A two-judge Bench comprising Chief Justice A P Shah and Justice S Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court made the following “thought provoking” quote while decriminalizing homosexuality among consenting adults which was earlier a criminal offence punishable with even life imprisonment.
Popular morality or public disapproval of certain acts is not a valid justification for restriction of the fundamental rights.
While both of the major political parties of the nation – BJP and Congress have not expressed their views openly, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has welcomed the judgement. Though the silence of these two major parties is not surprising as they both support religious fanatic groups either covertly or overtly, the CPI-M’s statement shouldn’t be seen with surprise as the election is all over.
CPI certainly lost it credentials among the liberals after its handling of the Taslima Nasreen issue. In 2003, the West Bengal Government banned ‘Dwikhandito’, the third part of Taslima’s autobiography on the charges of hurting religious feelings of the people. In 2005, the Kolkata High Court lifted the ban on her book and gave hope for the Indian secularists. However, in 2003 she was forced to quit her establishment in Kolkatta by the Communist government of West Bengal. The Indian government put severe restriction to grant her an extension to stay in India. She was forced to quit “Secular India” quietly by the so called secular champions. There are several occasions where the Indian Judiciary has given hope when the political parties failed to uphold constitutional rights and civil liberties. I feel that Taslima should not give up and come back to India fighting against the political suppressions.
The Hindu fanatic groups try their best to talibanise India. The Indian Judiciary again has given hope to the liberals whenever these right wing groups attempt to infringe upon the fundamental rights of the Indian citizens. (Hopefully those responsible for the massacres of Gujarati Muslims will be put behind the bars soon). In April 2007, Priyanka Wadhwani, a 21-year-old Sindhi girl, had eloped with Mohammed Omar, a 22-year-old boy from Bhopal. The Bajrang Dal activists who were opposed to inter-religious wedding took to the streets, clashing with a large contingent of police, including RAF and SAF personnel, deployed in old city for protection of the minority community. Bajrang Dal had called for Bhopal Bandh to protest against this marriage. Bombay High Court held that the couple who had fled from Bhopal to take shelter in Mumbai were married and ordered the Mumbai police to provide them protection. Leaders of several Hindu organisations called on Madhya Pradesh Governor Balram Jakhar, seeking amendments to laws on inter-religious marriages. “An 18-year-old girl may be an adult, but not mature enough to take the right decision,” Uttam Chand Israni – a member of the Hindu Kanya Raksha Samiti, urged the Governor.
The moral policing attitude is not only deep rooted in the right wing fanatic political groups but also among the Police force of certail regions. A girl was paraded on the streets of Muzaffarnagar, in Uttar Pradesh, after police found her with a male friend in a city hotel. The cops were not willing to answer why the girl was subjected to public humiliation. How easy it is to humiliate a woman in this male chauvinistic society. Only the Judiciary can give hope. Not only the fundamentalists and such moral policing brigades are numb to human feelings, also the young from the current generation seem to respect a woman’s feeling only after the marriage ceremony. The vulgarity of a large number of elite Indian youths is visible in internet. There are certain cases where the boys pretend that they sincerely love the girl, take their photograph or video and upload it on the internet. Few years ago, the Star Plus News channel was repeatedly broadcasting a video clipping a teenaged school girl who was a victim of the moral policing “attitude” of the media.
Periyar’s rationalist movement in Tamil Nadu state laid a strong foundation for gender equality and questioned the superstitious orthodoxy that enslaved women. Periyar vehemently opposed child marriages and the ill treatment of widows. In order to challenge the “Brahminical” orthodoxy and to encourage inter-caste and widow remarriage, he introduced Self-Respect marriages, that do not require any rituals as well as purohit and is purely based on man-woman equality.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government in Tamil Nadu legalized the self-respect marriages in 1967. In 2005, the Tamil Nadu Chief minister Mr.Karunanidhi insisted that the self-respect marriages should be legalized all over the nation by amending the Hindu Marriage Act. In response to this request of legalising self-respect marriages all over the nation, the RSS in its may 2005 edition of Organiser, had criticized heavily calling it – an affront to the Hindu psyche. For RSS any criticism on Brahminical orthodoxy is anti-hinduism. It is not the RSS or VHP who fought for the rights of non Brahmin hindus to become archakas. The DMK government gave opportunity for hindus from all castes to become archakas. The Supreme Court had granted legal validity to the law allowing appointment of archakas from all castes, again giving hope to the liberals. Hope, the self-respect marriages will soon be legalized all over India.
Indian judiciary should be appreciated for one other historically important judgement, given in January 2008 by the Supreme Court, which legitimized living together couples. This judgement gives the living together women all their rights to inherit, claim insurance benefits and family pension in the event of her partner’s death, which she is not entitled to at present. In a closed society like ours women have been and are more vulnerable. The general belief is that women can only feel safe is she is married in presence of hundreds of eye witnesses or atleast 4 eye witnesses in the case of registered marriages. Afterall, the man-woman, husband-wife, relation is all about love and can only be judged by each other’s conscience. If a man/woman says that he/she is loyal to their partners just because there are eye witnesses that know that these two people are married, then the whole concept of marriage becomes ridiculous. Any couples respect their husband-wife relation because they love each other not because they are scared of their eye witnesses. As per the Supreme court ruling, for a live-in couple to acquire legitimacy or the ‘legally married’ tag, they have to Cohabit together and be known in society as husband and wife. This means either have children or get their names registered in some document, for example by property jointly as husband and wife. Leave no evidence to allow anyone to rebutt their relationship.
India is a multi cultural, multi religious, multi ethnic nation. There is a space for orthodox and liberal believers from all the religions, agnostics, atheists, leftists, rightists etc., everybody has their right to choose their way of life. Be it arranged marriages or inter-caste/religious marriage or living together or gay or lesbian couples, the moral policing brigades and the right wing fanatics should try to civilize themselves and their followers by teaching them the importance of human relations, love and compassion rather than preaching hatred and violence that they have been successfully doing.