Sunday, May 31, 2009

Minority Rights and Religious Identity

The judgment delivered by Punjab and Haryana High Court in the case of Gurleen Kaur vs. State of Punjab is of profound significance.(Readers can access the judgment on the High Court's site (CWP14859/2008.Date:30/05/2009)Although the Court has taken a strictly legal and Constitutional view on the issues before them, it will certainly leave us all dissatisfied. The Court has upheld the action of the minority institution in denying admission on the ground that the students claiming admission under the minority quota did not follow the tenets of that minority religion. There can be no dispute over the Court's finding, arrived after an elaborate research on Sikhism, that maintaining hair unshorn is an essential tenet of Sikh religion. But does Article 30 give licence to the minority institutions to enforce it on unwilling students, claiming admission under the minority quota? The Court has held that it does. The Court also cites the view that majority of students do not follow this tenet at all, but the court justifies its stand because, it has to consider the views as expressed by the spokespersons of the said religion. The implications of this judgment for secularism are indeed serious. If a section of the community is considered as not belonging to the minority religion under Article 30 because of the failure to follow its basic tenets, will the same section be considered as outside that religion for other purposes? Will it not be a worrying inconsistency? The Court has held that religion is a package of beliefs and doctrines which all those who adopt that particular religion are expected to follow, and that the issue is not of logic, but of faith. Therefore, forward-looking or non-fundamentalist actions cannot be bestowed with legitimacy, if the tenet concerned is of fundamental importance, the Court has held.
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