Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Haj subsidy does not affect principles of secularism: Centre

New Delhi: The policy decision to grant a nearly Rs. 280-crore subsidy to Haj pilgrims every year does not affect the principles of secularism, the Centre told the Supreme Court.

“The basic feature of secularism is in no way marred by the decision. The government is not averse to the idea of granting support to the pilgrimage conducted by any community,” it said.

A Bench, consisting of Justices R.V. Raveendran and L.S. Panta, admitted a petition by Prafull Goradia, former MP, challenging the Haj subsidy.

The Centre pointed out that a Rs. 3,250-subsidy per head was being provided for the Kailash Manasarovar pilgrimage. Facilities were being provided to Hindu and Sikh pilgrims for visits to temples and gurdwaras in Pakistan. For the Kumbh Mela, the State government incurred expenditure.

Providing facilitating measures for the Haj could never be termed a process to acquire a particular religious character by the state, the Centre said.

“As such, the basic feature of secularism is not at all impeded by such activities, rather it stimulates the ideas as set out in the Preamble to the Constitution.”

The Haj pilgrimage “has certain foreign relations and foreign policy aspects. India has the largest Muslim population, next only to Indonesia, and friendship and better relations within the comity of nations, including Arab countries, are an aspect of international relations and foreign policy.”

Challenging the the Haj Committee Act, 1959 providing for annual government assistance to Muslims, Mr. Goradia said the assistance was unconstitutional and in violation of Articles 14, 15 and 27 of the Constitution. The Haj Fund had been created under the Haj Act. The Centre and the State governments were allotting a substantial amount for this Fund, created specifically to defray the expenses incurred by Muslims to undertake pilgrimage to their holy lands abroad; whereas there was no legal provision to meet the expenses of Hindu, Christian, Buddhist and Sikh pilgrims to visit holy places outside India, he said.

In a secular country, the government could not promote a particular religion at the cost of others and spend the amount collected by way of taxes for one religious community, the petitioner said. He sought a direction to quash the Haj Act as being unconstitutional and to refund such portion of taxes, collected from him, that had been utilised for facilitating the Haj.

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