The religious freedom clauses of the Indian Constitution attempt to mediate between the competing claims of individuals, religious groups and the state, in a manner that is born out of specific historical circumstances. This article examines the controversial questions of whether, and to what extent, the Constitution grants individuals (specifically, dissenters) rights against the religious communities to which they belong. Taking as its point of departure a landmark Supreme Court judgment that struck down an anti-excommunication law, the article argues that the Indian Constitution is committed to an ‘anti-exclusion principle’: that is, group rights and group integrity are guaranteed to the extent – and only to the extent – that religious groups do not block individuals’ access to the basic public goods required to sustain a dignified life. Moreover – and unlike most other Constitutions – an individual may vindicate this right directly against her community in a court of law, by invoking the Constitution. This remedy is justified both philosophically, and in the specific context of Indian history. In this manner, Indian constitutionalism offers a novel and innovative solution to the perennial problem of balancing individual rights to religious freedom against the claims of community.
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