Court Should Let Faith Re­form It­self

In­ter­vene only when ba­sic rights are abused

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page -

Ren­der to Cae­sar the things that are Cae­sar’s and to God the things that are God’s. This is not a bad rule to go by when it comes to mat­ters spir­i­tual and tem­po­ral. That said, when there is an ap­par­ent over­lap be­tween Cae­sar’s and God’s af­fairs, some bal­anced judge­ment is called for to de­cide the rules of which realm should ap­ply. At present, the courts are de­cid­ing at least three cases in which the con­sti­tu­tional guar­an­tee of gen­der equal­ity is at odds with the claims of faith. The prac­tice of triple ta­laq, by which a Mus­lim man can di­vorce his wife by the sim­ple ex­pe­di­ent of pro­nounc­ing ta­laq — even by Skype or a text mes­sage — three times is one. The en­try of women to Haji Ali in Mum­bai and to the Sabari­mala tem­ple in Ker­ala are the other two. Ex­cept when ba­sic tem­po­ral rights are vi­o­lated, the courts should leave re­li­gious re­form to evolve from within.

The Con­sti­tu­tion guar­an­tees equal­ity and the free­dom to pro­fess, prac­tise and prop­a­gate any faith. Whether the con­tent of a re­li­gion is demo­cratic or not is not for the state to de­cide, but if its prac­tice vi­o­lates any cit­i­zen’s tem­po­ral rights, the state has the duty to quash that vi­o­la­tion. Thus, caste dis­crim­i­na­tion might have re­li­gious sanc­tion but vi­o­lates the right to equal­ity and so is im­per­mis­si­ble. The same prin­ci­ple would mil­i­tate against the prac­tice of triple ta­laq. But when it comes to in­tra-faith gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion that does not vi­o­late tem­po­ral rights, should the state in­ter­fere? Specif­i­cally, should the court or­der the or­dain­ing of women Catholic bish­ops, that men and women pray to­gether in mosques or that Ak­shard­ham swamis wel­come fe­male pres­ence? Just as it does not make sense for the court to pro­nounce on the le­gal­ity of Kr­ishna’s mar­riage to 16,008 wives, it does not make sense for the court to in­ter­vene in the in­ter­nal cus­toms of faiths.

That men, and not just women, should fast for their spouse’s longevity would be a le­git­i­mate de­mand within the faith, but not for the court to or­der. There is space for so­cial re­form out­side the state’s am­bit and the courts should leave that well enough alone.

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