Do all women have a right to enter Sabarimala?
- The Supreme Court of India has repeatedly struck down discriminatory religious practices, the latest of which is the triple talaq (in Shayara Bano v. Union of India, 2017)
- Reference of the Sabarimala entry row to a five-member Constitution Bench is in itself a radical judicial move
Violation of rights in Sabarimala temple issue
- Preventing women’s entry to the Sabarimala temple with an irrational and obsolete notion of “purity” clearly offends the equality clauses in the Constitution
- It denotes a patriarchal and partisan approach
- The entry prohibition takes away the woman’s right against discrimination guaranteed under Article 15(1) of the Constitution
- It curtails her religious freedom assured by Article 25(1)
- Prohibition of women’s entry to the shrine solely on the basis of womanhood and the biological features associated with womanhood is derogatory to women, which Article 51A(e) aims to renounce
- The classification based on age is, in essence, an act of discrimination based on sex
How did the age bar start at Sabarimala temple?
- The practice rests on a fragile rule and an equally fragile judgment of the Kerala High Court ( S. Mahendran v. The Secretary, Travancore Devaswom Board, 1991)
- There is no unanimity on whether the Sabarimala temple bar is ‘age-old’
Rules for facilitating temple entry and contradictory clause
- The very purpose of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965 is to ensure entry of all Hindus to temples without being discriminatory
- Rule 3(b), which instigates obstruction to women’s entry on the ground of menstruation, apparently runs counter to the very object of the parent enactment and is therefore untenable
View of the framers of constitution, judiciary, and international jurists
- R. Ambedkar famously said that public temples, like public roads and schools, are places meant for public access and so the question of entry is, essentially, a question of equality
- The managerial rights of religious authorities under Article 26(b) of the Constitution cannot override the individual woman’s religious freedom guaranteed under Article 25(1)
- The former is intended to safeguard, not annihilate, the latter
- Liberty is tested at the individual level, for individuals alone can constitute the public in a republic
- In S.R. Bommai (1994), the Supreme Court said that “secularism operates as a bridge” for the country to move on from “tradition to modernity.”
- As American jurist Ronald Dworkin opined, political morality is to be brought into the heart of constitutional law
Not just about individual freedom
- It is erroneous to conceive of the issue only as one involving a fissure between individual freedom and gender justice on the one hand and religious practice on the other
- It also reflects a conflict among believers themselves
- It is essential to prevent monopolisation of religious rights by a few under the guise of management of religious institutions
- Article 25(2)(b) enables the state “(to provide) for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of the Hindus.”
Madhesi protests back in Nepal
Nepal is once again in the grip of protests. United Democratic Madhesi Front, an umbrella outfit of more than 20 terai-based parties has re-launched the protests in the Himalayan country. With this, once again tension has started rising even as both the police and protesters are currently maintaining restraint in their behaviour. But the development speaks volumes about the ‘disconnect’ between the government of Nepal and the citizens. While Nepalese of the terai region known as Madhesis want re-writing of the Constitution, the Nepal government headed by K P Sharma Oli is opposed to it. The argument being that the Constituent Assembly that drafted the country’s statute has been transformed into Parliament and the Parliament has no mandate to re-write the Constitution. This has resulted in a logjam, as both sides are not willing to budge from their respective positions. In this tug of war, both sides have forgotten that Nepal has already suffered heavily due to protests. The first phase of agitation which lasted from September 2015 to February 2016 was aggressive as well as deadly. Around 50 people were killed in police firing while blockade of supplies had hit the poor country’s economy besides, causing untold miseries to its people. The Protesters’ demand include re-demarcation of the seven-province model of federal structure, proportionate representation for Madhesis in all the state bodies and rights related to language and citizenship.
For this to happen, Madhesis want re-writing of the Constitution. The Nepal government, however, wants to address these problems through amendments to the existing Constitution and by engaging in talks with the aggrieved people. Madhesis are stridently opposed to this. Their stand is that concept of secularism, identity-based proportional representation and federal democratic republic status to Nepal could be ensured only after re-drafting of the country’s Constitution. Even the international community members like European Union and the United States have urged the Nepal government to address the demands of Madhesis. Being an immediate neighbour and host of five millions Nepalese, India has also pushed for accommodation of Madhesis’ demand through dialogue and consensus. To this effect, creation of a conducive atmosphere is the need of the hour. The Nepal government must adopt a non-partisan attitude as the protest is supported by all sections of Madhesi community including all the marginalized groups. It should avoid thinking that the problem will blow over on its own. Instead, the delay in addressing the concerns of the Madhesis, more it will push the country down the precipice. But unfortunately, there is no move from the Nepal government that could indicate that it is serious in averting the crisis. Instead of taking any corrective measures, Nepal is feeding to anti-India sentiments on its soil. This has reached to grotesque proportions recently.
In this backdrop, sanity demands that Madhesis should desist from overusing their agitation. They should better seek moral support to their movement from larger section of the country’s civil society including Kathmandu’s residents to put consistent pressure on their government. Nonetheless, Nepal’s streets are once again filled with noise of protestors and this is happening at a time when the country is deep in an economic mess, with the youth leaving the nation in the search of jobs to other lands. According to a report, over 1000 Nepalese leave the Himalayan country everyday in search of jobs in India, the Gulf and Malaysia alone. This is a dark reality of Nepal’s economic situation. It should be remembered that any investment will pour in or economy will grow when there is peace and political stability. The raging protests and consequent unrest have shown that the Himalayan nation is once again heading towards big trouble.
The week in Indian parliament
The concluding week of the Budget session of Indian Parliament saw transaction of important legislative business. Both the houses have now passed the Bankruptcy Code Bill, which is being called as a legislation that would have far reaching consequence on the way commercial activities in India. Once the President signs the legislation, India will have a new bankruptcy law that will ensure time-bound settlement of insolvency, enable faster turnaround of businesses and create a database of serial defaulters. But implementation will remain the key, analysts point out, as the new code is presaged on the creation of a complementary eco-system including insolvency professionals, information utilities and a bankruptcy regulator. Along with the proposed changes in India’s two debt recovery and enforcement laws, it will be critical in resolving India’s bad debt problem, which has crippled bank lending. The new code will replace existing bankruptcy laws and cover individuals, companies, limited liability partnerships and partnership firms. It will amend laws including the Companies Act to become the overarching legislation to deal with corporate insolvency. It will also help creditors recover loans faster.
Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah naidu informed the Lok Sabha that 100 smart cities will be developed in five years. Smart Cities are not only for rich areas, but is spread across the country. He said that his ministry has received proposals from States, on the basis of which 21 cities have been selected for infrastructure development under the scheme
The upper house, Rajya Sabha saw as many as 53 members retiring on Friday, the last day of the session. The number was one of the highest in recent memory. Of the 53 retiring Members, 16 were from the main opposition Congress – the party had a total of 65 members in the upper house. It is unlikely the Congress will be able to send the same number of MPs back to the Rajya Sabha. From the ruling BJP, five union ministers — M Venkaiah Naidu, Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and YS Choudhry also retired. However, all of them are likely to be re-elected as Rajya Sabha MPs. Further, the party is all set to increase its numbers in the upper house but will still not be able to secure majority. The massive majority in Rajasthan will help the BJP boost its numbers in the Rajya Sabha.
The Augusta Westland issue rocked the proceedings in the Upper House. The Congress members decided to move a Privilege Motion against nominated MP Dr. Subramanyam Swamy. In a record of sorts, the eighth session of the 16th Lok Sabha which ended on Wednesday created history of sorts as business in the lower house, the Lok Sabha, was carried out without any adjournment due to interruptions. In the recent past, such smooth functioning of the Lok Sabha proceedings was witnessed only in 1990 and 1992, a senior Lok Sabha official said. “History is being made here,” he said. During the eighth session that began on April 25, the Lok Sabha clocked 120 per cent work during its 13 sittings spread over 92 hours and 21 minutes.The official recalled that in 1992, during the third session of the 10th Lok Sabha, when Shivraj Patil was the Speaker, the lower house had 49 sittings, during which too there, was no adjournment due to interruption.
The government could not move forward on the GST bill. This means that the government has now stopped talking to smaller parties to try and make up the numbers it needs to pass the bill in the Rajya Sabha, where itdoes not have the numbers. The bill was passed last year by the Lok Sabha, where the government has a big majority. The government wanted to implement the Goods and Services Tax, which aims to bring the country under a unified tax regime, by April 1, 2016. Since the GST bill seeks to make a change in the Constitution, it must be passed by a two-thirds majority in each house and that makes the support of the 60 Congress lawmakers in the Rajya Sabha crucial. Both the houses were adjourned sine die by the Presiding officers and will now convene again during the monsoon session.
Baghdad bombings and its implications for Iraq
Baghdad, once again witnessed a deadly attack on Wednesday targeted particularly at its’ Shiite dominated areas. The car bombings have killed more than 94 people and wounded around 165. The primary affected areas are Sadr city (eastern Baghdad) and Kadhimiya city in the north along with Rabie and Baqubah. The Islamic State or Daesh has claimed responsibility for these attacks. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi came out with a statement saying these were the deadliest attacks this year. The attacks, he said, have undermined the internal front that supports the armed force in the liberation of Iraqi territories. According to casualty figures recorded by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, at least 741 Iraqis have been killed and another 1,374 have been injured in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict in Iraq last month alone! The increasing violence and sectarian attacks by the IS have come at a time when Iraq is facing serious political turmoil, thus making it even more difficult for Prime Minister al-Abadi to firm up his government to fight the IS and at the same time address the country’s long standing social economic and political problems.
Amidst widespread protests inside Iraq in 2015, Prime Minister al-Abadi announced the certain changes in the Iraqi political spectrum. The proposals submitted by al-Abadi and the delay in implementing proposed reforms have led to a socio-economic-political impasse there. The Shiite Cleric turned politician Moqtada al Sadr is wary of the situation. When persistent ultimatums to Prime Minister Abadi to go ahead with the reforms did not fructify, al-Sadr asked his supporters to escalate protests and sit-ins in the ‘Green Zone’. It has been argued that al-Sadr’s moves – in the form of protests and warnings to al-Abadi has led pitting the two Shiite parties against each other – the Dawa Party of Prime Minister al- Abadi and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. Al-Sadr’s move, has also invited criticism from former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki .
The security situation inside Iraq has deteriorated considerably and the Iraqi armed forces were called for controlling the situation. The Iraqi armed forces otherwise were engaged in fighting the Daesh to secure the Green Zone. The demonstrations and storming of the Green Zone has evoked sharp criticism from both Tehran and Washington since they are allies in al-Abadi’s fight against IS. On Sunday last, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Baghdad and urged Iraqis to resolve the political crisis and form a unity government and to evict the ISIS forces from Iraq. Iraq Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari called for a resolution of the crisis through ‘dialogue and political understanding’.
UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to Iraq, Jan Kubis ‘s report stated that Iraq was undergoing a ‘profound political crisis’ that will also dampen the US led war against IS. Kubis also mentioned that despite consistent efforts made to dismantle IS forces, they have managed to out- manoeuvre the Iraqi armed forces by their tactics.
The recent attacks raise several concerns. It comes at a time when Iraq is struggling with political turmoil inside its parliament also. There have been repeated warnings that the political situation in Iraq might hamper its fight against the IS. The attacks also appear to be a tactical move by IS forces to demonstrate their control and strength which otherwise appeared to be waning after the re-capture of areas and killing of IS leaders by the Iraqi forces. Concomitantly, these attacks were strategically placed. The bombing of Shiite dominated areas means to weaken the growing Shiite dominance and accelerated protests by al-Sadr’s supporters. This situation makes it even more difficult for present Iraqi government to create any democratic system and also battle the increasing violent activities in Iraq. Lastly, the attacks have also proved that the war against IS is far from over. Concerted efforts by all the stakeholders are required to contain the Daesh. However, the political unrest in Iraq can impede the efforts and the situation may go out of hand.
US activates missile defence system in Romania
The US has activated a missile defence system at Deveselu in Romania yesterday. The Deveselu station is equipped with radar and SM-2 missile interceptors, which will attempt to destroy in-coming missile in space. The missile defence system was originally conceived by President George Bush. President Obama reviewed and started implementation in a ‘Phased Adaptive Approach’ to deploy missile defence in Europe. The new approach is based on the Aegis missile defence system and is being deployed in three main phases from 2011 to 2018. The first phase of European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), American multi-mission Aegis ships were based in Spain. The Aegis Ashore missile defence site in Romania is now activated in Romania in the second phase. Third phase of EPAA will start in Poland and is expected to be completed by 2018.
NATO considers the missile defence system as an important measure in protection against medium and short-range missile attacks. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg noted that the fact is that many countries are developing ballistic missile programmes. And NATO, as a defensive alliance, cannot ignore that threat. Missile defence is an important tool for NATO’s core task of collective defence, he said. The activation of missile defence system would have geo-strategic implications for the region. NATO claims that the system is ‘defensive’ and considers that it would enhance the security architecture of Europe. The missile defence system is intended to protect from missile attacks from ‘outside the Euro-Atlantic area’.
Kremlin has voiced concern over the establishment of the missile defence system in Europe. Moscow considers that it is an ‘attempt to destroy the strategic balance’ in Europe. Russia also alleged that it is a violation of Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which was signed in 1987. Washington maintains that missile defence system is not intended towards Russia. US Assistant Secretary of State Frank Rose said, “Both the US and NATO have made it clear that the system is not designed for or capable of undermining Russia’s strategic deterrence capability.” NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg also argued that geography and physics make it impossible for this missile defence system to undermine the strategic deterrence of Russia. Nevertheless, Russia is sceptical of US and NATO arguments. Russian President Putin has said the US is trying to “neutralize Russia’s nuclear potential”. He further has observed that “references to Iran and North Korea nuclear threats are just a cover for the true purpose. Russia believes that the missile defence system poses threat to Russian national security. Russia believes that the Romanian site has the potential to be utilized for other purpose as well. It may be a crucial factor in small–scale conflicts. It is argued that long-range radar, which is part of the AEGIS anti-missile system, might be used for spying on missile tests and aircrafts in Russian airspace. It may provide the US with added intelligence. Russia is also worried that Deveselu could easily and secretly be converted into a cruise missile base, which can attack targets on Russian territory.
The activation of the missile defence system would further complicate the geopolitics of Europe. Russia’s relations with the West have been deteriorating in recent times. Annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine have created political tension between NATO and Russia. European countries have imposed economic sanctions on Russia. NATO has also planned to enhance its military presence in Eastern Europe. Escalation of NATO military presence in Eastern Europe has been opposed by Russia. It is considered to be an antagonistic move of the US and its NATO allies against Kremlin. Such moves would further deplete mutual trust between the NATO and Russia and may fuel further political tension in the region. Broadly speaking, after almost three decades since the end of the Cold War, the fundamental objective of perpetual peace has yet to be achieved in Europe. Political and security architecture evolved after the end of Cold War did not include Russia. Thus, security measures, such as missile defence system, may create an environment of competition and rivalry in the entire European region.