Ethos of Secularism and Religious Governance

Rashmi Chaubey

Intern, Constitutional Rights Initiative

In India, secularism entails taking a neutral position toward all religions. The administration in a secular nation must avoid anything religious. Regrettably, such equidistance is never materialised. Isn't it strange that the term "secular" was not included in the Indian constitution's preamble when it was first adopted? Why was such a crucial term omitted?

The omission, as far as I can tell, was intentional. What's more remarkable is that the two men who led the development of the Constitution's preamble were BR Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru, both of whom had impeccable secular credentials. To be truly secular, the Indian state would have to stay totally outside of the religious realm. And it was nearly impossible. August 5, 2020 marked the Bhoomi poojan of Ram Temple in Ayodhya. I have seen that many people have expressed real grief as a result of this occurrence. Some have lamented the demise of secularism in India.

Why do I not view it that way if I believe myself to be secular?

Last year, the Tamil Nadu government presented a report to the Madras High Court claiming that there really is no pooja or ritual taking place at 11,999 temples across the state since there is no income. There is just one person in charge of all the business of the space in 34,000 temples. While 37,000 temples have annual revenues of less than Rs 10,000.In the next several years, they anticipate that 12,000 temples will be demolished.

According to a government official declaration, 1,200 deities have been taken and are missing. Several police officers have produced books alleging that thousands of deities are counterfeits, saying that original idols have been stolen and replaced with counterfeits in the previous 25 years. This isn't the kind of thing you'd see on social media. We are confronted with a sobering truth. Except for a few big temples, all of them will be extinct in about 100 years if we continue as we are.

The Constitution of India clearly states that every individual has the freedom to administer their own houses of worship, whether they belong to a current religion or create a new one. While there is a clause that allows the government to limit and regulate in the event of financial, moral, or national security concerns, nowhere in the document does it specify that the government can really administer and control.

The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) Act of Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, is based on the administration and governance of temples. Despite the fact that it is inherently unconstitutional, the law has survived and thrived for decades.

UNESCO uses the phrases "decay" and "massacre" to characterise the situation of Tamil Nadu temples. Temples have been dismantled, left to crumble, and shut down. Then it's declared that they can't be repaired. Nothing will be repairable if you leave it unattended for an extended amount of time. Above all, they have assured that the number of visitors to the shrine has steadily decreased.

We live in anera where we realise that the government really shouldn't regulate airlines, airports, industries, mining, or trade – but how can the government manage the sacred temples? What makes them qualified?

The major argument, according to a preliminary search, is that India, as a secular society, cannot have "control" over religious organisations. Those in favour of 'freeing' temples argue that other religious sites of worship, such as mosques and churches, are "not under government authority," so why temples?The assumption of the "free temples" argument appears to be that the state government can profit from the temples since the relevant Acts specify how the temples' treasuries should be administered. That's not really true, however, for any state. Any gifts made to a temple, whether through hundi collections or individual donations, go into its bank account. The temples' budgets require clearance from the HR&CE Department to utilise some money; nevertheless, these funds may only be used for temple-related activities and cannot be pocketed by government officials assigned to temple trusts and boards, as per legislation.

The pernicious false dichotomy between majority and minority ordained by the Constitution has toxified our society. Article 25-30 of the Constitution of India deals with the matters related to the religious, cultural and educational rights and liberties of the people. To grasp the scope of Hindus' religious, cultural, and educational enslavement, it's helpful to look at how these constitutional clauses work in practise, without the legalese. Article 25 guarantees religious liberty. Religion has three components: profession, practise, and spread.

Government control over Hindu Temples:

Article 26 ensures that everyone has the freedom to handle their religious matters. But, in actuality, what is the situation? State governments have nationalised almost all Hindu temples. The Supreme Court has also declared that the government has no right to control temples.

After the Constitution's adoption, it was believed that governments would return to Hindu society the temples that they had taken over. Courts have also held that, if there were charges of mismanagement in some temples, government action could only be for a short time in order to put things right, as per article 31A(1)(b). But it's all for naught. More Hindu temples and their properties are being nationalised by state governments, while mosques and churches are left to their respective religions. The most recent example is the Uttarakhand government's nationalisation of over 50 Chardham temples.

With the denial of the right to run their own temples, India's "majority" Hindus appear to be no different than minority dhimmis in other theocracies. Hinduism has been deteriorating due to a lack of resources and organisations. Hindus' religious rights are clearly meaningless, and states can stomp on them at anytime. So much for the majority - Hindus' religious freedom!

A Sectarian Public Funding:

Article 27 states that no one shall be forced to pay any taxes if the earnings are used to pay for expenses related to the promotion or maintenance of a particular religion. However, there are special provisions for scholarships, subsidies, initiatives, plans, loans, and budgets carved out of secular public finances for religious minorities at the expense of majority Hindus. Technically, no taxes are imposed specifically to benefit a religion. Isn't appropriating a portion of secular public money for the benefit of minority religions the same as and contrary to the spirit of article 27?

Secularism is claimed to be defined by the state's religious neutrality. As a result, all laws and public policies in a secular polity must be religiously neutral. Religion-based schemes, it goes without saying, undermine the national interest by reinforcing sub-national identities and encouraging fissiparous tendencies at the expense of national unity and integrity.

As a result, all assistance systems' beneficiaries should be chosen only on the basis of socioeconomic criteria. Nonetheless, vast sums of public monies are distributed to minorities purely or mostly on the basis of their religious identities, which is unconstitutional and anti-secular.

What is the impact of such overtly sectarian government funding? If a Hindu converts to Islam or Christianity, he can suddenly establish a valid claim to a minority benefit that he was previously ineligible for. Evidently, the secular Indian government actively promotes Hindu conversion while abusing secular government monies. Isn't it a violation of our secular constitution that India has become the world's largest proselytiser of Hindus away from their ancestral religion?

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