Saraswathi is the Devi of knowledge and learning. Singing of ‘Saraswathi Vandana’ in ‘Gurukuls’ in earlier days and later in the classes of educational institutions has been the traditional practice to invoke the blessings and grace of the Devi in this Hindu bhumi. As the ‘Vidyapyaasam’ ceremony (beginning of schooling) for children is performed even in these irreligious times on the day of ‘Vijayadhasami’, which follows the ‘Saraswathi Puja’ day, parents even now continue the practice of enrolling their children in Elementary and Primary Schools on this sacred day of Vijayadhasami and several schools, sensitive to our customs admit children on that auspicious day.
After independence, due to the de-Hinduising concept of ‘secularism’, the practice of singing Saraswathi Vandana has been stopped throughout the country in educational institutions. In Tamilnadu, this practice was suspended in 1967, with the advent of Dravidian polity. Government educational institutions have been made ‘secular’, in the sense that they would not have any religious activity for students within their premises and the same has been made mandatory for private institutions owned by the majority community as well.
On the other hand, minority educational institutions have fully utilised the special privileges enshrined in the Constitutions with respect to the ‘Right to Freedom of Religion’. Though the Constitution allows minority institutions to have only religious instructions and courses through ‘Section (ii) of Article 28’, this provision has been misused by a large section of educational minority institutions. Many incidents of harassing students belonging to the majority community by asking them not to wear their religious marks and forcing them to attend other religious classes and compelling them to serve in ‘evangelical’ activities have been reported throughout the state for the past many years. As a rule, these students for fear of more harassment at the hands of management and faculty of such schools and colleges prefer not to come out in the open against their institutions.
One such flagrant abuse of the constitutional proviso of right to freedom of religion happened in the prestigious Government College of Engineering, Guindy in Anna University on Monday, 22 December. The University had organised a Christian prayer meeting, hosted by the well-known ‘evangelist’ Paul Dinakaran, in the name of Christmas celebration. The meeting was held at ‘Vivekananda Auditorium’ inside the college premises and students were asked to assemble irrespective of their religious affiliations. The Vice Chancellor of Anna University, Mannar Jawahar, who is a practicing Christian, was also present at the meeting.
In keeping with the standard practise by evangelists of addressing Hindus as ‘sinners’ and ‘idolators’, one of the speakers is believed to have ridiculed Hindu Gods and Goddesses as ‘evil forces’ (‘Theeya Sakthikal’ in Tamil) and preached to the gathering that he would help them to get away from the practice of worshipping those ‘evil forces’ and take them to Lord Jesus! Reports have also come in from reliable sources within the University that ‘evangelical’ CD materials, pamphlets and leaflets have been distributed and the whole meeting has been video recorded. Eyewitnesses have said that banners in regard to the meeting were also hung up inside the premises and books were also sold just outside the meeting hall.
| Anna University|
‘It was outrageous and a disgusting experience too!’ said a student requesting anonymity and added, ‘we didn’t protest due to fear of harassment and destroyed those propaganda materials after coming out of the college, as that was the only way by which we could vent our anger and agitation’.
When asked about how permission was granted for this ‘evangelical meeting’ officially inside the University premises, the Vice Chancellor Mannar Jawahar confirmed that it was only Christmas celebration and not a prayer meeting and that Paul Dinakaran was indeed invited as ‘Chief Guest’ for the Christmas Celebrations. He stoutly denied the allegation in regard to distribution of propaganda materials and the speeches ridiculing Hindu Gods.
The Hindu organisations have been seething in anger ever since they heard about this meeting. ‘Is it a government institution or not? Is this how secularism is observed?’ asked Ramagopalan, President Hindu Munnani and said, ‘what Anna University has done is purely illegal and against the Indian Constitution. Minority institutions conducting such meetings in their own premises is different and even there they cannot force Hindu students to participate in such meetings. But government educational institutions are supposed to be secular and here the Vice Chancellor has grossly abused his position by conducting an evangelical prayer meeting in the name of Christmas celebration’. Ramagopalan cited Articles 25, 26 and 28 of the Constitution with respect to Freedom of Religion and said that they have been violated by the University Authorities.
While Articles 25 and 26 relate to Freedom of Religion subject to public order, morality and health, Article 28 clearly says that ‘No religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of State funds’ and that ‘religious instruction can be provided only in those institutions, which have been established under any endowment or trust requiring such an instruction’ and that ‘No person attending any educational institution recognised by the State or receiving aid out of State funds shall be required to take part in any religious instruction’.
Radha Rajan, Editor of www.vigilonline.com and well-known political commentator, on receiving news of this evangelical prayer meeting in the Anna University shot off letters to The Commissioner of Police, Chennai and Secretary, Higher Education Department, Government of Tamilnadu, informing them of the gross violation of law by the University and protesting against the abuse of official position by the Vice Chancellor. She told us, ‘it has become a practice for persons from minority communities, who are placed in high positions in government, administration and other powerful positions in public life, to abuse their official positions and serve the causes of their religions. In Tamilnadu there is a growing trend of appointing persons of minority communities in institutes of higher learning as Vice Chanellors, Deans, Principals and Heads of Department by successive Dravidian governments. There is also an exponential increase of harassment of students belonging to majority community by members of the faculty in some of these professional colleges’.
Professor Dr. P Ramani, who had served in Madras University said, ‘when I came to know about this incident, I felt very bad. Though we have our own native culture from time immemorial, we have been a tolerant nation allowing all faiths to coexist with each other. In India, students should be taught the real history of our culture and heritage right from the early periods and how our culture has absorbed other religious practices rather than preaching one’s own religion. It is unfortunate that the Anna University had indulged in religious frivolities. All right thinking Indians should condemn this act’.
V C Muthukumaran, former Registrar of Anna University and former Vice Chancellor of Bharathidasan University said, ‘it would be absolutely wrong on the part of the University authorities, if they had really allowed such an activity inside the premises’.
Legal experts are of the opinion that evangelists, who ridicule Hindus as ‘Sinners’ and Hindu Gods as ‘Evil Forces’ or ‘Satans’ are punishable under Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which says ‘any attempt to outrage and deride the religious feelings of any class or group by insulting their religion or religious practices is punishable with more than 1 year of imprisonment with or without fine’ and they aver that the evangelists are taking advantage of the tolerance shown by the Hindus.
It is true that religious personalities like Sri Sri Ravishankar of Art of Living and Jaggi Vasudev of Isha Foundation have conducted their own conferences before inside Anna University, which has allowed them ‘unofficially’. And those Gurus have not indulged in any preaching activities and it was conducted for their own followers from the public and the students were not asked to participate. In fact, the meeting organised by Isha foundation was also attended by the honourable Chief Minister, who participated in the ‘tree planting’ ceremony along with his daughter and Rajya Sabha Member Kanimozhi.
DMK founder and former Chief Minister Annadurai, though being an atheist, was well known for his ‘secular’ principles and the university, which bears his name must not be allowed to lose its ‘secular’ credentials. The university authorities must ensure that religious activities are kept outside the university premises in future, for unity among students is vital for the prevalence of peace and harmony.