The Holy Pandemic: A Conflict Between Right to Practice Religion and Coronavirus

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India is a country of diverse culture and traditions. One of the perks of being an Indian is exposure to various cultures and religious practices. Our Constitution was also designed, keeping this very diversity in mind. The Indian Constitution guarantees its citizen the freedom to profess, practise and propagate any religion. Although there are restrictions on this freedom within the ambit of public order, health and morality.

The whole world is facing a pandemic, affecting various sectors of the society. One of the most affected sectors is the religious sector. Almost every major religious gathering or festival has come to a halt during this period. Although affected, the same has seen a lot of innovation for believers to go and pray like regular times. For instance, the Popes use water guns to baptize kids. Having drive through confessions for churches and live streaming of prayers are common. 

India, Religion and the Pandemic

In the Indian context, religion is linked to the virus in more ways than one. Politicians have always used religion as a tool to divide and rule. This time was no different.

A religious gathering, Nizamuddin Markaz (Tablighi Jamaat) grabbed eyeballs during this pandemic. The gathering became one of the hotspots for COVID-19 in the country. There was a lack of quick action by the Government as well as improper implementation of orders. The influx of people at the Markaz was put under control after March 19. They did not establish any clear liability so far. Are the police authorities, the stranded believers or the organizers to blame?

Another such incident was the organization of “cow urine consumption” camps. Swami Chakrapani, the president of the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, organized one such camp. The claim made by him was that cow urine could cure the virus. Thus, people came together for a celebration, drank cow urine to protect themselves. In Kolkata, the BJP held another camp stating cow urine was the cure for the virus. One man fell ill after consuming it, which led to the arrest of the BJP activist who organized it. This article highlights the various Gods that people called in these difficult times.

The Muslim community received a lot of hatred during this pandemic. This was one of the major highlights of how religion can divide a nation. People accused them of spreading the virus and called them “suicide bombers”. In the era of social media, many such “fake enlightened forwards” turned into a nightmare for them.

One can never be sure of how or when one can catch the Coronavirus. It takes at least two weeks for the symptoms to reflect. It is only human to assume that no one can be certain of whether they have come in contact with the virus. That is why social distancing, wearing masks and using sanitizers is pivotal.

With the advent of Unlock 1.0, various religious places across the country have opened. They adopted social distancing measures in temples, mosques and churches.

Legal Aspects

A classic conflict between the Fundamental Right of the citizens to practice and propagate religion and the Fundamental Right to health emerged during this pandemic.

Every citizen has the freedom to practice and propagate their religion. Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution guarantees it. But they can restrict it for public order or health.

Right to health though not mentioned under our Constitution, comes under Article 21. It imposes an obligation on the State to safeguard the right to life of every person. Preservation of human life is thus, of paramount importance.

Involvement of the Court

In recent news, a PIL was filed by an NGO in Odisha asking the Apex Court to allow the procession of Lord Jagannath Puri. This meant that lakhs of people would be at risk of getting infected with the virus. Thus, the same was not allowed. But, there was another review in the Apex Court. It then allowed for the procession to take place.

The Court stated that it would be the responsibility of the Temple and State Authorities. They have maintained the norms of social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.

The very PIL is an example of the conflict of two superior Fundamental Rights guaranteed to us. The Constitution laid down principles in the form of DPSPs’ and Fundamental Duties. Though not enforceable in the Court of law, they hold a lot of value. It is based on the fact that they act as a guiding force for our system. Article 38 of our Constitution lays down duty on the State to protect the welfare of its citizens.

It is our Fundamental duty to develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform. Article 51(h) of our Indian Constitution guarantees it. While religious belief may or may not protect us, we as citizens should protect each other.

The Road Ahead

  1. It is true that the virus can’t stop the world from functioning as the world goes on.
  2. Religion and its practices are a very sensitive issue. We have to deal with it with equal sensitivity.
  3. Indian politics and media highlighted a particular community in a bad manner. This led to threatening their very existence in the nation.
  4. As citizens, we must adopt a scientific vigour and not fall prey to fake news or forwards or claims.
  5. Need for a better implementation of the law, especially during such times.
  6. Religion has the power to bind people. It should be used in a positive aspect. It should not become a tool that divides us. Especially in these testing times.

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