The curious case of Indian secularism

The Daily Guardian

Over the years, the notion that religious minorities have greater religious institutional freedoms has gained a fair amount of traction in public discourse. However, there is nothing in the language of Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution which remotely suggests that the rights recognised and guaranteed therein are more available to one community than the other. Nor is there anything to suggest that the power of the Indian State to interfere with such rights is greater in relation to one community than the rest. And yet, State legislations abound which interfere only with the rights of Indic communities under Article 26 to run and administer their religious institutions. The absence of such statutes in relation to institutions of other communities only makes the existence of Indic-specific legislations starker.

If one needed a case study to understand the draconian nature of these legislations and their devastating effects on Indic civilizational heritage, there is perhaps no better example than the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959, which is still in force. The history of this legislation itself makes for a compelling read. The 1959 Act came about as a consequence of the repealment of the erstwhile Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1951. The repealment of the 1951 Act was, in turn, a consequence of its central provisions being struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the landmark judgement of The Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras v. Sri Laxmindra Tirtha Swamiar of Sri Shirur Mutt, delivered in 1954.

What is shocking is that the very same provisions of the 1951 statute, which were struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, were reintroduced in sum and substance in the 1959 Act.

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