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United Nations General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann has called for a world ban on anyone defaming any religion. According to him, while there does exist a right to free speech and expression, the international community should aim towards the comity of religions. Notably,  there is a steady and worrisome trend of stories in Western countries restricting free speech in the name of tolerance of religion, sexual orientation and other values.For instance, in September criminal charges filed against leading French author Pierre Péan, who is charged with racial hatred for derogatory things said about Tutsis in a book in a book about Rwandan genocide.

Jonathan Turley puts forth the idea that this comment by the UNGA President is not way out of line as many Islamic states prosecute people for blasphemy and even issue fatwas against those who speak foul against their religion. He states;

A suspended Nicaraguan priest, D’Escoto is little concerned about the devastating blow to free speech and free press in such a rule — dangers already realized in various countries where speaking against a religion has resulted in criminal penalties and even death. In making this outrageous call, D’Escoto has given critics of international legal systems a great boost — showing the dangers of such rules in restricting cherished constitutional rights.

Looking at this in the context of Indian Law, the Indian Penal Code contains a series of sections from 295 where in words/ acts ‘deliberately’ said so as to hurt the feelings of any religion are a crime and punishable in law. However, in a series of case law, the Court has said that such acts would only constitute a crime when it is done ‘deliberately’, i.e. with an intent and tending to disrupt public order. This law is more of a synthesis between free speech and religious concerns.

The actions of the President, when not seen in isolation, as evidence to a general movement towards placing restrictions on rights in the name of public order and state security. We have seen that happening in India, the United States, UK and now coming from the President of the United Nations General Assembly.

The Kerala Law Reforms Commission, under the able guidance of Hon’ble Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer has mooted a draft legislation that may have far-reaching implications in the State and beyond; titled the Secular Norms for Administration of Places of Public Worship Bill, the draft seeks to ensure public access to all places of worship. Apart from such a step, the Bill ushers in sweeping changes in areas hitherto untouched by State machinery. It is pertinent to note its salient features and the ‘unsettling’ impact it may have on the polity.

Firstly, the Bill ensures access to all persons regardless of their faith, to all public places of worship belonging to various religions. The access is however, subject to the “solemn obligations consistent with the dignity, decorum, reverence and submission to the sublime conditions prescribed by respective religious authorities”. A very dubious provision, indeed. At the outset, there are problems in granting a statutory right to all persons the right of access to public places of worship; perhaps on a high moral ground, it might indicate our receptive religious traditions. However, the Reforms Commission, knowing well that an unconditional right might create problems with religious bodies and authorities, has sought to mask this right by subjecting it to their respective conditions. Such a submission would ensure prevalence of status quo; people have been refused entry by religious organizations on a host of grounds and since the Bill does not lay down a standard for the “sublime conditions” mentioned above, such organizations can continue to put their foot down on these matters. Not only would this fuel litigation between the right-holder and the largely administrative religious bodies in charge of places of worship, but result in unnecessary judicial intervention in each and every minor incident.

Secondly, the Bill attempts to establish an institute that will impart training to persons aspiring to become priests in performing pujas and other holy functions in all Hindu places of worship, irrespective of caste differences. This seemingly absurd provision, quite regrettably, ignores the ground realities existent in society today. Priesthood in India (by and large) is not in the nature of a vocation that applicants/job-seekers “aspire” to become. Mostly traditional and hereditary in character, priesthood is seen as a right by many that is the result of a sanctimonious life adherent to rituals. How can Government norms be the yardstick to measure the qualification of a priest?

Further, the training will cater to Hindu Philosophy, based on Vedas, Upanishads and other great teachings of Hindu theology. In a scenario where no single, uniform interpretation of these texts is prevalent, one wonders what the State would seek guidance from. Evidently, subscribing to the interpretation of one caste/sect can have disastrous implications, going contrary to the very soul of this draft.

Thirdly, the Bill envisages the formation of a Board that would lay out the “course of study” in these training institutions. The Board will comprise presidents of all Devaswom Boards and three “outstanding” Hindu religious personalities; the inclusions of Devaswom presidents, all of whom occupy purely administrative posts, leave much to be desired. The Bill also leaves any question as to the criteria for diversified selection of outstanding religious personalities in the dark. Inviting discontent among religious segments that are unhappy with the selection process may threaten our secular fabric itself. Moreover, with most Board members likely to belong to upper castes, reconciliatory measures that accomodate the opinion of oppressed lower castes must be taken into account.

Fourthly, the Government is also to frame rules prescribing minimum qualifications for admission to the institutions and the service conditions for teaching. Apart from the problems aforementioned, this provision also runs the risk of commodifying the entire norm of priesthood, the sanctity of which is undisputed in society. This proposition is further accentuated by the fact that the admission process is directed to take “due representation to Hindu Dalits, conventionally considered Sudras and Andhyodaya communities”. The provision is prima facie evidence of State-sponsored upward social mobility measures: when affirmative action policies face so much opposition, it is needless to outline the problems that such interference in religious ‘posts’ might create.

The Bill also vests the Board with powers to direct disposal of dakshina and presents that priests receive from devotees and temple-visitors. This disposal is subject to the emoluments due to the priests for improving facilities for worshippers and other temple requirements. Once again, the Bill adopts a very commercial outlook to the entire system, quite antagonistic to the concept of dakshina.

Fifthly, with regard to judicial remedies, the constitution of a Tribunal headed by a judicial officer in the rank of a Dist. Judge is envisaged in the Bill. The Tribunal will have jurisdiction to entertain complaints and initiate appropriate proceedings for violation of Bill provisions. An appeal against the Board’s decision may also be preferred before the Dist. Court with territorial jurisdiction. Quite certainly, many issues shall arise that concern the “right” interpretation and meaning of religious texts. Whereas the Supreme Court’s attempts to interpret the Quran in Shah Bano generated huge controversy, it would not be prudent to let the judiciary indulge in its own versions of the texts.

Lastly, another cause for concern is the absence of any similar regulatory provisions for other religions in the State. While this would not only expose the Bill to allegations of discriminatory treatment, but might also fall short of Constitutional requirements of equality. The very purpose of the Bill is to ensure greater public access regardless of faith, and it would surely then, be necessary to adopt regulatory measures that pertain to all religions?

In conclusion, one must say that the Bill must be subjected to intensive public scrutiny and debate. When matters concerning the realm of religion are at hand, it is imperative to juxtapose the law with secular norms as mandated by our Founding Fathers in the Constitution. While a strict divide between the Church and State is certainly not what Indian secularism is all about, the extent of State intervention in religion is an aspect to be given ample thought.

Its soon going to be six years since the Gujarat carnage took place in our ‘Democracy’. The actions we have seen so far have not been surprising. The Chief Minister gets re-elected, none of the people who arranged the attack on the muslims have been prosecuted yet and off late, the Court yells at one person who has been instrumental in getting justice to the victims of the carnage.

Let me begin by re-counting some of the incidents to most of my readers. The Tehelka issue on the Gujarat riots have been quite helpful in helping most of us re-visit the events. For people like Babu Bajrangi, the magazine is his worst nightmare. Surely it should be so when he is caught in the sting operation which giving an account of the Naroda Patiya massacre.

“Kauser Bano, was nine months pregnant that day. Her belly was torn apart and her foetus wrenched out, held aloft on the tip of a sword, then dashed to the ground and flung into the fire. Bajrangi recounts how he ripped apart “ek who pregnant b******d sala”; how he showed the Muslims the meaning of wrath – ‘if you harm us, we can respond- we’re no khichadi kadhi lot”


Then there’s also 22 year old Sufiya Bano who was raped and burnt in front of her father and when the father and three sons went to save her, the sons were killed and the father beard was cut off.


Naroda is an open area with a large pit that is actually a cul de sac – a slope leads into it from one side but the other side is a sheer rise that cannot be scaled. Several muslims had sheltered there; the mob surrounded the pit, poured fuel into it and set it afire. Around 200 people have said to have died in it.

Without going further in recounting these horrid tales, it must be stated that the action taken against those who were involved(hindus) in these crimes is as good as nil. On the other hand, the Supreme Court has denied bail to each of the 84 accused (muslims) of the burning of the Sabarmati express and all of them have been in jail for the past six years.

This is the irony of the Indian governance system. We are told that we are a democracy where everyone’s rights would be protected and there shall be no arbitrariness involved but on the other hand, communalism has penetrated so deep within us, that it is evident in the everyday actions of our Government. Most of the muslims in Ahmedabad still live in ghettos with inadequate facilities of water and electricity while Modi and his compatriots manage to come to power on the pedestal of “Gujarat Shining”.

Now when most of these issues are highlighted by Teesta Setalvad in an article, she gets a highly critical reaction from the Court. Well the article highlighted the fact that the Supreme Court had not done enough to deliver justice to the victims of the Gujarat riots and in fact was delaying the hearing time and again and not giving it much importance. This in a country where the Court has held that “Justice delayed is at par with Justice denied”. She also raised the following questions;

  • · Can no questions be asked about the systems in operation in the Supreme Court of India?
  • · Which matters get automatic priority and which do not?
  • · Which matters suffer because of the delays and interim orders of the Supreme Court?
  • · Is there no prioritization of cases where issues of personal liberty, denial of basic fundamental rights, mass crimes and impunity to the rich and powerful is concerned?
    If we can ask no questions, we will receive no answers.
  • · The time has come to question the basic accountability procedures of the highest court in the land.
    Has the Supreme Court of India lost its soul and is it turning a blind eye to cases related to fundamental rights violations?
  • · If so, where then do we turn?

In reply, when the Court was to hear the case on the 16th of this month, the Court was apparently fuming over the article and went to the extent of asking the lawyers whether they had any association with Teesta and if so, that they wouldn’t be hearing the petition. Well, quite juvenile I must say in a land where free speech is a highly cherished ideal.

So while the we enter the Sixth year since the riots took place, a lot of questions are raised about the efficiency of the administration in maintaining order and securing justice to the victims. In addition to this, it is disheartening to point out that even still we don’t have a law dealing with mass crimes in India and the Communal Violence Bill has not yet been passed. Like I said earlier, the irony of Indian democracy.

(See articles in the hyperlinks provided in the text)

Arun Gandhi’s post on “Jewish Domination” seems to have drawn quite of lot of flak lately. Why he even had to resign for the very institute in the name of his Grandfather that he had founded. On resigning from the MK Gandhi institute of non-violence at the University of Rochester NY, he wrote,

“My intention was to generate a healthy discussion on the proliferation of violence. Clearly, I did not achieve my goal. Instead, unintentionally, my words have resulted in pain, anger, confusion and embarrassment,”

An yes, the Comments have’nt been too appreciative of the post too. David Sternlight writes,

I am older than Mr. Gandhi and still remember the time when Indians ran around the world with their holier-than-thou attitude sanctimoniously preaching against nuclear weapons. Then they got their own bomb.

I see that nothing has changed.

Another commentator writes,

Your grandfather would be ashamed of you.

 Now i think that was uncalled for. In my own personal take on this, the only mistake that Mr. Gandhi has done is that he has used his words in a very poor manner that has driven him to become a victim of high handed, powerful jewish forces. There is nothing wrong in that article and the idea that he seems to bring out is really justified. What happened to a race 60 years ago is being repeated by them upon others at present. I don’t think mass crimes can be justified in the name of security. I’m pretty sure the Grandfather would’nt have approved of the present Jewish power struggle and the blood line seems to have its connection here.

The post that he wrote is displayed below.


Jewish Identity Can’t Depend on Violence

Jewish identity in the past has been locked into the holocaust experience — a German burden that the Jews have not been able to shed. It is a very good example of a community can overplay a historic experience to the point that it begins to repulse friends. The holocaust was the result of the warped mind of an individual who was able to influence his followers into doing something dreadful. But, it seems to me the Jews today not only want the Germans to feel guilty but the whole world must regret what happened to the Jews. The world did feel sorry for the episode but when an individual or a nation refuses to forgive and move on the regret turns into anger.

The Jewish identity in the future appears bleak. Any nation that remains anchored to the past is unable to move ahead and, especially a nation that believes its survival can only be ensured by weapons and bombs. In Tel Aviv in 2004 I had the opportunity to speak to some Members of Parliament and Peace activists all of whom argued that the wall and the military build-up was necessary to protect the nation and the people. In other words, I asked, you believe that you can create a snake pit — with many deadly snakes in it — and expect to live in the pit secure and alive? What do you mean? they countered. Well, with your superior weapons and armaments and your attitude towards your neighbors would it not be right to say that you are creating a snake pit? How can anyone live peacefully in such an atmosphere? Would it not be better to befriend those who hate you? Can you not reach out and share your technological advancement with your neighbors and build a relationship?

Apparently, in the modern world, so determined to live by the bomb, this is an alien concept. You don’t befriend anyone, you dominate them. We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that Culture of Violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.


Now playing: Neil Young – We r in control
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The recent events in Gujarat are tattering to an Indian’s heart. It’s not just the Tehelka tapes that have come out in the open; the banning of TV news channels in Gujarat, disgusting comments by the Press and politicians are all a consequence of it which further saddens me.

Mirza in an wonderful read pens down the responses,

BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar said “This sting has rendered Tehelka as the investigative wing of the Congress”. BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy said “Definitely the sting operation and its content are suspect, because we are aware for sometime that there are detractors against Modi in Gujarat and there is the Congress party, which has lost all ground in the state.” They talk about everything but not about the inhuman brutality. Vir Sanghvi wrote very aptly regarding this in 2002 “I was not surprised when the political establishment scrambled to look for conspiracies: the CIA was behind it, the ISI sponsored Tehelka…My point then, as now, was simple enough: let us first deal with the revelations and then worry about Tarun’s so-called backers.”

Today Chandan Mitra, the editor of the 143 year old newspaper Pioneer and a BJP supported Rajya Sabha MP, invoked the third and the fifth point; Modi has won various elections and why do you take out dead issues now. This is the editor of one of the oldest national newspapers of India! In which moral system and when was justice decided by the street? If someone wins elections does it exonerate them? Mr. Mitra, is the state of journalism going down to this level in India? And since when did we start forgetting about injustices on the pretext of moving ahead? Should we have said the same to the Sikhs who were hounded in 1984? Should we have said the same to the utterly vulnerable Jews who were brutalized and killed in millions by the Nazis? That it will be all decided in the court of law and forget about it in the social aspect.

When I myself went to Ahmedabad last december, I was shocked to learn about and see the ghettoization of the Muslims; rich and the poor in the officially put ‘world class city’. But the other issue was, whoever I met (hindus only), were sort of equating Modi to Gabriel as a messenger of god.

And what about free speech? The governments decision to ban all the TV channels that showed the news clip is now a rider to the free speech clause in the Constitution. Hah! gone are the days when Article 19 1(a) was the ultimate sword for the press. If my readers are interested, I’d request you to read Express Newspapers v. Union of India; an amazing case that exposed the link between Gov action and free speech in 1985 and the Delhi riots. (A related article here)

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