Keeping an arm’s length from faith and religious practices
Exploring the nuances around India as a secular country
Governments should not interfere in personal faith and religious practices, except when there is a violation of basic human rights as enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
A panel on “God and government: Should the State leave religion alone?” moderated by N Ravi, Publisher, The Hindu, explored the nuances around India as a secular country and whether practices associated with religion trump all other values.
R Jagannathan, Editorial director, Swarajya, said that between god and government, there should be no nexus. There should not be any interference, except if there was a human rights violation. The Indian State did not say it would not interfere in religion. It said the State was equidistant from all religions, he said adding that the temples under the control of theState should be freed.
Rajeev Bharghava, political theorist, said that in spiritual exercises, there was no reason for the government to interfere. But religion had often meant something more. Sometimes, there was no way to conduct these spiritual exercises, without joining an organised group, he said.
“It is not just about State leaving religion alone. Religion should leave the State alone. In diverse society, some people believe in one god, some in many gods, some in no god. All should have equal opportunity to influence ethical aspects of the State,” he said.
Arif Mohammed Khan, who was a member of the Rajiv Gandhi and VP Singh Ministries, said the State had no role in religion but in practices that run contrary to public morality or repugnant to constitutional morality, the State had to intervene. “Constitution makes it amply clear where the government is dutybound to intervene,” Khan said.
He raised a pertinent question on the context of using the term secular and whether the question about religion and the State was being asked in the Indian paradigm or in the context of the Church and the state in the West. “My understanding is that it applies to eastern contexts, which includes Islam as well. Indian paradigm is Sanatana Dharma,” Khan said.
Bhargava said that in the western European model, there was no strict separation. There was a time when there was great hostility when the state was emancipating itself from the Church. Over a period of time, theState had had a friendly relationship with the Church. “In India, the Constitution celebrates religious diversity. But we should be alert to intraand inter-religious domination,” he said.
The speakers delved into contentious issues such as triple talaq and the decision to allow women to enter the Sabarimala temple. “In the matter of triple talaq, the record of the government is shameful. No government tried to improve the situation. Thanks to the Supreme Court, it has been declared unlawful,” Khan said.
On the Sabarimala temple issue, while Jagannathan supported the view that traditions associated with a religious value should be upheld, Khan and Bhargava said that women should be allowed to go to Sabarimala.