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Religious Liberty and Women Rights


'Religion is the opium of people'. The relevance of this proverbial statement of Karl Marx never loses its relevance in this world. Almost all people identify themselves with their respective religions, which thus gauges a substantive part of their lives. Talking about India, a syncretic nation encompassing an incredible diversity, the effect of religion has been more profound ever since it's hoary past and its political feature being secularist. Although the comprehensive idea behind the same is to assure the liberties of an individual and venerate his choices but our forefathers were also leery of the possible aversions that could result from the unbridled liberty of religion in a multi religious.While Artcle.25 of our constitution precludes the state from interfering in one's freedom, nevertheless, it also obliges it to undertake efforts towards secularisation and therefore, the freedom of religion is not absolute but subject to public health, morality, decency and other fundamental rights. Thus, the penultimate goal of our society is to secure dignity of every individual by transcending all disparities.

One such aspect is the rights of women among their respective religions. The Article.14, 15 and 21 of our Constitution are the manifestations of the basic human rights of a person. However, the big question that stares us in face is whether the state intrusion in the gender-discriminatory religious practices is warranted or not and if yes, then till what extent.

It may be emphasized that all the laws of our country except the personal laws apply equally to all. It is no gainsay that personal laws are inclined more favourably towards the male gender in the matters of property and family. Nonetheless, the desire to bring all such laws under the realm of oneness has started to reflect more robustly than ever and a large number of women have started to expostulate with the man-made religious discriminations which do not form the essence of their religions. Above all, the turn of events in the last few years has further piqued women to stand not only for equality but for religious rights as well by shunning practices which taboo female worshipping of God during her menstruation.

In Hindus, the socio-religious and the proprietary position of the women was far below the parity. Although the codification of the Hindu law and the further incorporation of 2005 amendment has nearly nullified this status but the intent of legislature has still not been able to convince the traditional mind sets which continue to make women feel inferior,i.e. the shift in attitudes has been more out of compulsion than assimilation. The predatory practices carried out in the Shani Shinganapur Temple and the alike is clearly evident of how some groups claim religious hegemony by denying women their own right to religion. The underlying spirit of the recent Bombay High Court decision which has delegitimized the same is expected to gain finality in the impending Supreme Court decision in the Sabarimala Temple case.

It is safe to hold that the magnitude of discrimination faced by women is not uniform across all the religions. The condition of Muslim women has largely remained stagnant since the advent of independence. The Shah Bano judgement in 1985 was a significant step to safeguard her right of maintenance till remarriage,to nullify which the legislature made an abortive attempt through the !986 Act, but thanks to the purposive interpretation by court in the Daniel Latifi Case in restoring the position that had been held out in the aforesaid case.

However, the source of gravest worry is the system of Triple Talaq, an indiscriminate weapon in the hands of husband to throw his wife out in a jiffy only to imperil her security. The stranglehold of The Muslim Personal Law Board over its retention under the guise of religious autonomy is absolutely uncalled for and a deflection from the goal of fraternity and dignity.

Here, the Bombay High Court verdict in the Haji Ali Dargah case which turned down the inequitable strictures imposed upon women's entry deserves elaboration. The court held this was without any merit and beyond the core of religion. The court also foregrounded that even though such religious institutions enjoyed the guarantee of Artice.26 (b) to manage their affairs, but when the Dargah, having been perched on a public place is open to public; such right cannot be allowed to take precedence over the more far-sighted goal of equality.

The essence of every religion is to upgrade one's personality and not to degrade another's. When we have to forge towards the secular goal, it becomes important to demarcate the role which the religion can be allowed to play in one's social and political life. Therefore, limiting such religious rights which take a disproportionate toll on the individual's more immediate rights and physical well-being is well within the bounds of state.

-Bharti Garg