In the previous post in the Religious Freedom and Social Reform series, we looked at the concerns raised in the Committee stages of the constitution-making process by Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Hansa Mehta and Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar. They did not want religious freedom provisions to constrain social reform legislation. Promptly, changes were made to the constitutional text, and these were reflected in the Draft Constitution presented to the Constituent Assembly in 1948.
Draft Article 19 (Article 25, Constitution of India 1950) provided for the ‘freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion’. One of the provisos in the Article read:
(2) Nothing in this Article shall affect the operation of any existing or preclude the State from making any law –
(b) for social welfare and reform or throwing open Hindu religious institutions of a public character to any class or section of Hindus.
On 6 December 1949, this sub-clause was very briefly – compared to other parts of the Draft Article - discussed in the Constituent Assembly.
K.T. Shah wanted to throw open religious institutions of Jains, Buddhists and Christians – not just Hindus. Interestingly, he wanted these religious institutions to not just be open to members of their respective religious communities, but to everyone. So, a Hindu religious institution could be accessed by a Christian and vice versa. He felt that that
‘the possibility of all religious institutions being accessible and open for all communities is a very healthy sign, and would promote harmony and brotherhood amongst the peoples following various forms of beliefs in this country’.
The second member who took part in the was G. Durgabai. She wanted to replace ‘any class or section of Hindus’ to ‘all classes and sections of Hindus’ in order to enlarge the scope of the clause to include ‘religious maths, and educational institutions or Pathasalas conducted by these institutions or attached to these institutions.
Other members of the Assembly did not respond to Durgabai or Shah, however, the Assembly did adopt Durgabai’s amendment.
A year later, in the revised Constitution prepared by the Drafting Committee in 1949, an explanation was added to the Article which read:
‘… the 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’
This change was a part acceptance of Shah’s amendment - it expanded the scope of religious institutions to be more than just Hindu. However, Shah’s proposal to include Christian did not materialise.
Further, his idea to give members of one religion the right to access another religion’s institutions also did not make it to the text – it is plausible that this was considered too radical by other members of the Assembly.
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