PUCL Bulletin, Oct. 2000

Fundamentalism is a threat to secular values

By Rajindar Sachar
September 4th 2000


It is getting increasingly clear that the Sang Parivar has a dangerous agenda to take back the country to the dark ages. Note the brazen and untenable action of the Uttar Pradesh government headed by an ex. RSS man, Ram Prakash Gupta, when it decided to repeal the Uttar Pradesh Hindu Public Religious Institutions (Prevention of Dissipation of Properties) (Temporary Powers) Act, 1962. The Act had a laudable object, as given in the preamble have preventing dissipation and regulating transfer of the properties of Religious Institutions. Though this Act was originally to remain in force for a period of two years, it was continued, obviously because of the felt necessity right through various governments presided over by different political parties including that of the BJP. Section 6 of the Act empowers the State government that where it apprehends that the property of any institutions is likely to be dissipated it may direct the investigating officer to make a survey of such institutions. Section 7 requires a prior approval of the commissioner for transfer of the property of the Institution.

The commissioner has also been given the power to take measures for the protection of the property of or under the domain of the institution and also for the recovery of the property lost to the institution.

It will be seen that the 1962 Act was to serve a public purpose in preventing misappropriation of the property of the religious institution which situation is unfortunately quite prevalent even today. I myself in my judicial capacity has occasions to deal with some disputes amongst the pujaries of temples in Delhi- these temples enjoy tremendous popularity and their offerings run into lakhs; they all presented a sad spectacle of gross defalcation and misappropriation of funds, but on the absence of similar legislations in Delhi there was very little that one could do.

The puerile explanation by the Chief Minister of UP that it was withdrawn because of a possible misuse of the official machinery is a gratuitous insult to himself, considering that officials are under his direct control. If such convoluted excuses are to be accepted then the whole machinery of the Sales Tax, Excise Tax, etc, would have to be abolished, a prospect no sane administrator can even imagine.

UP governments action (in deciding to repeat the 1962 Act) is still more indefensible considering that the Supreme Court has held that the protection under clause (b) of Article 26 to manage religious affairs does not extend to management of secular affairs. The constitutional validity of a tougher legislation like Bihar Hindu Trust, 1951 was upheld by the Supreme Court negativing the arguments that it violates the fundamental rights enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution. The Court negatived the argument that the provisions which empower the State officials to see that the funds of the institution are spend in accordance with the object of the trust are in any way violating the fundamental rights of a religious denomination to manage its own affairs.

The action of the UP Chief Minister is still more inexcusable considering that it has unabashedly been done under the pressure of the so called Sadhus and purported religious organizations. More dangerous is the trend, which the Chief Minister has set by permitting Hindu religious bodies in influencing secular activities of the State. Until now one of the wholesome distinctiveness of Hindu Kings had been that in spite of the respect and the veneration given to the best of saints, the affairs of the State were the whole preserve of kings. There was no priestly class influencing worldly decisions - the spiritual was the domain of the priests, temporal secular worldly affairs of the King.

How dangerous is the implications of the new President being set up by Gupta can be gauged by the havoc being wrought in Sri Lanka by the active intrusion of Budhiest priests in politics and secular decision - making of Lankan government policy. We must prevent the incursion of priesthood in our body politic if we wish to preserve our proud legacy of multi - religious, multi-cultural plural society.

It is still more tragic because this decision ignores the lessons of the historic battle fought by the Sikhs to have the Sikh Gurdwara Act passed which enabled the Gurdwaras to be saved from the loot by mahants and to be vested in a statutory body and thus prevent the misuse of funds and properties. The whole of South India is replete with laudable legislations. One of the shining examples is the beneficial use of these funds at Tirupati Temple (Andhra Pradesh.), which apart from other useful activities is even endowing a University.

I find that this is not an isolated inane act of an individual politician; it fits in with the overall strategy of the RSS in communalizing the atmosphere and to encourage fundamentalism in the body politic. This is borne out by the proposal of the University Grants Commission (UGC) to introduce at the University level courses of study in Vedic Astrology and ritualism, which can only encourage obscurantist trends. It is not my propose to be little the contributions made by the Vedas to human knowledge and spiritual journey; my objection is to introduce holy books of one religion in our multi religious society. There are any number of institutions, Gurukuls opened by the Arya Samaj and other religious organizations, which specialize in teachings of Vedas. Let the NRI for whose, alleged benefit these courses are supposed to be introduced make funds available to those institutions to be able to serve their needs. But for God's sake do not spoil our country's secular base. Mr. Hari Om, the Chairman of UGC has stated that introduction of these courses will increase the prospect of employment abroad amongst NRI and also spread of culture. I did not know that we needed raw graduates for in cantation of "rituals" to spread the message of our ancient civilization. One should have thought that our civilization's strength rested on much maturer scholarship and historical recognition. Let us be clear first priority is to eradicate illiteracy, which is according to government statistics, at a shocking level of 45% of the total population.

I can only feel sad that the allies in the Union Government are indifferent to the danger our basic values of rationalism and secularism are being poisoned by fundamentalism under the influence of the Sangh Parivar. When will they listen to a wake up call. The nation awaits their response.

(September 4th 2000)

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