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Open Diary

Swapan Dasgupta is India's foremost conservative writer and columnist
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Religion, law and a run-in with Aadhaar

THE OVERWHELMING majority of Indians describe themselves as Hindus. Yet, as has often been noted, Hinduism is not really a religion but more akin to a civilisation. There is no uniformity of beliefs or even of the rituals that govern religious practices. There are overlapping practices, a sense of what is called ‘sacred geography’ and, in recent times, a growing sense of self-identity which even extends to politics. These flexible parameters of faith have meant that Hindus don’t see any real conflict between their sense of religion and their existence as citizens in a society governed by the rule of law. Consequently, what were deemed customary practices have frequently been modified by law.

One of the main reasons why India has endured as a non-denominational state—also called a secular state—is that there is no real conflict between law and faith, particularly among Hindus and other Indic religions. There is also no discernible conflict between laws evolved through debate and consensus and the Christian faith. Some Christians have strong objections to abortion and divorce, but these are not obligatory.

The real conflict has arisen between secular laws and Islamic practices.

Most non-Islamic countries with secular constitutions have resolved this issue by simply stating that there is no question of separate laws for any religious community. India had a chance of doing that in 1947, but for political reasons that step was not taken. As a result, we have had unending debates and even tensions over separate personal laws that permit polygamy, arbitrary divorce and create complications over adoption.

The Triple Talaq verdict of the Supreme Court has outlawed one regressive practice. But the judgments issued were not shining examples of progressive thought. The judges upheld the right to have separate personal laws and assessed Triple Talaq within the parameters of Islamic theology. To my mind, this is certain to create huge problems for social reforms in the future. Change will need to be measured in the light of its compliance with Islamic theology and not man-made Indian statutes. This is not a happy situation.

The way out is for Parliament to pass social reform legislation using prevailing human values as the yardstick. But this requires political courage and a determination to fight an organised clergy that is loath to relinquish its hold over its congregation. I don’t think ‘secular’ parties possess that political will because they have made minority rights their signature tune. It will be up to Hindu voters to ensure that faith and law are kept quite separate.

LAST WEEK, I sought to recommend someone for a Padma award. The Government has both democratised the process and put applications online. That was the good news. The bad news was that I needed to have an Aadhaar-linked mobile number to log in to the relevant website.

I made the journey to the UIDAI office in central Delhi and the registration was quick and painless. Since I had time on my hands, I went to a Vodafone office nearby to upgrade my SIM card. There, the guy insisted that I also link my mobile number to Aadhaar. I explained that I had done so at the UIDAI office an hour ago. He insisted that only Vodafone could do the linking. Without wishing to argue, I told him to go ahead. Alas, my fingerprint which had easily matched at the UIDAI office, failed to register at the machine in the Vodafone office, despite many attempts. So I gave up, took the new SIM card and went home.

I have often read of problems encountered by people in getting their fingerprints to match. Now I’ve experienced the problem first hand. Will the UIDAI look into the reason for these glitches? Has it got something to do with the durability of machines that are in constant use?

The saga doesn’t end here. I logged on to the Padma website using my official email. That was easy. The problem lay in filling up the form. This was the first website I know that refused to accept both apostrophes and quotation marks. The process was infuriating and slow. If my son hadn’t helped in the process, I would have given up.

Why are official websites in India so badly designed and so user- unfriendly? We claim to be an IT superpower, but if you look at government websites, they are positively antediluvian.

The Prime Minister has placed faith in technology to improve the connect between government and citizen. As part of this, a review of all official websites is overdue.

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