics of that language 
that our traditions are to be traced. Without the continued cultivation 
of Sanskrit by the intelligentsia of the country, the cultural unity 
of India will suffer." 31 In 1959 the government of India established 
a Central Sanskrit Board to advise the government on matters of 
policy pertaining to the propagation and development of Sanskrit 
in the country. 

The Sanskrit epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, have 
played a powerful role in the evolution of Indian culture. It is 
impossible for any Indian to understand his heritage without a 
knowledge of these great works. Practically every Indian school 
child reads some passages from them, usually in translations in the 
regional language. While some parts of these epics are essentially 
non-religious, and simply very interesting narrative, other parts 
have strongly religious content. Is it possible to teach these works 
without promoting or propagating Hinduism ? Yes, if they are ap- 
proached in the right way. 

Prime Minister Nehru once described the Ramayana as "a great 
epic of our race, which has molded the thoughts and emotions of 
uncounted generations of people in India during the past ages." 
For Nehru, it stood as one of the great treasures of Indian culture. 
C. Rajagopalachari, a former governor-general of India, however, 
emphasized a different aspect. In a series of radio talks over the 
state-operated All India Radio, he dealt with the Ramayana, at 
least in part, as a religious book. After considering the views of 
various writers regarding the status to be attributed to the hero 
Rama, Rajagopalachari made his personal comment that "to try 
to undo the work of ages and undeify Rama in India would be as 
futile as positively mischievous." 32 The Ramayana is both a literary 
classic and a source book of Hindu religion, and either aspect can be 
emphasized by its interpreter. 

The inclusion of Hindu mythological material in some of the 
readers prescribed for school children has occasioned complaints by 
members of the minority communities. As an example of such 
material, the Basic Hindi Reader for the fifth class, edited by the 

31 K. M. Panikkar, The State and the Citizen, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 
1956, p. 90. 
82 The Guardian, 1954, vol. 32, p. 227. 


director of education, U. P., contains the following: "Indians regard 
the river Ganges as sacred. It is said that emerging from the feet of 
Lord Vishnu, the Ganges came to the thick hair of Lord Shiva and 
from there to the Himalayas. Lord Brahma, much pleased by king 
Bhagirathi's austerities, sent Ganges to the earth to bring salvation 
to living creatures. The Ganges is believed to wash away all sins 
(literally, to be the destroyer of sins)/' 33 The reading then went 
on to describe the beauty of the Ganges and the worship which 
takes place on its banks at the famous pilgrimage centers. Quite apart 
from the mythological account of the origin of the Ganges, the 
references to belief in its sacredness ("Indians regard the Ganges as 
sacred") and power to wash away sins will be disturbing to Muslim 
and Christian parents. 

Other stories found in the Hindi readers recounted the race of 
the gods around the earth which was won by Lord Ganesh (the 
elephant-headed god) entitling him to priority of worship, the 
miracles of Lord Krishna as a small boy, and various tales from the 
Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The quantity of mythological 
material is not large, being limited to one story in each of the readers 
examined. Some recognition is also given to Muslim culture; for 
example, the same reader which related the miracles of Krishna 
contained a description of the celebration of Id, although the em- 
phasis was on the social and not the religious aspect of this Muslim 
festival. 34 Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi dealt at some length 
with the question of mythology in the textbooks in an address en- 
titled "Education or Cultural Aggression in Free India?" After 
examining a number of examples the Maulana concluded: "It is 
evident this is a preaching of purely Hindu beliefs, which is hardly 
proper or permissible to be incorporated in textbooks meant for 
children pursuing different faiths and creeds." 35 The problem 
certainly merits further inquiry, and a committee of the U. P. legis- 
lative assembly was appointed to consider it. 

33 Basic Hindi Reader: Fifth Bool^ t ed. by Director of Education, Government 
of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow, 1960, p. 3. (Translated for the author.) 

34 Basic Hindi Reader: Part Two, ed. by Director of Education, Government of 
Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow, 1960, pp. 55-56 and 60-61. (Translated for the author.) 

35 Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi, Education or Cultural Aggression in 
Free India? English translation by Obaidur Rahman, Anjuman-I-Taaleemaat-I-Deen, 
Lucknow, 1960, p. 12. 



The Buddha Jayanti celebrations 

Another aspect of the state's concern with ancient Indian culture 
was reflected in the Buddha Jayanti celebrations of 1956. The full- 
moon day of May 1956 marked the 2,500th anniversary of the 
traditional date of the Buddha's death. The government of India 
decided to celebrate the event as one of great cultural significance 
for the country. A high-powered committee was appointed, with 
Vice-President S. Radhakrishnan as chairman and the chief min- 
isters of several states as members. Public funds were appropriated for 
the celebrations, which included public meetings, exhibitions of 
Buddhist art, the visits of foreign Buddhist scholars, the publication 
of forty volumes of the Tripitakas (Buddhist scriptures) in Pali and 
Sanskrit, the issue of special postal stamps, and the erection of a 
monument in New Delhi to commemorate the event. 30 In addition 
to the cultural program, roads and rest houses were constructed at 
important Buddhist centers for the convenience of the many pilgrims 
who visited India during that year. 

Some people in India sensed that this kind of activity, in the name 
of ancient Indian culture, was somehow inappropriate for a secular 
state. An article which appeared in the periodical Thought suggested 
that there was a great confusion of ideals in present-day India. 
Among other points the writer noted: "We speak of secularism but 
yield to a riot of official enthusiasm over the 2,5ooth anniversary of the 
Mahaparinirvana of the Buddha." 37 

Some penetrating questions were asked in the twenty-four page 
booklet entitled Is the Republic of India Secular? by Srimad 
Acharya Swami Neminath Maharaj. The writer's approach was 
that of an orthodox Hindu religious leader who regarded Buddhism 
as a historical revolt against Hinduism. The author pointed out 
the Buddha's rejection of Vedic ritual and ceremonialism and the 
refutation of Buddhism by such great Hindu teachers as Shankara. 
The swami categorically denied the claim that the Buddha should 
be regarded as the ninth avatar (incarnation) of the god Vishnu. As 
a rebel against Hinduism, the Buddha could have no honorable 
place within that religious system. The author compared the Buddha 
with Rama, who lived many centuries earlier, and who, he claimed, 

86 India: A Reference Annual, 1956, pp. 315-316. 

87 S. D., "Ideals of the Republic," Thought, vol. 9, January 26, 1957, p. 3. 



was greater than the Buddha in every way, and then asked: "Is India 
going to celebrate the one hundredth century of Ram?" Another 
important question was the following: "Is a secular government 
justified in expending huge sums of public taxpayers' money over 
a religious function like the Buddha Jayanti celebration?" 38 The 
swami charged that in India secularism apparently meant a policy of 
respect to all religions, coupled with active encouragement and sup- 
port to Buddhism in particular. 

The 2,5ooth anniversary of the Buddha's parinirvana was un- 
doubtedly a religious event of great importance for the Buddhist 
world. Celebrations in the Buddhist countries of South and Southeast 
Asia were of a decidedly religious nature. In Rangoon the Sixth 
Great Buddhist Council was held from 1954 to 1956, and monks 
from all parts of Buddhist Asia participated. While for the Buddhist 
countries the significance of the event was primarily religious, for 
India it could be primarily cultural. Buddhism was one of the 
important vehicles by which Indian culture languages, art, archi- 
tecture, sculpture, customs was spread to parts of East and especially 
Southeast Asia. The government of India saw the opportunity to 
strengthen ties with these countries by generous participation in 
the Buddha Jayanti celebrations. The Buddha's position as a great 
and honored figure of Indian history, and the location in India of 
the most sacred Buddhist places of pilgrimage, made India a natural 
focal point of interest for the Buddhist world. 

The government could afford to display a lively interest in a 
religion which was professed by such a tiny minority within India. 89 
It could not do anything comparable in the case of a Hindu religious 
event, regardless of its cultural significance, without fostering the 
suspicion that it was promoting the majority religion. To answer 
the swami's first question, it is highly doubtful that the government 
would celebrate the passing of a hundred centuries since Rama, even 
if the year could be agreed upon. 

38 Srimad Acharya Swami Ncminath Maharaj, Is the Republic of India Secular?, 
D. L. Dardiya, Raphael Art Press, Calcutta, 1956, p. 2. 

80 At the same time, extravagant praise from visiting Buddhist dignitaries must 
also cause some embarrassment to the leaders of the secular state. In December 1960 
Mrs. Bandnranaike, the prime minister of Ceylon, expressed her astonishment at 
the progress which had been made in the provision of facilities for pilgrims at 
Sarnath and Bodh Gaya. "This tremendous progress," she is reported to have said, 
"is due to an ardent desire of the Indian government to propagate the causes of 
Buddhism." The Mail, December 29, 1960. 



But the relation of Buddhism to Hinduism is still being debated 
by scholars. While the swami regarded the Buddha as a rebel and 
enemy of Hinduism, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan has long contended that 
he was a Hindu reformer whose fundamental principles had their 
roots in the Upanishads. According to Radhakrishnan, the Buddha 
believed in the Brahman of the Upanishads, only he called it 
Dharma. 40 Radhakrishnan's emphasis on the reaffiliation of Bud- 
dhism to Hinduism was expressed in an address delivered in con- 
nection with the same Buddha Jayanti celebrations. "The Buddha did 
not feel that he was announcing a new religion. He was born, grew 
up, and died a Hindu. . . . For us, in this country, the Buddha is an 
outstanding representative of our religious tradition. . . . While the 
teaching of the Buddha assumed distinctive forms in the other 
countries of the world in conformity with their own traditions, here, 
in the home of the Buddha, it has entered into and become an 
integral part of our culture." 41 If Buddhism is really a part of Hindu- 
ism, as Radhakrishnan holds, then the large-scale Buddha Jayanti 
celebrations might well be criticized as the promotion of Hinduism 
by a professedly secular state. 

Buddhists, however, almost unanimously reject Radhakrishnan's 
interpretation, and while Hindus are naturally more favorably dis- 
posed toward it, government policies in India still distinguish sharply 
between Hindus and Buddhists. Thus, as we have seen, when 
several hundred thousand Harijans followed Dr. B. R. Ambedkar in 
embracing the Buddhist faith in 1956, the educational and other con- 
cessions which as Hindu Harijans they had received from the state 
governments were quickly withdrawn. 42 Hindus may be encouraged 
to appreciate Buddhism, but if they become converts to it they will 
likely encounter difficulties. 

The central government regards Buddhism in India as a cultural 
phenomenon worthy of encouragement and makes a small annual 
grant to the Maha Bodhi Society. But Buddhism in India today is 
far more than a museum piece; it is a vital missionary faith which is 
attracting a considerable number of Hindus. The mass movement 

40 D. S. Sarma, Studies in the Renaissance of Hinduism, Banaras Hindu Uni- 
versity, Banaras, 1944, pp. 615-618. 

41 S. Radhakrishnan, Occasional Speeches and Writings 7952-7959, Publications 
Division, Government of India, 1960, pp. 341, 345. 

42 The concessions were restored to the Buddhist converts, in the state of 
Maharashtra only, after several years and considerable political agitation. 



among the Mahars continues, and Buddhism bids fair to stage a 
significant come-back in the land of its birth. According to the Maha 
Bodhi Society, "The revival of Buddhism in India is in many ways 
one of the most remarkable phenomena of this century. . . . More 
and more people are becoming convinced that the revival of Bud- 
dhism, and the revival of Buddhism alone, can lift India to the heights 
of prosperity and peace which were hers during the reign of the illus- 
trious Ashoka." 43 In the light of recent developments, it is clear that 
whatever future encouragement the government gives to Buddhism 
on the cultural level will have a direct effect on the religious situa- 
tion in the country. 

We have thus far considered the role of the state in the preservation 
of ancient Indian culture, and in the promotion of popular apprecia- 
tion of it. It is obvious that the university has a special responsibility 
with respect to these same functions. The university acts as a bridge 
linking the culture of the past with that of the present. One im- 
portant aspect of the cultural situation in India should be noted, 
namely, that the traditions of Hinduism and Islam, the two strongest 
elements in the composition of Indian culture, are represented sep- 
arately in two central universities, the Banaras Hindu University and 
the Aligarh Muslim University. It is to be hoped that the cultural 
synthesis among Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and other traditions 
is continuing in all the universities in India and in all other walks 
of life, as it has for centuries. But, in addition, there is real merit in 
an arrangement whereby the individual traditions can be developed 
in centers of instruction and research. From the viewpoint of the 
secular state, to have such institutions managed and financed by 
non-governmental agencies would of course be preferable. But it 
seems necessary for the present to work within the framework of 
the existing system. 

It is especially important that minority cultural traditions be given 
opportunities for development in institutions of their own, in an 
atmosphere free from minority complexes. The special importance of 
the Aligarh Muslim University as a center of Muslim culture has 
been recognized by the government of India, and large sums have 
been spent on the expansion and development of the institution. 
The Aligarh Muslim University Inquiry Committee, instigated by 

48 D. Valisinha, Buddhism in India, Maha Bodhi Society of India, Calcutta, 
n.d., p. 9, 



the central government, stressed this aspect of Aligarh's role in its 
report submitted in 1961 : "It should develop and emphasize the study 
of what we may describe as the contribution of the Muslim com- 
munity to the complex pattern of our national culture, and in fact 
to the worldwide culture of humanity. That Islam has made very 
substantial and notable contributions to this heritage both historically 
as well as currently in our own age, is a patent truth which no one 
with any pretensions to the study of the history of civilization will 
dare to deny. It is this living tradition, this dynamic force, which 
we should like to preserve and cherish in this university." 44 The com- 
mittee recommended the building of strong departments for the 
study of languages associated with Muslim culture (Arabic, Persian, 
and Urdu) and the development of a strong history department 
which would pay special attention to the contributions of Islam to 
Indian polity, thought, and art. The approach taken by the com- 
mittee is a sound one, and necessary for the maintenance of the com- 
posite nature of Indian culture. 

Contemporary Indian culture 

In a previous section we touched upon the work of the three 
national academies which seek to promote the best creative effort in 
the fields of dance, drama, and music (the Sangeet Natak Akademi), 
literature (the Sahitya Akademi), and art and architecture (the Lalit 
Kala Akademi). While there are the problems inherent in a situation 
in which a state organization must attempt to judge the quality of 
creative artistic achievement, these are not problems for the secular 
state. In general it can be said that a sincere effort has been made to 
give due recognition to the cultural contributions of the non-Hindu 
traditions, and to the composite culture which has resulted. This is 
especially clear in the field of north Indian music, which evolved 
during Mughal times through the imperceptible fusion of Persian 
and Hindu elements. This composite tradition is proudly continued, 
and a high percentage of the most prominent Indian musicians today 
are Muslims. 45 

44 Report of the Aligarh Muslim University Inquiry Committee, Aligarh Muslim. 
University Press, Aligarh, 1961, p. 142. Compare this approach with that taken by 
a Jana Sangh publication: "Obviously there is no place for a Muslim University in 
Hindustan. Aligarh Muslim University will continue to be suspect as long as it 
indulges in its dubious aim as the repository of Muslim culture in India." Organizer, 
vol. 14, February 6, 1961, p. 3. 

45 Uma Vasudev, "Indian Music Today," Times of India Annual, 1961, Times of 
India, Bombay, 1961, pp. 53-60. 



The state-operated All India Radio is of obvious importance in the 
promotion of Indian music and adheres to the sound policy stated 
above. One special problem is that a large number of the AIR stations 
broadcast daily programs of "devotional songs." These are Hindu 
religious songs, frequently in the form of prayers addressed to 
particular Hindu deities. They are appreciated chiefly for their 
religious content. Thus, a letter to the editor of Swarajya expressed 
gratitude to the AIR station in Vijayawada for broadcasting a 
variety of devotional songs daily at 6:40 A.M. "It is doing a yeoman 
service, especially now when people are caring more about money 
than religion and God." 40 

It is highly doubtful that such programs of devotional songs can 
be justified on any secular ground. The literal message of the songs 
is of course highly religious, but this is not the most important test. 
It is rather the general understanding and interpretation of the sig- 
nificance of the music which should be the determining factor. A 
program of Negro spirituals or Gregorian chants would be almost 
totally religious in terms of the words which are sung. Nevertheless, 
a western audience will in most cases appreciate the musical form 
for its own sake without entering into the religious experience con- 
veyed by the words. It is quite clear that the Hindu devotional songs 
are neither sung nor listened to in this spirit. They are a means of 
promoting devotion to the Hindu religion and, however popular 
they may be with the radio audience, this is not a function of the 
secular state. Some AIR stations, Bangalore for example, go one 
step further and broadcast the recitation of Sanskrit religious verses 
{mantras} in the early morning. This is totally opposed to the prin- / 
ciples of secularism. 

In India the state is concerned with promoting not only the work 
of professional artists, musicians, and dancers but also the valuable 
elements of popular culture. Thus, Republic Day celebrations in 
New Delhi annually include elaborate programs of folk dance and 
music from all parts of India. One of the great needs of present-day 
India is for the development of social festivals which can become 
expressions of a truly national culture. Thanksgiving in America is 
celebrated as a national festival in which Protestants, Roman Cath- 
olics, and Jews join together. Christmas has largely become such 
a festival in western countries. When the president of the United 

46 Swarajya, voL 3, November 22, 1958. 



States each year switches on the lights to the Christmas tree on the 
White House lawn, virtually no one regards it as an identification 
of Christianity with the state. Christmas has largely become a secular- 
ized general festival; many non-Christians participate with no sense 
of being outsiders. It is still, of course, a religious festival for those 
who wish to make it so; but for the rest it is a secular social event 
which stimulates a feeling of goodwill. 

Festivals are a valuable medium for the development of cultural 
unity and the emotional integration of a nation. They provide op- 
portunities for the expression of national art, drama, and music and 
help to break down the social exclusivism of groups and classes. 
Dr. P. D. Devanandan noted some of the more or less secularized 
festivals of religious origin in western countries and then raised 
the question of certain Hindu festivals which are more occasions of 
popular rejoicing than purely religious observances. "Of course these 
festivals have a Hindu icligious background, but the question is 
whether they can be 'secularized' without giving offense to Hindu 
religious sentiment and made acceptable to all people in our country 
as public festivals in which everyone can participate." 47 Divcdi and 
Holi are two festivals which in large part have already taken on 
the nature of non-religious social and national occasions. Many other 
regional and local festivals offer similar opportunities. The need for 
such a development is obviously great. At the same time, any active 
measures taken by the state to encourage this development are 
likely to be misinterpreted by both the Hindus and the minorities. 48 

As far as the minorities are concerned, they are already very much 
disturbed over the tendency to identify the religious culture of the 
Hindus with the nation. Few corner-stones of state or local govern- 
ment buildings are laid without the performance of Sanskritic 
ritual by Brahman priests. Ministers of the central and state gov- 
ernments have sometimes performed puja (worship) and used vari- 
ous religious symbols (for example, a swastika mark made with 
vermilion) in the inauguration ceremonies of government projects. 

47 P. D. Devanandan, "Christian Participation in Hindu National Festivals," 
N.C.C. Review, 1957, vol. 77, p. 312. 

48 The most that the government of India has done thus far in the matter of 
Hindu festivals is to introduce a new calendar standardizing the dates for the 
observance of the numerous religious and seasonal festivals throughout the country. 
The new calendar went into effect on March 22, 1957, and is used by the central 
and state governments in setting public holidays. . 



A photograph which appeared in the newspapers showed the pres- 
ident of India seated cross-legged amidst the various utensils re- 
quired for Hindu ceremonies; the caption read: "President Rajendra 
Prasad performing the religious ceremony on the occasion of the 
laying of the foundation-stone of the Goshala of Kasturba Samarak 
Trust at Koba." 49 The emblem of Madras state contains a gopuram 
(tower of a Hindu temple), which, while illustrating one important 
feature of south Indian culture, is likely to suggest to the Muslim or 
Christian the identification of the state with Hinduism. 

The official language of India 

Undoubtedly the most fundamental single decision regarding 
culture made since 1947 was the adoption of Hindi in the Devanagari 
script as the official language of the Indian Republic. We must here 
attempt to understand the background and the significance of this 
decision. A different but closely related question involves the status 
of Urdu as one of the languages recognized by the Constitution. 
The religious and cultural implications of this question are of great 
significance for the secular state. Because of its intimate connection 
with the life of the Muslim minority, this latter question is con- 
sidered separately in another chapter. 60 

Religion and language are two areas of culture which are inter- 
related at many points. As one writer expressed it: "If we were to single 
out the one sociological factor that has had the deepest influence on 
the history of language and has in turn been most deeply influenced 
by language, religion would probably be that factor." 51 Most 
languages in existence have as their earliest written document a 
religious text. One of the most dramatic illustrations of the intimate 
relationship between language and religion is found in the history 
of Hebrew. Hebrew was replaced by Aramaic as the spoken language 
of Palestine before the time of Nehemiah, and for twenty-three 
centuries was a dead language. "For all this length of time, until 
within living memory," Toynbee noted, "Hebrew survived only as 
the language of the liturgy of the Jewish church and of the scholar- 
ship that concerned itself with the Jewish law." 52 Hebrew has now 

49 The Mail, December 25, 1960. 

50 See chapter 14, "A Report on the Minorities." 

51 Mario Pei, The Story of Language, J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 
1949, p. 196. 

62 Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History, Oxford University Press, New York, 
abridged ed., 1947, p. 511. 



been brought out of the synagogue to become the vibrant living 
language of the new state of Israel 

In order to understand the significance of the adoption of Hindi as 
the official language, it is necessary to review the background of the 
Hindi-Urdu controversy. When the Muslim invaders came to India, 
they found a Sanskrit-derived language called Hindi (the language 
of Hind or India) being spoken throughout a large area in northern 
and central India. As Persian was the court language of the con- 
querors, Hindi absorbed many Persian words. The word "Urdu" 
came into use during the Mughal period and referred to this same 
language, written in the Perso-Arabic script. Many Muslims, who 
generally favored this script, continued to call the language Hindi. 

In time Urdu developed into a literary language with a beautiful 
style of poetic expression. Its script related Urdu to the sources of 
Islamic culture, and increasing use was made of Persian and Arabic 
loan words. In the development of literary Hindi, on the other hand, 
stress was placed on the native Devanagari script and a more highly 
Sanskritized vocabulary. Thus Urdu and Hindi developed along 
different lines as literary languages. However, the spoken language 
of the masses, both Hindus and Muslims, did not change much. It 
remained essentially one language, called Hindustani by many 

Because of the preeminent position of Persian, Urdu did not come 
into use in government offices and courts until after the collapse of 
the Mughal Empire. By the early nineteenth century, Urdu was the 
court language throughout northern India. The Hindi-Urdu con- 
troversy erupted in the 1870'$, when Hindu agitations demanded 
the displacement of Urdu by Hindi in the courts and offices of 
the British government. Although government orders were passed 
to give effect to this change in Bihar, and later in Uttar Pradesh, 
the battle for Hindi was unsuccessful. But the communal antagonisms 
which were stirred up by the Hindi-Urdu controversy continued. 53 
The formation of Muslim and later Hindu communal political 
parties in the twentieth century added further fuel to the fire. The 
Muslim League became the champion of Urdu, and the Hindu 
Mahasabha of Hindi. The controversy increased in intensity in the 

53 Ram Gopal, Indian Muslims: A Political History (1858-1947), Asia Publishing 
House, Bombay, 1959, pp. 39-43. 

39 8 


1930'$ and I94o's as the question of a national language for an inde- 
pendent India became each year a less academic one. 64 

The issue was usually argued in terms of the written languages, 
Hindi and Urdu. However, both Gandhi and Nehru took the 
position that the spoken language, Hindustani, should be recognized 
as the national language and that for official purposes it could be 
written in either script. This became the official position of the 
Congress Party. Hindustani was regarded as the product of the 
fusion of the Hindu and Islamic cultures, the expression of com- 
posite Indian culture. Just a few days before independence, Gandhi 
wrote: "The Congress must stand firm like a rock. It dare not give 
way on the question of the lingua franca of India. It cannot be 
Persianized Urdu or Sanskritized Hindi. It must be a beautiful blend 
of the two simple forms written in either script. Let us not turn away 
from the Urdu script." 55 

In 1949 the Congress and the Constituent Assembly decided other- 
wise. In the meetings of the party and of the assembly drafting 
committee the pressure for Hindi in the Devanagari script was 
overwhelming. Coming in the wake of partition and unprecedented 
Hindu-Muslim violence, the decision was strongly influenced by com- 
munal sentiment. Mohammed Hifzur Rahman expressed his sense 
of bewilderment in the Constituent Assembly. "Today I am confused 
and confounded because until yesterday the whole Congress was 
unanimous regarding the solution of the language problem. There 
was 110 dissenting voice. All said with one voice 'Hindustani shall be 
the national language of our country, which shall be written in both 
the scripts, Hindi and Urdu.' But today they want to change it." 
Maulana Azad was bitterly disappointed when the Congress rejected 
Hindustani, and he later resigned from the drafting committee. He 
protested that "from one end to another narrow-mindedness reigned 
supreme." 50 Article 343(1) of the Constitution states: "The official 
language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script." 

With the partition of India, the majority of the Muslim popula- 

54 Snniti Kumar Chatterji, Indo-Aryan and Hindi, Gujarat Vernacular Society, 
Ahmedabad, 1942, pp. 198-235; Z. A. Ahmed, ed., National Language for India: 
A Symposium, Kitabistan, Allahabad, 1941. 

55 Harijan, August 10, 1947. 

56 Constituent Assembly Debates, vol. 9, pp. 1339, 1456-1457. 



tion, and the majority of those who claimed Urdu as their language, 
became citizens of the new dominion, Pakistan. Although the de- 
cision to adopt Devanagari as the sole script for the official language 
of India was undoubtedly made with communal bias in the minds 
of some, this particular decision was sound from a practical and 
administrative point of view. The use of two scripts would un- 
doubtedly have further confounded an already difficult linguistic 
situation. The Devanagari script is used not only for Hindi but in 
slightly varying forms for Gujarati, Bengali, Assamese, Marathi, and 
other important languages, and is thus known throughout north 
and central India. The adoption of the Devanagari script for the 
official language does not represent a denial of what the secular 
state's cultural policy should be. In a decision of this type, the most 
important considerations should be practical ones, and the number 
of people who already know the script should rank first. Maulana 
Azad himself recognized the force of this argument, and had 
agreed to the adoption of the Devanagari script. So much for the 
question of script. 

But the question of vocabulary represented another problem, The 
significance of the name "Hindustani," and the reason for Gandhi's 
desire to have it recognized as the official language, was that it 
was a living spoken language which expressed the cultural synthesis 
which had already taken place in north India. The natural process 
by which a Sanskrit-derived language had assimilated Persian and 
Arabic expressions over a period of hundreds of years was recognized 
in the name "Hindustani." As Maulana Azad explained to the 
Constituent Assembly, "by adopting the name of Hindustani, the 
Congress had recognized that natural law by which languages 
evolve." 57 The use of the term "Hindi" suggests a different kind of 
development, with emphasis on the literary language which has 
drawn heavily upon Sanskrit. 

While the Constitution is completely clear as to script, the directive 
for the development of Hindi vocabulary is somewhat ambiguous. 
Article 351 states: "It shall be the duty of the Union to promote the 
spread of the Hindi language, to develop it so that it may serve as 
a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture 
of India and to secure its enrichment by assimilating without inter- 

57 Ibid., p. 1455. 



fering with its genius, the forms, style and expressions used in 
Hindustani and in the other languages of India specified in the Eighth 
Schedule, and by drawing, wherever necessary or desirable, for its 
vocabulary, primarily on Sanskrit and secondarily on other lan- 
guages." The article upholds the concept of "the composite culture 
of India" by allowing for the assimilation of "expressions used in 
Hindustani" (presumably including the latter's Persian and Arabic 
loan words), but concludes that Hindi's vocabulary should be ex- 
panded by drawing "primarily on Sanskrit." 

The Official Language Commission, appointed in 1955, was 
directed to make recommendations regarding the progressive use 
of Hindi for official purposes, the restrictions on the use of English for 
these purposes, and the time schedule for this gradual replacement. 
The commission report, submitted in 1956, included a brief section 
on article 351 and reaffirmed the need to develop the Hindi language 
as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite 
culture of India. The commission took cognizance of