Keep­ing an arm’s length from faith and re­li­gious prac­tices

Ex­plor­ing the nu­ances around In­dia as a sec­u­lar coun­try

The Hindu - - THE HUDDLE - Thomas K. Thomas

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. The 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 the state should be freed.

Ra­jeev Bhar­gava, 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 a 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 V.P. 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 duty-bound to in­ter­vene,” Mr. 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,” Mr. Khan said.

Mr. 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, the state had had a friendly re­la­tion­ship with the Church. “In In­dia, the Con­sti­tu­tion cel­e­brates re­li­gious di­ver­sity. But we should be alert to in­tra- and 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,” Mr. Khan said.

On al­low­ing women into the Sabari­mala tem­ple, there was a dif­fer­ence of opin­ion be­tween the pan­el­lists. While Mr. Ja­gan­nathan sup­ported the view that tra­di­tions as­so­ci­ated with a re­li­gious value should be up­held, Mr. Khan and Mr. Bhar­gava said that women should be al­lowed to go to Sabari­mala be­cause the un­der­ly­ing rea­son link­ing men­stru­a­tion to im­pu­rity was against hu­man dig­nity.

Con­sti­tu­tion makes it am­ply clear where the govern­ment is du­ty­bound to in­ter­vene Arif Mo­hammed Khan For­mer Min­is­ter


Mat­ter of faith: R. Ja­gan­nathan (right), jour­nal­ist, Ra­jeev Bhar­gava (left), po­lit­i­cal the­o­rist, and for­mer Min­is­ter Arif Mo­hammed Khan (sec­ond from left) with N. Ravi, Pub­lisher of The Hindu.

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