The Places of Worship Act, 1991
The recent controversies surrounding the Places of Worship Act, of 1991 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 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 people’s 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 the nation.

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.

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 the nation and risks eroding the foundational principles of the Indian Constitution.

The importance of safeguarding minority rights and preserving communal harmony cannot be overstated. The Places of Worship Act, of 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 the nation and must be strongly condemned.
Socialist Party (India)

Shoma Sen Gets Bail
The Supreme Court on April 5 granted bail to Professor Shoma Sen, accused in the Bhima Koregaon case. She was arrested in 2018. Shoma Sen is a former professor at Nagpur University. She was booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 1967 (UAPA) for alleged Maoist links in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case. Shoma Sen will not be able to go out of Maharashtra during the bail period without informing the Special Court. They will have to give information about their mobile number.

In the year 2018, Pune Police made several arrests in the Bhima-Koregaon caste violence case. Apart from Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Sudhir Dhawale, and Rona Wilson were arrested from different cities. Nagpur University suspended her for alleged Maoist links.

Shoma Sen is a human rights activist. After her arrest, daughter Komal Sen alleged that she had never been arrested or questioned before. She had claimed that apart from Dhawale, Shoma did not know any of the arrested people. The political environment of the country has become such that no one is ready to listen to the people of the so-called lower community and when they speak, it becomes necessary to put them down.

Rahul Mahajan

Democracy & Ecology for All
The next phase of the ongoing struggle in Ladakh, for the 6th Schedule has begun. Recently, renowned environmentalist Sonam Wangchuk completed his 21-day hunger strike. Alongside him, thousands of Ladakhi citizens participated in this movement, receiving support from all over the country. Yet, the Indian government remains silent and has not engaged in meaningful dialogue with the activists and people.

The Leh Apex Body (LAB) and the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) are raising two main demands:

1.   Grant statehood to Ladakh and initiate democratic processes in the region.
2.   Include Ladakh in Schedule 6 of the Constitution, giving local communities the right to self-determination and decision-making.

These demands for democratic rights should be supported as they are aimed at protecting the Himalayas from centrally imposed ‘development’ plans that destroy the environment and unjustly profit corporations.

Gandhiji’s longest hunger strike lasted 21 days. SonamWagchuk and other local activists are taking inspiration from the Dandi March to organize the Pashmina March. This is a historic moment.

National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), supports the Ladakh movement and will express solidarity through active participation from across the country.

Articles 243 and 244 of the Constitution, as well as the 73rd and 74th Amendments broadly cover the legal framework for de-centralized governance in tribal, rural, and urban areas. Currently, the Sixth Schedule applies to four northeastern states and the Fifth Schedule to 10 other states that facilitate local democratic participation through laws like the PESA (Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996. The three-tier frameworks through the Panchayati Raj Acts and Municipality Acts in rural and urban areas, including Gram Sabhas and Ward Sabhas are meant to be key decision-making bodies, although often neglected.

While there are many successful examples of people’s movements and interventions across India, leading to the assertion of these rights, a lot more needs to be done, especially in today’s time of centralization and corporate loot.

Terrorizing Voters
After the Election Commission of India announced the date for the 2024 Elections, the ruling party is on a systematic campaign to instill fear amongst citizens owing allegiance to opposition political parties. The arrest of Arvind Kejriwal, Chief Minister of Delhi demonstrates this. The Modi Government used the services of the police and Para-military; central investigative agencies; judiciary–trial court, high court, Supreme Court; and corporate media to send a political message to voters who are forced to see 24×7 in all the TV channels how their popular leader gets arrested and paraded like a common criminal. This has a chilling effect on voters who may decide not to come out of their houses on the voting day; or may be forced to vote for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The undecided voter may swing towards the BJP out of fear; this constitutes voter suppression and intimidation.
P S Sahni
PIL Watch Group

The Shape of Things to Come
In 2014, the BJP had polled 31% of polled votes. While this was pretty much slated to come down in 2019, it went up to 37%–under the impact of Pulwama-Balakot. This time, as yet, India had a Ram Mandir: Modi has provided (homeless) Lord Ram with an appropriate shelter. Then the Electoral Bonds!

Of course, the narratives of VikashvVinash form the larger backdrop. As compared to 2019, (i) the poison of Hindutva–with proactive state machinery at its service–has spread wider and deeper and (ii) the "field" has turned significantly more tilted–via the blatant weaponization of ED, IT, CBI, ECI and also the mainstream media and the Courts largely going with the regime.

Yet, it's still not Putin's Russia, rather Erdogan's Turkey. So, it's the final chance and it's for all those opposed to this monstrous regime–the political parties, civil society organizations, conscientious individuals–to try their utmost, in an admittedly very tough situation to defeat BJP.

And, finally, a short excerpt from an appeal by the CPIML [Liberation].

‘In the ten years of Modi rule, the undermining of parliamentary democracy has already reached an alarming level. And now the government is aiming at manufacturing a 400+ majority to inflict more damaging blows to the Constitution. A third successive term for the Modi government will be an absolute disaster for the constitution and parliamentary democracy, for India’s cultural diversity and everyday existence.

The government is using every unconstitutional measure and unscrupulous trick to hold on to power with the backing of its corporate cronies and the Godi Media’.
Sukla Sen

Back to Home Page

Vol 56, No. 43, Apr 21 - 27, 2024