In Conversation with: Gutam Bhatia
Gautam Bhatia is a Delhi-based advocate. A graduate of NLSIU in 2011, and subsequently one of the recipients of the Rhodes Scholarship of the same year, Gautam is one of the pioneers of bringing together philosophy and Indian Constitutional Law in his widely read blog, Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy. The primary focus of the blog is on Part III of the Constitution. In 2015, he released his book, Offend, Shock, or Disturb: Freedom of Speech under the Indian Constitution, which is a comprehensive examination of free speech under the Indian Constitution. It explores Indian free speech jurisprudence from a doctrinal, comparative, and philosophical perspective.
We recently interviewed him recently on the issue of triple talaq. Read on to hear his insights.
A - What is your opinion on the triple talaq verdict? In particular, what do you think of the criticisms that it is being used as a weapon against minorities spearheaded by the far-right rather than influencing any real shift in gender rights? Do you think it has created any new change?
G - I think it's far too early to tell. A lot will depend upon its implementation - and to what extent it serves as a tool of empowerment for Muslim women. In general, the issue of the UCC has always been weaponised by some groups to attack minorities - but I don't think that obviates the very real need for gender-just personal laws, whether uniform or not.
A - Recent developments have seen discussions on ‘love jihad’ and ‘uniform civil code’ making contradictory claims - one is suggesting that cross-religious relationships should not be allowed whereas the other is implying that we should be raising beyond religion - yet both are being used within a majoritarian public discourse to attack the muslim community. What are you thoughts on this?
G - "Love jihad" is a bogey - you're right when you say that it is a tool in the majoritarian discourse. UCC, in my view, is a lot more complicated - as I've pointed out in my answer above. I think there are strong arguments for a UCC that are grounded in a liberal - or even left-wing - vision of constitutional republicanism, the idea that there shouldn't be any dark spaces, closed off to the application of constitutional norms. With something like the UCC, the devil is always in the detail, and I think that it depends entirely on the content of a proposed UCC. There can be versions of the UCC that impose majoritarian norms on the community as a whole, but there can be versions which consciously do not.
A - For the benefit of the readers, can you tell us what the is standing of personal laws in India with regards to constitutional protection in light of this judgment?
G - This judgment does not change the pre-existing position, which is that uncodified personal laws cannot be challenged on the ground that they violate fundamental rights.
A - If could see one shift or change in the Indian legal system, what would it be?
G - Less deference to the government in civil rights cases, especially cases involving free speech.