The Pioneer Edit Desk (April 17, 2008)
Let's not question popular faith
The contentious Ram Setu issue has once again attracted controversy, this time in the Supreme Court. The questions raised by the Bench comprising Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan and Justice RV Raveendran, while hearing a bunch of petitions challenging the Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project, are gratuitous and in poor taste. The court has queried as to how the Ram Setu could be called a place of worship, adding, "Who does puja in the middle of the sea?" Nobody. But for millions of Indians Ram Setu is integral to their veneration of Ram and an indivisible part of their civilisational identity. To be fair to the bench, it has clarified that it was not expressing any opinion on the merits of the case. Those familiar with the working of the Supreme Court, or indeed other courts, are aware that they often pose uncomfortable questions that sound inimical to a party but are not necessarily reflective of bias on their part. Such questions do not necessarily make their way into court orders but are posed with the intention of seeking clarity on the issues before it. Yet, perhaps the bench could have rephrased these questions in a manner that would reflect greater sensitivity - popular sentiments cannot be entirely ignored by the executive, legislature or the judiciary, so long as it does not militate against the basic principles of the Constitution. It would also be pertinent to underscore the fact that the issue of Ram Setu is not at all about a place of worship in the middle of the sea where puja is performed. It is about a particular spot that people believe is the bridge Hanuman built for Ram to cross the sea to Lanka. There are many such sacred places - trees, groves, lakes, river banks and even mountains. Not all are worshipped but that does not diminish their sanctity. Also, those opposed to the destruction of Ram Setu - or call it Adam's Bridge if you must - have raised issues related to environmental and ecological concerns which belong to the secular domain. To raise frivolous questions would be tantamount to minimising these concerns. In any event, there are aspects of religiosity that are not defined by either rites or rituals associated with worship: Faith need not have a visible manifestation.
The point about Ram Setu which people often miss is that the question whether it is a crafted structure or a natural rock formation is totally irrelevant to the discourse. What is important is that the site is held sacred by a vast majority of Indians as it was held sacred by their ancestors. Such belief - which is not unique to either this country or Hinduism - cannot be held to strict tests of rationality. If the faith of others is inviolable, so is the faith associated with Ram Setu.