Workers unions from Uttar Pradesh have objected to the state’s Public Works Department employees being asked to ‘voluntarily’ donate a day’s salary for the government’s donation drive to fund the intended Ram Temple at Ayodhya. The UP government has gone ahead and also created a bank account with the private bank HDFC to collect funds from the department.
In a letter dated January 19, Engineer-in-Chief Rajpal Singh wrote to HDFC bank, asking for it to open an account under the name “PWD Ram Mandir Welfare”. While the government is upping the ante to collect funds, workers unions are planning protests over the move, calling it “illegal” and in “direct violation of religious freedom”.
Sanitation Workers Start Protests
The workers’ anger against the move has been mounting as they remain miffed over previous contributions they had made to the Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (CARES) Fund for COVID-19 relief. The fund has been shrouded in controversies. After the letter was circulated on social media, workers from across the state initiated protests, with some already hitting the ground.
Sanitation workers from Jalalabad in UP's Shahjahanpur held a protest on Thursday, alleging that they were forcefully asked to contribute for the proposed temple. Amit, a sanitation worker who was part of protest, told NewsClick, “Jab hum bhangi hain, mandir me nahi ja sakte to paise kis baat ka, ye sarasar gundai hai saab (We are not allowed to even enter the temple since we are from the untouchable community. Why will we give money then sir? This is hooliganism). We will not give a single penny for the mandir collection. We would rather give a day’s salary to the ones who need it most,” he said, adding that there were cases of Dalit girls being raped every day in the state but that no one had stepped up to support the community.
Image Credits: Janchowk News
Despite the government calling the contribution “voluntary”, workers are in fear of the scrutiny they may be subjected to if they refused to contribute to the fund.
An employee who received the circular in Lucknow and wished to remain anonymous, said: “I am not the only one here who does not want to contribute; there are many employees who have similar views. We know that if we say no we will be labeled ‘anti-Hindu’, ‘anti-national’ and what not. We could even face boycotts at the workplace but it is our democratic right to not donate towards a religious purpose.”
Questions are also being raised over the manner in which the circular came about.
Speaking to NewsClick, Satyandra Kumar Mishra, a member of the PWD employees union, said that the move was “absolutely unconstitutional and illegal. It has not taken the opinion of any of the workers on board. This is not the first time a ‘voluntary’ cut has been imposed on the workers. Ever since Keshav Maurya, the deputy Chief Minister, has taken over, these instances have been rampant. Our salaries were also cut for the PM CARES relief fund; we still do not know where our money has gone. If we would have agreed to donate then it was a different matter. They did not take consent from any of the workers or any unions; most of all, the lack of transparency at play makes it seem worse.”
Uttar Pradesh State Employees Federation state president Kamlesh Mishra slammed the Engineer-in-Chief Rajpal Singh. “We came to know about the decision on Wednesday when the letter signed by Rajpal Singh went viral on social media. When we cross-checked, we found that no one was aware of the development as there was no such guideline by the government. The decision for contribution seems to have been taken by the Engineer-in-Chief in his personal capacity,” he added.
The Indian Constitution states that taxes on the base of religion cannot be collected. However, the move to not call the collection a tax but a voluntary contribution could still be challenged in court under misuse of state machinery for religious purposes.
“The move is absolutely illegal. While governments have been doing this in the past, it can be challenged in court,” Sanjay Singhvi, a lawyer, told NewsClick.
The situation remains volatile in several parts of Uttar Pradesh over the collection of funds. Earlier, in January, communal tensions was heightened in Bulandshahar as the rally collecting funds – taken out by a Hindu outfit to fetch funds for the construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya – entered into a Muslim-dominated colony and allegedly passed abusive remarks at the residents.
Based on a complaint by the locals, the Bulandshahr police lodged an FIR under sections 295 A (outraging religious feelings), section 153 A (promoting enmity between groups) and section 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of peace) of the Indian Penal Code.
The fund-collection rallies have caused mayhem in Madhya Pradesh too, with the looting and razing of Muslim homes.