India's Secular Paradox: A Study of a Non-Religious School in Contemporary India

India's Secular Paradox: A Study of a Non-Religious School in Contemporary India
Dr. Devika Mittal


India, as a nation-state, upholds secularism as a pillar enshrined in its Constitution. Yet, the idea and practice of secularism remains contested both in state as well as in individual views and practices. These varied meanings and contestations are examined through an ethnography of a government-aided school in Delhi.

The school’s secular practices are located in the school culture which is constructed by its official narrative and institutional aspects, and through the pedagogic processes and interactions of teachers and students.

Upholding its institutional history that connects it to a prominent leader of the nationalist movement, the school builds an ethos that actively engages with ideas about the nation, nationalism and citizenship. The official discourse strives to socialize young adults as responsible and proud citizens who would uphold Constitutional ideals. It circulates a narrative of India's heritage that accommodates and celebrates religious and cultural diversity. There are, however, contradictions in school practices that often blur the boundaries between a Hindu and a pan-Indian culture. These contradictions matched by teachers’ dilemmas about the state practice of secularism intersects with students’ prejudiced perspectives and practices. The school’s official discourse on equality of caste and communities also stands contested.

The thesis, thus, concludes that despite its official narrative of secularism which locates it as a practice of religious harmony and caste equality, the school becomes a paradoxical site which reproduces contestations to secularism from a Hindu majoritarian perspective. This conclusion also serves as a commentary on the state of school education in contemporary India.


Dr. Devika Mittal

Defended in


PhD defended at

Delhi University, Delhi School of Economics, Department of Sociology


Social Sciences




National politics