Why should state fund rain rituals?

If individuals in a secular state resort to prayers to propitiate gods or to obtain divine favours, no one needs to object.

Similarly, citizens should not object if our legislators decide to visit any sacred places and conduct rituals by paying for it from their pockets.

What should disturb citizens in a secular state is when a state issues a circular to 34,000 temples to conduct various kinds of rituals to appease gods and goddesses for rains and sanctions Rs 5,000 for each temple and transfers more than Rs 17 crore of people’s money to these institutions. One may ask why we should object. The question should instead be why shouldn’t we object?

We must object simply because we are no more citizens of a theocratic state but a secular one. If such circulars were issued in Pakistan or one of the Arab states where the states are ruled by religious tenets or rulers, one cannot raise objections. Secondly we must object that the money that is doled out is public money and not the private property of individuals or a party. That money has to be used as the constitution of the land directs.

Eliminate religion

India is a secular state. The goal of secularism is to eliminate religion from the public realm. Though intrinsically not opposed to religion, secularism advocates critical respect towards all religions and relegates religion to the personal sphere. Secularism is to ensure that the social and political order is free from institutionalised religious practices and rituals, so that there is inter-religious equality. The word secular is derived from the Latin word, ‘saeculum’ which means ‘this world’ as distinct from the ‘other world.’  In a religious context the ‘other world’ is considered superior and living in this world is thought of as inferior.

Secularism rejects this understanding and asserts that all human beings exist on the secular plane. The political sphere is the sphere of the state. The ‘other sphere’ does not belong to the state and the state permits individuals to engage in that sphere if they believe in it. The separation of religion from politics therefore is for the sake of values, to bring about a society centered on liberty, reason and equality. 

If the kind of circular that is issued by the state government is issued in a theocratic state where a priestly group directly administers the state in reference to what they believe are divine laws, once again citizens may not have problems. In such states religious and political orders are identical. Karnataka is not a theocratic state and cannot be run as one in accordance with the religious edicts as long as there is a secular constitution. There cannot be an official alliance between the state and religion. A secular state has to be disconnected from religion at the level of ends, institutions and law and public policy.

What would this mean? This means any state in India in order to be secular should refrain from privileging established religions. By sanctioning state funds to conduct rituals and by particular mention of prominent temples like Kollur Mookambika, Kukke Subrahmanya Swamy, Kateel Durgaparameshwari and Nanjangud Srikanteshwara Swamy, the state has not only patronized a religion but even discriminated against faith groups within the dominant religion. What makes some temples more prominent than others?

The principle of equi-distance from all religions without patronage to any, religious liberty to all groups without any discrimination and equality of active citizenship are features of a secular state. Article 27 rules out public funding of religion. Article 15 (1) states that the state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion. With the grant of money to temples and issue of circular to conduct rituals there to bring down rain from heavens, the state has violated all these norms.

Indian secularism is committed to the idea of ‘principled distance’ from all religions and strict neutrality in matters of religious practices. It is only when the state maintains an equal distance from all religions, the state can put an end to inhuman practices of religions like untouchability, child marriages and devadasi system and initiate progressive changes by framing laws towards communities oppressed and suppressed sometimes with legitimacy derived from religion. It is in the interest of the secular state therefore citizens irrespective of religions need to come together to defeat the designs of the government. 

(The writer is with St Joseph’s College, Bangalore)

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