18 October, 2018


1. Religion is itself an article of faith. And faith is devoid of rationality. Law is a faculty of reason. Therefore, applying reason and law in cases of everyday observance of faith - such as the Ayyappa temple entry - and the like, may be dangerously polarizing and self-defeating.

2. In matters of faith and age old religious practices, reason and law by themselves, may not work. It is best to involve progressive clergy and help build a conducive climate for acceptance of progressive reforms. Let me highlight some entirely possible difficulties.

3. Will the Supreme Court decree observance of ‘equality’, non-discrimination, fairness, unrestrained admission, kindness etc and will it abolish or ban practices such as the following, too?

3A. In Gujarat’s dominant Swaminraryan Sect – a strong supporter of the present PM – a curtain is raised between the passing swamis and certainly for the head priest, and the women, so that even the ‘shadow of the women’ doesn’t fall on them, lest their purity be destroyed. Isn’t this plain obnoxious? Will the SC decree this widely prevalent and accepted practice unconstitutional, and hold the swamis guilty of criminal conduct?

3B. Since nudity is crime, should the Naga Sadhus and the Jain Munis that refuse to clothe themselves [and one even addressed the Haryana Assembly all nude] be forcibly clothed or banned from movement and participation? 

3C. Will it dictate the dress code? What if a young man wishes to enter Ayyappa temple in his shorts? Or in a jacket and tie? Or refuses to don black coloured dress that the temple expects him to?

3D. Would women in advanced stages of pregnancy be permitted inside the Sanctum Santorum? What if one, driven by fanaticism of sorts, desires to deliver a baby right inside there, for the blessed future of the baby? Should there be a cap depending upon the stage of pregnancy?

3E. Jain Sadhvis or those observing ‘maha-varatas’ etc, must shun all worldly pleasures, shave off their head, walk bare feet even in scorching sun. Jain texts clearly provide that Women seeking the goal of ‘liberation’ from their female birth, ought to practice extreme asceticism to be reborn as male. Would such writings be banned? 

3F. Bhiksha – in plain terms – is begging. Should this be banned?

3G. And will it ban Female Genital Mutilation and even Male Circumcision [a common Muslim practice], since this appears cruel for children?

3H. And what about the Devadasi system - a religious practice followed by some sections in South India where young girls [called ‘jogini’] are married to the deity, even before attaining puberty, and may have sex with the elders?

3I. Some Jains take to prolonged fasting, refusing to take food, and sometimes even water. Some eventually die - euphemistically called ‘taking the samadhi’. Will the court determine this as suicide, which it actually is, and ban this practice?

3J. Most religions demand of their faithful a degree of Renunciation. So when a Hindu takes to becoming brahmacharya, can the family approach the court to direct its head to return to secular world and fend for the family?

3K. Worse, when the devout takes to Celibacy can the wife demand that the court direct her husband to provide her with sex, which arguably is one of the foundations of marriage?

3L. Can the court decree that men and women should be allowed to offer namaz together?

3M. How often will the courts entertain cases where husbands approach them asking to direct their unwilling wives to copulate? And how will they adjudicate cases where wives complain about marital rapes?

3N. Let’s face it: every single religion I know of is virulently misogynist. Will the court shake up the society and polarize it vertically?

4. Atheists in America argue that teaching religion or faith to young children is coercion and denial of freedom of choice. Would all such practices that indeed appear unfair, unkind and implied coercion, be banned?

5. Intervening on the side of women on issues like rape, molestation, harassment, discrimination in public and secular practices is welcome and even necessary. But limits must be drawn where judiciary should let the society and opinion makers play their part, even if slowly. These include the clergy, political leaders, media, artistes, reformists, social activists and NGOs etc. Can the judges be the sole reformists in a nation?

6. Think: how would it have been if the judges had not delivered a cut-and-dry judgement but observed and recorded that they urge these leaders to consider the petitioner’s case and - drawing their attention to the call of the constitution and universal trends - urged them to apply their mind. The court could even ask the people of India to ponder these questions and caution that it would be forced to intervene if the other organs failed to make visible progress. There is something called the Moral Suasion. The judiciary seems to have forgotten its use altogether. 

7. If the contest is between “Contempt for the Court” and the “Contempt for Lord Ayyappa” my countrymen will spare the latter. Prudence should have foreseen this and dictated restraint

7A. These are issues of social reform, and not of judicial reforms, and cannot be ushered in by the pen of a single judge or bench. Or you would have the ridiculous and counter-productive situation where Muslim women march in hordes against triple talaq ban and Hindu women collect in hordes to block women seeking entry into temples. Responsible judiciary should not undermine the multiple processes and channels of social change and should facilitate their interplay.

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