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India: Supreme Court ruling on minorities adopting kids via secular law is welcome

Friday 21 February 2014, by siawi3

Feb 21, 2014, 12.12 AM IST


The Supreme Court’s ruling, stating personal law can’t prohibit Muslims and other minority faith members from adopting children under the secular Juvenile Justice Act, is a positive move forward. Like the Special Marriage Act, this ruling emphasizes the growing flexibility of secular legal recourses communities administered by religious laws can have. This is a judicious step towards a uniform civil code enjoined by directive principles in India’s Constitution, whereby all citizens enjoy the same rights. And this makes individual lives richer, permitting these to be fuller with possibilities of joy — not starker by orthodox limitations on the same.

India’s lack of a uniform civil code relates to the tensions of our newly-free polity. India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru faced stiff resistance — including from conservative Congressmen such as first President Rajendra Prasad — when he mooted reforms for religious laws. Driven by conviction, Nehru pushed through the Hindu Code Bills. But he lacked the confidence to push similar reforms — re-reshaping marriage, dowry, inheritance, adoption and other spheres of life — for many minority groups. Partition’s inheritance of unease steered Nehru away from presenting minorities with modernity, permitting them to be internally governed by customary laws instead.

The result hasn’t been happy. Given the imbalance in key laws majoritarian critics have a field day knocking the state’s ’pseudo-secularism’. But such critics overlook how different laws governing crucial zones of personal life meant the deprivation of minority women’s rights. Facing disputes, the polity has been famously infirm. In the Shah Bano case, where the Supreme Court ruled a Muslim divorcee was entitled to alimony, the ruling was overturned by Rajiv Gandhi responding to pressures from orthodox men’s organizations.

But modernizing voices within minority groups are speaking up today. The restriction on adopting children has been challenged by a Muslim woman while moves to bar female worshippers from entering Sufi shrine sanctums have been countered by Muslim women’s groups. With its ruling, the Supreme Court has given greater access to empowerment and happiness for minority groups while highlighting the deeply humanitarian act of adoption, enriching the lives of abandoned children along with those longing to love a child themselves. All human beings must have the right to lead fuller, not narrower, lives. Young and modern voices within the Muslim community are saying this. It’s high time India’s polity hears them.