Religion vs individualism: How free is faith?

Whose freedom is superior? That of the individual practising a religion – or that of the religious heads?

In a diverse society like India, the individual’s freedom and the freedom of religion keep clashing all the time. A classic example is the Shah Bano case of the 1980s, where the Supreme Court awarded maintenance to a divorced Muslim wife but the Rajiv Gandhi government piloted legislation through Parliament to defeat the decision on the ground that the ruling conflicted with principles of Islam. In 2011, the Bombay High Court ruled that the trustees of the Bombay Parsee Punchayet were not entitled to prevent any duly-ordained Parsi priest from performing religious rights in properties belonging to the trust.The trustees were merely “keepers of properties“ but had donned the mantle of the “keepers of the faith“, and had desired to prohibit the entry of the priests who did not conform to their view of orthodoxy.The court interpreted the trust deed to show that they were obliged to “suffer“ the usage of these properties by all members of the faith.

There is litigation pending in the Supreme Court that would eventually rule on whether the right to ex-communicate a member from a faith is an integral part of the freedom to practice religion. That would be a classic conflict between the right of an individual to practice a religion and the right of the religious community to prevent him from practicing religion of his choice.

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