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Posted Online on Friday, 15 June 2007 20:45 IST

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Muslim Islamic NewsSpecial Religious Zones in India

After Special Economic Zones, it is the turn of Special Religious Zones, and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Rajshekhar Reddy shows the way

By John Dayal, National President, All India Catholic Union 

The Milli Gazette

9 June 2007

Without meaning any disrespect to the Deity of Tirumalla, and in full solidarity with the devotees and their reverence to Lord Venkateswara, one must n articulate the several questions that have been raised by the controversial decision of the Congress government of Andhra Pradesh, led by Chief minister Rajshekhar Reddy, in the hasty Ordinance, or backdoor law, which effectively bans all non Hindu activity worship, social work, educational institutions, freedom of religion and religious profession, presumably also Wakf in the seven hills of the Tirumalla range in the south of the State, and close to its borders with Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. 

Mr. Reddy now joins Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh in becoming one of two Congress leaders who defy their party ideology to pander to the tastes of micro-minority fundamentalists within the majority religious group in their States. 

One understands the pressures on Mr. Reddy. One understands Mr. Reddy's compulsions and his survival instincts. He is the only Christian ruler of a predominantly Hindu province. The other Christians of the North East have an electorate majority from their community. That is a signal pressure. Secondly, the RSS and its organisations have nationally and internationally targeted Mr. Reddy in a hate campaign that picks on his religion. He is routinely branded the son of a Pentecost or Protestant father. He is always called by his presumably Christian name, Samuel, and not Rajshekhar, when RSS journals write about him. He is accused, absolutely falsely of course, of supporting, even encouraging Christians. And during his recent visit to the United States, Hindu Non Resident Indian organisations with their loyalty to the RSS staged ugly protests against him, one of which became physical. 

All that is part of Indian reality. But the Ordinance may be violative of the Constitution of India and may go against t the Supreme Court ruling in the Hindutva case {by chief justice J S Varma} which held that Hinduism was a way of life, that it did not have a single Book or a single founder, and that any person could see the Lord in his or her own way, even in a stone.

No other religion in the world has a place entirely its own, where no else can enter. The Vatican, a model for many upstarts, allows anyone to worship in his or her own way, and indeed one can see many Hare Krishna devotees on its streets. Rome has a mosque and of Hindus wanted it, or Sikhs for that matter, they could have temple or a Gurudwara. Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, and Jerusalem, his `Karma Bhoomi and punya Bhoomi' is holy to three religions, including Islam. Nankana Sahib, which I had the immense pleasure to visit some years ago, is holy to the Sikhs, but is open to all religions'. Even fundamentalist and military dictatorships in Pakistan have maintained the secular environ of Nankana sahib. Amritsar, the Holy Sikhs home for the lovely Golden Temple Har Mandir, is open to all, despite a few terrorists occasionally demanding a purge of all non Sikh activity, mercifully not sponsored by the Akali Dal or the Akal Takht. Mecca and Medina, now in the Islamic kingdom of Saudi Arabia, following a Wahabi theology, is barred to non-Muslims. But this is historically a comparatively recent phenomenon. Many Sufi Indian saints and Central Asian scholars in earlier centuries visited Mecca, according to their songs and writings. Guru Nanak Dev Ji had good things to say of Mecca. He wanted to be told if there was a place without God. 

But India is a secular state, and this fact is enshrined in the Constitution. If Tirumalla is holy to one Deity, Guruvayur is holy to another. Madurai and Thanjavur are also holy places. So is Benares. Gaya and Sanchi are holy to the Buddhists. Ajmer Sharif is a holy Sufi Islamic Shrine. Hazratbal in Srinagar makes the city holy, and the entire Himalayan range is the abode of the Gods, literally. And then there is Kurukhshetra, the place where the Lord Krishna personally revealed the Gita to Arjuna. The great thing about India is that this list is endless. Should they be barred to non Hindus, or Non Muslims, or to Non Sikhs, or to Non Buddhists. 

What happens to Freedom of faith in Tirumalla? What happens to Article 30? What happens to a lot of many other things, including the right of the Hindus themselves to get medical assistance and education from anyone they chose? What happens to the freedom of faith of the Dalits, OBCs, Christians and others who live in the area to practice the faith of their choice? What happens to the concept of India if one art of it is not rally a part of it? 

We are opposing Special Economic Zones because the writ of India does not run in those territories. I oppose Special Religious Zones.

See also: 
Tirumalla Hills only for Hindus: Ordinance, Hindustan Times, June 9, 2007 
Temple town and seven hills declared holy place, The Hindu, June 9, 2007 

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