In praise of paan

dekhna ai “Zauq” honge aaj phir laakhoN ke khooN
phir jamaaya us ne laal-e-lab pe laakha paan kaa
— Zauq

Paan is almost as old as India itself. Ameer Khusro in his book “ijaaz-e-khusravi” gives some qualities of paan.

1. Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) has informed about its benefit.
2. It gets the root of the teeth fortified and this thing is known by experience that the teeth of the inhabitants of other lands fall because of eating fruits while the Indians who use it excessively do not fall.
3. It removes the pus in teeth, which is a source of abhorrence, and it, brightens teeth.
4. Removes the foul smell of the mouth.
5 . When it is chewed it produces good smell, which gets the mind of those present fragrant.
6. It removes phlegm.
7. Makes heart cheerful.
8. All fats are source of redness, and this leaf removes redness.
9. For the healing of wound of arrow or sword, it is tied on the wound.
10. It prevents vomit and exhilarates heart burning.
11. For the satiated it increases appetite.
12. It is a source of satiety in hunger.
13. It brings a little intoxication (exhilaration).
14. Of nine tastes, it has three perfect ones – bitter, salty & sweet, and tasteless pungent.
15. Six fruits have six different tastes while this leaf tastes as if it is all the six fruits.
16. Of the seven colors, it has five perfect ones – red, green, white, blackish like aloe wood and yellow.
17. Not without companions- areca nut, lime, and color.

Lucknow ki shaan, Azhar bhai ka paan [Photo:]

18. Everywhere fruits are eaten and not the leaf but here the leaf is taken as a fruit.
19. Monarchs never keep any food in the robe except this and that too with great honor.
20. Eating anything in a market is regarded a bad habit but this food is a sign of greatness.
21. It is used on the occasion of entertainment, it is always kept away from mourning and grief.
22. It is fit for hospitality.
23. All the leaves separated from the branch do not survive beyond one day, while this leaf is fresh even after six months.
24. it is fresh with water and also is fresh without water.
25. By taking the betel the beauty of the handsome person increases.
26. It turns the pearl like teeth into the sun-faced Indian(women) gem.
27. It decorates the assembly of the companions.
28. The gifts that are exchanged between the lover and the beloved, none is better than this.
29. Its taste is ecstatical and not sensual.
30. Its external form is admirable.

[From the translation published by The Islamic Thought and Science Institute, USA]

Who am I?

I was born and brought up in and around Patna. And hence, the earliest encounters I had was with people living in this ancient land. It is, like any other city in India, an immensely diverse place. The resolution of one’s identity, as it develops slowly and involuntarily, becomes a difficult issue in such cases. Let us take my example. As far as I can understand it, my early identity has been shaped by three primary factors: i)geographical proximity ii)linguistic and iii)religious affiliation.  Each has its own story.

1) Geographical proximity: This doesn’t mean, esp in India, that you will speak the same language. There are not less than 5 languages spoken in Bihar (Bhojpuri, Magahi, Maithili, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali etc).  I grew up in a muhalla in central Panta, Subzibagh, which was Muslim-majority, but had a significant non-Muslim and non-Urdu speaking population.  And besides that, my school represented the diversity of Patna. Hence because of the geographical ‘proximity’, a shared cultural heritage, and the presence of a lingua franca, Hindi, we made friends from different communities very early in our lives, and slowly after much giving and taking, we become what we are.

2) Linguistic Factors: This is another, albeit a much more, complicated story. I was told that my mother tongue is Urdu, was taught how to read and write. I even read a couple of books. But I could never understand, at least when I was very young, that where did this language belong to? The desperate state of Urdu in the schools, when compared to the pomp and show of Hindi, complicated the matter further. I began to understand that Urdu is the language of Indian Muslims. I was being taught how to read Arabic simultaneously, and the similarity of script reinforced my belief. I lived in this state for four-five years, projecting my religious and linguistic identity as one and the same. ( I would admit that there is, to an extent, an intersection there, but they are in no way same.) I thought that all people in Pakistan spoke Urdu (although I wasn’t sure what Pakistan really was), and so on. But then slowly came the revelation, after some information from parents, i) that very few people in Pakistan are native speakers of Urdu, and ii) Urdu has been disowned by the Indian authorities. Although it was ‘heartening’ to know, at least for a young boy like me, that Urdu is now the lingua franca of Pakistan, probably it was not enough to reinforce my Urdu identity. 🙂 More research, as I grew up, revealed more sensible information like Hindi and Urdu both, are just standard registers of one language called ‘Hindustani‘, which is native to what we now know as the Hindi belt.

Written primarily in Nastaliq script, and using a good amount of borrowed words for various neighboring languages, and being constantly influenced by Persian literature,  Hindustani became the lingua franca of the urban centers in North India, with Dilli as its center.  From Srinagar in the North, to Hyderabad and Aurangabad in the South, from Patna and (to a lesser extent) Dhaka in the East to Ahmedabad and the foothills of Hindukush, the real frontier of India, Peshawar, in the West, all these cities, among numerous others have produced significant amount of Urdu literature (by both Muslims and Hindus) over the past 3-400 years, although none of these cities mentioned above (except probably Patna)  belong to the proper ‘Hindi or Hindustani-belt‘. In due course, because of these readings, it became clear to me what Pakistan and Bangladesh are, and what is India, and then came the question: what was the partition. Another Pandora’s box, if you want to really understand what has happened in/to our nation.  At last the question of Urdu/Hindi became clear, and it was not easy, especially after the kind of history that we are taught in our prescribed syllabi. After clearing this mess, I finally realized that I belong to the Hindi-belt, that used to be thriving center  of the pre-partition Urdu literature.  Sadly, after the partition, the Hindi-belt has been Sankritized and de-Persianized by our ‘authorities’. (what some may call ‘shuddhikaran’). It is very important to know that Gandhi, among others, till his last days, ‘exhorted the re-merging of both Hindi and Urdu naming it Hindustani written in both Nagari and Persian scripts.’

3) Religious factor: This comes very naturally, as naturally as the linguistic factor perhaps. We have relatives among the intersection of our religious and linguistic communities. And after being taught basic Arabic early in my life, reading biographies of Muhammad and the Sahabas, who belonged to Arab tribes, the stroy of Islam  unfolding in the deserts of Arabia impressed me. For children growing up like me, the stories of tribal Arabs become relateable, even if we do not understand them completely.  Then there are battles, sacrifices, love, devotion, all interwoven in the narrations of the early Islamic era that are written for kids in the Urdu ki pehli, doosri aur teesri. Then there are lessons in Islamic civilization, a peek into the grand Persian literature, a visit to medieval Baghdad or a flavor of  the theological school of thoughts which developed in 9th century Iraq and so on. After all this heavy reading, the bedouins of Arab or the poets of Persia don’t seem so distant. And slowly, we start forming the picture of Indian Muslims, (or what is left of ‘Indian’ Muslims after partition, as I didnt know the true meaning of partition back then). Then I realize, again very slowly, that the Muslims in India are as diverse as the Hindus. Pakistan and Bangladesh were always present in the back of my head, hovering and not the least because many times I would watch PTV with my grandfather. (Another indoctrination engine that hands out nationalist prescriptions, although when taken together DD and PTV balance each other out.) It was only after reading in detail about partition that I could stop that hovering and give them their respective positions in my world-view. Later, after 9/11, the Al Jazeera newscasts became more frequent on our dinner table.

All this was happening when I was growing up. While all of this data, encounters, accidents and meetings were working silently, telling me who I am, there were other factors too. Some close to me, others far removed from my personal life. I was indoctrinated, as people usually are. Only the most lucky ones survive it.  Be it Kashmir, Pakistan or Bangladesh, I could not think except what Doordarshan was telling me. ( on the Daily News and Kashmir Jagaran etc.) Nationalism seemed obvious, although I had no idea what does a nation mean? India – what is India? Have you ever met a Telugu guy?- No. A Marathi?-No. Then what is India? I used to read Iqbal, who was a Kashmiri, and lived in Lahore, the magnificent capital of Punjab, which now belongs to Pakistan. Is it clear what mess this question of identity is? With what immense contempt I look down upon those who call themselves Indian Nationalists with class X CBSE-taught knowledge of the Indian sub-continent? And then they complain to me: why don’t you stand erect when the national anthem is being played?

March but silently

How many times? How many times they will repeat the same drill? Bomb blasts, pick up Muslims, media rushes in to declare them as “masterminds”, kill a few in “encounters” or they will die a “custodial death.” When police, media, judiciary everyone seems to be stacked up against them, what else Muslims can do except remain silent. Hence these silent marches:

SDPI ‘s silent march in Pune in 2011:

Jamia students and teachers took out a silent march in 2008 in the aftermath of Batla House encounter:

Closer Look: Osama Bin Laden

By Kashif-ul-Huda,,

Whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. [Surah Al Maeda : 32]

If killing one innocent person is like killing the entire humanity then Osama Bin Laden has killed the humanity many times over. Since his 1998 fatwa against the United States till his death in 2011, the organization that he established or people that he inspired have killed thousands all around the world. Majority of his victims have been Muslims, people that he was supposed to be helping.

Thanks to Osama Bin Laden, Afghanistan and Iraq lay in ruins and Pakistanis are not safe in their own country. Hundreds of thousands of innocents were killed and continue to be killed by either Osama followers or armies in pursuit of his followers. He wanted to do armed jihad to get rid of foreign armies from Muslim countries but ended up causing “fasad” and helping Western media create the impression that followers of Islam are a violent people.

In the post-9/11 world, Muslims became a target of suspicion and victims of harassment. And this was not just inconvenience of airport security or denial of visa. Al-Qaida- inspired terrorism claimed innocent lives from Indonesia to London. Suicide bombing was introduced in Pakistan and Afghanistan by Bin Laden followers and now it has become a weapon of choice of the terrorists causing much mayhem.

In India, what post-Babri Mumbai serial blasts of 1993 could not do was achieved easily after the 9/11 attacks. SIMI was banned in the wake of 9/11 without any evidence of their involvement in any terrorist activities. Western media’s lead on stereotyping Muslims as terrorists was followed enthusiastically by Indian media in cooperation with law-enforcement agencies. Hundreds or perhaps thousands of Muslim youths continue to be arrested and harassed in the name of terrorism and some unfortunate ones killed in cold-blood by what we know as “fake encounters.” Yes, we do fault Indian agencies in killing Indian citizens but the sins will also go in Osama’s amaal-nama (book of deeds) as unintended consequences of his actions and rhetoric.

Osama’s mindset just like his rhetoric was medieval. He did not understand that in this modern world you can win a war but still lose politically. He did understand the power of media but failed to appreciate how the economy can play a bigger role than the fire power. Wall Street investment bankers and speculative traders have done more damage to the United States than what Osama could ever imagine.

A section of Muslims do have soft spot for Osama Bin Laden for what they think was his tough stand against the United States. They think that like Saddam Hussain, he stood up to the American injustice and hence consider him a hero forgetting that in Islam the end does not justify the means. His track record of killing mostly Muslims proves that an enemy’s enemy is not necessarily a friend.

It will be better if Muslim leaders instead of subscribing to conspiracy theories or saying that Osama was CIA creation, which serves no purpose; start dialogue within the community on dangers of extremism and the threat that path of violence poses to the world in general and Muslims in particular.

Closer Look is a monthly column by editor Kashif-ul-Huda. For publication permissions please contact

Celebrating Bihar’s Birth: Will It Help Remove The Tag Of Bihari?

By Soroor Ahmed,

No amount of parade and celebration on July 14, the 1789 French Revolution day, can perhaps remove the expression ‘French leave’ from the English dictionary (or filer à l’anglaise, that is, ‘English leave’ from the French vocabulary). No doubt France is a developed country yet the phrase indicates that its citizens lack politeness and are shirkers. In fact it is the outcome of war-of-words between the British and French cultures and has an amount of jest and ridicule in it.

Similarly no grand function and musical programmes on the occasion of Bihar Diwas on March 22 can perhaps prevent senior students in the campuses outside the state from poking fun at their juniors from Bihar. They may still be addressed as Harries in their hostels in Delhi and West Uttar Pradesh. Fed up with this harassment students hailing from western Bihar districts of Buxar, Siwan or Rohtas would introduce themselves as one from east UP districts of Ballia, Ghazipur Benaras etc. The word Bihari still evokes a mischievous smile on the face of many outside the state. It is not for nothing that while interviewing young boys and girls from Bihar the board members of a prestigious law institute of Pune asked some very absurd questions leading to hue and cry when they were back in Patna. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s intervention was also sought in this regard. The incident took place as late as in June 2009 and one of the questions asked from a girl student was: “Do you agree that Bihar is the crime capital of India?”

It was in 2010 that the Nitish Kumar government celebrated this occasion for the first time. Many people would argue that it took 98 years for the state to realize that this is something to observe. They would attribute this to the lack of Bihari sub-nationalism, which has kept the state backward.

However, the truth is that nobody was interested in the pre-independence era in observing such dates as the country’s independence was more important a goal for the founding fathers. The states which came up after India became a sovereign country commemorate their birth anniversaries with much pomp and show. The issue of statehood should not be mixed up with pride of any state as sometimes political leaders do indulge in it. Nor should one think that Biharis are often ridiculed because they are backward. After all Oriyas are not ragged outside on the ground that Orissa is equally poor state. In the same way Sikhs are hard-working people and Punjab a developed state yet these facts do not stop anyone from cutting jokes on Sardarji.

One thing should be kept in mind that the carving out of modern Bihar from Bengal on March 22, 1912––in fact the actual administrative division took place on April 1, 1912–– almost coincided with the shifting of capital from Calcutta to Delhi a year before. So in between the two states Bengal and United Province––Delhi was culturally, if not geographically, considered as its part––emerged Bihar, whose people were not too familiar with the culture of power, and were simple and less educated, therefore, dubbed as uncivilized and rustic. The new state was largely ruralized––except the tribal-dominated deep south where industries started coming up––and people had much less exposure. This prompted the people of UP and Bengal to look down upon them. Students from Bihar, who went to study in educational institutions in Calcutta, Delhi and Aligarh were derided because of their life-style even though academically they were not inferior to anyone. This phenomenon continued after independence till 1990s and even in 21st century when Biharis started forming about one-fifth to one-fourth of the Civil Service posts and a sizeable number of them got their way into professions like media, engineering, medicine, management etc.

The slur ‘Bihari’ started causing discomfort to many educated Biharis, both Hindus and Muslims. The problem was more with the UP, where the issue of speaking better Hindi or Urdu also acquired a new dimension. This was not the case with Bengal, where the language was different. What is interesting is that most of the eastern UP districts culturally and language-wise resemble Bihar more than west UP yet they escape the insulting Bihari tag because they are part of that state.

The cultural tussle gradually travelled to other parts of the Indian sub-continent. After the creation of Pakistan the Punjabis, the Sindhis and Bengalis (of the then East Pakistan) started calling all Muslims, who migrated from Hindustani-speaking region (that is Hindi-Urdu belt of north and central India) as Biharis since it was difficult to call them UP-wallah, MP-wallah (or Central Povince as it was then) etc. At most they could be called Bhopalis, Lakhnavis, Delhiwals etc.

But the expression Bihari was unacceptable for any non-Bihari wherever they are. So the Urdu-speaker elite in that country coined another term, Muhajir, which means migrant. Unlike the general impression in the Indian media the word Muhajir is highly respected term in Islamic calendar and has its origin in history when Prophet Mohammad migrated from Mecca to Medina to establish the first state in 622-23 AD. The Islamic Hijrah calendar is based on that very migration. Muhajir can never be confused with the word refugee for which the correct word is panahgazeen.

Thus the Urdu-speaking political elite, who used to abhor the use of word Bihari for them, established Muhajir Students’ Organization in 1978 and several years later Muhajir Quami Movement came into being.

Another effort to silently bury the Bihari identity was made during the high time of Jharkhand movement of 1990s. Those affluent and upper caste population, who came from north Bihar, east UP and even West Bengal and gradually dominated the business in the upcoming industrialized tribal part of the state, started supporting the movement for separate Jharkhand. This notwithstanding the fact that the tribals always considered them as dikkus (outsiders) and exploiters.

Though there were political and economic reasons for this class to join hands with those demanding separate state one aspect could never be discussed. A sizeable section of this class thought that the creation of Jharkhand would help remove the tag of Bihari from them.

In 1990s Bihari elite evolved another way to get rid of their Bihari label. In the post-Mandal years they would eagerly join outsiders in mocking the rusticity of the backward lot and in Lalu Yadav they got a good stuff to make fun of. What they failed to understand is that Biharis were butt for jokes even during the early 1950s when it was considered as a better governed state or even during the British time.

Even if Bihar gets developed the slur Bihari would not lose its meaning. Shiv Sainiks may now be more brutal on them on the plea that why are you in Maharashtra when your state has progressed so much. Similar may be the fate of the Bihari students in the campuses elsewhere in the country. After all if respected and educated professors can embarrass Bihari boys and girls in Pune who can prevent others from doing so.

The best way to tackle the situation is to take everything in stride and behave more responsibly. Over the years, one hopes, the attitude of the people outside the state would change. After all be it in Maharashtra or North-East both Biharis and people from UP are facing a similar situation forcing them to close their ranks.

India In 2011: Some Highlights

By Shahidur Rashid Talukdar,

Census 2011 can be viewed as one of the milestone achievements in India’s progress. The final report of this census will provide the most in-depth understanding of India’s socioeconomic profile. Carried out at the cost of a hefty sum of Rupees 22000 million (approximately $490 million), the census covered 7936 towns and over 641,000 villages from 35 states and union territories of India. Although the final report is expected to be released by next year, the provisional highlights have been released on March 31 by the census authority. Some of the most salient findings in the highlights are: a declining population growth, increasing literacy rates, and a reduced sex ratio.

By the end of 2010, with a population of over 1210.2 million, India alone accounted for 17.5% of the world population, whereas China accounted for roughly 19.5% of the world population. The population of India is almost equal to the combined population of U.S.A., Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Japan put together (1214.3 million)! Though the overall population has increased from 1.03 billion in 2001 to 1.21 billion by 2010, the population growth rate has experienced steepest ever decline since India’s independence in 1947. While the population growth rate between 1991 – 2001 was 21.54%, during the last decade the growth has been reduced 17.64%, an annual growth rate of 1.76%. This is indeed a positive sign. However, this decline must be sustained and even reduced, as projections estimate that, growing at the present rate, by 2030, India can surpass China as the world’s most populous country.

Apart from this, a significant positive development is that the overall literacy rate has increased from 64.83% in 2001 to 74.02% in 2011. This increase, however, is not uniform throughout India. While some districts, such as Sercchip district in Mizoram – a North Eastern state, registered the highest literacy rate of 98.76%, another district, Alirajpur, in Madhaya Pradesh – a central Indian state, remains at the bottom with only 37.22 % literacy rate.

The male literacy rate, as usual in India, is much higher than the average. While the male literacy rate is 82.14%, the figure for female literacy rate is 65.46%. Although there is a huge gap between the male and female literacy rates, the encouraging aspect is that the gap is shrinking. There was a gap of 21.59 percentage points recorded between male to female literacy rates in 2001 Census which has now reduced to 16.68 percentage points in 2011. This improvement will boost India’s Human Development Index ranking which currently places India at 119th rank.

Gender ratio has declined since 2001 census.

Even though there are encouraging trends in population and literacy rates, but the gender equation, as a whole, remains far from being balanced. The overall gender composition has improved by 7 points. In 2011, there are 940 females for every 1000 males, where as in 2001 the sex ratio, defined as number females per 1000 males, was only 933. The skewed sex ratio is also not homogeneous. This highest sex ratio observed is 1176 in Mahe district while the district Daman registers the lowest sex ratio of only 533.

Pondering deeply into the facts, one can see a quite alarming sign that there has been a steep decline in child sex ratio. In the 0-6 years age group, the population comprises of 52.24% male children as opposed to 47.76% female children. The utterly distressful fact is that there are only 914 girls for every 1000 boys in the age group of 0-6 years. This figure is the lowest in recent Indian history. Except for only 7 states, rest everywhere there has been a noticeable decline in the child sex ratio. The reasons for such a low sex ratio range from illegal abortion of female child, to female feticide, to female infanticide. Thanks to the desire for male child. If this trend continues, one study predicts, that by 2020 India will have 25 million more males than females.

To conclude the highlights, I must say that India has improved a little while it needs to improve a huge lot. Until we know more about the progress, we can’t say for sure how much has been achieved and how much remains to be achieved yet.

What Makes Mr. Advani Sad?

By Abdul Hannan Siwani Nadvi,

Mr. L.K. Advani, once again, describes December 6, 1992 as a saddest day of his life, not because Babri Masjid was pulled down on that day, but this day damaged the credibility of his party.

L.K. Advani is the leader who brought a bad name to India. He is the leader who incited educated and illiterate Hindus against Muslims for political gains. He is the leader who is responsible for hundreds of thousands of death of Muslims and Hindus as a result of his Rath Yatra to build temple on the same site where Babri Masjid was situated.

Mr. Advani is not apologetic over demolition of Babri Masjid. He is not apologetic over putting blot on India. He is not apologetic over the death of thousands of Indian citizens because of his Rath Yatra and the seed of hatred he sowed between Hindus and Muslims. He is not apologetic over Gujarat genocide of 2002. He is not apologetic over damaging thousand years of communal harmony. He is not apologetic over damaging of Indian economies following brutal attack on minority communities across India.

Like a selfish person, he thinks about himself. He also thinks about his party. He just works for his party, but he forgets about India. He forgets that his hatred work is pushing Hindu youths into trouble. He forgets that his communal ideology is leaving negative impacts on Hindu community. He never thinks about empowering of Indian masses.

He thinks giving reservation to Muslims or allowing them to open their schools and institutions is not in the interest of the country, while he forgets Muslims’ progress is also India’s development.

He thinks a strong Muslim community is a threat to the ideologies whose leader he is; while he forgets that a weak Muslim community will always be a burden on India.

He talks about nationalism and unity, but his work, ideologies, Rath Yatra and his support to anti-national ideology pushes Hindu youths into terrorist activities.

He would go down in history as a leader who has worked for the disunity of Indian community. He would always live in the history of post-independence India as a leader whose every step and whose every speech increased gulf in Indian society.

Instead of expressing his pain, it is better for Mr. Advani to surrender himself before the court conceding his criminal act in Babri Masjid case and make an apology to the nation for his Rath Yatra that demolished Indian unity, and work for building the Babri Masjid on the same place where it stood for five-hundred years till it was destroyed on December 6, 1992.

It will be a better and most important step to bring back the credibility of his own party if he leaves hatred and communal way, and works for India where every community, whether it is Hindu or Muslim live freely and help each others in building a strongest India that can present a best example of communal harmony in the world.

Will Mr. L.K. Advani do this? There is no possibility from him but we could hope from him a day he would concede his mistake as today he is accepting that his work “badly dented the credibility of his party.”

Is Bhoomi Puja by state a Secular Act?

It is a common sight to see the statues, photos and symbols of Hindu Gods and Goddesses in different Government owned public places like police station and other buildings. Similarly state run buses also have the photos of Hindu Gods and Godesses. We have stopped thinking whether it is right. It is a common observation that most of the time Hindu rituals are performed while the construction of state projects, buildings etc are undertaken. The practice has become a sort of routine to which not many people give a thought. We remember that after independence serious scholars criticized the government for not being secular enough. Around that time when Pundit Nehru was the Prime Minister, the Central Cabinet not only turned down the proposal of building Somanth temple with state money but Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the then President was also advised not to inaugurate the temple in his capacity as the President of India. The visits of public functionaries to the holy places were a strictly private matter, away form the glare of media.

Times seem to have been changing. The politicians are competing with each other to seek the divine blessing through different well advertised visits, the inaugural ceremonies of state sponsored buildings have the Brahmin priest supervising laying of the foundation stone and undertaking a bhoomi puja (Worship of Earth) and doing his best to get the approval of the supernatural powers though the chanting of Mantras. In this scenario, the move by Rajesh Solanki, a dalit activist from Gujarat to file a Public Interest Litigation against the bhoomi pujan and chanting of mantras performed at the time of foundation stone laying ceremony for the new building for the High court, came as a move to set the things on secular grounds. The function was performed in the presence of the Governor of the State of Gujarat and the Chief Justice of the State amongst others.

The Former Union Minister for Civil Aviation Sharad Yadav at Bhoomi Pujan Ceremony for the “Construction of New Terminal Building” at Civil Enclave, Pathankot on June 29, 2001. The Former Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution Shanta Kumar, the Former Minister of State for Civil Aviation Chaman Lal Gupta and the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Prem Kumar Dhumal are also seen.

Solanki’s plea was that a secular state should not perform the religious rituals. Such an act of worship violates the basic principles of the Indian Constitution, which is secular and lays the boundaries between the state and the religion. Solanki argued that the puja and chanting of mantras by Brahmin priests would make the judiciary loose its secular credentials.

Rather than upholding his rational and secular plea, the court went on to dismiss the petition and also fined the petitioner Rs 20000, doubting his bona fides. The judges went onto say that the Bhoomi puja is meant to seek the pardon of the Earth to graciously bear the burden of the damage to make the construction, to make the construction successful. And since this is for the welfare of all it fits into the Hindu values of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam (All beings on the planet are one family) and Sarvajan Sukhino Bhavantu (For the good of all).

There is a lot of mix up in different arguments being put forward. To begin with to regard that for making a construction the Earth has to be worshipped is a purely Hindu concept. The people from other religions will do different things to start their construction work, like sprinkling Holy water by Christian priest for example. The atheists will be more concerned about the preservation of ecological balance and to see that the geological and
architectural aspects have been fully taken care of.

The legal defense of the practices of one religion for state function is nothing short of violating the basic principles of Indian Constitution, which ensures that state keep its distance from all religions and then treats them all on the equal ground, reaffirmed in S. R. Bommai case. Secularism, as understood in S.R. Bommai is that (1) the state has no religion (2) the state stands aloof from religion and (3) the state does not promote or identify with any religion.

It is true that moral values of many religions can be accepted by the society at large, like Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam (Hinduism), or ‘all men are brother’ (Islam) or ‘Love thy neighbor’ (Christianity) but as far as rituals are concerned it is a different cup of tea. The core of religions is not rituals but moral values. In popular perception and practices it is the rituals which are identified with the religion. This is a matter of social understudying and different streams will go by different opinion on this.

The core point is that the saints of the genre of Kabir, Nizamuddin Auliya, and Gandhi harped on the moral aspects of the religions. As far as practice of religion is concerned people have no restriction in following their social and personal practices, which are so diverse between different religions and even within the same religion as different sects follow different religious practices.

Such a judgment goes totally against the Article 51 (A) of the Constitution also, which directs us to promote the rational thought in the society. The promotion of rituals of one particular faith by the State is against the spirit of our Constitution. Again in many instances there is just a thin borderline between faith and blind faith. Blind faith will push the society in the retrograde direction. Today we know that unless the location for a
construction is selected properly, geological and construction aspects are taken care of scientifically, accidents do happen. That’s why state has developed many a norms of construction which are necessary to be cleared and we have witnessed that violation of such norms have led to accidents.

Our courts have to promote these aspects of Constitution rather than to prove in a convoluted way that practices of one religion should be accepted as the state practices. Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi had gone on to state that “In India, for whose fashioning I have worked all my life, every man enjoys equality of status, whatever his religion is. The state is bound to be wholly Secular” (Harijan August 31, 1947) and, “religion is not the test of nationality but is a personal matter between man and God, (ibid pg 90), and,” religion is a personal affair of each Individual, it must not be mixed up with politics or national Affairs”(ibid pg 90).

Last few decades identification of Hindu religious practices has been accepted as the state norms and this needs to be given a rethinking. (Issues in Secular Politics III March 2011

[Photo: PIB]