Why the hullabaloo over religious freedom in India?
By J P Rajkhowa
The whole World knows that, unlike more than a hundred theocratic Sovereign States, which are members of the community of tions called the United tions Organization (UNO) and having their own constitutiolly declared State Religion- Christianity, Islam, Judaism etc., India is a Secular State, with complete ‘freedom of religion’’ for its citizens, guaranteed under the Constitution. India’s status as a ‘secular’ State, has been very much ingrained in the Constitution itself, through specific provisions for complete ‘religious freedom’, and the father of the Constitution, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar himself, after prolonged deliberation on the issue, held the firm view, that there was no need to include this word in the Preamble. Much later, after three decades, in 1976, through the 42nd Constitutiol Amendment, the word ‘secular’ together with the word ‘social’ were included in the Preamble, during the Congress regime of Indira Gandhi, purely, for post- Emergency political reasons, in order to woo the support of the ‘religious minority’ and the ‘poor’ respectively. Dr. Ambedkar had earlier observed that, there was no need to include the word ‘secular’, as the entire Constitution provided for a ‘secular’ Indian State, with equality of all religions and forbidding all kinds of discrimition on grounds of caste, community, religion, sex etc.
Let us have a look at what the Constitution says on the ‘’Right to Freedom of Religion’’in Part III, Chapter on Fundamental Rights. Apart from the guarantee of ‘equality before law or the equal protection of the laws, to any person, in the territory of India under Article 14; prohibition of discrimition on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth to all citizens, under Article 15; equality of opportunity in matters of public employment for all citizens under Article 16; right to freedom under Article 19, the Indian Constitution specifically provides the “Right to Freedom of Religion” under Articles 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30 which are very specific and elaborate;some principal provisions are reproduced below.
25. Freedom of Conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion
(1) Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.
26. Freedom to mage religious affairs
Subject to public order, morality and health, every religious denomition or any section thereof shall have the right-
(a)to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes; (b) to mage its own affairs in matters of religion; (c) to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and (d) to administer such property in accordance with law.
27.This Article prohibits imposition of taxes solely for the purpose of promotion or maintence of any religion or religious denomition.
Article 28 prohibits teaching of religious instructions in any educatiol institution wholly funded by the State. This Article, vide Section(3) also disallows imparting of religious instructions in any educatiol institution recognized or funded by the State or to attend any religious worship that may be conducted in those or in any premises attached thereto, without consent of such persons, or, if such person is a minor, consent of his guardian.
Article29 protects the interests of all minorities, providing equality of opportunity, without discrimition, for admission into educatiol institutions maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds.Under Article 30, all minorities, including those based on religion, are guaranteed the right to establish and administer educatiol institutions of their choice. Obviously, under the right guaranteed under this Article, a large number of ‘madrassa’ institutions as well as ‘missiory’ educatiol institutions have come up and are functioning freely all over India.
The Constitution also provides the “Right to Constitutiol Remedies” vide provisions under Article 32, including the right to move the Supreme Court for the enforcement of the rights conferred by Part III and the Supreme Court has been given the powers to issue directions or orders or writs, as may be considered appropriate, which are binding on all concerned.
Part IV A of the Constitution, under Article 51 A, has provided for “Fundamental duties” of the citizens.Clause (e) of this Article states that, it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regiol or sectiol diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.
The afore-stated provisions of the Constitution make it abundantly clear that, the concept of religious freedom, emated from the epitome of Indian civilization, i.e., “Sarvadharma Samabhava” has been enshrined as one of the core values of the Constitution, irrespective of the 42nd Amendment. The5000- year old great Indian tradition - ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’- the whole world is a family, provides space for each and every religious or other diversified group (s). As such, bothunder the Constitution and this age-tested tradition, religious tolerance has been considered as an ilieble part of Hindusthan or Hindu philosophy and spiritualism.
So, there is nothing wrong with our Constitution or with the Traditions, but then, some ‘intolerant’ people from some religious groups or denomitions have been found to be targeting other religious groups and some religious institutions, adversely affecting the ‘secular’ fabric of our country. It would be wrong to blame the Hindutva forces only for making some statements, e.g., each Hindu woman should have ten or four children or launching ‘re-conversion’ agenda called ‘ghar wapsi’ to facilitate the Hindu- converts to return to the fold of ‘Hinduism’ . So long as the ‘ghar wapsi’ programme is a part of the religious ‘propaganda’ permitted under the Constitution & the laws, without any element of coercion, threat or temptation or pressure of any kind, there should be no grounds for objection. On the other extreme, it is reported that, in many interior, backward& tribal areas of some States, conversion of Hindus to Christianity has been going on under Joshua Projects I & II, using coercion including threats at ‘gun point’;undue influence, temptation like offering of money / medical aid / food & clothing / housing / training for jobs / free foreign travel and training on religious teachings and professions; promise of better life in future, and so forth.In some other places, similar tactics are used by the ‘radical Islamic groups’ for conversion purpose, in an unconstitutiol manner. These activities could lead to reactions from‘right wing’ Hindu organizations, which might vitiate the atmosphere and result in the breach of peace. Hence, it should be the endeavour of all the ‘religious’ elders and other community leaders and opinion makers to ask for restraint and tolerance and scrupulously comply with the laws and Constitutiol provisions, in religious preaching and practices.
While there had beenincidents of religious intolerance, involving different communities, in different parts of the country, during the long UPA regime of 10 years, not much adverse publicity was noticed, as compared to the last nine months of the BJP regime at the Centre. This could be due to machition by the anti- BJP forces, which are out to damage the image of the rendra Modi –led government at the Centre, by inciting commul / religious hatred and or by attacks on religious / educatiol institutions of minority groups, as recently occured in Delhi. “In the most recent attack, the Holy Child Auxilium School in south Delhi was ransacked by unidentified people Feb 13. It was the sixth incident of attack on churches and a school in Delhi over a period of two months”.While we strongly condemn such religious intolerance and violent attacks and demand strong legal action against the perpetrators, we also join hands with Prime Minister Modi, as he appealed to all religious groups “to act with restraint, mutual respect, and tolerance in the true spirit of this ancient tion which is manifest in our Constitution and is in line with the Hague Declaration”.
U. S. President Barack Obama, in the course of his three- day visit to India, as the chief guest of India’s 66thRepublic Day Celebration, observed that, “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith, as long as it is not splintered along any lines, and it is unified as one tion”. Well, it’s a remarkable statement, which holds good for all tions, across the Globe. Regrettably, in his own country, a Hindu temple was vandalized by ‘miscreants’ very recently, which indicates that, ‘religious intolerance’ is not peculiar to India alone, and needs to be dealt with firmly across the World.
P. M. Modi must have taken due note of Obama’s advice as well, when, in addressing a Conference of Christian leaders in New Delhi on 17 February, he strongly condemned violence against any religion. “My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his choice without coercion or undue influence.My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly,” the Prime Minister said. [The Sentinel, 18 February, 2015]. This is a very positive statement and we believe, he means what he says, and all the State chief ministers as well as religious leaders of all communities should take serious note of the ‘message’ and act upon it accordingly for ensuring commul peace and universal brotherhood, with ‘dignity to the women’.