CHENNAI: In a move that deepens the debate over freedom of religion, the Tamil Nadu government has directed one of its IAS officers not to go ahead with his “preaching and propagating” activities and warned that if he failed to do so action would taken against him. C Umashankar, a crusader against corruption and an early advocate of the use of free software in e-governance, was born a Hindu dalit but said he changed his faith to Christianity during the stressful times he faced during his battles against politicians. His open and public preaching of Christianity has raised the hackles of right-wing groups who are campaigning against him.
In a letter, TN Chief secretary K Gnanadesikan told the commissioner for disciplinary proceedings, Umashankar: “It has been brought to the notice of government that you are going to take part in preaching and propagating activities in Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi and Kanniyakumari districts from January 24 to January 26 which are likely to cause communal disharmony and disturbance to public order. You are directed not to indulge in such activities which are unbecoming of a member of the service, failing which, necessary and appropriate action would be taken under relevant provisions of All India Services (conduct) Rules, 1968 read with the All India Services (Discipline & Appeal ) Rules, 1969.”
The chief secretary also referred to Umashankar’s previous visit to Kanniyakumari district on January 16 in which “he indulged in activities which created disturbance to public order resulting in registration of two cases in Pudukadai police station in the district”.
Umashankar said that, guided by God, he has cancelled seven prayer meetings scheduled in the next few days, but said that he will move the high court against the government’s direction. He said that he was facing a threat to his life and had been attacked several times in the past. “The direction of government is illegal. Article 25 in the constitution of India provides freedom of conscience and freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion. This overcomes all the service rules. The government is using its state power to suppress my fundamental rights,” Umashankar told TOI.
Gnanadesikan in his letter said civil service conduct rules say that “every member of the service shall at all times maintain absolute integrity and devotion to duty and shall do nothing which is unbecoming of a member of the service.” And indicated that Umashankar has not fulfilled his obligations.
Soon after Umashankar’s visit to Kanniyakumari on January 16 the district police registered a case against 12 persons in connection with an attack on Umashankar’s near Kuzhithurai when he was returning after participating in a prayer meeting there. On the basis of a complaint lodged by driver Samuel, Marthandam police had registered the case.
A senior police official in South Tamil Nadu said since Kanniyakumari is vulnerable to communal violence they are worried about Umashankar’s meetings. “He has been preaching in unregistered churches. Many people in the village opposed his visit and we requested him to cancel it. Unfortunately he did not understand the ground reality,” the police official said.