My God Versus Your God

Why has the media refused to highlight a landmark judgment which revolves around freedom of choice in religion?

Bhagwad Gita and Holy Bible

“It would be insulting to Christianity to see the father of the child, who is a Christian, being convicted of murder of his wife. The child would not get the ideals of Christianity from a father who has been imprisoned during her minority having been charged with murder of her mother and cruelty towards her.”

Justice Roshan Dalvi made this observation in the Bombay High Court on December 8, 2012 while delivering a judgment in a case. To deal with the specifics here – a man had been convicted of having murdered his wife. The couple had a minor daughter who was living with her late mother’s parents. It so happened that the convicted husband happened to be a Roman Catholic and the deceased wife a Hindu. The sister of the convict moved the Court to seek the custody of the minor child as she claimed that under Section 17 of the Guardians and Wards Act, the religion of the child had to be given primacy.

Her lawyer went so far as to claim that since the father of the child was a Roman Catholic, the girl must be brought up as a Roman Catholic.

Justice Dalvi rejected the argument stating that the concept of religion, as envisaged in Section 17 of the Guardians and Wards Act, does not contemplate that in our patriarchal society only the religion of the husband must prevail. She also opined that this would be contrary to the freedom of religion, which allows each individual to profess and practice the religion of his or her choice. It would be in the interest of the child if she is kept away from any religious dogma.

She ruled – “there is no greater religion among the great religions. What is to be understood in consideration of religion of the minor is that a minor who has been brought up on the tenets of any of the great religions be not disturbed by thrusting upon the minor the tenets or traditions of another religion which would cause stress and trauma upon the minor during the delicate years of his or her growth”.

She went further and stated – “It would be in the interest of the child if she is kept away from any religious dogma to which she has not been exposed in her infancy so as to leave her childhood carefree and stress-free”.

The landmark judgment is remarkable in more ways than one. The Indian courts, particularly the lower ones, have had to rule on similar issues over and over again. I have observed instances where convicted persons have time and again made a plea for their offspring to be brought up within the tenets and orthodoxies of their own religious faith. Only 6 months ago, a patient of mine had to wage a legal battle against her alcoholic husband who had been convicted of battery-and-assault. The husband happened to be a Muslim and the wife a Sikh. They had got married in a civil ceremony. After hearing both sides of the argument, the magistrate ruled that the religion of the father had to be given primacy despite his obvious failings, which included his alcoholic indulgences completely inimical to the Islamic tenets. The interesting feature was the support that the convicted husband could count upon from his local clerics.

I had come across a similar case in Philadelphia where a man who had been convicted of fraud had unsuccessfully applied to the Court to make sure that his 23-month-old son was brought up as a Pentecostal born-again Christian. He was vociferously supported by a well-known tele-evangelist who also provided him the funds to meet his legal bills.

Justice Dalvi has adopted a refreshingly humanistic approach for which she is worthy of the highest accolades. Her ruling would hopefully serve as a reference point for resolution of this not so uncommon situation. Her dismissal of the argument that a man’s religion must prevail upon his child, saying it was directly contrary to the freedom of religion under the Constitution and also gender-discriminatory, is particularly laudable.

The philosopher AJ Ayer had an oft-repeated doctrine – “No morality can be founded on authority, even if the authority were divine”. I do not need to over-emphasise the far-reaching implications of the judgment. But to my dismay, there has been no editorial comment on it in any of the major newspapers, nor has there been a television discussion on the subject. Only two columns in The Statesman and a few regional newspapers. For me, it is a matter of both astonishment and dismay as this seems to be an indication that the matter does not deserve to be prioritised. It would be very unfortunate if this was indeed the case.

Newspapers in India have tended to treat issues involving religion with a degree of caution. Many a journalist has come to grief even while dealing with religious issues with utmost good faith. That could possibly be one of the reasons for this amazing journalistic apathy.

However my humble submission here would be that an issue of exemplary importance like this should be a subject of national debate and definitely not brushed under the carpet.

Contact Ashok


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  • Fantastic judgement and thank you for bring this up on NewsLaundry !

  • Sharmishta Das

    If “there is no greater religion among the great religions”, as the Bombay High Court has ruled on 08th December 2012, why should Indian citizens be allowed to CONVERT from one religion to another? This question is significant also because all religions are not EQUALLY interested in converting people of other religions. For instance, some Indic religions have concepts of monism and pantheism which preclude the necessity of converting others (Hinduism does not have a unanimous procedure for proselytization). On the other hand, some Abrahamic religions display a superiority complex and are very keen on conversions (Islam has the concept of ‘dawaah’ to proselytize). Shouldn’t freedom of religion mean only the freedom to PRACTISE any religion, one which a citizen is born into? Why should there be a freedom to ‘propagate’ religion? Isn’t the freedom to ‘propagate’ religion actually an invitation to a display of religious oneupmanship, that my religion is better than yours? Moreover, in the 21st century, isn’t it better to propagate science instead of religion? Why can’t the Constitution of India be amended one more time to exclude the freedom to ‘propagate’ religion?

    • Facts

      It is as simple as that…Religion is a belief of an individual and he is free to choose it…carry on with the one he got by birth or change it..but nothing can be imposed on him/her….Also every one is free to propagate there beliefs…its all on an individual’s rationality to decide upon what is right or what is wrong..or maybe everything is wrong….but we cant take away the freedom of expression…

      • Sharmishta Das

        Dear Facts,

        You say that an individual “is free to choose” religion. Doesn’t such a choice imply that one religion is better than another? In that case, what is the value of the Bombay High Court’s ruling that “there is no greater religion among the great religions”?

        With regards,

        • Manish

          No Sharmishta, free to choose does not mean that one religion is better than the other. It is not possible for anyone to know all about all the religions practiced in the world and then make a choice. You adopt the one that impresses you. Now if I consider my religion to be better, that is an irrational thought, but all the same it is a personal thought as well.

          • Sharmishta Das

            Dear Manish,

            You have written, “free to choose does not mean that one religion is better than the other.” In other words, you are saying that there is a difference between those two concepts. However, isn’t such a differentiation actually without any distinction?

            The possibility that some religion could “impress” you, as you have written, itself means that you would consider that religion to be better than others. In that case, you would not be able to agree with the Bombay High Court’s ruling.

            Please think over the same.

            With regards,

          • puneet dubey

            disagreed with u,dude!! you are asserting that and trying to be politically correct but its not practical,missionaries are literally giving “money” to convert non-xians,i dont know if it is right or wrong,but its happening,how do you think hinduism can be compared with christianity,considering this proselytization factor

    • Manish

      If people convert to some other religion at their own will, it’s part of their right to practice any religion. Actually the word ‘propagation’ means to promote not to convert someone against their will. If some one tries to explain me a particular religion and I found that impressive enough to convert, I guess should be free to do that. It’s how to understand the word ‘propagate’.

      • Sharmishta Das

        Dear Mr. Manish,

        I am sorry for the delay in replying to you. Please read my reply to your next response below.

        With regards,

    • Lumen

      Freedom of religion, when your religion include spreading said religion, is the same thing.

  • Nikhil Dhavale

    Question here is about the Islam. Why was Islam treated differently than Christianity?????

  • Manish

    Great judgement which let humanity prevailed. We have look beyond religious boundaries if we want to have a country whose foundations are built upon humanity and compassion.

  • Neel N

    Even the courts have learn the greatness of the Hindu way of life. Pity the media is still to grow up.

  • Vamsi

    Great Judgement. I am surprised that such a landmark judgement never came out in MSM. May be it didn’t fit into their “Secular Agenda”

  • Derek Francis

    Wonderful judgement… take away religious dogma and bring up a child without any exposure to religion… she will lead a good life.