“Constitution makes it amply clear where the Government is duty bound to intervene”

| Updated on February 10, 2019

R Jaganathan, Journalist; Rajeev Bhargav, former Director of CSDS Delhi and Arif Mohammed Khan in Conversation with Publisher of The Hindu Group of Newspaper N Ravi during THE HINDU Huddle 2019 in Bengaluru on February 10, 2019

Governments should not interfere with 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 & Government: Should the State leave religion alone? moderated by N Ravi, Publisher, The Hindu Group of Newspapers, 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, between God and government, there should not be any nexus. There should not be any interference except if there is a human rights violation. Indian State does not say we will not interfere in religion. It says we are equidistant from all religions, he said adding that the temples under the control of the State should be freed.

Rajeev Bharghava, Indian Political Theorist said that in spiritual exercises, there is no reason for the government to interfere. But religion has often meant something more. Sometimes there is 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 added.

Arif Mohammed Khan, former Union Minister in the Rajiv Gandhi and V P Singh governments, said the State has no role in religion but in practices that run contrary to public morality, repugnant to constitutional morality, State has to intervene. “Constitution makes it amply clear where the Government is duty bound to intervene,” Khan said.

Khan raised a pertinent question on the context of using the term secular and whether the question about religion and the State is being asked in 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 is 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 has had a friendly relationship with the church. “In India, constitution celebrates religious diversity. But we should be alert to intra and inter-religious domination,” he cautioned.

The speakers also delved on 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 Supreme Court, it has been declared unlawful,” Khan said.

On allowing women into Sabarimala temple there was a difference of opinion between the panelists. 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 because the underlying reason linking menstruation to impurity was against human dignity.

Published on February 10, 2019

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