One Blooper On Evolution & Satyapal’s Crusade To End Minorityism And Free Temples Is All But Forgotten
Dr Satyapal Singh presented the most ambitious reform agenda, arguably, ever put forward by a BJP parliamentarian, but it has been his daft statement that has been hogging the headlines for the past few days.
What does it tell us?
Minister of State (MoS) for Human Resource Development (HRD) Dr Satyapal Singh has raised quite a storm by needlessly jumping into the evolution-creationism debate. “Darwin’s theory (of evolution of humans) is scientifically wrong. It needs to change in school and college curriculum. Since the man is seen on Earth he has always been a man. Nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral, have said they saw an ape turning into a man and no books we have read or the tales told to us by our grandparents had such a mention,” he is reported to have said.
Understandably, Singh came under intense criticism, mostly from the supporters of his own party. As Aravindan Neelakandan explains in this column, from Sankhya to Savarkar, Hindus have never had any problem with the science of evolution and Hindu philosophy in general sits comfortably with Darwin’s thoughts on the matter. In the western world, especially in the United States, the so-called right wing and its leaders have been opposed to Darwin’s theory (for political and religious, if not scientific reasons) and instead championed alternative teaching of creationism that the Bible propounds. This is one of the many reasons why Uncle Sam’s right-wing gets branded as anti-science by the left, which has been fiercely opposed to teaching creationism in schools. India has avoided this chasm thanks to widespread acceptance of the idea of evolution among the majority population. In fact, it’s the left in India that can be found standing with the US right-wing on this issue because both have alliances with the same ideological constituents. It is no surprise then, that the most stringent criticism of Dr Satyapal has come from the right quarters.
Such criticism is most welcome. However, lost in all this is the reality that the narrative is still being defined by the mainstream media. It may be an inconvenient truth for the social media warriors, specially those on the right of the political spectrum, to come to terms with, but this is the day to day reality. Otherwise, how one can explain the fact that when Dr Satyapal Singh presented the most ambitious reform agenda ever put forth by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentarian, no one cared, but his daft statement has been hogging the headlines for the past few days.
Satyapal’s Failed Crusade
The boldest and most ambitious reform agenda that I am talking about refers to a private member’s bill presented by Dr Satyapal in Lok Sabha on 10 March last year. It proposed amendments to various key articles of the constitution which if passed can radically alter the fate of the Hindu community for better. Let’s discuss all the proposed changes in his bill one by one.
1) Proposal to repeal 93rd constitutional amendment: Clause 1 of Article 15 states that the state shall not discriminate on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. However clause 5 takes away that right from the Hindus alone.
Nothing in this article or in sub-clause (g) of clause (1) of article 19 shall prevent the State from making any special provision, by law, for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes in so far as such special provisions relate to their admission to educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State, other than the minority educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of article 30.
It is the gangotri of sectarian laws in education, most important being the Right to Education Act (RTE). This clause paved the way for the government to reserve seats for students from socially and educationally backward classes in private educational institutions other than those run and managed by religious and linguistic minorities. This clause was added by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government by changing the constitution within months of coming to power in 2004 via the 93rd constitutional amendment.
Repealing clause 5 would mean that even minority educational institutions will be thrown open to students from disadvantaged backgrounds under the RTE.
2) Proposal to free Hindu temples from government control: Subject to public order, morality and health, Article 26 gives every religious denomination the right (a) to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes; (b) to manage its own affairs in matters of religion; (c) to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and (d) to administer such property in accordance with law. But we all know how temples in state after state have been taken over by governments and how they are being (mis)managed. Over the years, temples have witnessed their land and wealth bank dwindle despite receiving huge amounts of donations every year. Who is swindling this wealth? Instead of serving the Hindu community, temples have been reduced to satiating the unquenchable thirst of Indian state for monies.
This same state we are told is secular but interferes liberally in not just the institutions of Hindus but also attempts to regulate their traditions while allowing unlimited religious freedom to members of other faiths. This hypocrisy was enshrined by adding clause 2 to Article 25. While Clause 1 of the article stated that all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and have the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion, some freedoms were snatched away from Hindus in the very next clause which states that nothing in Article 25 can prevent the state from making any law a) regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice and b) providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus.
Satyapal Singh’s bill would have put stop to the blatant hypocrisy of the Indian state and establish the rule of law and secularism in its true sense. He proposed to add three new clauses to Article 26 which would read as follows:
(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in article 25, the State shall not control, administer or manage, whatsoever, any institution, including its properties, established or maintained for religious or charitable purposes by a religious denomination or any section thereof.
(3) All laws in force in the territory of India in so far as they are inconsistent with the provisions of this article shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be void.
(4) The State shall not make any law which enables it to control, administer or manage, whatsoever, any institution, including its properties, established or maintained for religious or charitable purposes by a religious denomination or any section thereof, and, any law made in contravention of this clause shall, to the extent of such contravention, be void.
One can only imagine the liberty and freedom of religion that these articles would usher in for the Hindu religious institutions at par with those of the minorities.
3) Proposal to end minorityism in government schemes: The government of India runs many sectarian schemes. There are exclusive scholarships programmes for minorities. They are given lucrative loans via a communal body like the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation. Through its Multi-sectoral Development Programme (MsDP), the government gives special grants to districts where concentration of minorities is 20 per cent and more. Similarly, many other sectarian schemes exist whose beneficiaries are decided primarily on the basis of religion. There couldn’t be a better evidence of India’s bogus secularism.
Satyapal’s bill intended to amend Article 27 and add an additional clause which states that “No moneys out of the Consolidated Fund of India, the Consolidated Fund of a State, the Contingency Fund of India or the Contingency Fund of a State or out of the fund of any public body shall be appropriated for advancement or promotion of a section of citizens solely or primarily on the basis of their religious affiliation or belonging to one or more religious or linguistic denomination.”
This additional clause would have instantly made all aforementioned sectarian schemes both at the centre and states-level unconstitutional. In the absence of such restriction, these kinds of schemes are proliferating with states like Telangana now trying to partition the whole public education system along religious lines by setting up separate public schools for minorities.
4) Proposal to separate dharma from religion: Article 28 states that no religious instruction be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of state funds. We have recently seen how petitioners are trying to bar Sanskrit prayers in government’s Kendriya Vidalyas. This is where Article 28 comes into play and becomes the basis for the reasoning of petitioners. Satyapal, through his proposal to amend Article 28, sought to add another clause stating that “Nothing in this Constitution shall be deemed to forbid the teaching of traditional Indian knowledge or ancient texts of India in any educational institution, wholly or partly maintained out of State Funds.”
Dr Satyapal clearly understands the difference between dharma and religion and that between dharmic texts of Hindus and religious texts of other sects. The Indian state doesn’t understand this basic difference and Singh’s bill would’ve brought in the much needed change. As Dr Satyapal rightly reasons, ‘it was never the intention of the framers of the Constitution to keep the study and learning of traditional knowledge systems and civilisational heritage, including study of such great texts like the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, etc. from out of the public education system, yet, these have been completely kept out of education system leading to deracination of Indians from their cultural and civilisational moorings which does not augur well for the future of the country.’
5) End minority-majority segregation in education: Article 30 confers on all minorities - religious or linguistic - the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. These words have been interpreted by the courts to mean that the founding fathers of Indian republic wanted to give the minorities unbridled freedom to run educational institutions with the bare minimum interference from the government. Fair enough. But as we saw with Article 15(5), the Indian state regulates private institutions heavily. But since minorities remain largely free, these regulations only stifle the Hindu-run institutions. This discrimination has given unprecedented financial and regulatory advantage to minorities over the majority-run institutions.
Dr Satyapal argues that Article 30 gives educational rights to minorities without saying anything about the majority. This doesn’t mean that constitution makers wanted to give minorities more rights/liberty than the majority. They just wanted to give them the same rights as those enjoyed by the majority. Nothing less, nothing more. In the light of this, what is happening is outright discrimination and hence needs course correction. Towards that objective, Singh’s bill proposes replacing the words “minorities/minority” with “any section of citizens” thereby putting everyone on the same plane before the eyes of the law.
The bill presented by Dr Satyapal Singh speaks volumes of his vision. But how many had even heard of his name before he spoke out of turn on evolution? Even those on the right who are now outraging non-stop didn’t take note of Singh’s efforts let alone appreciate the boldness and import of these five proposals.
One can’t help but notice the difference in attitude of the right and the left towards their leaders. The right remains passive (ignorance isn’t an excuse) when their leaders fight important ideological battles but leave no chance to bash them when they indulge in fringe-speak just to burnish their liberal credentials. The left on the other hand plays down the fringe-speak from their quarters while supporting their leaders to the hilt when they fight important ideological battles. Self-righteousness is a luxury only the right indulges in when the left builds and nourishes an ecosystem.
There is a lesson for the Satyapals of the right too. Don’t speak out of turn. Don’t venture out to opine on issues you have no expertise in. It is not necessary to sermonise on everything under the sun. Advertise your good work. Set the narrative for yourself. Don’t let the media do it for you. If you want to learn anything from the prime minister, it should be his hold over his tongue and discipline. Else, no matter how great work you do, putting your foot in the mouth is all you will be remembered for.
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