While India respects freedom of religion and faith, “unreasonable or discriminatory” practises cannot be held integral to it and protected, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Thursday defending the Centre’s stand on triple talaq amid a raging debate on the contentious issue.
He cited the practice of “untouchability” to assert that religious practices need to be in accord with constitutional values and emphasised that “gender justice, gender equality and gender dignity” were at the core of the Narendra Modi government’s priority.
“… we respect freedom of religion and freedom of faith which are protected by the fundamental rights. But every unreasonable or discriminatory practice cannot be held integral to faith….
“For instance, can anyone claim that untouchability against Dalits flows from my faith and I can practice it. Therefore, religious practices also need to be in accord with the constitutional values,” Prasad told PTI in an interview.
The government had on October 7 opposed in the Supreme Court the practice of triple talaq among Muslims, maintaining that it cannot be regarded as an essential part of religion.
Responding to questions on the issue of triple talaq, the senior BJP leader said a set of women cannot lose their rights for being from a particular religion.
“Can in a secular country like India a big chunk of women be forced to live in a state of vulnerability only on the ground that they belong to a particular religion?” he questioned.
Noting that gender equality stands embedded right from the day the Constitution came into existence, the minister said development and empowerment of women were also among government’s priorities.
He said the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ programme has become a big movement and the Modi government’s campaign against infanticide shows that the government takes the issue of gender equality seriously.
“You recall his famous statement on Vijay Dashmi day (in Lucknow) that for one Sita, Lanka was burnt and you kill a Sita every day in the womb… in mudra yojna, 70 per cent beneficiaries are women. Sukanya Samriddhi Yojna of the postal department has crossed more than a crore…revolutionary,” Prasad said.
The Law Minister said some people are calling end of the practice of triple talaq a violation of Sharia or personal law.
“It is only in response to their apprehension that we have raised this issue, also listed in our affidavit, that a large number of Muslim countries have regulated triple talaq. They have provided for arbitration, mediation, conciliation as a first step,” he said.
Many countries have abolished the practice all together by law, including Iran, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
“Now the straight question I am raising is, if declared Islamic or predominantly Muslim countries have regulated triple talaq, which has not been found to be violative of personal law or sharia, how can the same argument be relevant in a declared secular country like India?,” he said.
He also rejected suggestions that government is pushing for uniform civil code as part of its agenda.
“This whole apprehension that we are bringing uniform civil code or it is an agenda is completely baseless. The two need not be linked at all. The Law Commission is examining it and let there be a widest consultation possible by all the stakeholders,” he said.
He said the people opposing the common code should tell so to the law panel which has sought public opinion on the subject.
“Say your opposition also. But the government presently has nothing to say. Let the Law Commission take a view. The entire argument of any hidden agenda is something which I deny with all the authority at my command,” he said.
The minister recalled that Article 44 which talks of a common code was made a part of the Constitution by the Constituent Assembly which consisted of towering leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad, B R Ambedkar, Maulana Azad and many others.