By K Raveendran
Recent pronouncements and observations by the Allahabad High Court on issues relating to religious educational institutions and cow protection are likely to add to the apprehensions of the minorities and renew the debate on secularism. There is, however, cause for consolation as these have come during the course of hearing certain cases and not necessarily court verdicts.
The first case relates to religious educational institutions like Madrasa vis-a-vis the role of and interplay between the state government and such institutions within the framework of the Constitution. A bench of Justice Ajay Bhanot, while hearing the plea of a Madrasa duly recognized by the Madrasa Board and aided by the state government seeking the creation of additional posts of teachers in view of an increasing number of students, decided to go into Whether the policy of the Uttar Pradesh government to provide financial aid to educational institutions which impart religious education is consistent with the scheme of the Constitution, particularly, in light of the word ‘secular’ in the Preamble to the Constitution of India.
The court also proposed to examine whether government funding of institutions run by religious minorities which impart religious education faithfully implements the constitutional protection afforded to all religious faiths especially religious minorities in the country, especially with reference to provisions of the Constitution from Articles 25 to 30 of the Constitution. The court also sought to know whether other religious minorities are also provided government aid for running theological schools and whether there is a prohibition against women studying in these institutions.
In the second case, involving an alleged offence charged under the provisions of the law against cow slaughter, another bench of the court suggested that cow should be declared as national animal and cow protection kept as a fundamental right of Hindus. There were more such remarks that suggested a non-compromising tone on the part of the court, when it said ‘fundamental right is not only the prerogative of beef eaters, rather, those who worship the cow and are financially dependent on cows, also have the right to lead a meaningful life’.
Justice Shekhar Kumar Yadav noted that the ‘cow is useful even when she is old and sick, and her dung and urine are very useful for agriculture, making of medicines, and most of all, the one who is worshiped as a mother, even if she gets old or sick. No one can be given the right to kill her’. Probably in an apparent bid to assuage the feelings of Muslims over his suggestions, he pointed out that it is not that only Hindus who have understood the importance of cows, Muslims have also considered the cow as an important part of India’s culture during their reign. Slaughter of cows was banned by five Muslim rulers and Babur, Humayun and Akbar had also prohibited the sacrifice of cows in their religious festivals. Hyder Ali, the Nawab of Mysore, had also made cow slaughter a punishable offence, he said.
The judge noted that from time to time, various courts and the Supreme Court have given many decisions keeping in mind cow protection, promotion, and the faith of the people, and that parliament and the assemblies have also made new rules with time to protect the interests of cows. He further suggested that the government will have to bring a bill in parliament to declare cow as the national animal and include it under fundamental rights and make strict laws against those who talk about harming cows. Similarly, there must be a law against those who talk about cow protection by making cowsheds etc., but they have nothing to do with cow protection, their only aim is to earn money in the name of cow protection.
The judge’s suggestion that cow protection must be made a fundamental right of Hindus would sound innocuous on the face of it, but the problem comes when the applicability becomes universal. The comparison of the fundamental rights of the ‘beef eaters’ with those of the Hindus is bound to leave the field open to all kinds of interpretations. As such, the sensitivity in the case needs no highlighting as the accused happens to be a Muslim. There is an inherent conflict in the proposition in that some of the obligations envisaged run counter to the freedoms mandated to other religious denominations. (IPA Service)