26 May 2021 4:50 AM GMT
A civil court in Kerala has ruled that the practice of expelling a member from Knanaya Catholic Church for marrying outside the community is unconstitutional for being violative of right to marry under Article 21 and right to religion under Article 25 of the Constitution of India.The Additional Sub Court at Kottayam held that the practice of compulsive endogamy in the church is in violation...
A civil court in Kerala has ruled that the practice of expelling a member from Knanaya Catholic Church for marrying outside the community is unconstitutional for being violative of right to marry under Article 21 and right to religion under Article 25 of the Constitution of India.
The Additional Sub Court at Kottayam held that the practice of compulsive endogamy in the church is in violation of right to marriage, which is a facet of right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Court additionally held that the forfeiture of membership in the Knanaya church for violating endogamy is violation of right guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution.
"It can be easily concluded that alleged practice of endogamy in second defendant (Archeparchy of Kottayam) is in violation of right to marriage enshrined in Art. 21 of Indian Constitution which can be simultaneously be recognized as a common law right and a fundamental right. The forfeiture of membership in second defendant for violating endogamy is violation of right guaranteed under Art. 25 of Indian Constitution," the judgment delivered by Additional Sub Judge, Sudheesh Kumar S, stated.
The Court held so while decreeing a civil suit filed by a group of reformists who were opposing the practice of compulsive endogamy in the church(Knanaya Catholic Naveekarana Samithy and ors v. The Metropolitan Archbishop, The Archeparchy of Kottayam).
Knanaya Church is a sect of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. The Knanaya community takes distinct pride in their ancestral heritage, which they trace back to Syrian Christians who are believed to have migrated from South Mesapotamia to Kerala during 4th century. They distinguish themselves from other Catholics on account of their unique lineage, and rigorously follow endogamy, and violation of it will lead to expulsion from the community, even if the person married is a Catholic of another church.
The plaintiffs instituted the suit in 2015 contending that the practice of terminating the membership of Knanaya church for marrying a Catholic of another church is "unholy" "unconstitutional", "unethical" and "inhuman". The plaintiffs sought a declaration that the practice of endogamy was unconstitutional and illegal, and directions to bring back members expelled for violating endogmay and to restrain the Kottayam diocese (which is the exclusive diocese of Knanaya Catholics) from following this practice.
While decreeing all the releifs sought by the plaintiffs, the civil court observed the the "plaintiffs have established that Kottayam diocese is "practicing compulsive endogamy violating Bible, Canon Laws, Particular Laws, Article of faith, Indian Constitution and International Covenants".
"They(plaintiffs) also probabilise various evil consequences to be faced by members of second defendant after expulsion. The very act of expulsion, no doubt create fear in the minds of existing members of second defendant and will be repelled from exercising their precious civil rights", the Court observed.
Right to marriage integral part of personal liberty
Referring to precedents in KS Puttaswamy case(which held right to privacy a fundamental right), Hadiya case(which held right to marriage a part of personal liberty), the Court held that right to marriage is the integral part of personal libertye nshrined in right to life guaranteed under Indian Constitution, and that the same shall not be curtailed under the guise of custom by the Kottayam diocese.
"It was recognized for long time that freedom to marry is the vital personal right essential to the pursuit of happiness by free men. Even statutes denied the precious right to marry on the strength of racial classifications were struck down by various Secular Courts in the world", the Court said.
Notably, the judgment refers to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Right and European Covenant on Human Rights. The Court rejected the contention of the defendants based on the international treaties that the suit was a violation of their distinct cultural and religious rights.
"Suit cannot be considered as an intrusion or infiltration to the ethnicity of second defendant or Knanaya Catholics", the Court ruled.
The Court held that right to marriage is a civil right as well and a suit seeking to protect the same was maintainable as per Section 9 of the Code of Civil Procedure.
"Right to marriage which is admittedly a civil right find its root in Article 21 of Indian Constitution which forms integral part of right to privacy recognized by Hon'ble Supreme Court in Justice K. S.Puttaswamy's case. Right to retain membership in Kottayam Diocese is also a right of civil nature. Right to get pastoral care in the marriage being members of Kottayam Diocese is also civil right in nature. Absence of ecclesiastical Courts created by State in India empowers Civil Courts to try cognizable religious disputes, except in very rare cases where the declaration sought may be what constitutes religious rite".
Knanaya Catholic not a separate religious denomination
Significantly, the Court also ruled that Knanaya Catholic is not a separate religious denomination to claim protection under Article 26 of the Constitution.
"No doubt Knanaya Catholic community have a common organization and a distinctive name. But it lacks very vital ingredient - system of believes or doctrines which they regard as conducive to their spiritual well being i.e., common faith. Knanaya Catholic believe in Jesus Christ and his gospels as conducive to their spiritual well being like any other member of Syro Malabar Church or Catholic Church".
Endogamy has no biblical basis; not a "religious affair"
The Court also observed that the practice of endogamy has no rootings in the teachings of Jesus Christ and the scriptures of Holy Bible.
"Divine Law did not recognize practice of endogamy as an essential practice conducive to the religious well being of Christians. Jesus Christ advised his followers to be remain without any discrimination in their mind to accept God in the form of unconditional love. So the discrimination through endogamy cannot be considered as a religious affair of second defendant or Knanaya Catholic. Knanaya community after embracing Christianity cannot retract from Divine Law accepted by Catholic Church. In addition to that Knanaya Community have no spiritual teacher than Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ admittedly stand against verses of Ezra and Tobith who are advocating endogamy. Defendants did not establish the fact that they are observing endogamy as conducive to their spiritual well being. They also did not establish even Jews from whom defendants are claiming lineage were endogamous. Various para-liturgical prayers and practices relied on by defendants will not assist Knanaya Catholics to recognize them as religious denomination in Catholic Church"
Christian religion does not recognize any caste classification
Referring to the SC precedent in Rajagopal v. Arumugam and Others (AIR 1969 SC 101), the Court held that Christian religion does not recognize any caste classification.
"All the Christians are to be treated as equals and there is no distinction between one Christian and another ofthe type that is recognized between members of different castes belonging to Hindu religion. Infact, caste system prevails only amongst Hindus or possibly in some religions closely allied to the Hindu religion like Sikhism. Christianity is prevalent not only in India but almost allover the World and nowhere does Christianity recognize caste division.The tenets of Christianity militates against persons professing Christian faith being divided or discriminated on the basis of any such classification as the caste system", the judgment observed.
Endogamy not established as a custom; against teachings of Jesus
The Court held that hat endogamy has not been established as a custom, practice or tradition having the force of law in the Knanaya Catholic community.
"For Jesus Christ there was no difference between Gentiles and Jews, circumcised and uncircumcised,barbarians, savages, slaves and free men. New Testament is the primary source of Divine Law. If there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free men, between men and women to Jesus Christ how defendants can practice endogamy removing people for marrying Catholic from another Diocese not met and answered before Court. How a Catholic Diocese can expel its members if their teacher had the view "everyone whom my father gives me will come to me. I will neverturn away anyone who comes to me, because I have come down from heaven to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me" not answered and explained before Court"
"On close analysis of Bible, Canon Law, Particular Laws and Article of Faith, it is crystal clear that Jesus Christ stood for unconditional love without any discrimination among human beings. He had no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and freemen, between men and women. He stood for tolerance and forgiveness.He advised to his followers to consider all human beings without any discrimination. He considered even the persons who pierced his chest without any discrimination and prayed for them. A person who identify himself in another or who identify God in another can only pray in that score. So the Christian religion cannot encourage discrimination as Jesus stand against it. Christian religion is not recognizing caste system due to aforesaid reason. In the backdrop of aforesaid findings, I am of considered opinion that defendants failed to establish the fact that Church Laws supporting practice of endogamy in Knanaya community and in second defendant, Ext B22 to Ext B29 proved practice of endogamy as a custom among Knanaya Catholics, Ext B3, B13(a) and Papal Bull dated 29.08.1911 support practice of endogamy in second defendant"
Endogamy practice not peaceful
The Court also went to the extent of saying that implementation of endogamy in the Kottayam Archeparchy is not peaceful.
"It is just like handing over knife to one person and command him to kill himself. The members of second defendant approaching for 'vivahakuri' to marry a Catholic from another Diocese will be compelled to leave second defendant forfeiting his membership to save a life partner of their own choice", the Court said.
The Court decreed the suit in following terms :
Declared that by entering into a marriage with a Catholic from another Diocese, a member of the Archeparchy of Kottayam will not forfeit his/her membership in the Archeparchy of Kottayam.
The Metropolitan Archbishop of the Archeparchy of Kottayam, the Archeparchy of Kottayam and the Major Archbishop, Syro Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church are restrained from terminating the membership of any member of the Archeparchy of Kottayam for marrying a Catholic from any other diocese.
The above three defendants are ordered "to provide equal rights and facilities through the parish priests for the sacrament of marriage to those members of Archeparchy of Kottayam who wishes to marry Catholics from any other Diocese."
The Archeparchy of Kottayam authorities were directed to re-admit members, along with their spouses and children, whose membership were terminated for marrying Catholics, if such former members are qualified in all other respects on receipt of proper application.
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