I happened to have by chance stumbled upon Atanu Dey‘s blog post on Haj Subsidy. It was an interesting read and I kind of agreed on most of his arguments. What I particularly liked is the alternative he has suggested to Indian Government to follow till the time the Haj Subsidy is totally abolished. I quote him,

Here’s a mechanism which I believe would be fair, reasonable and practical. Instead of the current practice of the government taking part of my tax money and allocating it to support the haj, the government should let me decide how much I wish to contribute to the haj and indicate it on my tax returns. Note that this amount is over and above whatever taxes I have to pay. That is, if my tax is Rs T, and I wish to contribute Rs H for the haj, then at tax time, I will pay Rs (T + H) to the government. Then the government can add up all the H’s in all the tax returns and use it to support the haj.

However at the end of it I really wanted to ask him a few questions purely out of a desire to learn more about this issue. Found out that to comment on his blog one has to create a log in. Now I kind of get very demotivated and put off when I come across such high mindedness amongst bloggers. I mean why am I made to go through all kinds of things to voice my opinion? Blogs with comment moderation, blogs with mandatory IDs these are all such horrible restrictions on my freedom of speech. Interestingly a pattern I have noticed amongst bloggers is that only the so called elite / popular bloggers have these restrictions. Ordinary bloggers like me don’t give much shit. The common excuse behind such restriction is to avoid spamming. I guess Akismet already does a pretty good job of blocking spams. If at all a few spam do pass through it only takes a second to delete them manually. And even otherwise, they are just spam, not nukes!!

So since I couldn’t comment on his blog I decided to put my opinion here.

The Haj subsidy. So the first question that I had in mind was – Is the Haj subsidy the only religious activity that is being funded / partially funded / supported by the Government of India? I don’t know the answer but I think this question should have occurred to Atanu while writing that post and he should have addressed it.

To my understanding tax payers money is not solely spent on this one Muslim religious activity. It is spent on Hindu religious activities also and may be some other religious activities too that I am not aware of.

When we talk about abolishing Haj subsidy on the grounds of the same being anti secular we must at the same breathe also demand an abolition of all other government participation in any religion. We must reassert that secularism means separation of state from religion in its totality. From expenses as big as funding for Hajis or Amarnath Yatris to as small as making a small temple in a rail factory (I recently saw this one in Coonoor station).

The other question I had for Atanu was – Does he know the exact amount of the subsidy? What is the scheme of granting the subsidy? If there is any limit on how much money would each Haji be granted, whether there are any special conditions that need to be fulfilled to be eligible for the grant? is the subsidy granted on all heads, like travel, hotel accommodation, food, medical expense during the journey etc.?

I tried to read some more on it and came across this very well written muslim side of the haj subsidy story on the the Indian Muslim blog. According to its author Mohib Ahmad the subsidy is merely given on the Air India tickets to Mecca which according to him are already over priced and gives no value for money. In his post he suggested the Indian Muslim should rather reject the Haj subsidy themselves because it serves no good purpose anyway and only gives the Sangh Parivar an issue to spread more hatred. I shall quote him here,

…let us analyze what exactly this so-called Haj subsidy entails. An Indian Muslim, who chooses to go to Haj through government run Haj committees, gets a subsidy of around Rs. 20,000 on their Air India ticket of Rs. 32,000. That is it ! The minimum cost of a Haj package through the Haj committees is around Rs. 92,000, of which Rs. 20,000 is paid by the Indian government to Air India as a subsidy on the Hajis ticket….

…It is interesting to note that the normal ticket to Saudi Arabia costs around Rs. 25,000 but Air India charges Rs. 34,000 from the Hajis. So, effectively the government is giving a subsidy of Rs. 12,000 only.

Since a blog post shouldn’t be the sole source of one’s information I would rather not form any opinion on this. But to my very ordinary intellect it appears our government cannot possibly be offering a real big amount to the Hajis just like that. government is no fool.

It is a very general knowledge that whenever government offers to subsidize / reimburse any of our expense it makes it mandatory that we incur the expense via government means. For eg. if govt offers to pay for your leave travel, it is mandatory you travel by Indian Railways or Indian Airlines, if it offers to pay for your health expenses it is mandatory that you see the doctors in CGHS dispensaries or other notified doctors / hospitals. The idea is to simply keep moving the money from one department to another and being ultimately used for national welfare.

So it’s not like the tax payer’s money spent in Haj subsidy is going into the drains.

Next in mind comes the Utopian situation where the State is completely separated from religion. The idea is to ban the Government from participating in any religious activities altogether. But this is so not feasible and so not in the general public interest. Think about it, we do 100s of religious activities throughout the year where we use the infrastructure provided by government which is funded by the tax payer’s money.

Every year during Dussherrah a huge Durga idol immersion procession crawls through the roads of Delhi to reach river Yamuna. Approximately 300 plus puja committees join this procession each having at the least two trucks and one bus. That’s more than 1000 heavy vehicles coming from different nook and corner of Delhi, queuing up at one common point, New Delhi Kalibari, where they obtain their JPC (Joint Procession Committee) badges and proceed towards Yamuna as one long chain of vehicles. This chain is not allowed to be broken by non JPC (Joint procession Committee) vehicles.

Imagine achieving this task without the help of Delhi’s traffic police. Who pays for traffic police officers? Tax payer’s money. This was just one small example. If state were to not spend any money on facilitating religious activities such community activities would turn chaotic, will breed crime etc. Take the case of the Kumbha Mela. In this regard I found these information (assuming to be correct) on the infrastructure used in Kumbh relevant, I quote from Gosai.com

The 1989 kumbha mela also saw record expenditures, as the Indian government spent more than eight million dollars on preliminary organization. According to national newspaper reports, the Kumbha Mela occupied 3,600 acres; arrangements were made to provide 5,000 gallons of purified drinking water per minute to the festival grounds; 6,500 buses provided short and long-range transportation; 16,000 outlets and 6,000 poles provided electrical facilities; 6,000 sweepers and sanitation employees worked around the clock to maintain health standards; 13,500 latrines and lavatories were opened to the public; 9 pontoon bridges spanned the Ganges at intervals; 22 fire-fighting stations were erected; 20,000 policemen and the Indian National Guard kept a constant vigil at checkpoints and with closedcircuit TV to guard against traffic congestion and other possible disturbances; 300 lifeguards and the Indian Boy Scouts constantly patrolled the bank of the river to assure safety to bathers; 400 boats stood at the docks to carry pilgrims across the rivers; and 100 doctors and nurses were on call around the clock at medical assistance stations-a mammoth administrative task.

Whose money is spent in all these? Tax payer’s, both Hindu’s, Muslim’s and everybody else’s and even that of Atheist’s like mine. So where do we draw the line? May be we should take each as special case and then deal with it.

Taking Haj Subsidy as a special case – “the government defended the financial assistance to such pilgrims saying: “The Haj pilgrimage has certain foreign relations and foreign policy aspects. It is important to note that the Haj is taking place in a foreign country, Saudi Arabia, which is an Islamic country.” [Source IANS]

May be they have a point albeit debatable.