In the past several months members of the right-wing Hindutva groups have been carrying on acts of desecrating Christian churches across the country. Add to that the hate speecheby people in saffron robes in Haryana and elsewhere and their allegations of ‘forced’ conversion by Christian missionaries. Karnataka has even pushed for an anti-conversion Bill which awaits passage by the upper house (vidhan parishad). The lower house (vidhan sabha) has already passed the Bill. The first question that arises is why the state should step in, in a matter that pertains to the individual’s choice of faith and worship. How does it matter which religion a person follows as long as that person does not violate the tenets of the Indian Constitution?
Articles 25-28 of the Indian Constitution guarantee freedom of religion and defines the parameters of those freedoms. The right to freedom of religion gives individuals the right to profess any religion of their choice. It also includes the freedom to change one’s religion or beliefs. Article 25 gives every person the right to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion subject to public order, morality, and health. Article 26 gives all denominations the right to manage their own affairs in matters of religion ; the right to form and maintain institutions for religious and charitable intents; right to acquire immovable and movable property and to administer such property according to the law. Article 27 exempts all religious institutions from payment of taxes when money is directly used for the promotion and/or maintenance of any particular religion/religious denomination. Article 28 permits educational institutions that are maintained by religious groups to disseminate religious instruction. However, no religious instruction is not permitted in State-run educational institutions. Those educational institutions administered by the State but that were established under any endowment or trust which requires that religious instruction shall be imparted in such institutions are exempt from the above clause (that no religious instruction shall be provided).
When the Constitution itself has provided all clarity on Freedom of Religion why are some political parties and fringe elements hell bent on disrupting the peace? The vandalism of a temple in Shillong does not bode well for communal harmony. That such ripostes are expected after the series of attacks on Christian churches should have put the administrators of the North Eastern states on high alert. It does not take long for vengeance to travel. However, it is important not to arrive at any conclusions or to point fingers at any religious group or individual until the police are able to unearth the truth. In fact, this calls for a greater push towards building communal harmony in a cosmopolitan space like Shillong.
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