“As per the Article 25 of the Constitution, I have every right to preach what I believe during my free time,” said C Umashankar, a senior IAS officer who was prevented by Tamil Nadu chief secretary K Gnanadesikan from taking part in religious prayers. In a written directive Umashankar was warned against from taking part in seven prayer meetings scheduled from January 24 to 26 in Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi and Kanyakumari districts.
The letter said that he would face “appropriate action” if he indulged in “preaching and propagating” activities. Known as an honest officer, Umashankar suspected Union minister and Kanyakumari MP Pon Radhakrishnan was behind the order. On January 16, police had denied him permission to attend a prayer meeting in Pudukadai in Kanyakumari district and chased away nearly 100 devotees gathered at a local church, he said.
“Not only that the police have succumbed to the pressure of BJP and other Hindu groups, including Hindu Munnani, now the government also has taken a decision to stop my religious activities, in which they have no business to interfere. The government direction is unconstitutional,” he said, suspecting that there must be pressure from the Centre that forced the state government to issue such a direction.
Despite repeated efforts, Radhakrishnan could not be reached for comments.
Chief secretary Gnanadesikan’s letter on January 24 said violating the government direction would invite disciplinary action against him under relevant provisions of the All India Services (conduct) Rules, 1968, and the All India Services (Discipline & Appeal) Rules, 1969. Umashankar, a Dalit, said it was the pressure and torture by different governments and politicians forced him to change his faith to Christianity in 2008 to help him in “battles against a corrupt establishment”.
In abeyance to the direction, Umashankar said he cancelled all the meetings he scheduled in the last four days. “But this matter is not done with. I will move court to retain my fundamental rights,” he said.
Umashankar is known for his remarkable work in introducing open source softwares in Tamil Nadu, successfully implementing e-governance and exposing the Cremation Shed scam in the first J Jayalalithaa government (1991-96) in which a minister was convicted.
Being in controversy is not new for Umashankar. One of his allegations that Uttarakhand floods and disasters were “a sign of wrath of gods on Hindu sinners” had kicked up a storm. He also faced the wrath of Hindu groups twice, once in Nagapattinam in 2012 and on August 10, 2014 at Tirunelveli, when his vehicle was attacked.
As the one who had challenged irregularities by the ministers, the IAS officer finds himself sidelined. He said 18 out of 25 years of his career had been wasted as he became a victim of a corrupt system. “Despite my long experience, I work in the grade of a district revenue officer, he said.
The official also claimed that his prayers could cure people from major diseases. “I am guided by Jesus and I have heard him several times.”
Reacting to the Chief Secretary’s letter, former judge of Madras High Court Justice K Chandru said: “No specific conduct rules prevent Umashankar from preaching religion and he is allowed to do that as long is he is not hurting anyone. Interestingly, the direction was sent by a government, whose entire cabinet ministers had stood in queues for special pujas to save a leader from a corruption case. We have top IAS officers who perform pujas in their office.”
Welcoming the state government directive, Hindu Munnani leader Rama Gopalan told the media that Umashankar’s actions have been contrary to the service rules.