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The opening of the Indian Constitution proudly proclaims its resolve to constitute India into a “secular democratic republic” and to secure to all its citizens “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship” and “equality of status and of opportunity.” Though the country’s constitutional vision may be clear, the appropriateness of such a vision for a society as deeply religious and socially stratified as India is continuously subject to social and political challenge.
The task of securing religious liberty while upholding secular aspirations in a deeply religious society is a daunting one. Hinduism, the professed religion of over 80 percent of Indians, is often described as a “way of life,” highlighting the “profound tension that penetrates to the core of Indian constitutionalism, where ‘the State is secular . . . but the people are not’” (Jacobsohn 2003: 35–6). On one side of what is often a very polemical debate are those who advocate for equal treatment of religious groups in India, where the language of equal treatment may disguise a quest for assimilation through subordination. On the other side of the debate are those who argue that neutrality toward religion is a prescription for majoritarian rule, adding that minorities must be protected against the dominance of the majority Hindu culture.
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