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The accommodation of religious diversity in India

Gurpreet interview 2
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Accommodation of religious diversity is a challenging issue, and it needs formal principles to be put in place. But it has to be supplemented by informal mechanisms so that trust is generated between communities. And I think India started on a very positive note when the Constitution was being framed and the effort was made to include members of different religious communities in the process of deliberation, particularly when it came to the discussion about the fundamental rights of citizens and minorities. So a consensus was built around it. So that was the positive beginning. In terms of principles that were put in place, let me mention just four. The first is that the state did not give preferred religion status to any group.
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No state recognised religion or established religion was put in place. And this made a big difference, because in societies where religion plays a very important role and still shapes individual choices and social life, when we have an established state religion or a religion which is given a special status, it tends to dominate the public domain. And it tends then to push into the peripheries all other groups. So in India, we have never had any state established religion. In addition to this, the second major element was that they provided very extensive amount of religious liberty to all persons belonging to different communities. And lots of different groups were taken into consideration here.
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So you’ve had, in addition freedom of conscience, and freedom to worship, freedom of belief, you had freedom to practise your religion. Which means different kinds of religious observances were permitted, whether it was in the form of collective prayer, it was in the form of ceremonies that were conducted outdoors publicly, whether it is a case of particular food habits, dress codes, festival celebrations, et cetera– all these were formerly permitted and treated as fundamental rights of citizens. In addition to it, there was be no religious education of any kind in schools that were governed and administered by the state. Either fully funded by them, or even in the received funds from the state, there could be no mandatory religious education in them.
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In addition to all of this, religious and linguistic minorities were given the right to establish their own minority educational institutions. And this was an important step, because they could impart education of their choice here. And these educational institutions truly exist at all levels, from the kindergarten and nursery level, all the way up to specialised technical education and essential. Formally, these were the principles that were put in place. After independence, these were further supplemented by a set of informal considerations, two of which were a) An effort was made to include people from different religious groups in primary decision-making bodies, especially in the cabinet, in the central Parliament. Prestigious political positions were also given to the heads of institutions, etcetera.
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So an effort was made really to try and include them in many different kinds of ways that is possible.
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The republic calender of holidays was made. Holidays were given for major festivals for all religious groups. And there was another week in which they were included. In ceremonies, and public ceremonies, and public occasions, special effort would be made to include all religious groups. So these were some of the ways in which a system of accommodation has been working in India.
In this audio interview Gurpreet Mahajan reviews the main constitutional principles driving the Indian regime governing religious and other types of minorities like Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
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Governing Religion: Global Challenges and Comparative Approaches

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