While most of the country is aware of Ram Navami and the secular drama being played by Mamata government in West Bengal, the MSM is conspicuously silent about what is going on in Odisha. Given national media’s reluctance to cover Odisha, it becomes imperative to tell the story from here, that reaches out to a larger audience.
Last year, we told you how a simple unprovoked celebration of Ram Navami by Hindu organisations in Bhadrak, Odisha had led to riots and promulgation of CrPC 144 for days to follow. This year, in anticipation of such violence recurring, the district administration imposed 144 in advance from 17th of March and prohibited Kalash Shobhajatra, Sankirtan and procession to “thwart possible breach of peace and harmony”.
Opposing this, SriRam Maha Yagnya Samiti went to High Court as this violates their fundamental right of professing, practice and manage religious affairs under article 25 and 26 of the Indian constitution. On a notice from HC, the state administration filed its reply, where they reportedly falsely claimed about deaths and injuries in last year violence while showing 1991 records, when there was widespread violence in Bhadrak, again during Ram Navami. Owning to this submission from state administration, the single bench judge upheld the decision of imposing 144.
Challenging this submission, the Samiti moved to a larger bench which sought the response again and upon realising that these were allegedly 1991 figures, the court allowed the Samiti to carry our Kalash Sobha Jatra and Sankirtan. They also ordered Bhadrak district administration to take all preventive measures to avoid any untoward incident.
While the prohibitory orders have been lifted in pursuance of the court order, internet services have been brought down in the city. However, that is not the crux of the matter. There is a bigger thought-provoking question from this entire series of events. In this secular country, why does a Hindu have to go to court to celebrate his festival in a peaceful way? While law and order is a state subject, it is also the responsibility of the state to uphold the fundamental rights of citizens which gives us the right to profess, practice our religion and manage our religious affairs. To maintain law and order, the state can’t deny the fundamental rights of its citizen especially when there is no provocation from the citizens who are celebrating the festival. More specifically, what exactly is a threat to law and order? Hindus celebrating Ram Navami or certain other people objecting and taking offence? If the answer is former, they need some soul searching. And if the answer is latter, prevent the latter. Denying the former, only emboldens the lumpen and religious fanatics, also sets a wrong precedent.
The police chalk out a path through which Kalash Sobha Jatra can proceed to avoid “sensitive areas” so as not to hurt religious sentiments. Why are the religious sentiments of certain people so fragile and intolerant that they can’t bear a religious procession from another religion? And if it is fragile, instead of giving it legitimacy by avoiding those routes, the administration should be firm and let the citizens chose their path of Jatra. Is the state so servile that it is willing to give in to few religious hoodlums who create trouble unprovoked? Is this the precedence they want to set? Are they willingly admitting that they are weak? Or is it a case of politics of religious appeasement to keep certain people happy? Today you put prohibitory orders because it makes certain people unhappy. What if tomorrow the same set of people are unhappy with Durga Puja, Diwali and Holi? Are you going to prohibit all of them? The day after, they may be unhappy because we exist. Is the state going to tell us to vanish because we existing hurts religious sentiments? Do we have to go to court to uphold our right to life?
While we beat our trumpet of secularism, it is unfortunate that a Hindu has to beg in courts to even celebrate his festival. It is sad that in a Hindu majority country, a Hindu has to take out a Kalash Sobha Jatra among Armed Police personnel marching around both sides of the Jatra. If this is what secularism in this country has come down to, we need a serious re-look at our priorities and policies. Secularism can’t be a one-way street.
Jai Shree Ram !!