Stop taxpayer-funded pilgrimage programs


TModern democratic nations must not interfere in religion, although it is undeniable that every individual has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including their exercise and observance. This idea is very popular in the civilized democracies of the world.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18) and the constitutions of many democratic countries, including India, have recognized the right to religion as a fundamental human right. It is also said in the Constitution of India (Basic Duties) that the citizens must develop scientific temperament, humanism and spirit of inquiry and reform.

There are mainly three types of governmental practices related to religion available in the world including theocratic state, secular state and atheist state. Though few, there are still some theocratic states such as Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Vatican City that follow a theocratic government based on religious law. But the majority of countries in the world are secular and some of them, like China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba, have even moved towards state atheism as a government practice. The ten countries with the highest proportions of atheists and agnostics are China, Japan, Sweden, Great Britain, Norway, Belgium, Vietnam, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Australia. These countries also rank high in the World Human Development Index and the World Happiness Index.

Given its breadth and diversity of religious and belief practices, the movers and shakers of modern democratic India sought to build a secular country by acknowledging the presence of all major religions. Later in 1976 the word secularism was included in the preamble of our constitution. India is home to Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and people of many other faiths and beliefs including unbelievers and atheists. Our census has identified more than 100 denominations under the Other Religion category. Many groups of different faiths, such as SARANA, have repeatedly been asked to include their faith in the official religious status. The National Commission for Minorities Act 1992 has identified religious groups in various states as religious minorities. Six religions have been identified under the minority category. There is now a demand for Hindus to be declared a religious minority in some states in order to enjoy the protection afforded to other religious minorities.

As far as our legal system is concerned, there is no restriction on the right to religion and its practice, but the most frequently raised concern has been the involvement of the state in religious activities with a political motive. It has been said that the political parties that govern the country have adopted a policy of appeasement to win the religious sentiment of people of a particular religion, regardless of whether they are in the majority or the minority.

It has been found that many of the plans and programs of the federal and state governments have funded religious activities with taxpayer money. The removal of Haj subsidies for Indian Muslims was controversial until the Supreme Court intervened in 2012. The Supreme Court ordered the government to end the practice by 2022 and suggested the subsidy funds available for the Haj pilgrimage could be used to promote education among the Muslim community. That’s what the court said
Practice is not only unconstitutional, but also inconsistent with the teachings of the Koran. This Haj travel subsidy has been a colonial practice ever since and even encouraged by post-independent governments. India sends the second largest number of haj trips after Indonesia.

Central and state governments, with the exception of some states, have subsidized religious pilgrimages within the country. Parties of every ideology, with minor exceptions, both Congress and BJP, BJD, APP, TMC, SP and even the atheist DMK and AIADMK promote such programs. The state governments pay the travel expenses of the devotees, their accommodation, medical expenses and insurance from the treasury. The TN government also has plans for Hindus, Christians and Muslims. TN has subsidies for Hindu followers to Manasoravar and Muktinath in Nepal and Christians to Jerusalem and Muslims to Haj. Unfortunately, the atheists have no such place to visit as devotees, otherwise there would be a plan for them. The WB CM has set up a program to rehabilitate 8,000 priests of Sanatan Dharma with land and pensions and there are bodies and boards for their welfare. The AP Brahmin Welfare Corporation in 2014 and the Karnataka State Brahmin Development Board in 2019 were formed to look after the welfare and development of priests of a particular religion.

The programs are religiously named Dharma Jyoti/PurnaDham Yatra in Assam, Char Dham Jatra in Himchal Pradesh and Rajasthan, Sidhu Darsan Yatra in Haryana, Shabran Yatra in UP, Mukshaymatri Tritha yatra Yojana in Delhi and Central Government PRASAD program under the Ministry of Tourism. The government of Odisha, which has been under the rule of the BJD for the past 22 years, is no different when it comes to implementing religious pilgrimage programs out of state funds. The program is said to help the poor and old supporters of the state. The religious followers have no class as they basically practice one faith and it doesn’t matter whether they are rich or poor. Should a secular state help its poor people to realize their faith and worship as followers of any religion? There is nothing wrong with visiting places of religious interest by their followers, but this visit should not be paid for out of government funds created by taxpayers’ money. Government spending must include all people regardless of their beliefs and beliefs, but through the implementation of religious pilgrimage programs the state directly encourages or supports people of a particular religion to practice their beliefs and beliefs. This is undesirable in democracies that practice secularism. The state must disassociate itself from any kind of religious activity, regardless of whether it is practiced by the majority of its population or serves the interests of a religious minority. The state must confine itself to encouraging any type of activity that propitiates people of any number of a particular religious belief.

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