The role of the judiciary in a democracy is akin to that of a guardian, responsible for overseeing all facets of the system. Those occupying top positions in the judiciary are expected to exhibit extra vigilance and mindfulness in their public discourse and conduct. There is no expectation from them to deliver statements that fuel controversies or go against the fundamental, traditional, and cultural ethos and constitutional principles of the nation. Such statements not only clash with the present but also impede and affect the long-term interests of the country and society. Unfortunately, in recent days, some statements from judges have come to light which indicate a lack of deep understanding and thoroughness on the subject, and instead, they seem to have been given hastily or impulsively. Those in responsible positions should strive to avoid simplistic conclusions and popularity-driven tendencies. During a ceremony laying the foundation stone of a court building in Pune on March 4th, Justice Abhay S. Oka of the Supreme Court stated that any ritual like worship (Bhumi-Poojan) or lighting lamps should be discontinued in any program organized within the premises of the court. Instead, emphasis should be placed on presenting the preamble of the constitution in any court event and bowing before it. In the same program, Justice B.R. Gavai expressed full and candid agreement with Justice Oka’s view, stating that “instead of worshiping any particular religion, we should mark the foundation with our hands and inaugurate the program by watering plants instead of lighting lamps. This will send a positive message in environmental matters to society.”

A week prior, on February 28th, retired Justice Kurian Joseph had stated that the motto of the Supreme Court, “Yato Dharmastato Jayah” (where there is righteousness, there is victory), should be changed because truth is the constitution, whereas Dharma is not always truthful. He questioned why the ideal phrase for all other high courts and national institutions is “Satyameva Jayate” (truth alone triumphs), so why is the Supreme Court’s motto different? Interestingly, in 2018, during a symposium, Justice Joseph had said, “The Catholic Church has always internalized the traditions and beliefs of various other cultures worldwide. This is similar to the preamble of our constitution, which begins with the word ‘we’.” By comparison, here he had compared the Catholic Church’s adaptation of other traditions and beliefs to the preamble of India’s constitution.

Generally, in such arguments and statements, the fundamental mistake lies either religion, Mazhab, faith or sects are mistakenly considering synonymous with dharma, or in misconceiving secularism. It must be remembered that “secularism” was not originally a part of the Indian constitution. It was included during the Emergency through the 42nd constitutional amendment when the entire opposition was in jail. Naturally, the question arises why the Constituent Assembly chose not to include “secularism” in the preamble and what circumstances later arose that compelled its hasty inclusion? It is noteworthy that in the original text of the constitution, there were 22 images to highlight the importance and dignity of the national, cultural, and historical tradition that has been running for centuries. These images include prominent figures like Lord Ram, Lord Krishna, Hanuman Ji, Lakshman Ji , Lord Buddha, Lord Mahavir, King Bharata, Maharaja Vikramaditya, Chhatrapati Shivaji, Guru Govind Singh, Rani Lakshmibai, and Vedic sages conducting Yajnas, among others. In Part III of the Fundamental Rights, there is a picture of Lord Rama, Mata Sita, and Lakshmana Ji, which is a public expression and acceptance of the revered status of Lord Rama as the ultimate protector of people’s rights. It is not necessary to mention separately here that the then members of the Constituent Assembly, compared to today’s so-called secular flag bearers, were much clearer, impartial, and transparent regarding the policy and intention of secularism. Is it not true that India is inherently secular from its very nature and essence? Can there be any doubt that India could have remained secular because here Hindus are in the majority? The truth is that the inclusion of “secularism” in the preamble of the Constitution has been a desire and sentiment of coexistence inherent in the eternal culture of Sanatan Dharma for centuries.

Essentially, ‘secularism’ is a concept imported to India from Europe. It originated in Europe during the Middle Ages when the church and state clashed over their respective power, influences and spheres of operation. While it may have been an appropriate solution for the specific circumstances there, in our country, there has never been a religious state or any conflict between state power and religious authority. Therefore, the concept of secularism is meaningless in our context. We have always had a tradition of obedience to discipline, not religious rulership. Dharma cannot be defined as just a belief system, religious faith, release or denomination because it is a broader concept encompassing all aspects of life – it is a universal idea, a vision of unity in diversity. While one expands, the other confines; while one stretches from the individual to the universal and divine, the other is limited and confined to specific communities. Mazhab or Religion compels adherence to a single scripture, path, symbol, or prophet. It does not accept any other belief, way of life, path or truth. Those who disagree or hold different beliefs are not only disapproved but often met with scorn, hostility, and enmity. They consider separate symbols or sense of separateness as their sole identity. While Dharma seeks unity in diversity, expands consciousness, and strives for inner elevation, it is not a promoter of uniformity but a protector of diversity, uniqueness, and consciousness. It does not engage in external aggressive campaigns to establish a particular doctrine or power but is a continuous quest for truth. It is another name for understanding the right and wrong actions, duties, or responsibilities. For example, the king’s duty, the people’s duty, the father’s duty, the child’s duty, the teacher’s duty, etc. Dharma has also been used as a fundamental nature or attribute, such as the duty of fire being heat, the duty of water being coolness, and the duty of humans being compassion or empathy. In Sanatan Culture, Dharma is a pervasive concept meant for the welfare of humanity, not for any specific group, community or caste. Therefore, in the Sanatan tradition after every ritual, expressions of goodwill such as – “Dharma ki Jay ho (victory of righteousness)”, “Adharm ka nash ho (destruction of unrighteousness)”, “Praniyon me sadbhavana ho (goodwill among beings)”, and “vishwa ka kalyan ho (welfare of the world)” are articulated. There is no glorification of any particular sect, path, denomination, or community. Even in the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says, “Whenever there is a decline of righteousness and rise of unrighteousness, I manifest myself (यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत । अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम्‌ ॥).” Note that he did not say that his manifestation occurs whenever a particular doctrine or path declines. Dharma is upheld, and religion and belief are accepted. Dharma emphasizes cooperation, inclusion, harmony, and coexistence. It is based on the principle of harmony. Dharma establishes a bridge of harmony between individuals, society, nature, the Supreme Being, and the entire universe. It accepts all forms of truth and paths. Dharma says, “एकं सत् विप्रा: बहुधा वदन्ति (Truth is one, the wise call it by many names)” , “आनो भद्र कृतवो यंतु विश्वतः (It expresses good thoughts from all directions)”, “उदार चरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् (considers people with noble character as its own family)”, and “सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः सर्वे सन्तु निरामया, सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु मा कश्चिद् दुख भागभवेत)(wishes happiness for all, freedom from disease for all, and that no one should suffer)”. Manu described the characteristics of Dharma as follows: “धृति: क्षमा दमोऽस्तेयं शौचमिन्द्रियनिग्रह:। धीर्विद्या सत्यमक्रोधो दशकं धर्मलक्षणम्‌ (Patience, forgiveness, self-control, non-stealing, purity, control over senses, wisdom, truthfulness, absence of anger). Do these ten characteristics indicate rejection, intolerance, narrow-mindedness, contraction, or lack of generosity towards anyone?

While all Abrahamic religions have considered the words of their prophets as the ultimate, divine, and only truth, other new knowledge and experiential truths have been given no place within those religions. There, due to the policy of superiority complexes, discrimination, closed-mindedness, limited scope, and expansionism, there is a continuous struggle not only with others but also within their own beliefs for what is purer, truer, and more religious. The beliefs and doctrines of Islam such as Dar al-Harb, Dar al-Islam, Jihad, Jannat, Dozakh, Kufra-Kafir have made the circumstances more fearful, intense, and conflict-ridden. Similarly, the belief that “Salvation and welfare are possible only by seeking refuge in Jesus” is also divisive and creates conflicts among civilizations.

In essence, it can be said that Dharma is the name given to those systems or rules that uphold various aspects of individual, societal, national, and human life. On the other hand, religion and faith are related to certain specific beliefs and practices. As long as a person adheres to them, they remain a member of that religion or faith. However, when someone abandons those beliefs, they are excluded from it. Moreover, Dharma is not solely based on beliefs; even a person who doesn’t believe in any religious faith can be virtuous. Due to the translation of ‘secular’ as ‘Dharmanirpekshta,’ many misconceptions have arisen. Being secular does not mean being indifferent to Dharma. Can the comprehensive meaning of Dharma in Indian knowledge system ever be indifferent? We must understand that participating in rituals like lighting lamps during state functions, political events, breaking a coconut before launching a new ship, or performing land worship before construction are integral parts of Indian culture and tradition. “तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय (From darkness, lead me to light)” – this is the guiding principle of human progress. Humanity has always challenged the power of darkness by lighting a small lamp. We are carriers of the culture of enlightenment. Darkness should never be desired by any group, society, or community, nor should it be. It is known that during the auspicious occasion of unveiling the Ashoka Pillar atop the new Parliament building, the first chant was “Om Vasundharay Vidmahi Bhutadhatray Dhimahi Tanon Bhumahi Prachodayat (ॐ वसुंधराय विद्महे भूतधत्राय धीमहि तन्नो भूमिः प्रचोदयात्)”. Could someone take offense to expressing a desire for blessings from the Earth (Dharti Mata), which sustains and nurtures everyone, or showing reverence towards it? Can elements like earth, sky, sun, moon, rivers, mountains, water, and light be part of any religion or faith? Instead, they have their own independent existence, and they are equally essential for everyone. However, they need to be viewed from different and special perspectives by various civilizations. Indian culture also has its unique and special perspective on life and the universe. It is addressed as the broader perspective of Indian culture. Lately, there has been a trend of neglecting or disrespecting many respected and prevalent symbols in Indian culture. Therefore, unnecessary controversies arise over rituals like lighting lamps, land worship, Saraswati Puja, Ganesh Vandna, morning prayers in schools, Vedic Mantras, Sanskrit Slokas as well as national symbols like the National Anthem, National Song, National Flag or the Ashoka Pillar. Viewing cultural traditions and symbols through a religious or so-called secular lens is neither just nor rational. Many times, even seemingly trivial controversies arise over rangoli designs, auspicious symbols drawn, conch shell sounds, floral offerings, and so on, made in the context of auspicious moments or events. Even saying “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” is offensive to many. However, it should be readily accepted that changing religions does not change ancestors or culture.

Everyone, from esteemed judges to the common enlightened individual, must understand that these symbols and traditions are integral parts of our national and cultural life, not of religious life. Their connection is with the unchanging perspective of life and the universe. The example of Indonesia is before us. Despite being the most populous Muslim country, they have not changed their culture. They have retained their traditional names for public institutions and events. The emblem (logo) of their air force is ‘Garuda’. The motto of their navy is “Jalesveva Jayamahe,” meaning ‘Victory in the sea’. The Ramayana and Ramleela are extremely popular there. If all this is possible in an Islamic country, then why unnecessary controversies in India?

Those who are offended by “Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah” today, will surely be offended by other organization’s slogans tomorrow. There is an active group of so-called secularists in this country who equate Sanskrit with communalism. Their narrow-minded secularism only satisfies itself by harming India’s self, identity, and culture. Since Sanskrit is the source of India’s self, identity, and culture, they also take offense to it. Most of the guiding statements like ” “Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah (Dharma protects those who protect it),” “Bahujan hitay, Bahujan sukhay (For the welfare of all, for the happiness of all)”, “Satyam Shivam Sundaram (Truth is auspicious and beautiful)”, “Seva Asmakam Dharmah (Service is our dharma)”, “Nabhas Sparsham Deeptam (Touching the sky with glory)”, “Koosh Moolo Dand (the treasury is foundation of administration)”, “Yogakshemam Vahamyaham (Lord Krishna secure what is not already possessed and preserve what they already possess)” are inherently linked to Sanatan scriptures and Sanskrit. So, should they be changed based solely on this? Will the so-called secularists demand changing this also? It is worth considering that if a Vedic mantra gives us the power and inspiration of “Sangachchhadhwam Samvadadhwam SamVo Manasi Janatam” (Let us walk together, let us speak together, let our minds comprehend alike), then why should there be objections to it?

It is noteworthy that in the Indian knowledge tradition, there is no contradiction between Dharma and truth; rather, they have an inherent relationship. While truth provides the answer to the question “what,” Dharma provides guidance on “what should be.” Dharma strengthens the values of justice, impartiality, and equality enshrined in the constitution. It ensures that legal decisions are not only legally valid but also morally correct. Dharma enables judges to address ethical dilemmas and resolve complex issues by incorporating legal procedures, logic, and interpretation. Ultimately, it is entirely appropriate to say that ‘Dharma and constitution’ and ‘Dharma and truth’ cooperate and complement each other, rather than being in conflict or contradiction.

Pranay Kumar
Educationist & Column Writer

DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.