//Need for a Policy on Religious Structures

Need for a Policy on Religious Structures

By Nandkumar Kamat

The mob violence at Sanvordem indicates the abject failure of the government and all the political parties which had their say in ruling Goa in imposing a clear and socially acceptable policy on religious structures. The MGP could not do it. The Congress created a ‘free for all’ situation ignoring the mushrooming of hundreds of unauthorized religious structures. The BJP was silent over the issue and tread cautiously. A clear pattern is emerging in Goa, pointing to a racket involving people who are not interested in religion or spirituality, but who build or encourage building of such structures for economic, political or communal purposes. There is no need to favour any particular religion because the Indian Constitution does not discriminate on the basis of a person’s religion.

The Constitution has not given the religions freedom to do anything. In fact ‘ freedom of religion’ does not mean ‘freedom to the religion’. The virus of communalism and communal hatred is more dangerous than the avian influenza. Before it spreads it has to be nipped in the bud. This would require a good deal of statesmanship on the part of our ruling politicians. The police will do their duty, but they don’t decide the policies of the government. Many a times it has been seen that the police become helpless when the polity is confused about strategy. The politics of vote banks and weighing every option on the basis of the strength of the voters in any constituency has also complicated the picture. The issue of any tension over a religious structure is basically an administrative issue. It should not be given the colour of majority against minority at least in Goa where people have been very tolerant.

People indeed have spiritual needs. They cannot be denied the right to build religious structures of their choice, be it Temples, Churches, Mosques or Gurudwaras. But this does not mean that the structures could come up at any place or in an unauthorized and blatantly illegal manner. When such structures come up illegally in public places then the authorities promptly do not demolish these. This has given encouragement to unscrupulous elements to build shrines near public hospitals, on bus stands, near public bus stops, highway intersections, markets, government offices and in communidade property. Many of these have been blessed by our own politicians. The Mumbai metropolitan corporation went ahead with its’ drive to demolish hundreds of unauthorized religious structures despite public protests. In front our eyes we have seen how an illegal

slaughter house on the Merces lake was converted overnight into a religious structure, with the full backing from politicians and the village panchayat. This was done, apparently to resist any attempt to demolish other unauthorized establishments nearby, which are prospering in the illegally reclaimed area. Unauthorized religious structures are becoming defense shields to mask clandestine activities such as gambling. There has to be a way to distinguish between the genuine religious and spiritual needs of any religious community in any area and the local authorities can easily take decisions with consensus in the meetings of the gram sabhas or the municipal councils. Why the Panchayati Raj Act has provided for social committees? Many a times even the genuine needs of a particular community are not addressed sympathetically. The Muslim community in Margao has been petitioning the authorities for a kabarstan- a cemetery- for several years.

Several areas were identified in and near Margao but there seems to be strong local opposition. So, what the community would do? Is it not pitiful in our progressive state that the Muslims in Margao can not get a piece of land to bury their dead? The situation is quite different in Panaji where the Catholic cemetery, Hindu crematorium and the Muslim kabarstan co-exist in a residential area all within five hundred metres. This is the spirit of mutual tolerance, understanding and accommodation. Any religious structure or shrine can exist only with the consent and the goodwill of the local community. In Panaji within five hundred metres, Churches, Mosques and Temples co-exist without any problem. At Bhatulem, Panaji, a Temple of Sri Ram and a Sunni Mosque exist within hundred metres without any tension and in perfect harmony. Goa cannot afford any communal tension or communal riots. The Muslims who have migrated to the state need

to show considerable restraint before imposing their own model of radical Sunni Islam in Goa. Many of them are absolutely ignorant about the centuries old Islamic heritage of Goa from the Kadambas to the Adilshahi regime. Today, Goans are genuinely concerned about the possible entry of Al-quaida elements, ISI operatives and Bangladeshi immigrants. Goa’s local Sunni Muslims still follow the Portuguese civil code and their women do not wear ‘Burquas”. There is no ‘jawabi’ talaq. They use a dialect of Konkani and also prefer to be educated in English medium schools. The Shiite, Islamic Khoja community, the followers of spiritual leader Prince Agakhan is a model Islamic community of Goa, fully blended in the local cultural ethos. Many immigrant Muslims do not approve of this picture. With the demographic change in the Muslim population, incidents like Sanvordem could become very common because the non-Goan Muslims are trying to plant their own model of Deobandi Sunni Islam in Goa. So Mosques and Madarassa building activity would automatically follow wherever they are in a majority as compared to the local Muslims. Sanvordem should not be allowed to turn into Goa’s Bhatkal. The Goan society should not view this issue as a typical Hindu-Muslim conflict. The communal harmony of Goa is at stake.

There are powerful forces out to destabilize Goan society and the economy. They would like to see a communal polarization in Goa. If allegedly unauthorized religious structures are at the roots of all the trouble then, this issue has to be addressed first. The government must form a peace committee at Sanvordem, organize a peace march and ensure peace and order. People who have lost their goods and property in the mob violence need to compensated and reassured about their safety and security. The chief minister must convene an all party meeting to come out with a radical solution to curb the menace of unauthorized illegal structures and draft an objective policy on regulating such activity.

The religious and spiritual leaders of Goa should also join hands to issue a joint appeal to all their followers to co-operate with the government to find a permanent solution. Is meeting of the hearts and minds not more important than cement and concrete structures? Unfortunately, some blood has already been shed on the sacred soil of Goa, at Sanvordem in the name of religion.