By Umang Kumar for TwoCircles.net
Dr. Faizan Mustafa, Vice Chancellor, NALSAR University, Hyderabad, spoke at the Harvard law School on October 10, Saturday, dwelling on “Religious Freedom in India,” and critically examining various facets under Indian Constitutional Law.
Reflecting on the history of various customary laws in India, he observed that in the early period of English rule, the traditional law-keepers like pundits and muftis were consulted on matters pertaining to personal law. But then there was the project of translation of various sacred texts, many among them deemed as law books for the faith, and the British judges began using the translations to pronounce judgment, doing away with the intermediaries.
He pointed out that there was a similar case in the judgment of the Shah Bano case, where verses from the Quran were used by the judge in support of his judgment. “The judge should just have stayed within the limits of CrPC (The Indian Code of Criminal Procedure),” he said.
Asked about the mixing of religion and politics in India, he said that since religion is in the public sphere in India, politics necessarily steps in too to deal with it. He pointed out how at one time the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and Congress were working together, with posters urging voters to vote for Congress symbol (the hand, haath) at the urging of the then RSS chief, Balasaheb Deoras (“Babasaheb”): “Babasaheb ki baat par, mohar lagegi haath par.”
He cited the example of Kemal Ataturk of Turkey who sought to do away with religion entirely in Turkey when turning it into a secular state. But for countries like India, he felt that politically the ideal would be guaranteeing of basic religious freedoms and beyond that not compromising on some fundamental principles of minimum rights.
He observed that some of the strongest opposition to changes in personal laws has historically come from the Hindus, as in the case of joint matrimonial property laws and even the Hindu Code Bill, which was opposed by Rajendra Prasad, India’s first Prime Minister. A recent study of the post-Hindu Code Bill period (after an amendment in 2005 bringing daughters on par with sons) found that Hindu women are still not inheriting as daughters but as widows in a majority of cases.
“Just normative changes in law cannot bring about social change,” he felt. “The progressive elements in all faiths should be given space. We should encourage dissent and dialogue in religion,” he added.