Updated: November 10, 2019 10:34:36 am
In trying to find a solution for a dispute between two religions claiming exclusive rights of worship over a piece of land, the Supreme Court emphasised on the secular and inclusive character of the nation and the Constitution several times.
Though the word ‘secular’ appears just 24 times in the over thousand-page judgment, it underlines the importance of the principle.
In one of the operative paragraphs, the Supreme Court verdict reads: “The Constitution postulates the equality of all faiths. Tolerance and mutual co-existence nourish the secular commitment of our nation and its people.”
The Supreme Court opens the judgment by saying: “The lands of our country have witnessed invasions and dissensions. Yet they have assimilated into the idea of India everyone who sought their providence, whether they came as merchants, travellers or as conquerors. The history and culture of this country have been home to quests for truth, through the material, the political, and the spiritual. This Court is called upon to fulfil its adjudicatory function where it is claimed that two quests for the truth impinge on the freedoms of the other or violate the rule of law.”
It mentions that “Parliament determined that independence from colonial rule furnishes a constitutional basis for healing the injustices of the past by providing the confidence to every religious community that their places of worship will be preserved and that their character will not be altered.”
The State, it adds, has by enacting the Places of Worship Act “enforced a constitutional commitment and operationalised its constitutional obligations to uphold the equality of all religions and secularism which is a part of the basic features of the Constitution.” The Act, it says, “reflects the commitment of India to the equality of all religions”.
Independence from colonial rule, the judgment continues, “was a watershed moment to heal the wounds of the past” and “historical wrongs cannot be remedied by the people taking the law in their own hands”. By ensuring that the character of places of public worship is preserved the Parliament has “mandated in no uncertain terms that history and its wrongs shall not be used as instruments to oppress the present and the future”.
“Our history is replete with actions that have been judged to be morally incorrect and even today are liable to trigger vociferous ideological debate. However, the adoption of the Constitution marks a watershed moment where we, the people of India, departed from the determination of rights and liabilities on the basis of our ideology, our religion, the colour of our skin, or the century when our ancestors arrived at these lands, and submitted to the rule of law,” the court said.
Talking about setting legal precedents, the judgment mentions that “an attempt has been made in the jurisprudence of this court to demarcate the religious from the secular”. The adjudication of civil claims over private property must remain within the domain of the secular if the commitment to constitutional values is to be upheld, it says, and adds that “over four decades ago, the Constitution was amended and a specific reference to its secular fabric was incorporated in the Preamble”.
“At its heart, this reiterated what the Constitution always respected and accepted: the equality of all faiths. Secularism cannot be a writ lost in the sands of time by being oblivious to the exercise of religious freedom by everyone,” the Supreme Court stated.
It has also expressed that the “value of a secular constitution lies in a tradition of equal deference”.
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