Demands for Delinking of State and Religion


Synopsis:

Some religious groups in Tamil Nadu are demanding delinking of state from religious affairs. However, minimal state intervention to promote justice and equality is permitted by the constitution.

Background:
  • Amidst the electoral process, some Religious groups are demanding delinking of state and religion in Tamil Nadu.
  • They are opposing laws like Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Act 1959. The law allows the state to intervene in the affairs of Hindu public endowments.
    • Under this, the government can appoint a State Commissioner for general superintendence over all Hindu religious endowments.
    • The commissioner will further appoint executive officers to temples. They will ensure that the funds are being properly applied. 
Arguments by protestors in favour of delinking:
  • Firstly, intervention by the state is against the secular and democratic credentials of India.
  • Secondly, intervention undermines their freedom of religion which is guaranteed by the constitution under Articles 25 and 26.
    • Article 25 gives the freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion.
    • Article 26 protects group rights. It grants to every “religious denomination” the right: 
      • to establish institutions; 
      • to manage its own affairs in matters of religion; 
      • also, to own and acquire property; and 
      • administer that property in accordance with law
  • Thirdly, there is an unequal degree of control amongst religions. They argue that the states show a lenient attitude towards other religions like Islam and Christianity.
Arguments against Delinking:
  • Firstly, No credible successor: Apart from the state, no institution or group can curtail the evil practices surrounding a religion.
  • Secondly, Strengthening Evil practices: Delinking might uphold the interest of dominant communities and strengthen the evil hierarchical division in society. 
    • For instance, the government of Madras formulated a law in 1927 to intervene in the management of religious establishments. As powerful castes and communities within the Hindu fold appropriated control over them.
  • Thirdly, Indian Concept of Secularism: The constituent assembly adopted a model based on the notion of principled distance and not complete isolation like the western model. It allows intervention for establishing a free and egalitarian society.
  • Fourthly, Constitutional Provisions: Articles 25 and 26 are subject to public order, health, and morality. This gives ample scope to the state to frame a law regulating any economic, financial, or other secular activity associated with religion.
    • Using this, the government of Madras enacted a Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act in 1951. The 1959 Act later replaced it.
  • Fifthly, Judicial Backing: The supreme court in Shirur Mutt Case (1954) case upheld the 1951 Act. The court said the act was in consonance with the state’s power under Articles 25 and 26.
  • Sixthly, Laws for other religions: There are laws for other religions as well. The amount of intervention depends on the gravity of the situation.
    • For instance, the Waqf Act 1995 gives the government substantial supervisory control over the management of properties dedicated for religious purposes under Muslim law.
Way Forward:
  • Complete state isolation is not possible as per the constitutional directives. Although the deficiencies in HR&CE law must be re-examined on its merits.
  • People should constantly demand transparency and hold the state responsible to the administrative standards prescribed under the law.

Source: The Hindu 

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