In a passionate debate in which hundreds turned out to support India’s president, Pranab Mukherjee, to denounce the “intolerance” of his time, India’s Supreme Court also heard the challenge to the nation’s abortion law under which the mother of the fetus was compelled to either give birth to a boy or face a possible criminal case.
India banned abortion for any reason — even if the mother is depressed or suicidal, if there is a risk to the woman’s life or if the pregnancy is the result of rape — in June, though the supreme court ruled that it is open to exemption for rape cases involving rape cases and in cases where rape is a feature of incest or a rape. The constitutionality of India’s abortion law was challenged recently in the high court in the northern state of Punjab, and the supreme court accepted the matter on Wednesday.
“We already have gender specific reservations in our education policy. Do we have to force a woman to give birth to a baby when she is depressed or suicidal?” Justice J. Chelameswar asked the parties to the case. “We will not get anywhere by keeping silent. A country’s great religions do not give a lot of leeway for tolerance. This is failure of faith of the modern society.”
Justice Chelameswar was speaking on behalf of nine justices who convened on Wednesday to consider the petition, along with the attorney general and the speaker of the lower house of Parliament. Adhering to their “bright shining future” pledge, the court also heard from several fathers of the child-free who appealed for an exemption, based on the fact that they did not want their children to be born. The 12-year-old father of the next-of-kin case later addressed the court, claiming that his family was prepared to fight the decision in the highest court if the case decided that he must choose between becoming a father or not.
But despite the condemnation of the limits India has set for itself, general unease still runs high over the power of religion in the nation. “The founding fathers did not think that a nation would begin and end with the Constitution. They did not conceive of a country where different religions and cultures were all accorded equal status,” Sharad Kumar told the court.
Here is a video of the opening statement by Supreme Court judge SJ Vazifdar: