State’s role in Religious Affairs – UPSC GS2

  • Some religious groups are demanding delinking of state from religious affairs.
  • 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.
States control over temple have become a more controversial issue due to,
  • Gross mismanagement of financial resources
  • Increasing Corruption
  • Disregard to temple maintenance leading to loss and destruction of temple antiquities.
  • Against the principle of Secularism.
Arguments by protestors in favour of delinking:
  • Intervention by the state is against the secular and democratic credentials of India.
  • 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
  • There is an unequal degree of control amongst religions. They argue that a lenient attitude is shown towards other religions like Islam and Christianity.
  • In the Shirur Mutt case, the supreme court struck down a major portion of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments 1951 Act. The court ruled that the provisions are a “disastrous invasion” of religious liberty.
  • Comparison with the Waqf Act to legitimize the control over Hindu religious endowments is misleading as:
    • Waqf Act clearly reveals that it applies only to charities and specifically excludes places of worship such as mosques.
    • It also supports the argument that government should not regulate places of worship.
Arguments against Delinking:
  • No credible successor: Apart from the state, no institution or group can curtail the evil practices surrounding a religion.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. It was later replaced by the 1959 Act.
  • 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.
  • 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 such laws 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.

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