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Indian Supreme Court says society must learn to accept inter-caste, inter-faith marriages

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BY S VENKAT NARAYAN

Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, February 9:

The Supreme Court of India on Monday underscored the right of the adults to choose their life partner, and added that it is time society learns to accept inter-caste and inter-faith marriages without hounding the couples who marry outside their caste or religion.

A Supreme Court bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hrishikesh Roy further noted that it would “hardly be a desirable social exercise” for parents to shun their children only because they decided to marry outside their caste or community.

The judges, in their order, also emphasised the need for specific guidelines and a training module for policemen to deal with such “socially sensitive cases”, so that couples can get due protection available to them under the law should the parents lodge criminal cases against them.

The apex court noted that “educated young boys and girls are increasingly choosing their life partner on their own”, which might be viewed as a deviation by the society and the parents. But the police authorities were duty-bound to keep such couples out of harm’s way if there is no violation of the law.

(This country of 1,380 million people has 1,208 castes, and six main religions. Besides, six million people reported in the last census in 2011 that they practice other religions and faiths, including tribal religions).

The court’s comments are significant because they come in the wake of controversial laws/ordinances passed by several states ruled by India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Such laws can be misused to obstruct inter-faith marriages.

The bench was hearing a case of an inter-caste marriage from Karnataka. The couple approached the top court, seeking protection from a criminal case lodged by the woman’s father.

The woman, 28, is from Karnataka while the man, 26, is from Uttar Pradesh. They fell in love while being trained for their jobs as assistant professor and lecturer in a college, and decided to get married. The woman’s parents strongly opposed this alliance. Her father filed a missing persons complaint. This was converted into an FIR at Belagavi in Karnataka.

The couple rushed to the Supreme Court for protection, which promptly stayed the first information report (FIR) by an order in December last year, and sought a response from the Karnataka government.

On Monday, advocate Subhranshu Padhi, appearing for the state government, informed the bench that the woman was yet to record her statement before at the concerned police station in Belagavi about her consensual relationship with the man concerned, and hence the investigation into the father’s complaint was still underway.

But the bench asked Padhi why the investigating officer did not accept the woman’s request to record her statement at a place of her choice so that she could feel safe.

Advocate Prabhat Kumar Rai, who represented the couple, referred to the woman’s letter to the investigating officer and various other senior police officials in Karnataka. These letters disclosed that the couple were married in October 2020; and she also sent a copy of her marriage certificate.

“The woman feared for her safety if she were to go to Belagavi for recording her statement. The right to marry a person of (one’s) own choice is an integral part of Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Indian Constitution,” added Rai.

Lamenting the concerned police officer’s attitude, the court said the investigating officer should receive counselling. The Karnataka government must consider conducting a training programme for all its police officers to sensitise them about such cases. The bench observed that it is desirable for all the police departments to lay down guidelines for handling such cases.

The highest court in the country regretted that the parents of the woman opposed the choice of their daughter even though both the man and the woman were highly qualified, independent professionals and Hindus, but not of the same caste and not from the same state.

Quashing the FIR, the bench stated that once two adults choose to be with each other and have a consensual relationship, they cannot be made accused in a criminal case only on account of their parents’ refusal to accept their relationship.

“We hope that the parents of the petitioner no.1 (woman) will have better sense and accept the marriage to re-establish social ties with their daughter and her husband. That, we think, is the only way forward,” recorded the court in its order.

At least five BJP-ruled states—Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka and Gujarat have either passed laws, or are mulling laws designed to prevent “forcible conversions” through marriage, commonly referred to as “love jihad” laws.

The law in Uttar Pradesh, approved on November 28 as the Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversions Ordinance, includes provisions against “unlawful religious conversion,” declares a marriage null and void if the sole intention was to “change a girl’s religion.” The UP police made 35 arrests, and filed a dozen FIRs in the first month after the ordinance was passed.

The UP ordinance and the law in Madhya Pradesh passed last December propose sentences of up to 10 years in prison for those who break the law.

On January 6, the Supreme Court agreed to hear petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the laws passed in the name of love jihad. A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde refused, however, to stay the controversial provisions of the laws and issued notices to both state governments on two different petitions.The pleas, filed by advocate Vishal Thakre and others and an NGO ‘Citizen for Justice and Peace’, have challenged the constitutional validity of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020 and the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018 which regulate religious conversions of inter-faith marriages.Senior advocate C U Singh, appearing for the NGO, said some provisions of these laws are “oppressive and horrible” in nature and require prior consent of the government to marry which is “absolutely obnoxious”, Singh added.

The plea ‘Citizen for Justice and Peace’ said that both the legislations violate Articles 21 and 25, as it empowers the State to suppress an individual’s personal liberty and the freedom to practice religion of one’s choice.



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SJB MPs tell Speaker they received death threats

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Vote in House to elect President:

By Saman Indrajith

Three SJB MPs told Parliament yesterday that they were threatened with death on the eve before the recent vote in Parliament to elect the President.

MPs Wasantha Yapabandara, Tilak Rajapaksa and Chaminda Wijesiri said that they had received death threats and demanded to know the legitimacy of the recent election of a new President by Parliament.

Badualla District SJB MP Wijesiri said that votes had been solicited from MPs by offering bribes and those who did not take bribes were threatened and intimidated to vote for Wickremesinghe.

“The votes were obtained by issuing death threats on MPs. Therefore, one has to question the legitimacy of the recent poll held in Parliament to elect a new President,” MP Wijesiri said.

The MP demanded that Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena should order an investigation into death threats. “Similarly, the Speaker should inform this House whether the election held in Parliament to elect a new President is legitimate or not,” he said.

Kandy District SLPP MP Wasantha Yapabandara said an unidentified caller had asked him to resign from Parliament or face death. “I have handed over recordings of the conversation to you and I request you to carry out an investigation into this matter,” the MP told the Chair.

Digamadulla District SLPP MP Tilak Rajapsksa also called for an investigation into threats faced by MPs.

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Govt. announces 75% power tariff increase

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Janaka Ratnayake

By Ifham Nizam

The Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL) yesterday said that the new electricity tariff hike of 75 percent would be effective from today.

The electricity bill of the consumers who use up to 30 units per month will increase by Rs. 198.

The average monthly electricity bill for those who consume up to 60 units will be increased by some Rs. 200.

Although the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) had sought an increase of 276% for the consumers who used more than 90 units, the PUCSL stood firm on sticking to 125%, according to PUCSL Chairman, Janaka Ratnayake, who said that 75 % of the electricity consumers continued to benefit from a subsidy.

Steps had also been taken to encourage electricity consumers to promote renewable electricity generation with the tariff revision decision, he said.

Ratnayake said that the new tariff revision had been formulated to provide relief to the hotel sector and the industrial sector.

“During the last nine years, the value of the dollar has increased by 190 percent. Therefore, the industries in the export sector will not be greatly affected by this electricity tariff revision,” he said.

Instead of the 116 percent tariff increase proposed by the Ceylon Electricity Board for industries, hotels and general-purpose sectors, with low electricity consumption, will get an approved tariff increase of 39 percent for the public sector and 75 percent for the industrial sector.

Only 50 percent of the increase in the approved rates, especially for the tourism sector will come into effect tomorrow. The remaining 50 percent tariff increase will come into effect after another three months as an incentive and relief, facilitating the tourism industry’s recovery, according to the government.

In addition, it has been decided to provide a 1.5 percent discount when electricity bills are paid in dollars as a relief to the tourism and export industries.

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SLPP questions GR’s response to ‘Aragalaya’

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… won’t expect miracles from new Prez

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) didn’t expect miracles from UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe but strongly believed he could meet the growing threat posed by fascists, lawmaker Sagara Kariyawasam, General Secretary of the party, said on Monday night.

Appearing on ‘Salakuna’ a live political programme on Hiru, SLPP National List MP said that the party unanimously decided to back Wickremesinghe’s candidature, at the presidential contest, in the wake of the so-called protest movement destroying properties belonging to 76 lawmakers and those belonging to other party activists and their relatives during meticulously planned and executed ‘operation.’

The protest movement also killed Polonnaruwa District MP Amarakeerthi Atukorale and his police bodyguard, MP Kariyawasam said, emphasizing that their decision was essentially influenced by serious security considerations.

The panel of journalists, comprising Chamuditha Samarawickrema, Madushan de Silva and Kalindu Vidanage, pressed Kariyawasam and UNP General Secretary and ex-MP, Palitha Range Bandara, over their agreement on the SLPP’s support for Wickremesinghe at the presidential contest.

In spite of Kariyawasam and Bandara repeatedly denying a written agreement, or verbal understanding, the Hiru panel sought an explanation how the UNP leader managed to obtain 133 votes other than the one vote exercised by Wickremesinghe himself.

The SLPP won 145 seats, including 17 National List slots at the last parliamentary election in August 2020 whereas the UNP was reduced to just one NL seat.

At one point, a smiling ex-State Minister Bandara asked the interviewers not to portray the SLPP’s backing for Wickremesinghe as another ‘ali koti’ agreement. Bandara was referring to the much-publicized accusations, directed at the UNP at previous national elections, before President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

Responding to queries, lawmaker Kariyawasam revealed that in the wake of stepped up protests, against the government, the SLPP advised the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa against appointing another member of the government parliamentary group as the PM. The SLPP felt that replacing PM Mahinda Rajapaksa with one of their own wouldn’t have helped to bring the tensions down, MP Kariyawasam said.

UNPer Bandara emphasized that Wickremesinghe accepted the premiership on May 12 after Samagi Jana Balavegaya leader Sajith Premadasa, MP, and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, also of the same party, turned down President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s offer.

Asked whether SLPP strongman Basil Rajapaksa proposed Wickremesinghe’s name, lawmaker Kariyawasam said that a committee, chaired by him in his capacity as the General Secretary, decided to field Wickremesinghe at the presidential contest. Lawyer Kariyawasam said that former Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, attended the meeting, via zoom technology.

According to MP Kariyawasam, of over 30 members of the decision-making body, led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, 23 participated at the meeting. Basil Rajapaksa and SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris had been among those who didn’t attend the meeting.

MP Kariyawasam said that in spite of a Prof. Peiris acting contrary to the decision taken by the party, disciplinary measures hadn’t been initiated. The former Foreign Minister remained the SLPP Chairman, MP Kariyawasam said.

When interviewers sought an explanation as regards Mahinda Rajapaksa’s declaration, soon after MPs overwhelmingly elected Wickremesinghe, as the President, on July 20, that the SLPP fielded Dullas Alahapperuma, MP Kariyawasam asserted perhaps the former Premier said so taking into consideration his personal friendship with the Matara district MP. Lawyer Kariyawasam said that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s reaction could be interpreted in different ways.

Lawmaker Kariyawasam asked the interviewers to raise the issue at hand with Mahinda Rajapaksa while reiterating the SLPP took a hard decision and nothing mattered other than electing a person who could overcome the fascist challenge.

MP Kariyawasam declined to name culprits though he categorized a section of the parliamentary group as having conspired against the government.

The SLPP General Secretary questioned President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s failure to meet the threat posed by the protest movement. Declaring the SLPP had been surprised by the President’s decision to leave the country, lawmaker Kariyawasam queried whether the President cum Defence Minister refrained from exercising his powers, or the instructions issued by him weren’t carried out. Declaring that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should have stayed back and faced the challenge, MP Kariyawasam said that the SLPP’s stand on this matter would be revealed later, along with what he called self-criticism of the party.

Asked whether the armed forces refrained from carrying out instructions issued by the President, MP Kariyawasam advised the interviewers to seek a clarification from the former leader.

MP Kariyawasam said the campaign that had been carried out against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be examined against the backdrop of Western powers interventions in Iraq and Libya leading to the execution of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Dec 30, 2006 and killing of Muammar Gaddafi on Oct 20, 2011 at Sirte, Libya. Lawmaker Kariyawasm recalled how the Western powers falsely accused Iraq of having Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) before invading that country. Those who couldn’t stomach the eradication of the separatist LTTE were hell bent on taking revenge on the Rajapaksas, MP Kariyawasam said.

When Chamuditha Samarawickrema asked MP Kariyawasam to reveal the number of Colombo-based diplomatic missions that had been involved in the anti-government project, an irate SLPP official, while declining to answer, emphasized that it shouldn’t have been raised with him.

The public would know the truth one day, the MP said.

The contentious issue of handling corruption cases, during the Yahapalana administration, compelled the SLPP General Secretary to strongly dispute the UNP General Secretary.

Responding to the UNPer’s declaration that a team, supervised by Ranil Wickremesinghe, altogether handled 448 cases whereas the other team, spearheaded by Maithripala Sirisena and J.C. Weliamuna, did absolutely nothing, MP Kariyawasam said such claims were baseless.

Ex-MP Range Bandara harshly criticized both Sajith Premadasa and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka. Alleging that MP Premadasa never had the guts to take up a challenge, lawmaker Range Bandara issued a dire warning to MP Fonseka over his call to revolt against the government. Declaring that the former warwinning Army Commander couldn’t operate outside the Constitution, the UNPer said that the Gampaha District MP could suffer the fate of Ranjan Ramanayake, who was found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to a prison term.

MP Kariyawasam launched a scathing attack on former Power and Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila over what he called the much publicized claim over an agreement with Oman to procure oil for a period of one year. In spite of such claims, nothing materilized thereby causing major problems for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government, the MP said.

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