Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Church & State in India

India's supreme court has issued an interim decree banning new construction of "places of worship" in public places. A blog at the Times of India had an interesting response. The writer, Rajesh Kalra, argues that religion already interferes so drastically with public life in India that the supreme court directive will have little impact.  
When wedding processions block the entire thoroughfare, causing immense hardship to the common man, they flout the rules. When I am subjected to loud music and noise throughout the night because some people are trying to make their prayers heard by organising a "jagrata" (overnight music sessions to please gods and goddesses), it intrudes into public space, thus flouts the rules. When the administration shuts down the national highway that links Delhi to Haridwar because the "kanwarias" - devotees of Shiva who walk on foot from Haridwar with Ganga water to their hometowns hundreds of kilometres away - are on their annual pilgrimage and are also scared that they would end up in a spat with motorists, it flouts the rules. This list goes on. It seems any part of the country can be turned into a religious place at will, so why bother constructing!
And he asks an excellent question, which some religious people ignore.
We all have the freedom to follow our religion, but does it have to happen in a way that it creates hardship to others?
The problem is that many people following their religious practices are only worried about themselves and their fellow believers. The thought that they might be greatly inconveniencing others probably doesn't even occur to them, or if it does, they think they should be accommodated. Religion is big on demanding accommodation, but usually resistant to making similar allowances for those of different or no faiths.

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