INDIA, February 16, 2015 (Indian Express, by Jay Bhattacharjee): Last Monday, the Supreme Court, in one of its periodic displays of angst, wondered whether India would manage to preserve its secular character for long. The Homeric observations were made by a Bench which was hearing an application by a Christian organization that is demanding official recognition for courts set up under the Church’s Canon Law. According to a press report, one of the judges reportedly said that “we have to stamp religion out of civil matters”. Although the court in the past has also rejected attempts by Muslim religious “courts” to get legal imprimatur for their “fatwas” or pronouncements, the Bench in the recent case issued notice to the Union of India to obtain its views on this sensitive matter, instead of rejecting the petition outright, as was appropriate. Interestingly, the petitioner in the present case claims that Christians are entitled to follow their personal religious law, since Muslims are allowed to follow theirs, as in the case of the triple “talaq”. It must be emphasized that demands like these have rarely come from the followers of Indic faiths and when they have, they have been rightly rejected on all occasions.
Because hundreds of millions of Muslims chose to stay behind in India, the Constitution foresaw a potential minefield in the future and made a provision for enactment of a uniform civil code that would be applicable to all citizens, irrespective of their religious affiliations. This is, however, where the Nehruvian approach triumphed over the genuine apprehensions of a number of others involved in the process. The Uniform Civil Code provision (Article 44) was made a part of the Directive Principles of State Policy
To add to the disarray, Article 25 (2)(b) allows reform of laws and institutions of the Indic religions only. Other faiths are excluded. Therefore, we had the comprehensive Hindu Code Bill that did away with many undesirable practices in the Indic faiths, but Islam and Christianity saw no such initiative. Worse, successive regimes in Raisina Hill let the genie out of the bottle and we now confront a horror scenario. This is the time to take the bull by its horns. The apex court and Union Government must now take a firm stand. Any more dithering will be disastrous.