Is Intolerance rising? – The Conundrum of Religious Issue in India
October 27, 2023
India is known for its unity in diversity. People of many religions and sects reside in India with harmony. Though Hinduism is the oldest and majority religion, other religions have also been assimilated in Indian culture over a long period of time. The religions like Buddhism and Jainism are in existence in India from more than 2600 years. Though comparatively, the religions like Islam, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, etc. are new to Indian society, there assimilation in terms of number of people professing, or even the amount of people participating in various celebrations of these religions is no less than the aforementioned ancient religions. In 2011 census, 6 mainstream religions along with some religions in the other’s category were considered in data compilation. All of this bares a testimony to the fact of harmonious inclusion and assimilation in the Indian society.
However, there have been numerous exceptions to the fact of peaceful coexistence of diverse views in the country. The peace has been threatened and sometimes endangered by counterproductive activities, which have resulted in religious issue and conflicts. These disputes emerge due to various causes, and the scale of these disputes also vary. However, in the recent times, there has been an undesirable increase in such religious issue. Not only the frequency of these disputes, but also their intensity and range has increased. Because of this, the unique image of India as a country with unity in diversity is becoming blur.
Thus, it is important for the state and people to take collective efforts to prevent such an issue as much as possible, so that the individual, administrative, and judicial resources, spent on these counterproductive activities can be diverted for other significant causes of the nation.
Defining Religious Issue
Religion is a system of belief, whereby the ability and right of the people to communicate with the supreme being is determined. It lays down a specific code of conduct to be observed by all its followers. This code includes, methods of worship, other practices, clothing habits, food habits, and many other important aspects of life such as marriage, education, etc. An issue or a dispute is a disagreement between two or more individuals or group over a common subject matter. The groups or individuals having disagreement between themselves are called parties to the issue. On the basis of this definition, a religious issue is one, wherein the disagreement is regarding any subject matter related to the religion of either or all of the parties to the issue. The common examples of religious disputes include, the issue over places of worship, carrying out any procession, following any practice, etc. In my understanding there are following kinds of religious issue.
Inter Religious Issue: In this, people of different religions are in disagreement with each other over a fact which is crucial for their religious rights. For example: the disputes over the places of worships at Ayodhya, Kashi, Mathura, etc. where, Hindus and Muslims claim the original right over the land thereof and thereby issue the right of other religion to worship in the structures thereupon. Other kinds of inter-religious issues include the issue regarding the right to hold or carryout a religious procession in a particular area at a particular time based on any old custom.
Intra Religious Issue: This kind of disputes involve parties from a same religion, who have a issue regarding the exercise of aright of a religious nature. For example: 2 priests claiming the right to become the head priest of the same temple.
Issue over the Constitutionality of a Religious Practice: In this kind of a issue, the practice of any religion or a sect thereof is challenged by its followers, or any other persons on the grounds of violation of fundamental rights, or any other reasons of unconstitutionality. The prominent examples of such religious disputes is the issue over denial of entry to women in the temple of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala, the challenge to practice of bigamy amongst Hindus before the enactment of Hindu Marriage Act, the challenge to the practice of Triple Talaq in Muslims, etc.
Whatever the objectives may be of the religious issue of any of the aforementioned kind, it disturbs the harmonious coexistence of the followers of the party religions in the society.
Why is there a rise in Religious Issue in India?
Considering the delicate nature of religious topics in anyone’s life, the sensitivity of people over such matters is high. As a result of this, even a small attempt to commit mischief on the religious believes of an individual may give rise to unforeseeable havocs in the society. However, people, whether deliberately or unintentionally, often fail to respect this sensitivity and lead the way to creation and sustenance of undesirable religious disputes. Following are some prominent causes of growing religious issue in India:
Illiteracy of the people: The literacy rate of India as per census 2011 was only 74%. Furthermore, the rate amongst rural people was much lower than the national average. Even the international rankings having education as one of the factors, rank India amongst below average countries. This illiteracy of the masses is exploited by some mischievous elements of the society such as the propagators of religions, politicians, etc. for their personal gains. They influence the minds of the ignorant people, and infiltrate therein the feeling of animosity and hatred towards other religions. Due to their illiteracy and ignorance, these people get easily incited and the religious issue emerges. Such a tactic was effectively exploited by Britishers during the colonial rule under their policy of divide and rule.
Disproportionate coverage to sensitive religious matters by Media including social media and television media: In the recent times, the media platforms, are giving unwanted and disproportionate coverage to sensitive religious matters prevailing in the country. The language employed by them to such coverage is often selective and instigative, as a result, the people irrespective of their education or literacy status, get influenced. The audiovisual means are more affective in this regard, as it has the largest reach covering all the people including those who cannot access print media due to their illiteracy or other reasons. The frequency of the religious matters being debated and discussed on national media platforms in itself is capable of influencing the minds of people and turning them into enemies of each other.
Political motives: Certain Indian political parties were established with the aim of advocating religious matters associated with specific faiths. While some of these parties have publicly advocated for violent actions against Hindus, others seek to rejuvenate the concept of Hindutva. In their pursuit of these objectives, these parties utilize a range of strategies to promote their religious concerns and further their ideological goals. In the annals of history, there were instances where Muslim invaders entered the nation, subjecting Hindus to subjugation while demolishing their sacred sites. Presently, Hindus are striving to reclaim these places. This historical context has contributed to a prevailing sense of insecurity among the Hindu population. Reclaiming the religious institutions and places of Hindus, which were destroyed by the invaders in the past has been one of the prime agendas of these parties till date, which has helped them to earn a large vote share in all the elections. The Ram Janmbhoomi issue at Ayodhya, was the most pursued issues by the BJP since its inception in 1980, which also got the judicial success in 2019, when the Supreme Court allowed the temple trust to construct a Ram temple on the land. This issue is not the only one of its kind, as similar claims have been given air by these parties regarding the places of worships such as the Kashi Vishwanath Temple and the Sri Krishna Janmasthan at Mathura.
Major Religious Issue (s) in India
There are many religious disputes which have achieved a nationwide attention and political importance. The prominent amongst these are the disputes over places of issue at Ayodhya, Kashi, and Mathura. The Ayodhya Ram Janmabhoomi issue is the oldest amongst these, which now stands resolved after the verdict of the supreme court dated 09-11-2019.
The issue was regarding the claim of Hindus that there was a temple in Ayodhya at the birth place of Lord Rama, which was destroyed by the Mughal King Babar in 1528 and a mosque named Babri was constructed on the same land. This claim was existing since ages, but it achieved the highest heat after the independence. Especially around 1980s and 90s, the issue started being politicized. The sentiments of the people over the claim were targeted and ultimately a class of people was gathered, which destroyed the mosque situated on the disputed land on 06-12-1992.
Even after this event, the issue persisted in the courts until the Supreme Court through a long judgment allowed the temple trust to construct Ram Temple over that land. Ideally, the length of the legal battle, along with the losses caused to the society in many aspects could have discouraged us to pursue such disputes in future, but instead, it encouraged many others to pursue similar Temple-mosque disputes in Kashi, Mathura and many other places. At present, the Kashi Vishwanath dispute is much in limelight as the court in Varanasi has ordered and the higher judiciary has upheld the conduction of an archaeological survey of the disputed structure on the request of Hindu claimants. Similar kind of survey of the Mathura place of worship is also demanded, but currently it is stayed.
What impact does Religious Issue have on the Society?
These disputes adversely affect the society and its overall growth and development. The social harmony is endangered, and the amicable relationships between different religions finds hard to exist. Although, the battles are fought in the courts and before administrative authorities, the sentiments of the people lead to proxy battles at every level of the society. Additionally, if the state has a bias towards any of the parties to the dispute, it adds fuel in the fire. In such circumstances, the state might show a selective approach in dealing with the wrongdoers, and ultimately end up getting allegations levied against itself of violation of human rights and communalism. Sometimes, if the dispute is receiving a nationwide coverage due to media’s thirst for viewership and TRP, the heat of the dispute affects the day to day conduct in the society, as it may lead to social evils like riots and communal conflicts.
Considering their impact and the gravity of the need to curtail these disputes, following points are worth considering:
The preamble of the constitution proclaims India to be a secular state. The secular state means that the state through its organs like the legislation, executive, judiciary or administration, cannot align itself with any religion. Furthermore, the constitution encompasses ideals like equality, social justice, fraternity, individual dignity and national integrity in the preamble and in the chapter of fundamental rights. Adherence to these ideals can help the nation to preserve its religious harmony and a healthy social fabric. The constitution also provides a fundamental right to freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion, subject to restrictions like public order, health and morality.
Furthermore, subject to same restrictions, people of all the religions and the sects thereof also have the right to manage their own religious affairs and other ancillary matters for the enjoyment of this right. Thus, if one enjoys his religious freedoms by having due regard to the public order, morality, health and fundamental rights of others, a lot of the religious disputes can be mitigated or prevented. Article 32 enables every individual to take assistance of the Apex Court in case of violation of any fundamental right including the right to religious freedom. Thus, even if a religious dispute arises, it must be attempted to be solved through judicious and judicial means as they are peaceful and do not disturb the social harmony.
The Places of Worship Act, 1991
The Places of Worship Act 1991 is a remarkable legislation towards an attempt by the government to curtail religious conflicts over the dispute regarding a place of worship. Section 3 of the act provides that the structure of any place of worship by whatever name called, shall not be altered from its nature as it was on 15th August 1947, i.e., at the time of independence of the country.
Section 4 further provides that if there is any suit in any court regarding the alteration of the structure or the character of any place of worship, the suit shall abate. These provisions to a large extent discourage the disputes over worship places like temple or mosque, and they further encourage to respect their present structure. However, the act makes a reservation for the archaeological and other heritage sides under section 5. Furthermore, section 6 carves out an exception for the specific dispute over the Ram Janmabhoomi in in Ayodhya.
The judiciary has been made as the guardian of the Constitution and the rights of the people. The Supreme Court and High Courts are empowered to do the justice even beyond the provisions of law. Article 142 of the Constitution provides that in the interest of justice, the supreme court may pass any order or judgment. Article 141 of the Constitution provides that the judgments of the supreme court shall be a law binding on all authorities. Therefore, the judiciary should exercise this power with at most caution while adjudicating religious disputes. The verdicts of the Supreme Court in any religious matter may have wide ramifications beyond just legal consequences.
Promotion of national integration and unity amongst various classes of people;
Promotion of education and awareness amongst the masses in both rural and urban regions;
Laying down proper standards for the conduct of media and the method of reporting sensitive matters, and to ensure proper observance of those standards by journalists and media groups;
The provisions of the representatives of peoples act 1951 dealing with restriction on campaigning based on religious appeals, and other such non-secular activities should be made more stringent and the election commission must ensure fullest compliance of these provisions by political parties.
Religious disputes are not healthy for any society, and they must be curtailed just like any other social evil. The religious disputes not only disturb social and religious harmony and peace, but they also hinder the overall economic and political growth of the society. The prolonged religious disputes lead to wastage of resources, and also create and sustain the atmosphere of unrest between the communities. If not abridged timely, the growth in such disputes often lead to more such disputes to rise, thus creating a vicious circle, which ultimately pushes the society towards the state of anarchy, anomy, and retrogression. The social peace and harmony of a nation also determines its status and bargaining power in the modern-day international relations. Thus, it is very essential to uphold the constitutional ideas of secularism, equality, and fraternity in order to preserve the reputation of our nation as a common home to almost all of the religions of the world.