Saturday, December 12, 2009

Religious Liberty in India

Much has been written and debated about the reasons why India follows the unique system of letting different people from different religions follow their own religion's personal laws. Delving into the right and wrong of it is not something I wish to get into.

My Perspective on Religious Liberty

As a lawyer, my role is to understand the law, debate its scope and how it will benefit and protect my clients. If there are provisions that hamper or cause difficulties to my clients, that is what I need to worker harder at so that the difficulty is overcome legally.

I do not wish to draw any comparisons between the US and India because they have extremely different cultural connotations. From the ancient period till the modern struggle for Independence, the Indian society has undergone considerable cultural, religious and social invasions and thereby, the overall synthesis has evolved to take in the best of every religion.

Secularism cannot and should not be confused with being Neutral

Take the example of the oldest Jewish synagogue in the world, which is not in Israel but in Kerala. The Kerala State safeguards this Synagogue as well as the well being of its Jewish community. Permitting the Jews to practice their beliefs does not jeopardise the state. It causes no confusion to anyone because only their marriage and inheritance related issues fall under their personal laws. The same applies to nearly every religious group in India.

No other country has ever demonstrated real respect for religion and beliefs in its laws as does the Constitution of India. Much is talked about religious freedom in the UK and US but the truth is that its mostly talk and hardly beneficial in reality.

Religious Liberty

Religious liberty in India is enshrined specifically in the Indian Constitution, which is the Supreme Law of the Land. The provisions are detailed in the Chapter pertaining to Fundamental Rights. It entitles persons in India with the "freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion."

Just to cite an example, consider a provision in the chapter of Fundamental Rights. It permits Sikhs to carry the sacred kirpan (a small sword) in public places and states this to be a "fundamental right" for the Sikhs. While honoring the belief of Sikhs, the law is clear that this provision does not extend to others.

Further, religious liberty also means that every religious denomination or any sect in India will have the right manage its own affairs in the matters of religion and establish as well as maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes. However, this right is not absolute as the Constitution permits reasonable restrictions to be imposed. The State has the authority to pass laws for establishing social welfare and reforms as well as to restrict any religious activity if it is not in accordance with law.

True, India has a peculiar melange of secular and religious elements in the provisions of the Constitution, based on the premise that being secular does not mean being indifferent to the beliefs of people who profess specific religions.

Remember, the Constitution draws clear boundaries on the extent of religious freedom that can be exercised by individuals and communities in contemporary India. The reason India stands tall and proud despite centuries of invasions is not because of its laws, but because of its adherence to respecting the beliefs of every individual.

As Indians, we are proud of who we are and the difficult paths that we have crossed to reach here and we know that there is so much more we need to do to reach greater heights, even when we feel the laws may work against us.

The law has far to go but in each step, the focus has always been on how to benefit and protect the individual.


Vinita Apte said...

Marvellous post. I love the way you write. Really smooth and easy to comprehend.

Mridula said...

In future, if possible, could you explain us non legal people what is the difference between sending a legal notice and filing a court case. And if I send a legal notice to someone (no I am not sending one but who knows in future) am I obliged to fight a court case too?

SG said...

Nice post. Superb explanation. But I have a question. It is not a funny question. Serious one. Say tomorrow some one starts a religion in india. (I understand except Hinduism, all other religions were started by individuals.) That new religion has an edict that all its members will carry a gun. Does it mean the Government will allow members of that religion to carry guns? I don't think so.

SG said...

I do not want to occupy your comment section. Just one more thought came to my mind. Our constituitional framers allowed laws based on one's religion only in civil code. They did not allow that same thing on criminal code. Thank God for that. Otherwise, for stealing, one religion will cut off his arm and another religion will ask him to repent in silence.

Sanand said...

@Lazy Pineapplie: Thanks very much.

@Mridula: Thanks for the suggestion. I will do that in my next post. You can help me by suggesting topics like this that you or others around you want to know more about.

@SG: Thanks, buddy. I like reading your comments as they are thought provoking. New religion has very little scope in India as of now but yes, you rightly pointed out that we have a uniform criminal code. A big chunk of civil laws are uniform too like company law, tax laws, business laws, constitutional laws, cyber laws, construction laws and so on.

R. Ramesh said...

very interesting post ya...congrats...and best wishes...

Sanand said...

Thanks Ramesh!

Anonymous said...

I love the way you simplify legalese and don't use jargon...
ok, so my question is, as misuse of religion continues, isn't it time for a uniform civil code. and no, i'm no pal of the kacha-wallahs.
would it be simpler to have just one law for citizens?
for instance, the recent ruling where the court went easy on honour killing, because it said casteism is difficult to shrug off?

Sanand said...

@Ummon: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your suggestion is valid but it will be next to impossible for any political party to spearhead this change. None of them want to alienate their vote banks. Sadly, it all boils down to cheap politics.