The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Treading gently on the religious sentiments of a community is certainly laudable, but a wrong-headed approach to the entire question is potentially dangerous. After much deliberation, the West Bengal government, supported by the civil aviation ministry has decided not to relocate the mosque that is situated too close for comfort to the runway in Calcutta’s Netaji Subhas International Airport. Apparently, the fact that the airport authorities are citing issues of both safety and security in their pleas to have the mosque relocated is less important than ruffling tempers among the minority community. It is true that certain religious heads of the community have declared flatly that there is no provision in their code for relocating a mosque. But surely that is not the point in this case. Any building of a certain height within a certain radius of the airport is illegal, it compromises too many lives. This is as true of an occasional mosque or temple as it is of multi-storeyed buildings. The principle here is so self-evident that taking recourse to argumentation and debate is in itself absurd. The mosque in the area is also hindering expansion work. More runways need to be constructed if Calcutta is to accommodate all the international airlines it is inviting. Besides, the proximity of the building to the runway increases the chances of unauthorized persons gaining access to security zones, a thought that should be enough to give the state government shaky knees.

Instead, the government seems to be uncertain about the knees only at the prospect of losing votes from the minority community. There really can be no other explanation. The secular republic that was once envisaged has nothing to do with this kind of false show of tolerance or secularism. A truly secular approach would not lack the confidence to relocate a mosque or a temple if it compromised the safety of an airport. This attitude is peculiarly regressive; it privileges religion in the name of non-intervention or equal dispensation at the cost of development, education, awareness, even safety. If the state retains its neutrality in the sphere of religion and makes administration and planning its priorities, it would not need to behave in this irrational manner every time an issue concerning the minority communities is raised. The government’s inconsistency encourages violations in every sphere; the growth of tall buildings close to the airport continues unchecked. The issue is of safety and security, and of law. The decision not to relocate the mosque cannot be condoned under any circumstances.

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