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SabarimalaVerdict Judgement: Ina4-1majoritydecision,theSupremeCourtonSeptember28,2018liftedtheban,whichittermedasaviolationofwomen’srighttopracticereligion.FormerChiefJusticeDipakMisra,JusticeAMKhanwilkar,JusticesRohintonFNarimanandDhananjayaY.ChandrachudconcurredwitheachotherwhileInduMalhotradissentedsayingthatcourtsshouldn’tdeterminewhichreligiouspracticesshouldbestruckdownornot. ObservationmadebytheCourtatvariousbench Topquotes:“Inthetheatreoflife,itseems,manhasputtheautographandthereisnospaceforawomaneventoputhersignature”,“Patriarchyinreligioncannotbeallowedtotrumprighttoprayandpractisereligion”and“TotreatwomenaschildrenoflessergodistoblinkattheConstitution RestrictionsonwomeninreligiousplacesarenotlimitedtoSabarimalaaloneandareprevalentinotherreligionstoo.TheissueofentryofwomenintomosquesandAgiyaricouldalsobetakenbythelargerbench. Sabarimalatemple TheSabarimalatempleinKeralaisashrinetoLordAyappa.Ithadanage-oldtraditionofnotallowingwomenbetweentheageof10and50yearstoenterthepremises. Thereason? Thewomen,whofallinthemenstruatingagegroup,wereconsideredtobe“impure”. 6IAS2021|JUDGEMENTS|www.iasscore.in Bothsectionsofthesamereligiousgrouphavearighttofreelyprofess,practiseandpropagatetheirreligiousbeliefsasbeingintegralpartoftheirreligionbyvirtueofArticle25oftheConstitutionofIndia. Devotioncannotbesubjectedtogenderdiscrimination. PresentSituation In2019five-judgebenchoftheSupremeCourtreferredreviewpleasintheSabarimalatempleissuetoalargerseven-memberbench. In3:2majorityverdict,twojudgesstucktotheirearlierstandof(2018Judgement)quashingtheffcustomwhichbarredentryofwomenbetweentheagesof10and50years. Thesplitdecisioncameon65petitions56reviewpetitions,fourfreshwritpetitionsandfivetransferffpleaswhichwerefiledaftertheapexcourtverdictofSeptember28,2018sparkedviolentprotestsinKerala. RecentlyAnine-judgeConstitutionBenchoftheSupremeCourtupheldthedecisionoftheSabarimalaReviewBenchtorefertoalargerBenchquestionsontheambitandscopeofreligiousfreedompractisedbymultiplefaithsacrossthecountry. TheBenchalsoframedsevenquestionsoflawwhichthenine-judgeBenchwoulddecidenow.Theseare:WhatisthescopeandambitofreligiousfreedomunderArticle25oftheConstitution?WhatistheinterplaybetweenreligiousfreedomandrightsofreligiousdenominationsunderArticle26oftheConstitution?Whetherreligiousdenominationsaresubjecttofundamentalrights?Whatisthedefinitionof‘morality’usedinArticles25and26?WhatistheambitandscopeofjudicialreviewofArticle25?Whatisthemeaningofthephrase“sectionsofHindusunderArticle25(2)(b)?Whetherapersonnotbelongingtoareligiousgroupcanquestionthepractices,beliefsofthatgroupinaPILpetition? Understandingtheargumentsagainstthetempleentry Accordingtotwowomen’sgroups,PeopleforDharmaandChetana,AyyappainSabarimalaisacelibateandhisindividualrightsshouldbeprotectedunderArticle25oftheConstitution.Itwasarguedtheruleisnotdiscriminatoryforitisneitherbasedonmisogynynormenstrualimpurity;ratherAyyappa’scelibacyisafundamentalcharacterofthetemple. Religiouscommunities/denominationsshoulddecidewhatconstitutesanessentialreligiouspractice:Itshouldnotbedecidedbyjudgesonthebasisoftheirpersonalviewpoints. Suchpointsshouldcertainlybeconsidered,astheyleadtoaconclusionthatinasecular,democraticstate,religiousorthodoxyshouldbeprotectedjustlikeotherfreedoms,aslongassuchorthodoxyisnotoppressivetowardotherfundamentalvalues. www.iasscore.inIAS2021|JUDGEMENTS|7 Bydeterminingwhichparticularpracticeorcustomisessentialorintegraltoareligion,thecourtentersintotherealmoftheology,thusleadingtojudicialoverreachandleavingitsworldoflawsandconstitutionalrights. AccordingtoTravancoreDevaswomBoard,Prohibitionisnotbecauseofmalechauvinism.Itislinkedtothepenanceandcharacterofthedeity.Womenaccepttheprohibition.Itisnotimposedonthem. AccordingtoJusticeInduMalhotra(fromthe5-Judgebench),Courtshouldnotinterfereunlessifthereisanyaggrievedpersonfromthatsectionofreligion”orifatraditionisa“pernicious,oppressive,orasocialevil. KeyPointstodecode TherulingoftheSupremeCourthasattractedpraiseaswellascriticism.TwoideasthatlayatthefoundationoftheIndianConstitutionequalityandsecularismhavebeenbroughttobearduringthisdebate. Secularism,however,isunderstooddifferentlyinIndiathanitisinEuropeortheUnitedStates.ItdoesnotfocusonseparationofChurchandstate. InHinduism,thereisnochurchtoseparatethestatefrom,andthesamemoreorlessappliestoIndianIslamaswell. WhilethereismorethanoneinterpretationoftheideaofsecularisminIndia,itisoftenunderstoodthatthestateshouldtreatallreligiouscommunitiesinthesameway.Itshould,inotherwords,keepequidistance. Butwhatisamoresecularapproach:non-interferenceinthecustomsofreligiouscommunitiesortheinterferenceinthem?Theparadoxofnon-interferenceisthatthesecularstatecannotnotreformtheorthodoxtraditionsthatfunctionwithinit.Theparadoxofinterferenceisthatthesecularstate,byinvolvingitselfinreformingreligioustraditions,becomesakindofreligiousauthorityitself. Beyondsecularism,anotherimportantideaintheRepublicofIndia’sConstitutionistheequalityofallofitscitizens.Treatingeverycommunity,thesamewaymayperhapsbeunderstoodasfollowingbothequalityandsecularism.Butcanequalityofallcitizensbeachievedwhilemaintainingtheequalityofallcommunities? Letustakethecaseofwomen’sentryintotemples.Equalityofreligiouscommunitiescouldbeunderstoodaslettingthempracticetheircustoms,includingbarringwomenfromenteringreligiousplaces.Butsuchequalityofcommunitiesmeanstheinequalityofgenders(andthisappliesnotonlytotheissueofwomenentry). Equidistanceofthestatetowardreligiouscommunitiesshouldmeanthateitherthestateinterferesinalloftheircustomsinthesamewayorletsthemequallykeepthem.Whetheronesupportsthecourtjudgmentornot,itshouldbepointedoutthatitisapiecemeallegislation. Decadesago,theIndianRepublicforcedconservativeHindutemplestoopentheirdoorstoDalits(untouchables)butthesamewasnotdonewithregardtoshrinesthatdonotadmitwomen(therulingoftheBombaycourtin1950sretainedtheaccessrulesofSabarimala). Sabarimalamaynowjointhelistoftemplesopentowomen,butthereareotherHindutemplesthatkeeptheirgatesshuttothem.Moreover,therearepossiblyevenmoreshrinesofMuslimsaints(tombscalleddargahs)thattraditionallydisallowwomenfromenteringtheinnersanctum.In2016,theSupremeCourtsimilarlyforcedthefamousHajiAliDargahtoopenitselftowomen,butthesamedidnotapplytootherIslamicplacesofworship.Theprincipleofequidistancehasbeencontinuouslybroken. JusticeMalhotra’spointwasthatthecourtshouldnotinterfereunlessthereis“anyaggrievedperson.”Herapproachislegallysoundbutontheotherhandthisisexactlywhatleadstopiecemeallegislation:Onlythosereligiouscommunitiesthatfacelegalproceedings(becauseofpeoplethatdemand 8IAS2021|JUDGEMENTS|www.iasscore.in changes)canbereformedwithstateinterference.Itis,inaway,amoderatelyconservativeapproach.Thereisnochangeunlesssomebodydemandsit.Thisapproachmaybelegallycorrect,butitisagainstthespiritoftreatingeverycommunityandeverycitizeninthesameway. Secondly,whileJusticeMalhotrahasfullrighttoadissentingvoice,theentirejudgmentwasdeclaredpreciselybecausetherewere“aggrievedpersons.”TherulingaboutSabarimalawasaresponsetoawritpetitionofwomenlawyers. Similarly,theopeningofHajiAliDargahwasareactiontoactionsofamovementofMuslimwomen.Somevotariesoftraditionclaimthattheactiviststhatstriveforwomenentryactasprovocateurswhoattackcustomsfromanti-religiouspositionsandnotbecausetherearebelievers.PastincidentssuchasthoseinSabarimalasuggest,however,thatthereareindeeddevoutwomenthatdowanttogainaccesstotheirplacesofworship. Article26ofIndia’sconstitutionclaimsthateveryreligiousdenominationoranysectionthereofshallhavetheright(a)toestablishandmaintaininstitutionsforreligiousandcharitablepurposes;(b)tomanageitsownaffairsinmattersofreligion.”Article25,however,declaresthat“allpersonsareequallyentitledtofreedomofconscienceandtherightfreelytoprofess,practiseandpropagatereligion.”But“(2)NothinginthisarticleshallaffecttheoperationofanyexistinglaworpreventtheStatefrommaking(b)providingforsocialwelfareandreformorthethrowingopenofHindureligiousinstitutionsofapubliccharactertoallclassesandsectionsofHindus.” Thelastsentence,therefore,isayetanotherexampleofviolatingtheideaofequaltreatmentofreligionsasitobligesthestatetoopenonlyHindureligiousinstitutions. Butitalsomakesittransparentlyclear,thatallHindusshouldbegivenaccesstoalltemples.Ifoneshouldgobythisarticlealone,thestateshouldforceallHindutemplestobeopentowomen,butonlyHinduwomen.Onceagain,allunequalapproachescreatefurtherdichotomiesandspaceforfurtherprecedents. Itmayseemthatincaseswhereequalityandsecularismcomeintoconflict,ademocraticstateshouldputequalityfirst.Andiftherightsofcitizenswouldcomeintoconflictwiththerightsofcommunities,theformershouldbegivenprimacy.Usinga“community”asalegaldenominationwillalwaysremainproblematicifthestatewantstosecureequalrightsofallcitizens,whilethecommunitiesretaindifferentcustoms.Atsametime,however,anabsoluterealizationofsuchattemptscertainlydoesmeanlarge-scaleinterferenceofthestateintheexistenceofconservativecommunities.
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