Mumbai: The 5-rupee coins released by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), bearing images of Mata Vaishno Devi, have raked up a controversy.

Members of several communities have taken umbrage at the religious overtones of the legal tender, and plan to stage a protest against it.

The RBI had put into circulation Rs 5 denomination coins to commemorate the occasion of Silver Jubilee of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board.

The face of the coin bears Lion Capitol of Ashoka Pillar with the legend Satyamev Jayate inscribed below, flanked on the left periphery with the word Bharat in Devnagri and on the right periphery flanked with the word India in English.

Below the Lion Capitol is the rupee symbol followed by the denominational value ‘5’ in international numerals.

On the flip side, though, the coin bears in the centre a picture of the Hindu deity Vaishno Devi, with the inscription ‘Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board’ in Devnagri along the upper arc and in English along the lower arc. “Ours is a secular country and featuring the picture of a Hindu goddess on the coin will harm secularity,” said Dr Azimuddin, president of Movement for Human Welfare. Thoughtfully, he added, “Coins are given to beggars and tossed by saints during holy processions. With such instances, it is not proper to emboss a picture of a deity on it.”

Conspiracy theory

Maulana Mustaqim Azmi, president of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema in Maharashtra, said. “We might not be able to understand or accord the importance the goddess commands for Hindus, since in Islam, showing pictures of God/Allah is not allowed.” Questioning the impulse behind the concept, he added, “We think this is a conspiracy by the government to rupture secularism in the country. We will stage a protest against the authorities.”

Hindu organisations like Sanathan Sanstha have no objection to the coin. “Earlier, the country has had coins with Christian saint Alphonsa and Mother Teresa marking their birth centenaries. What’s wrong with a Rs 5 coin with Mata Vaishno Devi? We welcome the decision, though we think that the government has done this to appease Hindus before the elections,” said Abhay Vartak, the Sanstha’s spokesperson.

Bad for business

When it comes to currency, commerce trumps religion. Shopkeepers in areas like Kurla, Pydhonie, Mahim, Jogeshwari and Bhendi Bazaar say they are finding it difficult to trade coins with customers from other communities. “If a minority community member finds a coin with images of deities, they reject it and we have to issue them another one,” said a businessman from Kurla. “Issuing such coins will create communal disharmony, as other communities are not very open to the idea.”

Moreover, many Hindus do not use the coin for transaction, given the divinity cut in on it. Said the shopkeeper, “I myself have kept two of these coins at my home temple for worshipping.” A businessman from Nagpada area had a more cordial idea. “If you want to avoid the conflict, then put motifs from all religions Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Christian on one coin,” he said. RBI officials said coins are issued by the Government of India’s finance department. Nobody could be contacted in the department despite repeated efforts.