Sunday, March 13, 2011

Choice of one is denial of others

In Jim Crow's Children: The Broken Promise of the Brown Decision, Peter Irons rolls out an expansive history of the fifty years preceding the famous Brown vs. Board of Education Topeka decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, the one which ruled that segregating students by color was unconstitutional.

In those fifty years, presiding judges and legal parties on either side danced around the question of whether or not segregation is constitutional, instead dealing with peripheral issues like whether separate schools still provided equal opportunities, and whether segregation had detrimental impacts on black students' psyche. Brown vs. Topeka finally tackled the issue of constitutionality head-on, and overturned segregation on the basis of it violating the Fourteenth Amendment.

Curiously, a case with a similar pattern of dancing-around-the-main-issue arose in the High Court of Gujarat. A gentleman by the name of Rajesh Solanki filed suit that the offering of Hindu-style prayers at the ground-breaking ceremony of a state building is non-secular, and thus unconstitutional.

The Gujarat High Court dismissed the case, and went a step further and accused the petitioner of perjury and inflicted a penalty of Rs. 20,000 on him. The entire text of the statement is worth reading here. Besides the fact that the ruling has historic consequences, it is notable because it drips with an attitude not befitting the Court.

In justification of the ruling, the Court presented an interpretation of secularism from an earlier ruling that "secularism is not anti God", therefore the state's invocation of divine blessing on a building project is still secular. It is amusing that the the Court freely uses concepts from the Vedas, a text that is arguably at the heart of Hinduism, to support its position.

The ruling is likely to be overturned at some point in the coming years or decades, as much for its creative reliance on religious texts, as for its faulty logic. We shall see.

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