Gender equality under law

Gender equality under law

By THE SUNDAY GUARDIAN | 13 May, 2017

Given that a democracy positions every citizen as the equal of any other, it follows that there ought not to be any form of discrimination between one citizen and the other. Relations between people of different faiths in India have been a sensitive issue for centuries, and in the past has led to considerable disquiet and even bloodshed. In order to ensure that the majority community in India lost the habit of congregating at religious places the way their counterparts in the Christian and Muslim communities did in their places of worship, the British colonial masters first expropriated the lands and properties belonging to temples across India before taking over the places of worship themselves. While in the past, there were multiple instances of places of worship belonging to the majority community being destroyed by rulers intolerant of the syncretic traditions of the land, this was the first time that an entire community was expropriated of its significant religious places by the government of the day. It had been expected that the post-colonial government would do justice and give back temples to believers, but this has not happened to date. Instead, successive governments in both the Centre as well as the states have used their control of religious places to acquire a source of funds for activities that are not of a religious nature at all. It is noteworthy that temples that had a far bigger flow of donations in the form of cash and gold than a hitherto privately held temple in Thiruvananthapuram are nevertheless far poorer in their valuable assets than the latter. Is this because of their government ownership having been a cause of state-controlled places of worship being denuded of much of the cash and gold deposits made by believers into their coffers? It is to be hoped that the Narendra Modi government will rectify this deep historical wrong and ensure that the majority community in India is treated the same as other communities in the matter of administration of their religious assets. However, it must be added that discrimination is hardly the exception in India so far as religious matters are concerned, despite the fact that in a secular state, there should be equality in the treatment of individuals belonging to different faiths. An example of such differential treatment is the legal validity extended to men from a particular community to divorce their wives in a matter of ten seconds, by merely uttering a particular term used for divorce three times within the comprehension of the woman concerned, whether these be in person, or on telephone or even using electronic means. Clearly it is discriminatory for women belonging to a particular community to be denied the rights and access to remedies enjoyed by their sisters in other faiths. It is shocking that such practices have for so long been condoned, especially when such a practice has not been permitted even in countries such as Turkey and Pakistan, which are Muslim-majority states. It is therefore to be welcomed that the Supreme Court of India is taking up the matter of Triple Talaq and is set to pass judgement on its constitutional status. Of course, it may have been desirable for the court to have also gone into the question of whether the present legal sanctity given to males of a single community to have more than a single spouse is valid under the Constitution of India or not. However, the court has decided not go into this matter but to confine itself to the issue of “Triple Talaq”, the utterance of which is held to be sufficient to divorce a woman in India if that individual and the husband in question belong to a particular community. The Supreme Court of India deserves the support of all citizens in its effort to ensure that justice be equal for all in India, and that discrimination on the grounds of religious identity be ended. A secular society must be such as will do away with any form of discrimination between people of different faiths, and in such a context, the religious conditions of the Right to Education Act also need to be examined, as these too discriminate between those of different faiths. Equality of treatment alone will ensure communal harmony and justice in India, and the time is overdue that this occur in a country that has witnessed too much pain in the past as a consequence of differential treatment being given to those of separate faiths. Those honouring and respecting human rights and gender justice look to the Supreme Court to ensure these essentials in India, a country that is considered worldwide the biggest democracy in terms of population.

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