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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Supreme Court Should Stop Bullying Hindus

I am a semi-practising Hindu who goes to temples once in a while, and like most Hindus, I am comfortable with the idea of atheism as long as the atheists don’t start believing that they are superior to believers solely on account of their atheism.

So as someone who is dispassionate towards the issue of women in 10-50 years age group entering the Sabarimala shrine, I was stunned to hear the self-righteous, almost contemptuous, tone of the 5 member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court while hearing the matter.

Sample some of the observations and remarks made by the Supreme Court bench while hearing this case –

Constitutional supremacy will supersede any religious belief.

The SC termed as “absurd” the notification of Travancore Devasom Board that women of menstruating age are not allowed as Sri Ayyappa is a Naishtika Brahmachari, and that menstruating women cannot bear the hardship while undertaking the tedious journey. 

Can a religious practice run contrary to the constitutional mandate?

How is it ‘absurd’ to say that women of reproductive age are not allowed because the deity of the temple is a teenage student who has undertaken the strict brahmacharya vrata which forbids any contact with women? Is it ‘absurd’ to say that women who undergo a menstrual cycle every 28 days will find it difficult to undertake the arduous 41 day Vritham (penance/resolve) devotees are supposed to follow, or the even more arduous trek to the hill shrine? One can hold a different opinion, but is it necessary to use such offensive language?

“Constitutional supremacy will supersede any religious belief.” – what arrogance! What happened to the spirit of enquiry, balance and empathy that judges are supposed to exhibit? It is almost as if these interpreters of the Constitution consider themselves omnipotent and infallible. Secularism is supposed to be about separation of State & religion – but in Bharat, secularism has become all about the State riding roughshod over Hindu beliefs and institutions, while treating other religions with kid gloves. 

Judicial apologists will rush to say that – hold on, the SC wants to reform all religious communities..didn’t it hold instant triple talaq unconstitutional last year? Well, that is the kind of false argument one can expect from our left-liberals. How can we even begin to compare the trauma that a triple talaq victim goes through with not being able to visit 1 temple? Moreover, lets put things in perspective about the triple talaq judgement –

1.) the practise that was abolished, i.e. instant triple talaq, has already been abolished in 19 Muslim countries, including Pakistan

2.) The non-instant version of triple talaq is still valid – Muslim men retain the right to unilateral divorce by pronouncing talaq thrice over three months. Note – Muslim women do not have any such right to unilateral divorce, they can only seek divorce.

3.) Muslim women are still nowhere even close to having the sort of marriage, divorce, maintenance, child custody rights that Hindu women have enjoyed since the Hindu Marriage and other Acts were passed in 1955-56.

4.) There is no legal penalty if Muslim men give instant triple talaq even now – such cases are being reported in large numbers even after the SC judgement. The NDA Govt. introduce a triple talaq bill to penalize the act, but the ‘secular’ parties have ensured the bill is stuck in Rajya Sabha

In the triple talaq case, the 5-member SC bench made it explicitly clear that their priority was to check whether  instant triple talaq was sanctioned in the Quran (holy book of Muslims) or not. They declared it illegal based on the fact that it was against the basic tenets of Islam – which means that there is negligible chance of the non-instant form of triple talaq ever being declared illegal (since, as the judges mentioned, it is very much part of the Quran).

Legal eagles can comment better, but it seems that all dreams of a Uniform Civil Code can most likely be laid to rest based on the triple talaq judgement. Even if a Uniform Civil Code bill is passed in parliament, it will most likely be held unconstitutional by SC as it would definitely not be in compliance with Shariat and would hence be considered violative of freedom of religion i.e. Article 25(1).

The deeply reverential, almost fawning, language used by judges while delivering the triple talaq judgement stands in stark contrast to their brusque rebukes when adjudicating cases involving Hindu religious beliefs. Here is a sample –

What is held to be bad in the Holy Quran cannot be good in Shariat …

The Holy Quran has attributed sanctity and permanence to matrimony. 

The practice which is in existence and accepted by all for over 1,400 years cannot therefore be set aside, on the ground of being violative of the concept of the constitutional morality, through judicial intervention (minority view of CJI Khehar and Judge Abdul Nazeer)

Does this sound like constitutional supremacy superseding religious belief? Or is all the bravado and hectoring reserved for Hindus alone?

Many have pointed out the utter ridiculousness of saying that non-entry of women of a certain age group in Sabarimala means Sri Ayyappa or his followers are misogynist. There are other Ayyappa temples in Kerala and the rest of the country that all women are absolutely free to go to.

Also, there are several women-only festivals/events at temples like Attukal Bhagavathy temple in Kerala (pongal celebration), Chakkulathukavu temple in Kerala (annual ‘Nari puja’ ritual where male priests wash feet of female devotees), Kamakhya temple in Guwahati (Ambubachi Mela in June is a tribute to the female virtue of fertility and the process of menstruation), Bhagawati temple in Kanyakumari (married men not allowed inside), or Brahma temple in Pushkar (married men not allowed inside). Several Hindu rites like Kanya pooja during Navratri are women-only…..does this mean that men are being discriminated against?

The judicial intervention in Sabarimala has no equivalent case involving Christianity either. A rough analogy could be the SC forcing the Church to appoint women priests on grounds of gender equality, or to stop treating abortion as a sin because it violates the woman’s right to her body and even places pregnant teenagers at risk. Would the SC dare? Not a chance, when even the US Supreme Court has stayed away from the issue of women priests, or refused to  enforce pro-abortion actions on Christian organizations.

The way the judges have been passing statements in the Sabarimala case, it seems like they have already made up their minds that it is a case of gender discrimination. Aggressive judicial activism of the last two decades has repeatedly targeted Hindu religious practises, beliefs & institutions – Dahi Handi, Diwali, Jallikattu, pilgrimages to eco-sensitive zones, temple control etc.

All manner of random busybodies file petitions challenging traditional Hindu practises – and the highest court in the land, which is struggling with a backlog of over 50,000 cases, entertains these. In the Sabarimala case, there is one intervenor whose counsel Wills Mathews claimed that ‘the practice of the Sabarimala Temple is a consequence of degeneration of Buddhism in Kerala’. Why are such people entertained by courts, while genuine practitioners and seekers are left feeling helpless?

Just two months back, the SC said that “there is a constitutional obligation to preserve the religious practices of all religion” – has that principle changed? Or a better question – are there any basic principles involved, or its just ‘different strokes for different folks’?

For too long we have been told that the judiciary is the last bastion of the republic, in which we should have blind faith that they will ensure the uniform application of law. Well, that trust is being stretched to breaking point for millions of practising Hindus.

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