Haj subsidy removal: Minority empowerment or divisive strategy ?

The discussion about Haj subsidy raised every single time. People always question the pro and cons of this. And the supreme court also intervened  and now the government has decided to cut the subsidy and use that fund for the educational purpose of the minority community students. Let’s see how that gonna implement. It’s a truth that not appeasement but knowledge is the true way of progress. But the slogan politics of Beti Bachao is still remaining as a political game so this move is also quizzical.

Muslim leader Asaduddin owaisi previously asked the government to remove the subsidy and use it for the education of Muslim girls. Anyways let’s have a categorical check into the subsidy thing.

Since India is constitutionally a secular state, it should not subsidize expenses related to the performance of religious rituals of any religion and this includes Haj. Haj, according to Muslim belief is mandatory only for those who can afford it from their own earnings. Hence, even from an Islamic point of view, it is wrong to accept money for the performance of Hajj from a non-Islamic source. Muslims, in general, don’t want it and have been saying so for years. The recent decision by India’s Supreme Court (May 2012) to end Hajj subsidy in the next ten years has been largely welcomed by Muslim Organizations. Implementation of the decision has begun.

What is Haj subsidy?

It is a subsidy given to Haj pilgrims by the Government of India, mainly in the form of airfare discounts and only to those who travel through a government constituted Hajj Committee (currently, 120,000 pilgrims each year) on condition that they use only the national carriers of the two countries involved, which is, Air India and Saudi Airlines. Those who travel through private agents do not get any subsidy and are free to travel through any air carrier of their choice. Hence, a major part of the subsidy goes to cash-starved Air India because even the domestic segment of Hajj travel is subsidized.

Many Muslims who do not like a subsidy, travel through private agents. According to some of them, the difference in expenses is not that big. The airfare subsidy provided by the government is on the basis of full airfare, therefore the advantage goes mainly to the airlines. The non-subsidized private pilgrims also get discounted tickets but their discount is borne by the concerned airline due to commercial competition.

It may be worth mentioning that huge amounts are spent on covering various religious festivities within India too and the Center is currently considering ending of all pilgrimage related subsidies.

Administrative expenses on the orderly conduct of all pilgrimages may still continue because large-scale participation of pilgrims involves security, law & order and healthcare related issues which ultimately are the responsibility of the Government. It may be worth mentioning here, that GOI spends crores on the proper conduct of Kumbh Melas. Similar administrative expenses on outgoing Hajj Pilgrims may continue to incur even after removal of airfare subsidies.

What about Article 27?

Pilgrimages in India involve mass movements of people, tremendous pressures on the site of the event and security concerns. Horror stories about stampedes and casualties frequently accompany the rituals of worship. Given the circumstances, government involvement in the arrangements seems unavoidable – even necessary. Subsidies for individual pilgrims, on the other hand, seem to depend on the political priorities of the government concerned.

So, this political priority is the major problem that stands out from the decision. Because Hajj subsidy should not be considered as a special privilege giving to the special community. It is something that people deserve, but by adding this political colour into a subsidy government again proved the bias.

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