The Maharashtra government has imposed a complete ban on display of religious pictures or texts and on celebration of religious festivals and pujas in all government and semi government offices and educational institutions in the state.
“Displaying pictures of Gods, religious texts or having Puja in the premises of government and semi-government offices is prohibited as per the constitution and wrong,” says the circular issued on 4 January by the rural development department.
The circular also directs all government and semi government offices and schools to immediately remove all religious pictures/texts/deities and stop pujas and celebrations.
A complaint by an employees association prompted the government to issue such stringent directives. “India is the secular country so as our constitution. However, such practices often leave wrong impression among public, children and employees,” said a senior official privy to the development.
Interestingly, Maharashtra had imposed the ban on all such practices way back in 2002. “However, it was never implemented in letter and spirit. This encouraged officers to openly violate the rules,” says a highly placed officer.
An official said, “Mostly it is festivals and Gods of the majority Hindu community which rule most government offices or schools. This sometimes irks employees and visitors from other faiths.”
Putting up pictures of Gods and religious gurus is very common in government offices and schools across the state. Some offices within the Mantralay building, state power house, perform Satyanarayan and other pujas during festivals with much fanfare. A large number of police stations and government hospitals have temples in the premises.
While some religious activities go on for hours, it’s the common man who suffers the most. “We are made to wait for hours during Ganpati festivals. While half the staff remains on leave, the rest are busy celebrating the festival during duty hours,” said a teacher.
Meanwhile, the Hindu Janjagriti Samiti has criticised the move. “One can understand banning the practice of performing worship during office hours or soliciting donations from citizens visiting offices. However, if the government insists on a complete ban on worship and putting up pictures of deities in government offices, it will be strongly opposed,” said Arvind Pansare, spokesperson of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti.