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English fortnightly, devoted to life, literature and culture.

Vol: 26  No: 01


12 August 1979

Let’s Give Them a Home

Justice M. C. Chagla

We have immense resources. But these resources cannot produce real wealth unless the citizens of tomorrow are protected and constitute a disciplined and progressive nation.
Achild is like a blossom. A garden without blossoms would hardly be a garden. Trees have their majesty but blossoms have colour and fragrance which make the garden a thing of beauty.
Similarly in a family, a child acts as a cementing factor between its father and mother. There is something lacking in a childless marriage. It is not complete. This is precisely the reason why most of the families which are childless go in for adoption--not for spiritual reasons alone but also to strengthen the ties of matrimony.
In India a valid adoption can only be made by Hindus. There is no Law which would enable other communities to make a valid adoption. Many non-Hindus have informally adopted children; but the adopted child does not get a legal status nor does it get legitimacy, if he is illegitimate. Among Hindus, once the adoption takes place, the adopted child had the same status as a naturally born one. He has rights of inheritance and all the other rights as if he were born to his adopted parents.
Under the Hindu Adoption Act, it is now permissible to adopt also a girl.
Without legal adoption, there is no security for the child. The adopted parents may discard him, disinherit him and treat him like a servant in the house.
Today hundreds and thousands of children leave India to be adopted in foreign countries which have a proper adoption law. Our Courts here have very little control to ensure the welfare of the child who has left this country. Therefore on merits, there cannot possibly be two opinions, of the necessity for a secular adoption law applicable to all sections of the Indian community, like the Penal Code or the Guardian and Wards Act.
An Adoption Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 1974. It was referred to a select Committee of 46 members in 1976. The Committee made a report in which 44 members concurred. The only dissenting members were two, who were Muslims. In 1978, the Bill was taken for consideration in the Rajya Sabha. Members from different parts of the house objected to the Bill on the ground that it offended the religious sentiments of Muslims and they opined that it should not be proceeded with. On that, the Law Minister beat a hasty and undignified retreat and withdrew the Bill. The reason for this was obvious. He did not want to lose Muslim votes in any election that may take place.
I quite understand that votes and voters are necessary and essential for the working of a parliamentary democracy. But unfortunately they also constitute, in our country, today, the greatest weakness in the system of government, when they are used as bargaining counters or as bribe or intimidation by one party against the other.

This is the Year of the Child and public opinion must insist that the adoption law should be put on the statute book this year. No legislative procrastination should be permitted and no fear of religious or obscurantist opposition should be allowed to deter the Government from carrying out this most essential and beneficial reform.

I like to remind the Government and Muslim friends of some potent facts of which they seem to be oblivious:
1. We in this country are governed by Indian Law and not Islamic Law. The Legislatures, the Privy Council and the Supreme Court have constantly altered and amended the strict application of the Shariat. Under the Penal Code, peoples’ hands are not cut off on their conviction for theft nor are women who have committed adultery stoned to death as required by Muslim Law. The Special Marriage Act, which was recently passed, equally affects the Shariat, but a Muslim member in the debate in Parliament admitted that they had allowed it to be passed without any objection or opposition, through inadvertence!
2. We have no official Church and we are a secular country unlike Iran, Pakistan and other Muslim countries.
3. Uniform Civil Code is a directive principle under the Constitution and Muslims cannot be heard to say that they are not bound by it and that the Shariat can override that principle.
4. This is an enabling measure and no one is bound to adopt. Therefore, in effect, the Muslim opposition is coercing the minority which wants to adopt legally. The Muslim opposition may be a large majority. But even the smallest minority has its rights. It cannot be taken away by a vocal, vociferous and obscurantist majority.
Here is a directive principle (Uniformness of this policy and whatever Civil Code), which we have refused to implement because although constitutionally we are a secular country, in practice our secularism is distorted by communal considerations.
I presided over a public meeting in Bombay protesting against Government’s attitude over the Adoption Bill and I was happy to say, quite a large number of Muslims and particularly Muslim women joined in the protest. Such meetings should be held all over our country. Public demonstrations should be organized. Deputations should meet the Government in Delhi and everything possible should be done to see that the welfare of the child is ensured by the passing of this Law.
The child constitutes the potential wealth of this country. We have immense resources. But these resources cannot produce real wealth unless the citizens of tomorrow are protected and constitute a disciplined and progressive nation. It is our solemn duty to do all we can to preserve this potential wealth and make it worthy of our country and our country’s tradition.

Bhavan's Journal

12 August 1979


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Language: English
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