Title of the editorial:Personal choices, the Constitution’s endurance
Written by: SuhrithParthasarathy (advocate practising at the Madras High Court)
Topic in the syllabus: Indian Constitution—historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure. Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States (GS-2)
Analysis about: This editorial talks shows how The Allahabad High Court verdict in ‘Salamat Ansari case’ is a reminder of the Constitution’s most cherished values.
In a short and well reasoned order, the Allahabad High Court declared last month that religious conversions, even when made solely for the purposes of marriage, constituted a valid exercise of a person’s liberties. The High Court ruled that the freedom to live with a person of one’s choice is intrinsic to the fundamental right to life and personal liberty.
What is ‘Salamat Ansari case’?
The petitioners, Salamat Ansari and Priyanka Kharwar, (Both married) had approached the High Court seeking orders to quash a First Information Report (FIR) that was lodged against them.
This FIR alleged that a series of crimes had been committed, including one under Section 366 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises the abduction of a woman with an intent to compel her to marry against her will.
What is the take of U.P. government?
The State resisted these claims. It argued that Mr. Ansari and Ms. Kharwar’s partnership had no sanctity in the law, because a conversion with a singular aim of getting married was illegitimate.
What is the basis for this argument?
The government relied on a pair of judgmentsdelivered by single judges of theAllahabad High Court, in particular on the judgment in Noor Jahanv. State of U.P. (2014).
There, theHigh Court had held that a conversion by an individual to Islam wasvalid only when it was predicatedon a “change of heart” and on an“honest conviction” in the tenets of the newly adopted religion.
Additionally, the High Court had ruledthat the burden to prove the validity of a conversion was on the party professing the act.
What did division bench of high court say recently?
It held that the judgment in Noor Jahan was incorrectly delivered. Marriage, the High Court said, is a matter of choice, and every adult woman has a fundamental right to choose her own partner. Even if such a decision encourages other concomitant decisions, including a choice of religion, the state can have little to do with it. According to the High Court, the Constitution is violated every time matters of intimate and personal choice are made vulnerable to the paternal whims of the state.
How U.P. government has introduced the ordinance?
The government of Uttar Pradesh has introduced an ordinance which makes not only religious conversions that are forcefully obtained an offence but that also declares void any conversion found to be made solely for marriage.
In supporting the law, the State will likely rely on a 1977 Supreme Court judgment in Rev. Stainislaus v. State ofMadhya Pradesh.
There, the Court upheld, on grounds of public order, two of the earliest anti conversion statutes in India: the Madhya Pradesh Dharma SwatantryaAdhiniyam, 1968, and the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967.
These laws required that a District Magistrate be informed each time a conversion was made and prohibited any conversion that was obtained through fraud or illegal inducement.
What did expert say about this judgement?
In his treatise on constitutional law, the jurist, H.M. Seervai, wrote that the “judgment is clearly wrong, is productive of the greatest public mischief and ought to be overruled”.
Since then, a ninejudge Bench ruling of the Supreme Court, in Puttaswamy, has recognised that every individual possesses a guaranteed freedom of thought.
Freedom of conscience and Indian constitution:
Article 25 of the Constitution expressly protects thechoices that individuals make.
Inaddition to the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion, it guarantees to every personthe freedom of conscience.
By itsdictionary definition, “conscience” refers to each person’sown sense of moral right and wrong.
It is an emotion that cannot be judged from the outside. Itis certainly not something that the state can examine as a function ofits sovereign authority.
Moreover, the idea of protectingone’s freedom of conscience goesbeyond mere considerations of religious faith.
The way forward:
We cannot doubt the proposition that no person should be compelled to choose a certain religion, but to open up to scrutiny every act of conversion by placing on individuals the burden to prove that their decision was conscientious entrenches a form of hard paternalism, where purely private choices are made subject to the State’s ultimate sanction.
When we fail to acknowledge and respect the most intimate and personal choices that people make — choices of faith and belief, choices of partners — we undermine the most basic principles of dignity.
Our Constitution’s endurance depends on our ability to respect these decisions, to grant to every person an equal freedom of conscience.
Interview of Shyam Saran(a former ForeignSecretary and iscurrently SeniorFellow, Centre forPolicy Research) &ConstantinoXavier (a non-residentfellow in the IndiaProject, and iscurrently a fellowat the Centre forSocial andEconomic Progress)
Title:Does India’s neighbourhood policy need reworking?
Topic in the syllabus: India and its neighbourhood- relations. (GS-2)
The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is an international organisation of seven nations – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand.A BIMSTEC free trade agreement is under negotiation, also referred to as the mini SAARC.Leadership is rotated in alphabetical order of country names. The permanent secretariat is in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) Initiative is a subregional architecture of countries in Eastern South Asia, a subregion of South Asia. It meets through official representation of member states to formulate, implement and review quadrilateral agreements across areas such as water resources management, connectivity of power, transport, and infrastructure.
Recent visits by Foreign SecretaryHarsh VardhanShringla and National Security Adviser AjitDoval tocountries in the region appear toshow new energy in India’s neighbourhood policy.
Over the past fewyears, there have been many strainsin ties with neighbours — for instance, with Nepal over its Constitution in 2015 and now over the map,and with Bangladesh over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).
Is there a way to counter China’s forays into the region, including on COVID19 assistance?
Argument against –
No, we live in a region that has an open competitive market. That means that all these countries in India’s neighbourhood that used to depend and rely much more on India in the past are adopting a first come, first served policy.
Argument in favour –
Yes, we should focus on Connectivity. Building connections with all our neighbours, whether it is through highways, railways, the revival of riverine transportation or sub regional energy grids, are things that we can do, because what they do is they bring into play what is one of the greatest assets which we have with respect to all our neighbours, and that is proximity.
Give ‘national treatment’ to our neighbours with respect to the use of our transportation network or ports, and exports and imports.
We should aim to be the best possible alternative in terms of the economic development of our neighbours.
Should India see U.S. engagement in the South Asian region as a counter to China, as a boon, or as a cause for concern where India could get cut out?
Argument against –
Since we are not in a position to really match the kind of resources that China is able to deploy in the neighbourhood, it does make sense for us to join other partners which are currently benign partners, like the U.S. or Japan.
The U.S. or Japan or others may be pursuing projects or activities that are not necessarily aligned to India. This could be a problem in the future. I hope that India’s objectives and interests remain the primary elements in any initiative by other countries in the region.
Argument in favour –
In the past few years, India has been much more open to coordinating and aligning policies in South Asia. That has an advantage because it increases synergies with the Japanese in Sri Lanka for infrastructure financing and with the U.S. and India on political issues, for example.
Is SAARC dead? Is it even relevant anymore?
Argument against –
The format of SAARC is outdated and does not serve the complex, fluid regional cooperation agenda any longer.
It is unfortunate of course, but Pakistan has taken a very different approach to regional connectivity, where it sees itself mostly as a hub between China and the Gulf or Central Asian regions, so towards the west and the north, and India therefore had to respond and seek to gravitate more towards the south, to the Indian Ocean region, and the east, across the Bay of Bengal with Southeast Asia.
India has revived BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) and worked in the BBIN (Bangladesh Bhutan India Nepal) quadrilateral for a framework on motor vehicle and water governance, which don’t hold India’s cooperation agenda hostage to a consensus at SAARC, which will always depend on a Pakistani veto.
Argument in favour –
Our other neighbours, with perhaps the exception of Bhutan, are interested in SAARC. They see SAARC as a worthwhile platform for regional cooperation.
Now, if India is going to turn its back on SAARC, if India walks out, for example, there could even be a possibility of China being welcomed into SAARC. If that were to happen, our challenges would become even worse.
Few suggestions for India’s neighbourhood policy:
It is extremely important that our engagement with our neighbouring countries should not be episodic. It should not be event oriented; it should be process oriented. And we should have a plan for continuous engagement at various levels.
We should think before prioritising domestic factors over foreign policy issues. (CAA, NRC etc.)
India should fashion its diplomacy in a manner which does not give rise to feelings [amongst smaller neighbours] of being slighted or marginalised.
What is needed from India more than firmness is clarity. It is very easy to accuse any of India’s neighbouring countries of being too close to China. But it’s very difficult to set out the exact terms of what they should or shouldn’t do with China.
The only way to really solve all this problem is to focus on creating interdependence in this region that will give India strategic leverage.
Title of the editorial:Virus and wisdom
Written by: Shah Alam Khan (professor of orthopaedics, AIIMS, New Delhi.)
Topic in the syllabus: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health. (GS-2)
Analysis about: This editorial talks about how the application of vaccine in a diverse country like India is a challenge.
In the last one week, the buzz around a COVID-19 vaccine has ignited hope. There is talk of closure and an end to the most devastating health catastrophe which the post-modern world has witnessed.Of the 250-odd vaccines which are currently under various stages of development/evaluation, at least three have generated significant hope — the Moderna vaccine, the AstraZeneca vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine. All three are awaiting regulatory clearances before they can be made available to the public.
Some important issues & questions put forward by the author regarding vaccine:
How effective will these vaccines be in breaking the transmission of the disease?
How many doses will be needed for acquiring immunity is still in the realm of foggy knowledge.
for how long does the immunity last post vaccination is something that is not known.
The spillover gains of this vaccination are also not known.
Vaccination of a huge population like ours is a mammoth exercise and besides the availability of the vaccine the policymakers should concentrate on the preparedness for this exercise. We are a country with great disparities — economic, social and biological.
Gender variabilities in receiving vaccination are well known in our country. Boys generally have a higher vaccination coverage than girls, as reported by most surveys conducted across the country for childhood immunisation.
Poor nutrition in India is also found to be a significant cause of immunisation failure. We don’t know how the 189 million undernourished Indians will respond to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Despite a robust, well-integrated Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP) in this country for more than 40 years, the UIP coverage has never gone beyond 60-65 per cent. It is thus anyone’s guess how we will be able to achieve a near 90 per cent coverage with the COVID-19 vaccine and if the policymakers decide for less than 90 per cent coverage, then there should be reasons to validate this decision.
Besides the anticipated inequities, the gaps in the logistics of giving the vaccine to such a huge population need careful consideration.
The way forward:
The gaps in service delivery, the fact that most of these vaccines need cold chain maintenance and the actual cost of the vaccine, are matters which political and bureaucratic wisdom need to brainstorm over before it is too late.
We need systems in place which can give the vaccine in a short period to large segments of population.
Evidence-informed policymaking regarding the vaccine is what we need more than anything else.
A transparent and uniform accountability system to monitor the vaccine distribution and application is the need of the hour.
Any vaccine which makes an entry in the middle of the current pandemic has to be viewed with caution not only because of its complicated biological effects (or lack of them) but also because of the complexity of its application in a country as diverse and as unique as India.
We need to tread the vaccine landscape with caution and, most importantly, with wisdom.