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Friday, June 9, 2023

NGT is a Symptom, Real Issue is Legal Consensus Over State Interference in Hindu Institutions

National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Wednesday barred the chanting of mantras, ‘jaykaras’ and chiming of bells in the vicinity of the holy Amarnath cave shrine in the south Kashmir Himalayas, allegedly to “preserve its eco sensitivity.”

After an outcry by Hindus,Hindu organizations and some political parties, NGT backtracked and issued a ‘clarification’ yesterday –

  • The Tribunal, vide its order dated 13th December, 2017, has neither intended nor actually declared the entire area falling under the Amarnath Ji Shrine Board as a Silence Zone.
  • The only restriction the Tribunal had placed and which is now reiterated to provide complete clarity is that the devotee/pilgrim or anybody while standing in front of the Amarnath Ji Maha Shivling – a natural formation in the cave shall maintain silence at that place. This restriction is not applicable to any other part including the main stairs leading to the Holy cave.
  • This direction in our considered view is required to maintain the sanctity and pristine condition of the holy cave on the one hand while on the other to ensure that there are no adverse impacts of noise, heat, vibrations etc. upon the Amarnath Ji Maha Shivling, so that the pilgrims coming in the later part of the limited period available to the pilgrimage are also able to have the Darshan of the Amarnath Ji Maha Shivling.
  • This restriction shall not apply to the daily aarti that is performed.

However, several media reports have stated that NGT had earlier asked the experts committee constituted by it to consider declaring the area around the Amarnath Shrine cave as “silence zone” to prevent avalanches and ensure there is prohibition on carrying of religious offerings inside the cave to maintain its pristine nature. NGT also rapped the Amarnath Shrine Board (managed by J&K Govt.) for not providing proper infrastructure to pilgrims.

NGT bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar (former SC Judge) passed these orders while hearing a plea filed by activist Gauri Maulekhi, who termed the decision “progressive”. While we could not trace Maulekhi’s original application, records of past hearings of the case available on the NGT website indicate that one of her key concerns was ill treatment and death of mules used during the pilgrimage – so it is not clear how the matter diverged to NGT adjudicating how pilgrims should express their devotion to Bhagwan Shiva. Incidentally, Gauri Maulekhi has fought many cases against illegal cattle trafficking mafia.

National Green Tribunal (NGT) was established on 18.10.2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010 for “effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources including enforcement of any legal right relating to environment….the Tribunal shall not be bound by the procedure laid down under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, but shall be guided by principles of natural justice.

In other words, NGT was another arrow in the quiver of rights-based legislations & their associated enforcing institutions created by Sonia Gandhi’s kitchen cabinet NAC – the other major example being RTE (Right to Education Act) & NCMEI (National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions).

Other interesting judgements, to say the least, passed by NGT include their Rs. 5 crore penalty on Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation for ‘damaging’ Yamuna flood plains during a 3-day event, and an NGT bench headed by justice UD Salvi (who was also part of the bench which ruled in the Amarnath case) asking Govt. to explore alternatives to traditional cremation as it was ‘hazardously polluting’.

Skewed Legal Regime

Hindus in the country are beginning to wake up to the institutionalized discrimination against them under the secular state which has now crept into all parts of our public and even private lives.

But Hindu society is still largely clueless on what to do about it? We can rant and rave all we want, we can pin the blame on our equally clueless political representatives or religious organizations, but the fact is that we will get nowhere unless we understand and tackle the roots of the prevailing legal regime which has interpreted the Constitution in such a way that interference in Hindu religious/charitable institutions is considered normal.

This means devoting time and resources in untangling the legal web that has been woven for the last 70 years, and devising measures and safeguards to neutralize the Hindu-baiters and maintaining a continuous vigil to protect our interests.

The good news is that there are some individuals and organizations that have already done excellent work on this front – we need to get behind them, support them in whatever way possible.

A passionate and hard-hitting talk delivered last year by the advocate, J Sai Deepak, explains the history behind the slow suffocation of Hindu temples and other institutions by the secular state & our courts.

If you don’t have time to watch the entire video, just listen to the  3-minute section provided below where he quotes from a decision of the Supreme Court in 1966 with respect to AP HRCE (Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment) legislation, which was challenged and the Supreme Court gave a certain argument as to why this legislation is exclusively applicable to Hindus.

Here is an edited transcript of the above 3-minute clip –

“SC says-

..the main thrust of the argument to the learned council of petitioners is that articles 25-26 of the Indian Constitution, guarantee the freedom to manage religious affairs, and right to freely profess, practice and propagate the religion to all citizens alike.

Hindus constitute majority population and Hindu religion is the major religion in the country, equally Muslim, Christian and Parsi citizens are entitled to the same constitutional rights under articles 25 and 26, without touching the administration and governance of charitable or religious institutions or endowments founded or maintained by Muslims, Christians, and Parsis.

Making law regulating the administration of Hindu religious institutions offends articles 14 and 15, which deal with equality. This was the argument that was made.

It was also contended that when a denomination which is a part of a major religion as protected under article 26, the major religions themselves as genus are equally entitled to protection under article 26. This essentially tries to say that if Vaishnavites are protected, Hindus as whole are equally entitled to the same protection, because Vaishnavites form part of Hindus. Institutions belonging to them can’t be regulated under the law offending their right to religious practice. This is the argument which was made.”

Let’s see what the Supreme Court said and it will remind you of arguments that have been made in other aspects of the constitution.

The first question is whether it is necessary that the legislature should make law uniformly applicable to all religions, charitable institutions, public institutions and endowments established or maintained by people professing all religions?

Now, here comes the secular narrative.

India is a pluralistic society, wherein people have faith in respective religions, beliefs or tenets propounded by different religions or their offshoots.

The founding fathers while making the constitution were confronted with problems to unify and integrate people of India professing different faiths, born in different castes, so on and so forth. The Directive Principles of State Policy themselves visualize diversity and attempted to foster unity among people of different faiths.

A uniform law although is highly desirable, but enactment thereof in one go, will perhaps be counter-productive to the unity and integrity of the nation. In a democracy governed by the rule of law, gradual progressive change and order should be brought about.

You see some sentiments are more important than others. Making law or amendment to a law is a slow process and legislature attempts to remedy where the need is most acute. So judiciary feels that the remedy is most important when it comes to Hindu institutions. You see, that is the logic. That is how we interpret pluralism. That is how we interpret secularism. That is how we enforce constitutional mandates and values in this country.”

This is the legal mindset that has existed in the country since Independence, and which we have to change if Hindus are to live with dignity and respect in their homeland of Bharat.

We need to support the CORE 6-point Agenda as clearly spelt out by @realitycheckind – Hindus should demand that whoever wants their political support should, as a bare minimum, commit to delivering each of these 6 agenda items in a time-bound fashion.

Here are some of the organizations who are working in a coordinated fashion to free Hindu temples and institutions from Government control. Lets support them in whatever way we can –

1.) Temple Worshippers Society, Chennai – http://templeworshippers.in/

2.) Srijan Foundation project to Free Hindu Temples from Government Control

3.) Indic Collective –http://www.indiccollective.org/

Suggested Reading

6-part series of articles by J Sai Deepak

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