Today's Editorial

01 February 2017

Govt should safeguard apex court’s supremacy


Source: By Amit Kushari: The Statesman


The Supreme Court of India is a fundamental and one of the strongest pillars of freedom enshrined in the Constitution of India. Without the Supreme Court and its protective umbrella, we would be reduced to being slaves of the executive. We must, therefore, be very vigilant and resist vigorously all attempts made by the executive to reduce its halo of glory and supreme power.

We are pained to note that quite often attempts are made by the executive/government to bypass the glory and finality of a Supreme Court order to satisfy the whims and fancies of groups of people. Since we have a democracy it is quite natural that our government, which is elected by the people, would be forced to bow before groups of people raising unreasonable demands and would pass laws/ordinances to nullify an order passed by the Supreme Court after carefully hearing arguments from both sides.

We came across such an attempt by the government for the first time when Rajiv Gandhi passed a law undoing the rights given to divorced Muslim women to get maintenance from their oppressor husbands who had driven them out of their homes by triple talaq. The Supreme Court had wanted to ensure that there should be no discrimination between women of different religions and since Hindu, Sikh and Christian women got maintenance, Muslim women should also get the same. There was so much pressure on Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi from fundamentalist Muslim male groups that he succumbed to these pressures and passed a law in Parliament undoing the Supreme Court verdict.

Because of unreasonable popular pressures from big groups, the Government of India so far has not been able to bring about a uniform civil code - or on a smaller scale, make Muslim polygamy and triple talaq illegal. The government apprehends that if it interferes with these unfair and anti-women practices there could be major upheavals in many parts of India which may go beyond control.

Muslims make up 14 per cent of the Indian population and in a number of important big states their population density is much higher. In UP they are 20 per cent, in Bihar 18 per cent, in Bengal 28 per cent, in Assam 35 per cent, in Jammu and Kashmir 68 per cent, in Lakshadeep Islands 95 per cent and in Kerala 25 per cent.

Since there was no democracy in British India, the rulers could take bold decisions fearlessly without bothering about repercussions. Democratic India is so helpless that it cannot even prevent the inhuman custom of bull fighting because large groups of people, who are voters, feel that it is their traditional right, even though the Supreme Court has given a judgement to the contrary.

Before leaving India the British had helped Indians by abolishing the custom of Sati - burning Hindu widows on the pyres of their husbands. There was a huge outcry from traditional Hindus who felt that the government was encroaching on their culture and customs. Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar were in the forefront demanding reforms and there were huge demonstrations against these two reformers. They were termed anti-Hindu and accused of colluding with the British rulers to destroy the Hindu society.

With great difficulty they could get the Hindu Widow Remarriage bill passed. The Sati Abolition Bill was also passed. Violent protesters threw stones at the houses of the reformers, but the British could control the crowds with the police since they did not expect votes from the rioting mobs. Today mobs are demanding cruel games to continue in the name of tradition and culture and our helpless government is trying to save the situation by passing laws compromising with cruelty to animals. I shudder to think what would have happened to Indian women if the British had left without banning inhuman practices in the name of tradition.

We were also very lucky that our first Prime Minister was English educated, liberal person and that his party (Congress) could get a sweeping majority in the Lok Sabha elections of 1952. He could make many bold decisions regarding Hindu society in his Hindu Act of 1956. Hindu women could divorce their husbands and remarry after divorce or widowhood. They could also marry Hindu men of other castes under the Hindu Marriage Act. Before 1956, if a Hindu wanted to go in for an inter caste marriage he would have to compulsorily marry under the Special Marriage Act.

Since no Muslim leader came forward for abolition of Sharia laws, either before the British or during the tenure of Pandit Nehru, their community was left high and dry and they continue to be so today as well as no Ram Mohan Roy or Vidya Sagar was born in their community.

Democracy is undoubtedly a big boon for us because we get the government that we ourselves elect, but there could be huge aberrations also for which the Constitution gave us a Supreme Court to guard our interests in those exceptional situations. The government should protect the Supreme Court umbrella with its full might. It should never give in to groups of people and mobs and bypass the verdicts of the Supreme Court. If they do so one day they will find themselves at the receiving end.