India’s judiciary stands guardian against authoritarian tendencies

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Checks and balances in the constitutional system can stall efforts by Hindu nationalist forces to take the country to the far right

Hindu rightist nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s advice to cow vigilantes not to bother much about judicial strictures in India shows a measure of annoyance with the roadblocks that the Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) lobby is facing in a secular polity. The dissatisfaction may have increased in the saffron camp in view of two more Supreme Court pronouncements relating to inter-faith marriages and the fate of the Rohingya — the hapless refugees from Myanmar who have aroused the saffron brotherhood’s ire, presumably because they are Muslims.

On inter-faith marriages, India’s apex court has wanted to know, in the context of a Kerala High Court judgement, whether the judiciary can annul a wedding between two adults belonging to two different religions. It is a rhetorical question that strikes at the root of a Sangh Parivar (saffron family) agenda that seeks to prohibit by means fair or foul any love affair or marriage between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man and, by implication, between Hindus and Christians as well any other religious community. The Parivar’s argument is that such nuptials are no more than a ploy to lure the woman into a familial arrangement to facilitate her conversion from Hinduism to any other religion.

Hence, the phrase “love jihad”, depicting a ‘hapless’ Hindu woman who is the ‘victim’ of a ‘predatory’ Muslim male. The apex court’s intervention is in a case in Kerala where the High Court has nullified the marriage of a 24-year-old woman with a Muslim while the Supreme Court had earlier ordered a National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe in the matter, although the NIA is supposed to look into only acts of terror.

Irrespective of the final outcome of the Supreme Court’s examination of the case, the arguments that have already been aired such as whether the two prominent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politicians, who are not Hindus, but who have Hindu wives, can be accused of “love jihad” are bound to be awkward for the Parivar.

But what must be no less disconcerting for the latter is that the undermining of some of the programmes, which the saffron camp has pursued diligently, can raise questions about other divisive initiatives like ghar wapsi (home coming) or converting Muslims to Hinduism. This is all the more so because the saffron brigade’s objections to inter-faith marriages are not unlike the often violent disapproval of the antediluvian khap panchayats to connubial ties between grown-ups belonging to different castes and communities. As is known, one of the main proponents of the “love jihad” campaign was Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath before he took office. Of late, his ardour to keep marriages within the confines of each community has been dampened by the Centre’s unease about a rise in communal temperature in the country — lest it affects Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development agenda.

Besides, Adityanath has come under growing criticism because of his focus on erasing Muslim names such as that of Mughalsarai railway junction and omitting the mention of Taj Mahal in a tourism brochure rather than on saving babies in hospitals or ensuring that the police shows a modicum of respect towards girl students in Banaras Hindu University. Clearly, at a time when Adityanath is proving to be as ineffective a chief minister as Suresh Prabhu was a railway minister, judicial reprimands are the last thing that the BJP wants, whether in internal affairs or in matters that have an external dimension.

If the judicial diktats on checking the gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes) and on “love jihad” have a domestic angle, the pronouncements on the Rohingya impinge on issues of national security and international law and obligations. Among the latter is the principle of “non-refoulement” which rules against sending back refugees to places where they are not wanted. There is little doubt that if the government resorts to a forcible eviction of the Rohingya, it will face considerable international opprobrium.

Considering, however, that the RSS chief has lambasted the refugees as vehemently as the government and BJP spokesmen, it is clear that the Parivar’s political and “cultural” wings are on the same page. The Supreme Court’s verdict on the petition filed before it by two Rohingya refugees will be known after some time. But what the Hindutva group is likely to find disturbing is how the checks and balances built into the constitutional system can stall its efforts to take India in a certain direction.

The only saving grace is the independence of the judiciary, although this institution, too, experienced a troubling period during the Emergency of June 1975 to March 1977, when even the principle of habeas corpus, the cornerstone of individual freedom, was suspended. Interestingly, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, while upholding the right to privacy in August overturned the verdict on the habeas corpus case that was delivered four decades ago by, among others, his father, Justice Y.V. Chandrachud.

In the case on cow vigilantes, “love jihad” and Rohingya, the differences between the judiciary and the saffron brotherhood are obvious. For the average person, however, the judiciary continues to stand as a guardian against authoritarian and intolerant tendencies in the absence of an effective political opposition.

Source:- Daily Kashmir Images

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