Indian MP traces historical path of secular democracy for UHLC students 

Hon Ram Jethmalini and guests

Ram Jethmalani , a member of the Indian Parliament, center, is surrounded by students and friends and adjoined by University of Houston Law Center  professor and former Dean Raymond T. Nimmer (immediate left) and Professor Tasha Willis (immediate right) after his lecture on democracy and religion.

Bookmark and Share

Sept. 25, 2013 -- A member of the Indian Parliament, elder statesman, renowned attorney, and self-professed “loose cannon” in his own country captivated University of Houston Law Center students Tuesday with a wide-ranging historical perspective on democracy and religion from the ancient Greeks to today’s extremists.

Ram Jethmalani spoke on the subject “Secularism in the Indian Constitution” and said his country owes a debt of gratitude to the American constitution and the founding fathers for providing a model for India in establishing a democratic, non-sectarian nation.

In 1947, after the Indian subcontinent was partitioned following independence from the British, the new country of Pakistan chose to become an Islamic republic while India opted not to declare itself a Hindu nation. People wanted to “profess, practice, and propagate” as they chose, Jethmalani said. ”Religions must compete with other religions in the marketplace of free ideas,” he added, “guided by logic, love, and compassion for fellow human beings.”

It has not always been so, and remains an unfulfilled goal today with Islamic extremists perverting the spirit of the great prophet Muhammad, he said. The Inquisition underscored racial and religious prejudices, suppression of free speech and thought, and the conflict between science and religion which continues in some quarters today.

While noting that he is not particularly religious and stating, “I don’t disparage any religion” except those that harm others, Jethmalani  closed by saying there is no higher religion than treating everyone as well as you possibly can, ”all the others are muck.”

Jethmalani was admitted to the bar at 18 and still practices at the age of 90, concentrating on criminal and constitutional law cases. He is a lifelong defender of the rule of law and justice. At one point, he was forced to flee to the U.S. after an arrest warrant was issued because of his criticism of Prime Minister Gandhi’s declaration of a state of emergency and suspension of the rule of law. He defended a Kashmiri convicted for the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, the killers of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and helped establish an affirmative action plan for India’s lower castes.

He is considered one of the foremost public figures in India. In addition to serving in numerous high level legal and government positions, he taught, founded a newspaper, has written columns and books, and is a frequent media commentator on current affairs.

Back to Top Stories Next Story