Helmer Juul Nissen, a Danish history teacher in Thailand, once told me it was important to have religion as a subject. This helps moving mythology and stories on beliefs into different space. This leaves historical facts and dates, the cause and effects of incidents, the politics of rulers and governments, all within the subject of history. This would also mean religion would cover sufficient information on different faiths, students, importantly, would be more informed on similar values and how compassion and paths are interpreted by each faith.
This explain why most democracies have worked to segregate the two- be it the Church and the state – or in the academic space. The US, for example, considers endorsement by teachers or school administration of religion as a violation of the law while the study of religion for academic purposes is permissible though not in public schools. Japan has similar restrictions. France does not recognize any religion and discourages ‘religion’ schools from advocating a specific faith. Austria does not allow studies of major religions while giving minority groups the option to go for secular classes in ethics. Germany has a similar structure. Poland, in some part, has kept religious studies as an option. Finland has several religions recorded and allows students to make their choice, if they don’t belong to any sect or religious group, they could study ethics.
Being secular and democratic, India needs to treat history for what it is- fact-based- and allow religion in its multiple forms to be studied or practiced as a means to define freedom of faith and expression. Given that Mahatma Gandhi said, ”the essence of all religions are one” and Ramakrishna pointed out “all religions are true” , there is no reason to differentiate and turn each religion into a commodity that can be controlled, sold or imposed and that too without any antitrust laws. It is important, though, like in many other democracies, to allow religion to be studied in its totality just like history giving both a sense of purity so that one can follow one’s faith and have faith in the history one can taught.