The news coming from the High Court of Bombay on the Good Friday holiday would bring a major sigh of relief to the Catholics of the Union Territories of Daman and Diu and Dadra and Hagar Haveli.
With just four days to go to Good Friday, the High Court directed the Administration of the Centrally-administered Union Territories to declare Good Friday as a gazetted holiday. The administration of the Union Territories (UTs) had earlier, by notifications, declared that Good Friday this year would cease to be a compulsory/gazetted holiday and would remain an optional/restricted holiday. This was the first time that Good Friday was not declared a public holiday and this had been challenged in the High Court.
Passing its judgement, the bench noted that people of ‘all castes, communities, and creed’ commemorate Good Friday and celebrate Easter and Christmas. It further noted that keeping in mind the sentiments of the Christian community and the importance of the day for the Christians, Good Friday must be declared a public holiday.
But more than relief to the Catholics of the Union Territories, this decision is a major boost to secularism in the country. It is pertinent to note that when the administration was asked in Court as to the reason for cancelling the holiday, the counsel’s reply was that since the Christian population was small, the impact would not be as much. The petitioner’s advocate argued that such a reason was against the secular principles of the country. The Christian community that petitioned the court had argued that while the Christian population accounted for just 2 per cent of the population, the ‘principles of secularism’ mandated that one consider the ‘sentiments of the minority community and not the numbers’.
Are the authorities deciding on religious holidays based on the number of people of the community? Shouldn’t the principles of secularism play a role in deciding on these issues? The reasons for dropping the holiday are specious, and lead one to wonder whether there was any other reason for the decision to drop the public holiday.
This high court decision on the Good Friday holiday came a day after India observed Ambedkar Din in memory of the man who was the main author of the Constitution and who was instrumental in including the principles of secularism in the Constitution so that India may be a nation that embraces all religions, all beliefs without any discrimination. Many of these secular principles are now under threat, and the decision to cancel the Good Friday holiday in these Union Territories is an example, however minor it may be, of the kind of threats that secularism faces. They come innocuously; some perhaps used as testing cases, but if they are not objected to immediately, will serve to build upon.
Instead of dedicating time and effort towards intolerance, what the administration of the country should be doing is concentrating on the development aspects. We do not require decisions that result in divisiveness, what we require are decisions that develop the nation and the people, bringing them together. India has a history of inclusiveness and this should in no way be diluted. Shouldn’t the government be looking at creating jobs to employ the growing number of graduates and postgraduates who find themselves standing in queues for employment, but getting no letter of appointment?
India is a secular State and the people cannot and should not be divided. The 1.3 billion people of this country have to continue to live together in the same harmony that they have lived in since 1947. The government and the administration must be looking at means on how to unite the people of the country. Secularism has to be upheld by all means, we cannot always depend on the courts to come to the rescue of the principles of secularism.