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On religion and law

On religion and law

Author: Nina C George
Publication: Deccan Herald
Date: October 19, 2007
URL: http://deccanherald.com/Content/Oct192007/metro2007101931460.asp

Justice K T Thomas spent some time with Metrolife to share his perspectives on religion, religious conversion and the law.

He is one among the few who have set standards in the higher echelons of judiciary. And what's even more remarkable is that his scholarship is tempered with social concerns.

Meet the former Judge of the Supreme Court of India - Justice K T Thomas - who was in the City recently to deliver the sixth Rev Dr Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture, organised by the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD) in association with St Mark's Cathedral and YMCA.

Although he is now leading a quiet life, his concern for the poor and ideas for a better India surely inspire the young to dream and work for a better nation.

Justice Thomas was born at Kottayam in 1937. He completed his schooling and education in law in Kerala and soon set up an independent practice and acquired a lucrative practice both on the civil and criminal laws.

In 1977, he secured first rank in a selection for District and Sessions Judges directly recruited from the Bar. In 1985, he was elevated as a Judge of the High Court of Kerala and in 1995 was appointed Chief Justice (Acting) of the High Court of Kerala. He was then elevated as a Judge of the Supreme Court of India in March 1996.

Justice Thomas has headed as many as four judicial commissions on sensitive issues. He completed the task within the stipulated time in all the four instances. He spent some time with Metrolife to share his perspectives on religion, religious conversion and the law. Excerpts of the interview:

Religious conversion has become the subject of passionate debate in contemporary India. Your comments...

Yes it is absolutely true. Believing in one religion is the entitlement of an individual and believing in no religion is also an entitlement. Both are equally important. If you have the right to propagate any religion, you must also have the right to propagate that there is no need of religion. Atheism is also a subject that can be propagated. Some people may call it rationalism or objectivity.

If religion unites, it is also one of the foremost dividing forces in
the country? What's your observation

Religion, particularly in the Indian context, carries not merely a form of worship or a ritualistic process, it carries certain legal rights as well. It is not merely a faith but an acquisition of certain municipal, civil and matrimonial rights as well.

Is the right to freedom to practice, propagate and profess any religion applicable to foreign missionaries as well?

The right to propagate should never be understood as religion only, one has the right to propagate atheism as well. Do you expect foreign missionaries to propagate atheism? You will naturally oppose that. Similarly if someone comes from outside and preaches a particular religion in another country, then the reaction of the people of that country must be taken into account. That's what matters.

Speedy justice is still a far fetched thing in our country? How much longer before we can expect that to come into force?

The reasons for the delay is very obvious. One, is because we are not resorting to the modern technology for the legal process. Secondly, the ratio between the judges and population in India is the lowest, this must be increased. And more training needs to be given to the high court judges. The delay is mostly on account of the present system which has not been scientifically improved.

Your stance on the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project?

Decisions on the project must not be taken in a haste. When the tsunami took place, the least affected was India and it was because of natural barriers like Sethusamudram. Secondly, there is a great religious sentiment attached to it and it belongs to a religion followed by the vast majority of the Indian people. You cannot injure the religious sentiments of a great majority of the people just to provide passage for the ships.

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