Defending the Centre's stand on triple talaq amid a raging debate on the contentious issue, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today said that while India respects freedom of religion and faith, "unreasonable or discriminatory" practices cannot be held integral to it and protected.
He cited "untouchability" to assert that religious practices need to be in accordance with constitutional values and emphasised that "gender justice, gender equality and gender dignity" were at the core of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi government's priority.
"... we respect freedom of religion and freedom of faith which are protected by the fundamental rights. But every unreasonable or discriminatory practice cannot be held integral to faith....
"For instance, can anyone claim that untouchability against Dalits flows from my faith and I can practice it.
Therefore, religious practices also need to be in accord with the constitutional values," Prasad told PTI in an interview.
On October 7, the Centre had opposed in the Supreme Court the practice of triple talaq among Muslims, maintaining that it cannot be regarded as an essential part of the religion.
The Ministry of Law and Justice, in its affidavit, also referred to constitutional principles like gender equality, secularism, international covenants, religious practices and marital law prevalent in various Islamic countries to drive home the point that the practice of triple talaq, 'nikah halala' and polygamy needed to be adjudicated upon afresh by the apex court.
The affidavit has also triggered a debate on Uniform Civil Code in the country. However, the government has maintained that the two are separate issues.
Responding to questions on the issue of triple talaq, the senior BJP leader said a set of women cannot lose their rights for being from a particular religion.
"Can in a secular country like India a big chunk of women be forced to live in a state of vulnerability only on the ground that they belong to a particular religion?" he questioned.
Noting that gender equality stands embedded right from the day the Constitution came into existence, the minister said development and empowerment of women were also among government's priorities.
He said the 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' programme has become a big movement and the Modi government's campaign against infanticide shows that the government takes the issue of gender equality seriously.
"You recall his famous statement on Vijay Dashmi day (in Lucknow) that for one Sita, Lanka was burnt and you kill a Sita every day in the womb... in mudra yojna, 70 per cent beneficiaries are women. Sukanya Samriddhi Yojna of the postal department has crossed more than a crore...revolutionary," Prasad said. .
(With PTI inputs)