We have again come to another phase of turmoil in Punjab. The recent skirmishes between followers of one faith and members of another denomination ostensibly arising out of deep hurt may perhaps have motives attached elsewhere which may not meet the eye.
As Punjabis we should have learnt from our past mistakes about the grief and travails suffered by the common man due to such confrontations but we seem to have conveniently forgotten them.
Such issues raise their ugly head from time to time when the state fails to protect the rights of citizens and, both the state and the contending groups allow fanning of intolerance. The government and the citizens have the fiduciary responsibility to protect the social fabric of the society. It is a sacred and solemn responsibility.
While the Constitution of India entitles all persons the freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate any religion, it is subject to maintaining public order, morality and health. Exactly 50 years ago, the Supreme Court in 1957 observed and I quote, "The right to freedom of religion assured by those articles (referring to Article 25 and 26) is expressly made subject to public order, morality and health".
Therefore, those two articles contemplate that restrictions may be imposed on the rights guaranteed by them in the interest of public order.
It is the constitutional responsibility of the state to maintain public order and quell any unrest and not sit in judgment of the right or wrong of any party involved in a conflict. It cannot position itself to be in the conflict of interest situation vis-à-vis its citizens because the political head of the state and the cabinet have under Article 164 (3) taken the oath that "[he/she] will do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law without any fear or favour, affect on or ill will".
Hence, the duty of the chief minister and his cabinet is to maintain public order without holding any prejudice to any party, religious affiliation or denomination. In fact, they are expected to zealously promote mutual affection between citizens.
Punjab has been a land of gurus, saints and Sufis through the ages. Today, we respect all of them not because they belonged to any one particular religious denomination but because they left behind a huge legacy of love, tranquility, service and mutual respect. The one common spirit that flows from the Holy Sri Guru Granth Saheb and the folklores of Sufis and saints is the message of selfless service to humanity and the equanimity of all faiths. Punjab is also bestowed with religious shrines of many faiths and denominations that are visited and respected from the cross section of the society.
Religion is not a political tool to be exercised to serve the whims and fancies of anyone individual or a group because the values of our faith enshrined in our holy books and taught by our gurus are far greater than any conceivable political objective.
Since the adoption of our Constitution in 1950, the country has struggled to take strident steps for development and to promote socio-care programmes but the same have been hampered because of some inherent defects that have crept into our administrative processes. Some of the saints across India through their spiritual missions have established hospitals and dispensaries, schools, colleges, universities, worked for the upliftment of women and environment protection. These efforts in a way compliment the socio-economic development programmes of the Government.
The last twenty years has seen an upsurge in non-denominational preachings' encompassing message of universal love, selfless service and mutual respect from all faiths. We see a drift towards universalism without impinging upon the beliefs of the other person. It may, therefore, not be inappropriate that if anyone has even inadvertently hurt others by their words or action, they should seek reconciliation and forgiveness and thereby pacify hurt feelings. That would preclude violence.
Such an act would not only further enhance the respect and stature of such a person but set an example for others to emulate. We cannot merely preach love, compassion and forgiveness and not practice the same.
Preservation of public order is a sacred duty of all leaders, governments or non-government establishment. It is worth recalling that Mahatma Gandhi had withdrawn the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1922, when it had begun to turn violent.
No public good can come out of violence in social order.
Jatinder Cheema is an advocate and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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