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Article 25 vs Article 21: The Constitutional Tug of War in India

Authored by Arghya Sen


Introduction

The Indian Constitution, adopted in 1950, is a document that lays out the fundamental rights and duties of citizens of India. Among the many articles in the Constitution, two of the most important are Article 25, which deals with freedom of religion, and Article 21, which deals with the right to life and personal liberty. While both of these articles are crucial to the functioning of a democratic society, there is an ongoing debate about whether or not Article 25 of the Constitution is violative of Article 21.

Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion. It states that "all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion." This includes the right to worship, the right to form religious organizations, and the right to manage religious affairs. However, this right is not absolute and can be restricted by the state in the interest of public order, morality, and health.

On the other hand, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the “right to life and personal liberty”. It states that "no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law." This includes the right to a fair trial, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and the right to protection from arbitrary arrest and detention.


Article 25 vs Article 21

Critics argue that Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, especially as it pertains to the practice and propagation of religion, can be used to justify discriminatory practices against certain religious groups. For example, some argue that laws such as the Indian Penal Code's Section 295A, which makes it a crime to insult or attempt to insult the religion or religious beliefs of any class of citizens, can be used to suppress the freedom of speech and expression of individuals who criticize certain religious practices or beliefs.

Furthermore, there have been instances where religious organizations and leaders have used their rights under Article 25 to justify discriminatory practices, such as denying women the right to enter certain religious spaces or participate in certain religious rituals. These practices are considered violative of the right to equality and non-discrimination guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

On the other hand, some argue that Article 25 is not violative of Article 21, but rather that the two articles complement each other. They argue that the right to freedom of religion is an essential aspect of the right to life and personal liberty, and that without the freedom to practice one's religion, the right to life and personal liberty would be meaningless. Additionally, they argue that the restrictions on the right to freedom of religion in Article 25 are necessary to protect public order, morality, and health, and that these restrictions are in line with the restrictions on the right to life and personal liberty in Article 21.

The right to “freedom of religion” and “the right to life” are both fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. However, there have been instances where the exercise of one's right to religion has been alleged to infringe upon the right to life of others. This raises the question of whether the right to religion can infringe someone's right to life in India.

One example of this is the practice of "honor killings." These are murders committed by family members against individuals who marry outside of their caste or religion. The killers often justify their actions by claiming that the victim has brought dishonor upon the family by breaking the traditional norms of their religion or caste. These killings have been condemned by the Indian courts as violative of the right to life and personal liberty, and the government has taken steps to prevent such killings by enacting laws such as the Prohibition of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances in the Name of Honor and Tradition Act, 2011.

Another example is the issue of cow vigilantism, where individuals and groups have taken it upon themselves to enforce laws against cow slaughter, often resulting in violence against individuals, particularly those from the minority community. This has led to several instances where innocent people have been killed or injured in the name of protecting cows, which is considered sacred by Hindus. The Indian courts have held that such acts of violence are violative of the right to life and personal liberty, and the government has taken steps to prevent such incidents by enacting laws such as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017.

It is important to note that the right to freedom of religion, like all rights, is not absolute and can be restricted by the state in the interest of public order, morality, and health. The Indian courts have held that the state has a duty to protect the rights of all its citizens, including the right to life and personal liberty. Therefore, any exercise of the right to religion that infringes upon the right to life of others is not protected by the Constitution and can be subject to restriction or penalty under the law.

Additionally, there have been instances where religious organizations and leaders have used their rights under Article 25 to justify discriminatory practices, such as denying women the right to enter certain religious spaces or participate in certain religious rituals. These practices are considered violative of the right to equality and non-discrimination guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Additionally, the courts in India have held that the right to freedom of religion is not absolute and can be restricted by the state in the interest of public order, morality, and health. In its judgments, the courts have also emphasized that the state has a duty to protect the rights of all its citizens, including the right to life and personal liberty. Therefore, the court has held that the restrictions imposed on the freedom of religion by the state must be reasonable and proportionate and should not be discriminatory in nature.


Conclusion

In conclusion, the question of whether or not Article 25 of the Indian Constitution is violative of Article 21 is a complex one. While there are valid arguments on both sides, it is clear that the right to freedom of religion and the right to life and personal liberty are both essential to the functioning of a democratic society. However, it is also important to remember that the right to freedom of religion is not absolute, and that it can and should be restricted by the state in the interest of public order, morality. While the right to freedom of religion is a fundamental right in India, it should not be used to justify actions that infringe upon the right to life of others. The Indian government and courts have taken steps to prevent such infringements and have made it clear that the right to freedom of religion is not absolute and can be restricted in the interest of protecting the rights of all citizens. It is the duty of all individuals and organizations to ensure that their exercise of the right to religion does not infringe upon the rights of others.


Reference –

  • Basu Durga Das et al. Introduction to the Constitution of India. 20th ed. thoroughly rev ed. Lexis Nexis Butterworths Wadhwa Nagpur 2008.

  • Violent cow protection in India (2021) Human Rights Watch. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/02/18/violent-cow-protection-india/vigilante-groups-attack-minorities (Accessed: January 24, 2023).

  • Honour killing in India (2021) Times of India Blog. Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/readersblog/legal-awareness/honour-killing-in-india-33953/.


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