By Vidya Bhushan Rawat, New Age Islam
08 May, 2012
The Supreme Court’s decision in asking the Union Government to scrap the Haj Subsidy is a decision which every citizen of the country must welcome. It is really heartwarming that a majority of Muslim leaders and their religious leaders too have welcomed this order and many of them are demanding to abrogate it completely.
According to government’s own admission nearly one lakh twenty five thousand pilgrims travelled to Saudi Arabia last year which put a burden of Rs 6 billion on the government of India’s coffers. It was shocking to see how government was keeping 11000 tickets for its own self with 3000 tickets meant for VIPs. Surely, these VIP’s can afford to visit the holy places at their own expenses.
The fact is that in the past few years, Haj pilgrimage has turned highly politicized to make Muslims feel that the ‘government’ care for them as well as is ‘secular’ in its core beliefs. Such distorted secularism has posed greater threat to our country and has not helped the Muslim community as well. Unfortunately, it was heavily publicized by people going abroad. Hundreds of people would come to see the Hajis off at the airport and again come to receive them with garlands and flowers. It became an annual event for politicians to send their favourites to send on the trip.
This has lead to a competitive communalism among various other groups. And the result is that the Hindu groups also asked for state subsidy to be given to the pilgrims leaving for ‘Char Dham Yatra’ and Christians asking for a subsidized journey to Jerusalem. Already some of the state governments where BJP is in power including Madhya Pradesh having been actively promoting the idea of subsidy for ‘Hindus’.
India is a plural society where different faiths and religions grew and bloomed. It is the country where Carvak, Buddha, Mahavira, Nanaka, Ravidas and Kabir too were born who questioned the religion and priesthood. There are hundreds of different varieties of values and customs in each religion which contradict the so-called mainstream religions and their values and have attracted millions of people. All this cannot be promoted to compete with each other in a very negative way giving the communities in platter to fundamentalists’ religious pontiffs who want to control the communities and their freedom to life and choices.
Interestingly, none of these contractors of religions have time to ask the government to do something good for their communities. Justice Rajinder Sachar committee has reported how the socio-economic conditions of Muslims in our country are abysmally pathetic and in many places worse than the Scheduled Castes. The communities need money to be spent on health care and education. One must appreciate the judgment delivered by Justice Aftab Alam and Justice Ranjana Desai in asking the government to scrap the entire subsidy provided on Haj in next 10 years. More important is the order that Rs 650 crore which is being spent on this subsidy must be spent on the education and social development of the Muslim community. The decision is not only progressive but also pragmatic and will definitely start a developmental debate in the Muslim community.
It was a well known fact that in the name of Haj, the Ministers and political leaders were promoting their own agenda. A goodwill delegation of nearly 30 luminaries from the Muslim community used to enjoy the exchequer’s hospitality in Saudi Arabia. The court has brought it down to three people every year which is appreciable.
The Supreme Court judgment and the Muslim response to it will be helpful in promoting the secular agenda of the government when it is under threat. It has come at a time when the right wing Hindutva groups were preparing their assault on the government for the next general election in the guise of ‘appeasement’ of Muslims. The fact is that the real beneficiary of the subsidy was not the community but Air India which was getting this money from the government. The Muslim leaders would do well to focus on the real issues of the community and not compel political leaders to promote symbolism in the place of their duties towards the people of India. These symbolisms only strengthen the parochial forces in the society who are afraid of change.
A secular democratic Nation must look secular in all forms. State has no business to promote religion and religious pilgrimages which are absolutely private affairs of the citizens. State must promote activities and areas of common beliefs and should not leave its welfare agenda which include health care, compulsory primary education, providing safe drinking water to the people and employment to all irrespective of their faith. A modern state must not allow itself to be hijacked by the religious groups promoting fundamentalist’s agenda in the name of ‘community welfare’. Instead, the Indian state could provide subsidy to promote its school children to participate in international seminars, conferences and sports events. That would help us build a pool of talented children who would bring laurels to the country.
The political parties have no will to govern according to the rule of law. The governance here is according to our respective votes and agendas. They do not bother if it results in further chaos and disintegration of our society. The Supreme Court judgment has paved the way for progress in the right direction. The most enlightening aspect of the entire debate is the whole-hearted support of the Muslim leaders to this decision. Such mature reactions help the cause of the common people in the country and puncture the vicious agenda of those who wanted to use it as a tool to spread lies across the country. In fact, a true implementation of this judgment will only help strengthen the cause of secularism in India and compel the government to focus on the work for the uplift of the community and not to work on issues which help build a negative propaganda against the Muslims in the country.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a well-known Delhi-based social activist. He will be contributing articles to New Age Islam occasionally.