Wednesday, October 14, 2009


It's easier to provide home for Gods than for homeless

When it comes to similarities between the two profound democracies of the world, India and the US, both ensure that their constitutions separate the state from religion. The countries prohibit the governments from interfering with religious matters. But then here is where the similarities end and the differences begin.

Religion has altogether a different dimension in India. For a country having more than 350 million Gods, the 2001 census report, revealed that India has 2.4 million places of worship, should not come as a surprise! But what should actually act as a surprise is the state of other developmental establishments. In a country with over 1.15 billion people, one can find 2.4 million temples but only 2.2 million factories (91 per cent of place of worship), 1.5 million places of education (62.5 per cent of place of worship) and less than 604,000 nursing homes and dispensaries. The situation gets more paradoxical in rural areas. Rural areas account for around 1.98 million places of worship but boast of merely 987,000 workshops, just 340,000 health care institutions, and around 270,000 schools and colleges!

It is not that these places of worship have come up on their own but the outcome is more of a political design. In spite of India being a secular country and despite of our constitution prohibiting state interference in religious establishment, many states use temples and some time even their donations for states use (thousands of temples, including names like Jagannath, Tirupati, Kashi Vishwanath, Vaishno Devi, Shirdi, Chamundi Devi, Kali Mandir of Patiala, Amarnath, Badrinath, and Kedarnath, are already under government control). And thus the allocation of land and funds to build temples are also rampant in the country. This is most of the time done to please the vote bank of the state or sometime to channelise a part of donations for the state's use. Agreed that sometimes these temples or places of worship act as tourist attractions and fetch in huge amount of money through tourism. But then, this should not give leeway to government to overlook the blatant illegal construction of places of worship. Comprehending this, the Supreme Court recently (on September 29, 2009) reiterated its old law of banning all unauthorised new and future construction of places of worship on public land and sought strict compliance of its order from the union and state governments.

If not all, but most of the places of worship have been actually constructed through land grabbing in the name of God, usually by the ‘powers to be’. And mind you, these activities are conducted under broad day light and straight under the nose of the government. However, most of the state governments happen to ignore this issue as they fear huge public outrage and hurting religious sentiments.

Ironically, in a country which is struggling with its social development initiatives (for the uninitiated, our latest ranking in HDI is 134 out of 182 countries), the homes and property for deity becomes a convenient priority while development of the have-nots invariably takes a backseat. Building places of worship is undoubtedly no sin, but then doing so at the cost of development of the society is actually a transgression. What is needed is a strong public outcry to force the state government to effectively execute this Supreme Court’s order. In any democracy, the continuous ignorance of such illegal encroachments is utter display of a frail administrative execution and above all speaks volume about the lousiness in execution of laws. Like I said earlier, similarities end and differences begin...


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