Millennium Post

Deadwood’s deadend

Fatwas bear no legal sanction or authority: now with Supreme Court’s blessings. In the run-up to the larger and wider debate on whether Uniform Civil Code be implemented in the entire country, the top court’s latest observation reiterates its old stand on Shariat courts and their pronouncements that not only contradict individual freedom and curtail liberty, but in fact, are a threat to life and limb of those who defy its extrajudicial diktats. This judgment is indeed a landmark one since its interpretative universe encompasses organisations such as the powerful and, more often than not, fundamentalist, Dar-ul-Qaza and Nizam-e-Qaza, but also community bodies like khap panchayats which tend to issue decrees injurious to psychosocial and physical health of citizens, especially in rural areas of Haryana and Rajasthan. Fatwas, which are basically legal opinions of experts in Muslim personal law, such as qazis and muftis, from now on will be deemed illegal if they infringe Articles 21 and 25 of the Indian Constitution, which enshrine the fundamental rights of every individual citizen of this country.
The ruling, given out by the bench of Justices Chandramauli K Prasad and P C Ghose, is a gamechanger in the legal and judicial cosmos of not only this country, but also may impact how personal laws are interpreted and implemented in other officially secular and multi-religious countries. Under the new jurisprudence, fatwas can be ignored and will have no legal standing, and needn’t be contested in any court of law, since the very act of imposition of fatwas would be illegal and coercive, inviting penalties. Inasmuch that the top court ruling allows the critical influence of the judgment to include non-Islamic obscurantist institutions that make a virtue of religious and cultural intolerance under the garb of tradition, this is a watershed moment in Indian judicial activism. What the likes of Darul Uloom Deoband and other seminaries have propounded for long is not just religious deadwood, it’s downright obscurantist, sectarian, dogmatic and out-of-sync with the larger pluralistic realities and historic syncretism of this country.            
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