Religion is an issue which occupies an important place in the life of every ordinary Indian. It seems that the makers of our Constitution were also very serious about religion and that is why they dealt with this issue in detail. In the Constitution of India, articles 25 to 28 are put under the heading ‘Right to Freedom of Religion’ and these articles grant different rights to the citizens of India, regarding freedom of religion. Article 25 deals with the freedom of conscience, the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion. Article 26 and 27 aren’t problematic either. The problem arises when we come to Article 28.
To understand the problems with Article 28, one needs to take a look in detail at its provisions.
Article 28(1) states, “No religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of State funds.” Well, a big round of applause for this. However, there are many ifs and buts to it. Article 28(2) states, “Nothing in clause (1) shall apply to an educational institution which is administered by the State but has been established under any endowment or trust which requires that religious instruction shall be imparted in such institution.” Why? And if there is such an immense need to impart religious instruction, why does the State need to administer such an institution? However, Article 28(3) states, “No person attending any educational institution recognised by the State or receiving aid out of State funds shall be required to take part in any religious instruction that may be imparted in such institution or to attend any religious worship that may be conducted in such institution or in any premises attached thereto unless such person or, if such person is a minor, his guardian has given his consent thereto.”
But why do we need to impart religious education in schools? There are temples, churches, masjids. If parents think their children badly need religious education, then they should take them to religious places, instead of expecting schools to impart religious instructions.
Article 28 makes it possible for the State to administer an educational institution imparting religious instructions. This is what we should ponder upon. Why does the government need to give aid to any such institution which promotes a certain religion? This can be any religion. And since the Constitution itself provides that there should be no discrimination on the basis of religion, language, etc, will the State be able to maintain equality in giving funds? Obviously, there will be, and there are grievances regarding distribution. For India, which is so diverse, and where there exist many conflicts of interests, it has become a cumbersome task to deal with issues like this.
What is most dangerous for a nation like us is that communal forces often use these issues as a ploy to disturb the communal harmony in India. Many times, we get to know that there are allegations of a particular government having discriminated against a certain religion. This gives scope to the forces who want to polarise people on the basis of religion.
What I am trying to elucidate is that we need to go for secular education. Please notice that secular education does not mean that the state-owned educational institutions can’t give religious instructions. Rather, a true secular education system will be when the State will stop giving any kind of aid to such institutions which impart religious education or instruction, whether run by the majority or any minority community.
Often, we listen to academics complaining that attempts at saffronisation are going on. However, the point is that this is a counter current which has developed over a period because it has become a general perception that governments give an excess of aid to minority institutions. Such attempts of the RSS are not justified but RSS and its allied organisations succeeded in convincing the common man that they were being discriminated by the so-called ‘secular’ governments. This is how a vicious cycle of hatred begins.
The Indian Constitution having ‘secularism’ as its basic structure needs to be amended, to strengthen the real secular ethos. Otherwise, the nation can now easily fall prey to the communal powers which are trying to establish the hegemony of a particular religion. And it needs to be reiterated that if we want to have a new India, in a progressive sense, the first thing we need to do is stop giving shelters to any religion-based educational institution, be it a madrassa, convent school, or a gurukul. One may argue that Indian secularism provides equal treatment of all religions but the experience shows this ‘equal’ treatment is the root of all furore for it’s not so easy to measure a qualitative thing. The need of the hour is to scrap Article 28(2) & 28(3) and make provisions, which will restrict the State from giving any aid to such institutions which impart religious instructions.