The call of the muezzin in court

It is such judgements that should make us have faith in the judiciary. Not only has it upheld secularism in Constitutional terms, it has also conveyed that politicians cannot pander to communal sentiments.

Imams and muezzins are most certainly not the responsibility of the government in India. The Calcutta High Court has made it clear that it is not the business of the state government to provide funds to the Wakf Board:

"It is well settled that the state cannot patronize or favour any particular religion. Secularism is part of the basic structure of our Constitution. The state, therefore, cannot identify itself with or favour any particular religion. Imams and/or muezzins are individuals of the Muslim community and attached with mosques. The decision to provide honorarium to them cannot serve the general interest of the community as a whole."

However, I do not see why the judges had to add that it had “unnecessarily created tension among different religious communities which should be avoided in a secular state”. The BJP was one of the petitioners against the Rs. 2500 and Rs. 1000 stipend to the imams and muezzins. What if the Mamata Banerjee government decided to also provide for sadhus in temples – would the bench think of this as equitable and secular because it would then favour others, too?

At the centre of the discord is “public purpose”, with the state believing it should be given the privilege. The court reiterated:

"The concept of public purpose cannot be contrary to the pronounced constitutional value of secularism. If today the government is allowed to spend out of the public exchequer by granting honorarium to the religious leaders of a particular religious community to the exclusion of similar treatment to other religious communities, such a governmental action being unconstitutional, cannot be said to be for public purpose."

While I completely agree that those attached to mosques should be given an honorarium only by the authorities running such institutions and the government owes it nothing – in fact, the community should shun such gestures by the political establishment – I do believe the judges were trying to be politically-correct.

This ought not to become a precedent against minorities and scheduled castes and tribes where ‘secularism’ will be brought in to argue against certain kinds of reservations that have to do with right to opportunity that has been often denied to many.

Let us not forget that Mamata Banerjee is no friend of tribals or even some minorities. Recall the villages that were thrown open for corporate ventures. It is important for the leaders of communities to be alert. Most politicians will only pander to what are explicitly religious places, because they want the sops to be visible from miles away. The ordinary Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Dalit does not know, or care about, who runs the show.

It is this ordinary daily wage earner who needs such ‘gestures’ the most. Secularism must not come in the way of that. For, as we know only too well, money is the most secular, and it is in the hands of a few who probably spend more time building places of worship or donating to it. Some even work as backroom boys to prop up political parties with a religious agenda.

©Farzana Versey