Context

  • The Supreme Court of India dismissed the plea to end the practice of burning the effigy of Ravana, a demon king in the epic Ramayana, on eve of the Dussehra festival.

Reason behind the plea

  • Anand Prakash Sharma,
  • the petitioner had, moved a plea to stop the burning of Ravana’s effigy as such practice does not find any mention in Valmiki’s Ramayana or Tulsidas’ Ramayana.

  • Practicing such activities hurts some sects of people who has different perspective on Ravana.
  • He also cited that such practice is harmful to the environment and public health as well.
  • All the fumes and fire lead to air pollution which already is at alarming rate.

Court’s statement

  • Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar reiterated Article 25 of the Indian Constitution while dismissing the plea.
  • Every person has the right to do what he feels is good for his faith, according to Khehar.

Article 25 of the Indian Constitution

  • Articles 25 to 28 states make India a secular state.
  • 42nd Amendment inserting the word “secular” make the assertion firmer.
  • The Article 25 states that every individual is “equally entitled to freedom of conscience” and has the right “to profess, practice and propagate religion” of one’s choice.
  • Practicing religion or the act of propagating it should not, however, affect the “public order, morality and health.”
  • The Article doesn’t put any restriction on the government when it comes to making any law to regulate “economic, financial, political or other secular” activities, which may be associated with religious practice.

Violation of Article 25

  • The Article 25 is one of the most misconstrued articles of the Indian Constitution.
  • Although Article 25 warranties the freedom to follow any religion and propagate it, yet this freedom comes with a responsibility to ensure that the public order, morality and health are not compromised in the process.
  • This constitutional provision does not give individuals the right to conduct animal sacrifice and perform religious rituals on a busy street or public place that causes inconvenience to others.
  • Likewise, the use of loudspeakers in temples or mosques is not guaranteed in the Article 25.
  • Bursting fire crackers for religious occasions and using loudspeakers during religious prayers had come under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court that restricted the time of bursting crackers.
  • The Article 25 should not be considered as absolute.
  • Though the right to perform rituals is protected under this Article, yet the state retains the power to formulate laws to regulate “economic, financial,
  • political.”

India’s position on Religion

  • India has no state religion,
  • State doesn’t discriminate between religions,
  • State cannot impose any tax to promote a religion or to maintain religious institution,
  • Religious instructions cannot be imparted in educational institution run by state funds and
  • In educational institutions recognized by the state and receiving aid from the government, religious instructions cannot be compulsorily given to an unwilling students.

Courts interference on Religious matters: Case studies Haji Ali Dargah Restrictions

  • The Haji Ali Dargah forbid the entry of women only after 2012.
  • Prior to 2011, the Dargah did not discriminate against women and allowed free entry of people across religions.
  • On March 2011, the Dargah’s board of trustees imposed a ban on women’s entry, calling it a “grievous sin”.
  • Noorjehan Fiaz and Zakia Soman, founders of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), petitioned the Bombay High Court against the ban, calling it unconstitutional.
  • The 2011 ban violates the women’s right to freedom of religion enshrined in Article 25 of the constitution.
  • On February 2016, Maharashta govt supported women’s entry to the Dargah.
  • On Aug 2016, The Bombay High Court lifted the ban imposed on women from entering the inner sanctum of Mumbai’s Haji Ali Dargah.
  • The Haji Ali Trust’s claim to manage religious affairs was repudiated because of a technical discovery that it was a public trust with only administrative powers.

Jallikattu

  • The Supreme Court has dismissed the review petition filed by Tamil Nadu as it found no ground to allow the state to practice the bull-taming sport Jallikattu.
  • Jallikattu has been in a traditional practice since 400-100 B.C. and was traditionally a part of finding a strong groom.
  • The person who successfully tamed the bull would get to marry the maiden.
  • The customary sport is played during Pongal as a way to include Lord Muniswara.
  • The Supreme Court banned Jallikattu in 2014 after animal rights activists petitioned the court citing maladministration of bulls.
  • PETA(People for the Ethical Treatments of Animals) India raised distresses that the sport was causing injuries to the animal and was inhuman.
  • This event has also caused various injuries to the participants and sometimes has claimed lives of the people.
  • PETA had been protesting against the sport since 2004 and finally the Supreme Court of India passed a verdict banning the festival in 2014.

Sabarimala temple

  • The Sabarimala temple restricts entry only for menstruating women.
  • The celibate status of Lord Ayyaapa and the sect-specific religious traditions have kept women away for centuries at Sabarimala, making the Devasom Board’s claim more robust.
  • The ban on ‘menstruating women’ was enforced under Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules 1965.
  • The board states that “Women who are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship shall not be entitled to enter or offer worship in any place of public worship”.
  • In 1991, the Kerala high court upheld the ban in the S.Mahendran vs the Secretary, Travancore case and directed the Devasom Board to implement it.
  • The judgment went unchallenged for 15 years until the India Young Lawyers Association revived the issue in Supreme Court through a PIL contending that Rule 3(b) violates constitutional guarantees of equality, non-discrimination and religious freedom (Articles 14, 15 and 25).
  • The PIL, filed in 2006, has seen many benches and weathered many retirements.
  • The Supreme Court recetly indicated that it will refer the Sabarimala temple entry restriction on women of a certain age to a Constitution Bench.
  • The case is still going on since the PIL was put in 2016.

The Gowda Saraswath Brahmins

  • In the 1950s,
  • in another landmark ruling, the SC denied the plea of the Gowda Saraswath Brahmins to claim exemption from a law allowing Dalits and lower castes to enter the Shri Venkataramana temple.

  • The court gave the reformist thrust of Article 25 precedence over the group rights enshrined in Article 26.
  • The competing claims of the freedom of a religious collective and the state’s power to regulate religious practices have, however, continued to haunt the courts.

Why should court interfere in religious matter?

  • The Indian society has cultivated different cultures from times immemorial and has been home to majority of the world religions.
  • Though important, it is not an absolute right and is subject to various restrictions.
  • The restrictions are- Public order, morality, health, social welfare, social reform, regulations of non-religious activity associated with religious practice.
  • Upholding secularism in the broader manner, religion in Indian Constitution is not defined by its integral parts.
  • Since Indian constitution does not define what can be termed as “integral parts of religion”, the matter ultimately comes to judiciary to interpret on a case-to-case basis.
  • The constitution itself mark the need to interfere with Article 25 (1) :Practicing religion or the act of propagating it should not, however, affect the “public order, morality and health.”
  • The constitution is above religion, and not vice-versa.

Why court shouldn’t interfere in religious matters?

  • The whole point is to give the freedom of practice one’s religion bar courts to interfere.
  • It is unfortunate that the courts have become the peacemaker of what constitutes true religion.

Criticism on Court’s Interference

  • The judges have virtually assumed the theological authority to determine which tenets of faith are ‘essential’ to any faith”.
  • The Indian state have started acting like an agent for the reform and management of religions and its institutions.

What is the way out?

  • At this point, it’s difficult to stand by a decision that does judiciary has the right or proficiency to decide what is essentially religious.
  • It has become the case of judicial overreach and thus to undermine the spirit of the religious freedom clauses written in the Constitution, and is by no means being violative of it.
  • The battle for gender justice, individual rights,
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