Bharat has an itihasa of more than 10,000 years as a land of eternal spirituality and its ancient grand magnificent temples are the physical manifestation of the Divine Supreme Consciousness (Paramatma). The grand temples are the testimony to the onslaught of the brutal invasions suffered by Indian civilization for the past 1400 years, be it under the barbaric Islamic rule or the exploitative British colonial period. They embody the symbol of resistance of Sanatan Dharma prevailing over predatory Abrahamic faiths, which have wiped out every other indigenous civilization in the world wherever they set foot. Sanatan Dharma owes its resilience to the realisation of the ultimate truth of seeing the Brahman or the Pure Consciousness within oneself as a Sacchidananda Atma. Sanatan Dharma revers nature, the rivers, trees, forests, mountain ranges and the very land as apparitions of the Parmatama which makes life sustainable. The Paramatma in infinite grace for the Bhaktas (devotees) manifests as “swayambhu” (self-manifested idols) or as vigrahas (stone idols) which are consecrated by the rishis, munis and sant–mahatmas with due Prana-Pratishta rituals and installed in temples built for them. Thus, Hindu temples or Devalaya or Devsthanam or Mandir or Kovil are places where the Parmatma resides as a living deity unlike the churches or mosques which are mainly congregation spaces for community prayers. In temples the deity is offered Naivedyam like water, milk, ghee, honey, fruits and other cooked food according to the Agamas ( rules of worship laid down from the Vedic period) as gratitude to the divine power for all the material prosperity bestowed on the Bhaktas as gifts of the Parmatma. After offering food to the deity as Naivedyam, the Bhaktas consume the food as Prasada (grace of Bhagwan).
GOVERNMENT CONTROL OF HINDU TEMPLES
It is mentioned in a series of articles written by Prof. MD Srinivasan, the Chairman of Centre for Policy Studies, titled “Temples and the State in Indian Tradition” published in the website India Facts, that as per a report made in 1820s from the data collected by the collectors of all districts in Madras Presidency, there was a total of one lakh Hindu Temples, Chatarams and Mutts in the twenty districts of the Presidency. About 300 to 400 major temples were reported to exist in almost every district. Similarly, in 1833 a report of the British Government at Madras mentions that 7,600 temples were directly under their control then. In contemporary times, the 2005-06 budget report of the Government of Tamil Nadu enumerates that it manages 38,409 Hindu and Jain religious institutions, while the Andhra Pradesh Endowment Department has 33,575 religious and charitable organisations under its control. Across India in several states there are an extremely large number of temples under the micro-management of the government.
In fact, at a time when we are heading towards good governance in many sectors by ceding government control to private players in the telecom, railways, airlines, shipping, banking, insurance or even public-private partnership in critical strategic areas like defence and space technology following the pet slogan “Minimum Government and Maximum Governance”, it is quite baffling that the government irrespective of whichever party is in power, is taking more and more temples under its control. The latest examples being the Shani Shingnapur temple at Ahmednagar in Maharashtra in 2018 and all the 51 temples of the Chardham Yatra circuit in Uttarakhand in 2019. This governmental takeover is singled out only for Hindu temples and matths under the guise of financial misappropriation and providing infrastructure for large scale pilgrimage centres. It is quite surprising that governments, be it the Centre or the state, are plagued with mega scams, corruption and mismanagement yet want to take over the management of Hindu temples under the ruse of corruption! On the other hand, the Judiciary guards its arena very ferociously, rightly so, from executive and legislative interference, yet it very liberally allows the “secular” government of a “secular” nation as enshrined in the Constitution of India to interfere deleteriously in the freedom to profess, practice and propagation of Hindu religion through its administrative control over ancient Hindu temples and matths resulting in the state of the ancient temples descending from bad to worse.
The administration of Hindu temples has been interfered with from the Islamic and British times. We are well aware, during the period of Islamic invasion more than 30,000 ancient temples were perversely broken and mosques were built over it. The most famous cases being the Babri Masjid constructed by Babur’s General Mir Baqi after demolishing a holy temple in Ayodhya which marked the birthplace of Bhagwan Shri Ram. Then we have the famous Martand Sun Temple of Kashmir in ruins which Sikander Bhutshikan (Sikander the Iconoclast) very infamously tried to break but since it was too strong, he burnt it for months together to destroy it to the maximum. The rest of the surviving magnificent temples of India then were subjected to administrative takeover by the British government by passing several legislations and regulations from 1810 onwards to the Government of India Act of 1939 enabling the provincial governments to make their own laws in order to strengthen their grip on temples.
MISUSE & ABUSE OF TEMPLE FUNDS & LANDS
This practice of peculiarly taking over Hindu religious institutions has been shockingly continued even after independence by the Central and State governments while the Mosques and Churches are not interfered with even in cases of gross mismanagement by their trustees. The government administrators have misused the funds collected from Hindu temples and mutts by way of offerings by devotees and diverting them for non-religious purposes and have even gifted away temple property and prime temple lands for a pittance to other non-religious organisations. In many a case, the government has encouraged squatting on temple land and illegally gifting it away by regularising it under the garb of housing for the poor, but when scrutinised closely would uncover usurpation of temple lands and properties by the influential and elite. Thus, there is a “secular” conspiracy across all political parties, the intelligentsia and the judiciary in allowing this to happen.
An article in The Hindu dated 20.01.2020, authored by Dr Subramanian Swamy, an eminent economist, former cabinet minister, BJP MP and a well-known Hindu activist who saved the holy revered Ram Setu from the bulldozers of the UPA government has brought out the rot and corruption in government administered temples of Tamil Nadu which is quoted here verbatim:
“In fact, what is scandalous is the corruption after takeover of temples by the Tamil Nadu officials, MLAs and Ministers by looting the temple wealth, lands, and jewels, and the reckless diversion of donations of devotees to non-religious purposes.
For example, temple properties: Tamil Nadu temples, under Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Department, has control over more than 4.7 lakh acres of agricultural land, 2.6 crore square feet of buildings and 29 crore square feet of urban sites of temples. By any reasonable measure, the income from these properties should be in thousands of crores of rupees. The government, however, collects a mere Rs.36 crore in rent against a ‘demand’ of mere Rs.304 crore — around 12 per cent realisation. How much is under the table only a court-monitored inquiry can reveal. In any corporate or well-managed organisation with accountability, those responsible would have been sacked. Yet, we have people rooting for ‘government administration’.”
BEFORE AND AFTER GOVERNMENT CONTROL OF TEMPLES
A presentation by the Temple Worshippers Society, Chennai has summed up very succinctly the status of our ancient temples before and after government take over which is stated as follows: Our ancient temples still contain huge treasure of gold, silver, precious gems and invaluable idols despite several centuries of loot and plunder. The Tirupati Tirumala temple and the Padmanabhaswamy Temple are good examples of this. The ancient temples owned very large tracts of land which were fertile and this made it self-sustainable. The temples also had Kalyanis (water tanks), Nandavanas (rose gardens) and Goshalas which enhanced the quality of environment and ecology. It was a centre of Veda Paathshaalas for learning, debates and discussions on Vedic philosophy, Shastras, Upanishads, Vedas and Vedanta. It also provided a platform for the promotion of classical dance, music, art, literature and culture. Cultural values and traditions were imbibed through temples. Temples also provided Annadanam (free food) and Ayurveda Chikitsa which sustained the poor and the needy and also became centres for sustenance during calamities.
All this changed dramatically when government took over administrative control of temples. The temple treasury is looted, there is no account of the jewels in the treasury and priceless ancient bronze and stone idols are being routinely stolen from temples. The Veda Paathshaalas have vanished and intellectual debates and discussions are no longer part of temple discourse. The Kalyanis, Nandavanas and Gaushalas have also vanished damaging the ecology and environment. Huge tracts of land owned by temples have disappeared as they have been misappropriated by successive governments. Classical music, dance, literature and art are no longer supported by temples.
Government interference has disturbed the traditional ancestral lineage of priesthood. The priests are either not paid at all or paid very poorly, while the government officially takes away a minimum of 10-12 % of temple collections as administrative fee and 4% as audit fee which together amounts nearly one-sixth of its total revenue. According to a Tamil Nadu Policy Note of 2013, between 1986 and 2013 about 47,000 acres of temple land has been alienated. Under the government watch many temple lands have been illegally encroached.
The Temple Worshippers’ Society further presented that a government managed temple spends only around 14% of its expenditure on temple related activities and rest of the amount collected from devotees is spent on administrative and miscellaneous purposes. Whereas in devotee managed temples nearly 69% of the expenditure is utilised for temple related activities.
PETITIONS TO FREE HINDU TEMPLES FROM GOVERNMENT CONTROL
Lately, there is a momentum growing within the Hindu community to free Hindu temples from government control. Many eminent Hindu intellectuals and activists like Dr Subramanian Swamy, Shri TR Ramesh, Shri Rangarajan Narasimhan, and Adv. Ankur Sharma, J. Sai Deepak, etc. have filed petitions to free Hindu temples from government control and restore them to their past pristine glory. We shall now see in brief the success of these endeavours in the legal arena in the list of cases discussed below.
CHIDAMBARAM NATARAJA TEMPLE CASE
On January 6, 2014 the Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgement on a Special Leave Petition filed by Dr Subramanian Swamy that sought to quash the Tamil Nadu Government’s G.O. of 2006 which had mandated the government takeover of the sacred Sri Sabhanayagar Temple (popularly called the Natraja Temple at Chidambaram). The Supreme Court allowed Dr Swamy’s petition and overruled the Madras High Court Single Judge and Division Bench judgement of 2009 which had upheld the constitutionality of the G.O. by a twisted logic that new laws can overturn past precedents set by the Supreme Court on the same matter. The Supreme Court had in 1954 dismissed the then Madras Government’s SLP seeking to set aside the Madras High Court Division Bench judgement of 1952 which had upheld the right of Podu Dikshitars to administer the affairs of the Natraja temple and dismissed all charges of misappropriation of temple funds against the Dikshitars. The Supreme Court bench of Justices BS Chauhan and SA Bobde in 2014 thus called the Madras High Court judgement of 2009 on the same matter a case of ‘judicial indiscipline’ and was null and void on the principles of Res Judicata. In their judgement the Bench clearly set the constitutional parameters on the scope of governmental intervention in the management of religious institutions. The Court particularly mentioned that any G.O. that mandates a takeover of a temple must be for a fixed limited period and only to last till the defect for which the takeover was mandated is cured. Dr Swamy had suggested to the Court that even in cases where government takeover of temple administration is allowed due to misappropriation of funds etc it should be limited to a maximum of three years.
TIRUMALA TIRUPATI DEVASTHANAM CASE
In September 2018 Dr Subramanian Swamy had filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court to free the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) temple from the control of Andhra Pradesh Government. The TTD including Sri Venkateswaraswamy Temple in Tirumala, Sri Padmavathy temple in Tiruchannur along with 11 other temples has been in total control of the government of Andhra Pradesh for the past two generations and were the richest temple in India in terms of annual income and asset holdings. Dr Swamy challenged the constitutional validity of the various provisions of the Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments Act, 1987. As quoted by the Financial Express dated 17.09.2020, Dr Swamy said that under the garb of mandate provided by the law to administer religious institutions, the Andhra Pradesh government “has virtually usurped the fundamental religious, administrative and cultural rights of Hindu citizens and denominations.” He further stated that the hereditary trustees, Mahants, Archakas, other temple-oriented communities as well as the worshippers who account for the major source of offerings and funds of the religious institutions “have become passive observers and distant onlookers with practically no say in religious matters”. This by itself constitutes an egregious infringement of their rights and their freedom to profess, practice and propagate their religion. Thus, Dr Swamy prayed for declaration of provisions of the Hindu Religious Institutions & Endowment Act, 1987 as ultra vires the Constitution. The Supreme Court asked Dr Swamy to move the High Court of Andhra Pradesh for the same relief. Dr Swamy then instituted the same petition before the Andhra Pradesh High Court and Dr Swamy is optimistic about a positive outcome from the High Court on the matter and tweeted recently that the case is in final stages in the High Court. In a major development with respect to TTD, the TTD Board declared on 02.09.2020 that the Audit reports of the country’s richest temple would be prepared by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India, which until now was handled by the Audit Department of the Andhra Pradesh Government. This comes on the heels of the aforementioned petition pending in the High Court by Dr Swamy seeking the audit report of the past five years of the TTD accounts along with the plea to free the temples from government control.
PADMANABHASWAMY TEMPLE CASE
On 13.07.2020, the Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgement, after a nine-long year court battle, by reversing the 2011 Kerala High Court judgement and upheld the traditional ancestral right of the Travancore royal family to manage the property of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala as per the customary Shebait rights. The High Court of Kerala in 2011 had handed over the administrative control of the centuries-old temple to the Kerala government. The Supreme Court ruled that while the royal family would continue to manage the temple as Trustees, an administrative Committee of five members headed by District Judge is to be constituted to oversee the temple administration. Two members of the Committee is to be nominated by the government while the other two members would be the chief Tantri of the temple and a person nominated by the royal family. The judgement also stated that the religious rituals and matters pertaining to religion for the temple and its premises would be conducted under the direction of the chief tantri. But the judgement was criticised by some intellectuals like senior journalist R. Jagannathan, in his article in the Swarajya dated 14.07.2020 titled, “SC’s Padmanabhaswamy Verdict is a cruel Joke: Rich Temple May Be Reduced to Begging Bowl Status”. Jagannathan argued that the verdict perfunctorily grants trusteeship to the royals but actually makes them go with a begging bowl to the government for the management of the temple. As the administrative control of the temple would actually vest with the supervisory committee where the royal family nominee and the chief tantri would be in minority. He further stated the court also ordered that the security expenses of the temple have to be borne from the total income of the temple. Jagannathan in his article pointed out that the temple has treasures worth nearly Rs.1, 00,000 crore in its underground vaults and this will have to be guarded from the total income of Rs. 1.5 crores per month from the offerings by devotees while the government claims that the total cost of its security arrangement amounts to Rs 23 crores which is virtually an impossible task and would force the royals to turn to the ruling communist government in Kerala for funds. Plus, the court also ordered a detail audit to be conducted of the accounts of temple for the past 25 years which is unprecedented and not ordered till now even in any of the mega financial fraud cases. This would only end up being a source of endless harassment to the Royals to somehow fix some blame on them and oust them from management of the temple built and held by their ancestors in trust.
PALANI TEMPLE CASE
On 22.09.2020, a Single Judge bench of the Madras High Court pronounced a far-reaching judgement cancelling the tender notification by the Executive Officer (EO) / Fit Person for housekeeping services at the Dhandayuthapani Swamy Temple, Palani in Tamil Nadu. TR Ramesh, President of the Indic Collective and a renowned activist for ensuring transparency and probity in the management of temples under government control filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court challenging the EO’s action in floating a tender for housekeeping services stating that only devotees were authorised to maintain cleanliness of the temple and its premises under the age-old voluntary service ritual as per “Uzhavara Pani”. The petition argued that the EO by entrusting the cleaning and maintenance works of the temple to contractors on a commercial basis infringed on the fundamental rights of a devotee to offer his/her voluntary service to clean the premises of Bhagwan Murugan as per customs. The Single Bench Judge, Justice GR Swaminathan accepted the contentions raised by the petitioner and quashed the EO’s move to award commercial contracts for cleaning and maintenance by stating that the devotees should not be denied their right to offer their voluntary services. The Judge also made a scathing remark on the state of affairs of the temples managed and controlled by the government and observed that the Board of Trustees which should consist of eminent Hindus and people of impeccable character has been lying vacant for last nine years as the government failed to reconstitute the same after the expiry of the previous trustee’s tenure. The Judge also ordered that the government should take all possible steps to ensure that the Board of Trustees is constituted for the said temple with people of impeccable character as “leaving the temples in the care of bureaucracy has not helped”. The Judge quoted the PeriyaPuranam (Great Epic) authored by Sekkizhar, the 12th Century saint, and observed that Shaivism speaks of four modes of worship: Sariyai, Kriyai, Yogam and Jnanam. The Judge thus ruled that, “Sariyai includes physical service (Uzhavara Pani). House-keeping contract is the commercial contract of Uzhavara Pani”. As reported by The Pioneer dated 25.09.2020, this Single Judge Bench judgement of the Madras HC was hailed by Dr Subramanian Swamy as, “This is magnificent judgment from the Madras HC which lays the foundation for getting all Hindu temples freed from bureaucratic and political control”. But this path breaking judgement of the Madras High Court of the Single Judge bench was stayed by the Division Bench of the Madras High Court comprising Justices K Kalyanasundaram and T Krishnavalli in an appeal preferred by the EO/ fit person to set aside the judgement order of the Single Judge Bench. This only seems to be a temporary setback and the decision of the Supreme Court in the aforementioned Natraja Chidambaram temple case and the Padmanabhaswamy Temple case can serve as a precedent to persuade the judiciary to rule in favour of the devotees’ fundamental rights to clean, maintain, manage and administer temples and free temples from government control.
ARDHANARESHWARAR TEMPLE CASE
The State Government of Tamil Nadu through the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department has brazenly started changing the physical features of the ancient 2000 years old Ardhanareswarar Temple at Veeracholapuram, Kallakurichi, Tiruchi district in Tamil Nadu. The Ardhanareswarar Temple is one of the very rarely found temples with the idol being Shiva-Parvati, split in the middle with the right part being that of male Shiva and the left part being that of female Parvati. The Tamil Nadu government proposed to illegally construct a Collectorate for the newly formed Kallakurichi district on 14.09 hectares of prime temple land worth more than 100 crores for a pittance of one crore compensation to the temple. A Public Interest Litigation in the Madras High Court was filed by a devotee, Rangarajan Narasimhan of Srirangam to quash the alienation of temple land for constructing the Collectorate. The petitioner averred that sufficient amount of government land was available adjacent to the temple property yet the State had chosen to construct the Collectorate on the temple land. The government in undue haste had also laid the foundation stone for it and started the construction work. The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department claimed in reply to the PIL that it has not alienated the temple land but would be giving it on lease to the government, which would be mostly for 99 years. A newspaper report on The Hindu dated 28-11-2020 stated that the Madras High Court restrained the government from changing the physical features of the temple land, thereby banning any construction activity on the temple land and putting it to use for non-religious purposes.
CHAR DHAM DEVASTHANAM MANAGEMENT BOARD CASE
The Uttarakhand Government in 2019 took over the administration of the Char Dham temples including Badrinath, Kedarnath and 51 other temples under the garb of misappropriation of funds by the trustees and restructuring of administrative arrangements for the good conduct of Char Dham Yatra due to natural disaster in 2013. This brazen trampling of religious rights of Hindus by the government was challenged by Dr Subramanian Swamy in a PIL instituted in the Uttarakhand High Court wherein he stated that the pilgrims have been visiting without any problems or complaints and the State did not give any details of complaints made against the priests and families looking after the temples in Uttarakhand. Swamy also questioned how did the government wake up after six years after the natural disaster in 2013 to take over the temples.
Dr Swamy stated in his petition that some provisions of the Act state that if there is no Zilla Panchayat, the District Collector can nominate members in the Board. He stated that, “This is practically State acquisition of an ancient group of denomination and departmentalisation of the entire Devasthanam for an indefinite period.” This was therefore contended by Dr Swamy to violate Articles 14, 25, 26 and 31-A of the Constitution of India.
On 21.07.2020, the Uttarakhand High Court dismissed a PIL filed by Dr Subramanian Swamy against the state government’s takeover of the Char Dhams and 51 other shrines through the formation of the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board. The court ruled that the ownership of the temple properties would vest in Char Dham shrines and power of the Board would be confined only to the administration and management of the properties.
Quoting from the judgement The Hindustan Times news report dated, 21.07.2020 reported, “There is no unconstitutionality in the Char Dham Act. The recent judgement of the Supreme Court in Marthand Varma vs. the State of Kerala given in the case of the Padmanabhaswamy temple is not applicable in the present context, as the facts are totally different. In the Kerala shrine case, the uninterrupted management of the Travancore royal family was found to be from 1686. But, in the case of Badrinath Temple, the uninterrupted management was disrupted in 1899, when the administration of these temples was made by the then High Court bench of Kumaon that had separated the religious and temporal affairs. No religious sentiments have been violated by this Act. The Board has only taken over secular management, which is legally permissible,”
Dr Swamy has filed an appeal against this order of the Uttarakhand High Court and is very confident that the Supreme Court would reverse the High Court judgement and hold the government takeover of the Char Dham illegal and void.
MATA VAISHNO DEVI SHRINE BOARD CASE
The State Times dated 27.08.2020 reported that a writ petition was filed in the Jammu & Kashmir High Court by Baridars, a Hindu religious denomination, claiming rights to administration, management and governance of Sri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine and its endowments. The High Court of Jammu and Kashmir issued notices to the UT of J&K and the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board. Advocate Ankur Sharma, the man behind declaration of Roshni Act as patently illegal and unconstitutional by the J&K High Court, represented the petitioners in this case.
The petition challenges the constitutional validity of the Jammu & Kashmir Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board Act, 1988 which took away the control of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine from the hands of Baridars Hindus who were managing the temple since 10th Century AD and vested it in government hands. The petition seeks a complete handover of the management and governance of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine, its Endowments and all other properties to the Baridars Hindus in the true letter and spirit of Art.26 of the Constitution of India. Adv Sharma alleged gross mismanagement by the government and sought an external audit of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Fund since 1986, from the time management of the Shrine was taken away from the hands of the Baridars, either by a reputed audit firm or by constitutional/ statutory audit bodies. Adv Sharma averred that the Shrine Board funds were squandered in Iftar parties, non-Hindus were employed by the Board and funds are used for various non-Hindu purposes. The petition sought enforcement of Arts. 25 (2) (a), 26, 29, 14 & 13 A (b) of the Constitution of India. The petition stated that Art. 25 (a) is regulatory in nature but the Act usurps virtually all rights of management and administration from the original traditional stake holders and hands it over to the government which is patently illegal and ultra vires.
Adv Ankur Sharma said that the state must maintain the same degree of distance from the Hindu religious institutions as it does with Christian and Muslim religious institutions. Adv Sharma is very confident that the Jammu & Kashmir High Court will give a favourable verdict freeing the Vaishno Mata Shrine and its associated properties from inefficient government control.
This sums up the various cases filed by activists and stake holders to free the temple from government clutches, many of which are yet to be finalised by the judiciary at various levels.
The Supreme Court has incrementally approved nearly all forms of governmental interference in temple affairs by distinguishing the “religious” and “secular” nature of Hindu religious establishments. It has time and again laid emphasis that the Constitution guarantees full freedom for “religious” part while the government can control the “secular” part.
Thus, as early as in 1954, the Supreme Court held in the Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments v. Shirur Mutt case (well-known as the Shirur Mutt case) that the determination of what rituals are necessary is a “religious” matter but the scale of expenditure for the rituals is a “secular” matter and the government can legitimately exercise its control in “secular’ matters. Financial matters, acquiring and administering of property are “secular” matters. Thus, the government appointed Commissioner can interfere in the daily affairs of the temple with impunity and it would not infringe on the “religious” rights of Hindus.
The judiciary which advocates less government control and decentralisation of power in various areas seems to be very liberal in approving government taking over Hindu religious institutions daily and also very hesitant to free Hindu temples from the gross mismanagement and misappropriation under government control. While the landmark Natraja Chidambaram judgement of the SC does offer a ray of hope wherein the judiciary observed that governmental takeover of temple management due to some defect should cease the moment the defect is cured.
The Supreme Court in various petitions filed by the Shaivite and Vaishnavite temples ruled that hereditary rights of succession for archakas or pujaris (priest) in temples is not mandatory and what is essential is that only a duly qualified archaka can enter the sanctum sanctorum. The court also held that a Shaivite cannot serve in a Vaishnavite temple and a Vaishnavite cannot serve in a Shaivite temple.
Thus, it can be concluded that the courts have incrementally construed most of the traditional and customary systems related to Hindu religious establishments as “secular” activity leaving very little room for constitutionally guaranteed “religious” freedom. Whereas the courts have been very reluctant to regulate the religious freedom guaranteed to Muslims and Christians under the constitutional framework to establish and maintain religious institutions even on the grounds of public good or probity.
Similarly, recently the Supreme Court ruled that the restriction on entry of women of menstruating age from 10 to 50 in Sabarimala Temple at Kerala violates the fundamental right to equality, liberty and dignity of women. In contrast in the Shayara Bano case, when the petitioner sought quashing of the inhuman practice of polygamy, triple talak and halala prevalent among Muslims as it violates Arts. 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution of India, the Supreme Court conveniently concerned itself only with the question of outlawing instant triple talaq and refused to look in to equally greater evils as polygamy and halala which are gross human rights violations and affront to womanhood. The Supreme Court used the pretext that it is for the Centre to legislate on the matter to evade the issue. In fact, when the then Solicitor General Mukul Rohtagi stated in his course of arguments to ban polygamy, halala and all forms of unilateral talak (oral divorce right available only to Muslim men), one of the Judges of the Supreme Court, who is otherwise very proactive to ensure women’s rights as we saw in the Sabarimala case, commented to the SG that “what about minority rights, you will leave the minorities with no special rights under Art. 25”. So, it is okay for the Honourable Judges to violate gross human rights of women when they are minorities, but not okay to merely regulate entry of women according to Agamas to worship a celibate Hindu God! The same Honourable Judge also admitted a preposterous petition for banning from Kendriya Vidyalaya Schools the Sanskrit prayer, ‘Astoma Sadgamaya, Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya, Mrutyorma Amritamgamaya, Om Shanti, Shanti Shantihi’, which roughly translates to ‘ Lead me to truth from ignorance, lead me to light from darkness, lead me to immortality from death, Peace! Peace! Peace!’ The petitioner claimed that singing of this prayer creates obstacles in development of scientific temperament and violates the rights of minorities, atheists, agnostics, etc. as the prayer is based on Hinduism. Absurdly, instead of dismissing the petition the aforementioned Honourable Judge admitted the case and has now referred it to a Constitutional Bench. During the course of arguments, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta quipped, My Lord do not admit this petition as you are sitting beneath the motto of Supreme Court Sanskrit shloka borrowed from Mahabarata – ‘Yatho Dharmastho Jaya’, meaning ‘where there is Justice (Dharma), there is victory!’
The Secularists might in future even object to the Republic of India using the National Motto “Satyameva Jayate”.
So, the question that looms large is – Does the Constitution of India guarantee the freedom of religion only to non-Hindus in India?
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