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Attempting to dictate beliefs, courts often seek to 'undermine' India's secular ethos

Counterview Desk 

In a representation to the President of India and the Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court nearly 200 concerned citizens have said that recent controversies surrounding the Places of Worship Act, 1991 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Act’), have posed “significant challenges to one of the most cherished tenets of secularism – faith”.
Floated by the Socialist Party (India), which is led by top academic and activist Sandeep Pandey, it notes, “The judiciary's interpretation of religious matters has sometimes been contentious, with courts attempting to dictate beliefs rather than protect them. This trend undermines the secular ethos of our nation and risks eroding the foundational principles of our Constitution.”

Text:

We humbly bring to your attention the critical issue of the non-implementation of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, and its detrimental effects on the cherished principles of secularism and religious freedom in our nation.
The constitutional framework of India guarantees equality of religion to all individuals and groups, irrespective of their faith, affirming that there is no religion of the state. This fundamental principle is enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution and is underscored by Articles 25 to 28, emphasizing the embodiment of secularism in our constitutional scheme. Secularism, as a foundational principle adopted by the Indian people, dictates that the state shall have no religion and shall treat all religions and religious groups equally, respecting their right of religion, faith, and worship.
However, recent controversies surrounding the Places of Worship Act, 1991 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Act’), have posed significant challenges to one of the most cherished tenets of secularism—faith. Faith is a deeply personal matter, constituting the right of individuals to their personal relations with their maker, creator, or cosmos. The Act not only seeks to protect the status quo of existing places of worship but also safeguards the faith of the people attached to these places.
Religion, being a fundamental aspect of human nature, deserves protection akin to the protection of our natural rights. The assertion of religious freedom affirms the claim of human nature on behalf of human beings, as it allows individuals to express their beliefs without fear of suppression or persecution. However, recent events surrounding the Act have raised concerns about the secular ethos of our nation.
Democracy and secularism are intertwined with our historical context, forming the bedrock of our society. While the Constitution and judicial precedents have not defined secularism in abstract terms, its essence is deeply embedded in the basic structure of our nation. The recent controversy surrounding the Act threatens to undermine the very essence of secularism, as any legislation influenced by majoritarian views may erode the inclusive fabric of our society.
Justice Thakur, in the case of Abhiram Singh v. C.D. Commachen, (2017) 2 SCC 629 emphasized the importance of remaining aligned with constitutional provisions and ethos while interpreting legislative provisions. The state is obligated to allow complete freedom for practicing, professing, and propagating religious faith, respecting individual choices and preferences in matters of religion.
Any attempts to reinterpret history or promote divisive narratives through proxy litigation undermine the pluralistic ethos
However, the judiciary's interpretation of religious matters has sometimes been contentious, with courts attempting to dictate beliefs rather than protect them. This trend undermines the secular ethos of our nation and risks eroding the foundational principles of our Constitution.
Constitutional morality, which reflects reverence for both the form and spirit of the Constitution, is vital for upholding our democratic values. The recent controversies surrounding the Act, including attempts to influence judicial decisions and polarize religious communities, threaten to undermine constitutional morality and erode the rights of religious minorities.
The importance of safeguarding minority rights and preserving communal harmony cannot be overstated. The Places of Worship Act, 1991, was enacted to protect the religious rights of all sections of society and prevent the dominance of the majority over minority communities. Any attempts to reinterpret history or promote divisive narratives through proxy litigation undermine the pluralistic ethos of our nation and must be strongly condemned.
In conclusion, we urge Your Excellency Madam President and Honourable Chief Justice of India to intervene decisively to ensure the full and effective implementation of the Places of Worship Act, 1991, and uphold the secular principles enshrined in our Constitution. It is imperative that the legislature, executive, and judiciary collectively endeavour to protect, preserve, and promote secularism in India, safeguarding the rights and freedoms of all citizens, irrespective of their religious affiliations.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We remain hopeful that under your esteemed leadership, the principles of secularism and religious freedom will be upheld, ensuring harmony and equality for all citizens of our great nation.
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