Opinion: Set up a religious affairs commission

With the increasing number of disputes over faith and religion impacting order in society, has not the time arrived for a religious affairs regulatory commission with quasi-judicial powers to manage matters arising out of faith, disputes between faith & religious communities and groups within a community on various issues that emerge from time to time? Religious diversity is indeed a fact of life for Indians. Every Indian has the right to follow his religion, faith, traditions, rituals and beliefs as long as it does not violate others’ rights and privacy or break the law. One’s faith, traditions, or religious practices may be irrational, superstitious and unscientific for an atheist or a non-believer, the same way a believer views and perceives the attitude of an atheist as strange. It calls for tolerance and non-invasion into each other’s privacy and right to practice any faith and religion.

How to follow a particular faith, its rituals and traditions is a matter for the members of that community to decide. Let them discuss and decide within the community. The need for scientific regulation, control and management of religions in India come up in this context. It is important to create a permanent mechanism to manage religious affairs in the country. The relevance of a religious affairs commission arises here. The religious affairs commission, supported by an expert group consisting of scholars, theologians, legal experts and representatives from various religions should assist the commission in taking the decision on various matters.

This commission has to be entrusted with quasi-judicial powers and mandated with managing and protecting religious diversity, facilitating discussions on reforms and dispute settlement, creating an ecosystem for peaceful practice and bringing in a framework for religious operations. Providing the registration of religions also has to come under the purview of this commission with a separate legal enactment in the form of Societies Registration Act, under which such religious agencies undertake registration now. The details have to be worked out.

However, strict rules have to be brought in. Not everyone should be allowed to raise matters of faith before the commission. Members of a particular religious community can bring in issues or disputes pertaining to his/her religions, to which he/she is a member. The said commission also can bring in rules related to registration and operation of religions. Terms and conditions of membership to a particular religion, once rights all can be formulated. Holy books, faith and tenets that the members of the community should follow also can be made available to the members of that particular community. The dispute settlement mechanisms can be brought in under commission. Whenever reforms take place, the changes being brought in have to be publicised in detail after formulating the phases of its introduction and time frame, so that all parties concerned get sufficient time to understand the changes and sort out the differences. This could avoid conflict and any challenge to peace that can probably arise out of reforms or the agreement. Certainly religions can function and coexist in a peaceful manner within a well-defined framework.

(The writer is a researcher)