An outgoing judge of the Allahabad High Court has lobbed a small grenade in the public sphere before remitting office, by suggesting that the Bhagvad Gita be made the national religious doctrine, or dharma shastra.
Hearing the dispute between two brothers over a temple in Benaras on August 30, Judge S.N. Srivastava, who has since retired, said since India had a national flag, a national anthem, a national bird and a national animal, it could have the Gita, which has inspired countless people from all walks of life, as its national religious doctine.
“It is the duty of every citizen of India under Article 51-A of the Constitution of India, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, to follow dharma as propounded by the Gita.”
The Centre has said the Judge’s comments should be ignored, and the Law Minister H.R. Bharadwaj has explained why.
“For Muslims, it [the religious doctrine] is the Koran and the Christians have the Bible. Every religion has its own dharma shastra, so how can we say it [Gita] is for the entire nation? We have to respect the scriptures of other religions. Therefore, the observation needs to be ignored. It does not apply to everybody.”
Judge Srivastava was the same judge who in April this year, just as Uttar Pradesh was going to the polls, ruled that Muslims were not a minority group in Uttar Pradesh and hence educational institutions run by them were not entitled to benefits. So, the two observations are being seen in conjunction.
Still, do we need a “national religious doctrine” given the cursory role the national flag, anthem, bird and animal occupy in our lives?
Would making the Gita a compulsory text for people of all religions make India better or divide a divided country even further? Is the Gita becoming a plaything of those who cannot stomach India’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual culture, and those who believe our heterogenous character is the cause of all our troubles? Or, is there nothing wrong for a Hindu-majority nation to have a Hindu text as the dominant religous doctrine?