SC pronounces landmark verdicts on triple talaq and
right to privacy while a CBI court convicts rapist Baba
By Harvinder Ahuja
If there were a provision to commemorate a particular week as the ‘Judgment Week’, then the week that just got over deserves to be that! During five working days of the last week, there were three court verdicts, two of which historic, changing the way we live our lives and the third delivering justice to two rape victims, and its aftermath exposing the imbecility of a section of our society and denting the credibility of our elected representatives.
The first landmark judgment came from the Supreme Court on Tuesday, August 22. In a 395-page verdict delivered by a five-judge Constitution Bench, the court set aside the practice of instant triple talaq saying it was violative of Article 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Bench, by a majority of 3:2, held that the triple talaq was against the basic tenets of Quran and set aside the practice of ‘talaq-e-biddat’.
During the course of hearing, the apex court had clarified that it would only deliberate whether the practice of ‘triple talaq’ was part of an “enforceable” fundamental right to practice religion among Muslims and not on the practice of polygamy. The Bench heard several pleas filed by Muslim women who had challenged the practice of instant triple talaq, where a man divorces his wife by pronouncing the word ‘talaq’ thrice.
A highly progressive judgment, it upheld the dignity of women, not just Muslim, and restored gender equality in the country. Though some die-hard fanatics among the majority community interpreted it as a boost to their hidden agenda and a step towards enforcing Uniform Civil Code in the country, the judgment no way interferes with the other personal laws of the Muslim community and is also being hailed by a large majority of them. The triple talaq, in any case, is an aberration and is resorted to only by a miniscule minority. That is why, perhaps, there has been no large-scale opposition to the judgment as was being expected in certain quarters.
April 24 proved even bigger in terms of court rulings of the past week having impact on everyday lives of citizens. In a unanimous ruling, a nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the right to privacy as a fundamental right under the Constitution. While doing so, the top court overruled its own previous judgments which had found that privacy right was not protected by the Constitution.
The Constitution Bench observed that privacy is intrinsic to freedom of life and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21. It had reserved its verdict on the matter on August 2 after a six-day hearing. The matter was referred to it by a five-judge Bench hearing a slew of petitions challenging the Aadhar Act.
Though this judgment does not strike down the Aadhar Act, it is bound to strengthen the struggle of those fighting against what they call “infringement of privacy” by the Government’s move to link Aadhar with banking and other activities. It will also provide much-needed fodder to a large chunk of LGBT community fighting against Article 377 that criminalises homosexuality. Overall, the judgment is a huge morale-booster for a large liberal majority in the country feeling stifled under the rising atmosphere of intolerance.
Hats off to the highest court of land for delivering two progressive judgments within a span of two days! That’s what which has sustained the faith of citizens of this country in the august institution of judiciary.
The third judgment of the week was delivered by a special CBI court in Panhckula, Haryana, and it concerned a self-styled godman who was accused of rape by two of his woman followers, way back in 2002. Soon after CBI Judge Jagdeep Singh pronounced Dera Sacha Sauda head Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh guilty on August 25, mayhem broke out on the streets of Panchkula and Sirsa, the headquarters of the Dera. Over a lakh of Dera followers, who had converged outside the CBI court during the previous 48 hours, resorted to large-scale violence, damaged public property and burnt innumerable vehicles. A total of 38 people were killed in less than four hours of havoc created by the so-called Dera ‘premis’ in these two towns. Stray incidents were reported from Punjab also but, thankfully, there was no loss of life there.
The incident, besides making one grapple for reasons behind the popularity of these fake spiritual leaders, puts a question mark over the capability of Khattar Government in Haryana to handle law and order in the state. The Modi Government at the Centre was also put in the dock and no less than the Punjab & Haryana High Court had to pass strictures on the two.
It is a known fact, and has been further highlighted in the social media recently, that these so-called Babas enjoy the patronage of politicians irrespective of party affiliations. The Sirsa Baba, with a huge following in Haryana, had helped the BJP come to power in the state and most of the party MLAs and some ministers had visited his headquarters to pay obeisance That’s why the state acted leniently and even ignored the court warnings when a large number of his followers started assembling in Panchkula days before the judgment.
As it turned out, innocent people had to pay the price for the wrongdoings of a fake Baba, a set of gullible followers and some complicit politicians. But here too, CBI Judge Jagdeep Singh deserves salutation of the entire nation for performing his duty and upholding the esteem of the judiciary in the midst of tremendous pressure.