Friday, May 21, 2010

Christianity ‘inspired the Indian penal code’

Lawyers say that Christian values played a big role in the development of the Indian penal code, laws which the Gujarat High Court recently said embodied the basic tenets of Hinduism and Islam.
“There appears to be a lack of knowledge among the legal fraternity about the historical background” of the code, said senior lawyer Joy Matthew, a Christian.
He said British Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay drafted the code in 1860 with help from British legal experts who lived in then colonial India. “All of them had a Western upbringing and Christian backgrounds,” the lawyer said.
According to Matthew, the source of Macaulay’s code was the Ten Commandments. The code was also influenced by the French and other European judicial systems, he said.
The high court judges made the “observation” May 16 while upholding a seven-year jail term given to two Muslims youth who fired at a Hindu in 2002.
The judges denounced the contention that the violence was revenge against an anti-Muslim riot in the state. “Neither Hindu nor Muslim religion permits taking of revenge,” they said.
The court said both Islam and Hinduism permit attacking a person only for self-defense. At the same time, no religion advocates revenge and the attacking of innocent people.
“Everybody is influenced to some extent by religion,” said Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, who runs a human rights center in Ahmedabad, the state’s commercial capital.
Macaulay would have “definitely been influenced” by his Christian background, said the priest. However, he stressed that the law should maintain its secular nature and judges should not mix religion with legal issues.
Kirit Mahida, a Catholic activist, said the whole code may not be influenced by Christianity. However, certain elements, such as punishment for sodomy and attempted suicide, reflect Christian principles.
He noted that work on the penal code began after the 1857 revolt against the British.

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