MAKING LAW SIMPLE!

Freedom of Religion: Kumbh Mela and Constitution

KUMBH MELA

INTRODUCTION:

The Maha Kumbh Mela, considered the largest public gathering in the world, has its origin in Hindu mythology. The term ‘Kumbh’ is derived from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘pitcher’, and it also refers to the zodiac sign of Aquarius. The word ‘mela’ means gathering.

The Kumbh Mela reaches its culmination in the first week of March, which also marks the occasion of Maha Shivratri, the last of the six dates for the ‘Shahi Snan’

KUMBH MELA 2021: Why in news?

No masks, no social distancing and Covid-19 protocol tossed away. This was the scene at the Haridwar Kumbh Mela on Monday as nearly 31 lakh people thronged to the Kumbh Mela for a holy dip in river Ganga at Haridwar’s Har Ki Pauri.

Of course, the Uttarakhand government made tall claims that it would ensure the best arrangements are in place to manage the crowds. But the ground reality in Haridwar on Monday was quite different.

Uttarakhand Director General of Police (DGP) Ashok Kumar said they had expected the crowd to be even bigger.

“Had it been an ordinary year, the gathering would have seen more than 50-60 lakh people. It appears that people were apprehensive and aware of the Covid-19 situation. This is perhaps why the footfall is significantly low this year,”

It is for the first time in the history of the grand religious congregation, held on the banks of the Ganga in Haridwar once in 12 years, that its duration has been curtailed to just one month due to the pandemic.

In normal circumstances, Kumbh is held for nearly four months. Its last edition was held in Haridwar from January 14 to April 28 in 2010. Between April 1 and 30, there will be three major bathing dates (Shahi Snan or royal baths) on April 12, 14 and 27.

As per official data, nearly 31 lakh people offered prayers and took a dip in the Ganga between Sunday midnight and Monday 3 pm. The Haridwar Kumbh Mela is being held at a time when India is battered by the second wave of Covid-19. For more than a week now, the country has been reporting more than 1 lakh cases every day. The highest was on Monday when India reported over 1.68 lakh cases.

Steps taken:


Several states have imposed night curfews and other restrictions to break the chain of transmission. There are reports of states facing a shortage of Covid-19 vaccines and hospital beds for Covid-19 patients.

As per the SOP issued for management of the Kumbh Mela and order of the Uttarakhand High Court, all people attending the congregation must show a Covid-19 negative RT-PCR report. This report cannot be older than 72 hours.

The administration has set up several Covid-19 testing desks at various checkpoints of the Kumbh Mela area. All entry points of Uttarakhand have been barricaded to check Covid-19 negative RT-PCR reports from visitors. Those without a report are being asked to mandatorily take a test.

The government of Uttarakhand state, where Haridwar is located, is facing heavy criticism for allowing the Kumbh Mela festival to go ahead amid a sharply worsening Covid picture. On Thursday, India reported more than 200,000 Covid cases for the first time since the pandemic began.

As per the report issued by Haridwar’s Chief Medical Officer, the district reported 300 Covid-19 cases on Sunday. A day later, Haridwar reported 349 positive cases.

The district has seen a surge in cases since April 1, when the Kumbh Mela began. On April 1, Haridwar reported less than 200 cases.

The district administration has planned to conduct about 50,000 random Covid-19 tests to check the spread of the disease.

Citizens of India do have freedom of religion, which also includes the right to worship but it comes with certain limitations. So, the decision of the Uttarakhand government to allow the devotes to let them attend the Kumbh Mela was not appreciated at all. Let’s look at freedom of religion a right mentioned under the Indian Constitution

FREEDOM OF RELIGION UNDER THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION:

There are various divisions within a religion, for example, amongst Islam there are Shias, Sunnis, Hanafis and among Jains, there are the Digambara and Svetambara divisions. Divisions within a religion follow a different faith from other divisions by following different customs, practices, and traditions.

So, with such a diverse population, following different religions and beliefs, it becomes necessary to protect and secure rights regarding the faith of every religion. Therefore, in India, legal rights are provided like the right to worship; right to visit religious places (like temples, mosques, churches) to follow their faith and religion but it is subject to certain restrictions prescribed in the Constitution.

Articles 25 to 28 in the Constitution of India provide the right to freedom of religion:

It imparts freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion. It gives freedom to manage religious affairs. It sets freedom as to payment of taxes for the promotion of any particular religion. It gives freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions.
It is available to persons. It is available to religious denominations. It is available to a person against religious denomination(s). It applies to educational institutions. A person can invoke it.

Article 25

In Ratilal Panachand Gandhi v. the State of Bombay, the Supreme Court stated that Article 25 guarantees every person (not only citizens) the freedom of conscience and right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion imposed with certain restrictions by the State. These restrictions are:

Public order, morality and health and other provisions of the Constitution (Clause 1 of Article 25).
Laws relating to or restricting any economic, financial, political, or other secular activities associated with religious practices. (Clause 2(a) of Article 25).


Social welfare and reform might interfere with religious practices.
The court in Stanislaus Rev v. the State of MP explained that freedom of ‘profession’ means the right of the believer to state his creed in public whereas freedom of ‘practice’ means his right to give expression in forms of private and public worship.

The court also explained that the right to propagate one’s religion means the right to communicate a person’s beliefs to another person or to expose the tenets of that faith, but shall not include the right to ‘convert’ another person to the former’s faith. In the Commissioner Hindu Religious Endowments Madras v. Sri L T Swamiar of Sri Shriur Matt, the Court held that ‘profess’ means ‘right to freely declare of one’s faith”.

Article 26

Article 26 guarantees the following rights to a religious denomination with subject to public order, morality, and health:
To establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes.
To manage its own affairs in matters of religion.
To own, acquire and administer both movable and immovable property following the law.

ARTICLE 27

Article 27 protects a person from forceful payment of taxes and proceeds which are for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination.
Is Article 27 equally applicable to the fees charged by the Government for the maintenance of religious institutions?
No. The Supreme Court in the Commissioner Hindu Religious Endowments Madras v. Sri L T Swamiar of Sri Shriur Matt stated that Article 27 does not prohibit the State from charging fees for regulating the secular administration of religious institutions in the country.

Article 28

Article 28 provides freedom from any religious instruction in educational institutions which are maintained completely out of State funds.

This article does not apply to an educational institution if it is administered by the State but was established under any endowment or trust requiring certain religious instruction to be imparted in that institution.

This article also protects a person from taking part in any religious instruction or attending any religious worship which may be conducted in an institution recognized by State or receiving aid from State funds unless his guardian has consented

CONCLUSION

India is the most diverse country concerning religion. Being a secular country, it does not have its own religion and every citizen has the right to choose, practice, propagate and even change his or her religion.

However, these rights are not absolute but subject to certain restrictions provided by the constitution. No person in the name of religion can do any act that is opposed to public policy or creating any kind of disturbances or intolerance among the people of India.