One evening, I was having a small chat with my mother over the application of the protection of Article 25 of the Constitution of India. For those who don’t know about Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, it has been provided herein for your reference,
“Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion
(1) Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion
(2) Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law
(a) regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice;
(b) providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus.
The explanation I- The wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion.
The Explanation II- In sub-clause (b) of clause reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly.”
Before we proceed with our short story, let me make the readers understand that what exactly I meant by the term ‘p3ing’, as I have used in the title of the manuscript. The answer to the same lies within the text of the above Article itself. Just have a look on the words ‘profession, practice and propagation’ used in the very first line of the above Article. I simply referred to these three words together as ‘p3ing’. Now that we know the meaning of the same, let’s move on. I started to explain to my mother that the protection of Article 25 was available to people p3ing only their officially declared religion and not while doing the same with any other religion.
For example, a person is p3ing Islam, although his officially declared religion is Christianity, or Hinduism, etc. I am not saying that p3ing any other religion other than your officially declared one is wrong. It is just that in case someone stops you from doing that within India, you being an Indian citizen, then you can’t claim the protection under Article 25.
To this, my mother retorted by saying that the Article begins with the words ‘Freedom of Conscience’. Thus, when these terms have been used, we can’t necessarily put labels upon the conscience of the public and say that a person can’t be protected if he is p3ing about something, which he hasn’t officially associated with himself yet.
This indeed was a valid point, but then I felt that in this way, anyone would say anything about any religion other than his own and simply get away with the same, stating that he simply had the protection under Article 25 while p3ing. This would in turn may metamorphose into utter chaos and havoc, as Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code would simply be negated.
Supporting my point, I gave her the example of my cousin, who was a Hindu before her marriage, but God knows what’s her religion now. She had got married to a Bengali Christian. After several years of her marriage, one day she had, in her characteristic fit of telling us jaw-dropping stories, told us her little secret. She told us that somewhere, she had mentioned herself to be a Hindu and at other places (concerned with Catholicism), she had declared herself to be a Christian. Although we didn’t tell her anything instantaneously, but while discussing about this Article with my mother, I felt that she was actually following a ‘religion of convenience’, than that of faith. I wouldn’t call her a fraud, but I would simply say that she is the perfect example to show that if she would be provided the same protection under Article 25 as a person who is following one religion at a time, it would surely cause a lot of confusion.
Now came the interesting part. Me and my mother differed upon the very basic fact that whether the definition of ‘religion’ under Article 25 should mean a comprehensive religion, including many facets and aspects, like my cousin was following, or a mutually exclusive entity, depending upon the theology of your officially declared belief system.
Our discussion furthered and she argued that inherently she (my cousin) possessed the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, as guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution. I again digressed by ejaculating that although it was included in her freedom of speech and expression, yet it was subjected to certain reasonable restrictions. I thought that in such complex cases, Article 25 would go out and only Article 19 (1) (a) would apply, being subjected to the restrictions mentioned in clause (2) of the same Article. Although at the end me and my mother didn’t agree with one another, yet I thought about a very pertinent question relating to this particular Article and also for the whole particular realm of human rights.
Religion is a human construct. Thus, being able to p3 a religion of one’s choice is an inherent human right for modern democracies believing in secular values and the concepts of welfare States. However, the main question that arises is that whether this ‘choice’ is a permanent one and only one religion can be followed at a time, or is it an encompassing concept, bringing within its ambit the very basics of faith, that is selfless love for anything in which you believe, even though it means worshipping Krishna in the morning and praying before Jesus before going to bed. This indeed is a very dynamic, yet confusing stream of religious human rights. In India, I guess we haven’t really thought about this aspect. Yet, our Constitutional jurisprudence is evolving exponentially and I may see the day when this question will also be answered by our Honourable Supreme Court. Till then, Godspeed.
Author is a Policy Research Associate and Team Lead at Prastaav.