May 08, 2018

India: state must have uniform norms for religious expression in public spaces

The Times of India
May 8, 2018

In bad faith – Take note, Haryana: state must have uniform norms for religious expression in public spaces

Gurgaon has seen a spate of Hindu right-wing attacks on Muslims offering namaz on vacant plots of land. The troublemakers were arrested, but the attempt to stir communal trouble is going strong, with a bunch of organisations under the umbrella Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti demanding a blanket ban on all such namaz gatherings. Chief minister Manohar Khattar first said that namaz should be offered in mosques and idgahs rather than on public land, then swerved to say that he didn’t intend to stop anyone and that law and order was the responsibility of police and administration. His minister Anil Vij, though, added another insinuation, saying that the government could not allow anyone to read namaz in the open with the intention of grabbing land.
But religion cannot be blanked out of the public sphere in a diverse and believing nation. We spill over into the streets for our religious occasions, Muharram and Baisakhi and Palm Sundays and many kinds of idol immersions from Ganapati to Jagannath. Ram Navami, Diwali and Durga Puja are flamboyant public affairs that take over streets and parks. There are many other private religious events that are all noise and spectacle.
The Indian Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to profess, practise and propagate her religion, though permission is required from the local police to make sure there is no threat to public order, morality and health. Haryana should be reminded that if the state tries to contain namaz to a mosque or idgah, it will have to do the same for all religious expression in any public space – a move that is clearly untenable.