- Religion has been an important part of the lives of the citizens of India.
- The very first fight for independence was a result of the conflict between the religious morals and the practices of the British.
- The rights envisioned in Articles 25 and 26 tend to infringe on citizens’ other basic Fundamental Rights.
- The article discusses how the trend in India has changed from giving more importance to religious sentiments to giving more importance to the rights of people.
- The Court in the cases of Sabarimala temple and the Triple Talaq case have given their decisions in favour of the rights of the people and not on the religious practices going on for years.
Indians have always been sensitive to their religious beliefs and rituals, as evidenced by history. People grew enraged and revolted whenever a foreign ruler sought to meddle with their customs or religious rituals. Mangal Pandey was forced to act against his religious principles, which was the primary cause of the Revolt of 1857 (the First War of Independence). He was compelled to remove the gun's cartridge from his mouth, which he had smeared with a mixture of cow and pig fat. Cows are revered as 'mothers' in Hinduism, whereas pigs are considered filthy by Muslims, who not only avoid pronouncing the word but also consider it a sin to think about them. When Britishers disobeyed their faith, it sparked widespread outrage, leading to an uprising against the British Raj.
When it comes to faith and religion, Indians are still the same. One of the most essential things in their lives is their religious beliefs. Even now, if someone offends their faith or culture, they feel it their responsibility to safeguard their religion and have the perpetrators punished. However, any act against someone's faith and belief does not have to be illegal in the eyes of the law. It is possible that religious sensibilities are damaged without any legal wrongdoing. As a result, granting religious freedom is required not just to protect people’s religious liberties, but also to define the scope of what could be regarded a legal wrong against religion.
Religion under Consitution
The Supreme Court held in Ratilal Panachand Gandhi v. State of Bombay, that Article 25 protects everyone (not just citizens) the freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, and promote religion, subject to certain restrictions imposed by the State.
The following limits apply:
- Public order, morals, and health, as well as other constitutional prohibitions (Clause 1 of Article 25).
- Laws that regulate or restrict any commercial, financial, political, or other secular activity that are related with religious practices. (Article 25, clause 2(a))
- Social welfare and reforms which is likely to harm religious activities.
In Stainislaus Rev v. State of MP, the Court emphasised that freedom of ‘profession' refers to a believer's right to publicly declare his faith, whilst freedom of ‘practice' refers to a believer's right to express himself in both private and public worship. The right to propagate one's religion, according to the Court, includes the ability to convey one's beliefs to others or to reveal the fundamentals of one's faith, but does not include the ability to 'convert' another person to one's faith. The Court ruled in Commissioner Hindu Religious Endowments Madras v. Sri L T Swamiar of Sri Shriur Matt that "profess" meant "the right to freely announce one’s faith."
Because the Indian Constitution does not specify religious denominations, judicial declarations must be used to determine what constitutes a religious denomination. The Supreme Court of India in SP Mittal v. Union of India outlined three requirements that a religious denomination must meet:
- A group of people who share a shared faith.
- A common structure.
- A distinguishing name is used to identify it.
Article 27 prevents a person from being forced to pay taxes or revenues that are used to promote or maintain a specific religion or religious sect. In Commissioner Hindu Religious Endowments Madras v. Sri L T Swamiar of Sri Shriur Matt, the Supreme Court held that Article 27 of the Constitution does not preclude the State from charging fees to regulate the secular management of religious institutions in the country.
In educational institutions that are entirely funded by the state, Article 28 guarantees freedom from religious instruction. This provision does not apply to a state-run educational institution that was formed under a trust or endowment that required certain religious instruction to be provided in that school. This provision also prohibits a person from participating in religious teaching or attending religious worship conducted in a State-approved institution or receiving State money unless his guardian has given his assent.
Even if an institution receives fees for affiliation or holding examinations, it may be regarded ‘wholly maintained out of State money’ if it receives grants for its expenditures, according to the Supreme Court in D.A.V. College v. State of Punjab.
Changing Trends in Interpretation
In the case of Acharaj Singh v. State of Bihar, it was decided that if offering bhog to the deity is a well-established practice of a religious institution, it should be considered a component of that faith.
In Atheist Society of India v. Govt. of Andhra Pradesh, the petitioner requested the issuance of a mandamus writ directing the Government of Andhra Pradesh to issue instructions to all concerned departments prohibiting the performance of religious practices such as breaking coconuts, chanting mantras, and other religious practices at State functions on the grounds that such practices violate the constitution's secular policy. The Court dismissed the petitioner's prayers, claiming that they violated his right to freedom of religion. It will go against the principle of secularism, which is the foundation of our Constitution, if it is allowed. It would imply that the right to freedom of thought, beliefs, and worship would be taken away.
Any law cannot limit a person's ability to manage religious affairs. This concept was established in the case of Ratiala Panachand Gandhi v. the State of Bombay.
Rath Yatra Case
When the case of Odisha Vikash Parishad v. Union of India and Ors. came into light last year, the Court had allowed conducting the Rath Yatra festival given that the COVID-19 protocols are followed. The festival is a religious practice that has been in existence since centuries and the decision was a triumph for the devotees. But when a plea was filed this year for allowing the festival to take place in different temples through the state, the Court had dismissed the petition stating that hopefully the Lord will allow the festival next year and allowed the festival only in Puri as he State government had planned. This was considering the deteriorating scenario of the COVID cases.
The Courts have time and again reiterated the importance of religion in a secular country like India but also has made sure that the rights of the people are not violated. In the above case the festival was allowed last year, but it was denied this year which might have hurt the religious sentiments of the people but the decision was taken to ensure the safety of the people of the country.
A writ petition was filed in 2018 to end the practice of women being excluded from the Sabarimala Temple. This practice’s constitutionality was questioned at the Supreme Court. The majority judgement, written by C.J. Dipak Misra, J. Khanwilkar, J. Nariman, and J. Chandrachud, found that the claimed practice of excluding women from the Sabrimala shrine was unconstitutional since it breached Article 15(2) of the Indian Constitution.
It was claimed that there were no common theological doctrines that were unique to them (worshippers of Lord Ayappa) and that they considered to be conducive to their spiritual well-being other than those found in Hindu religions.As a result, the followers of Lord Ayappa were not a separate religious denomination, but rather Hindus. As a result, devotees of Lord Ayappa will be controlled by Hindu scriptures.Following that, the learned Judges confirmed that there was no provision in Hindu law prohibiting Hindu women from visiting temples.
Because there is nothing in the Hindu scriptures prohibiting women from attending temples, the purported practice, as asserted by the respondents, cannot be regarded an essential religious practice.
The majority opinion further stated that this practice is not followed in all other Lord Ayappa temples throughout India, indicating that there is no uniformity in this practice. Furthermore, there was a time when women were allowed to visit this temple to worship the deity. After determining the following four elements, the learned bench proceeded to examine the alleged practice’s constitutional legitimacy.
Only Justice Chandrachud stated that a religious practice cannot take precedence over Fundamental Rights. He went on to say that the right to religious liberty (Articles 25 and 26) must be enjoyed without infringing on Fundamental Rights. Women’s dignity is inextricably linked to their right to religious liberty. The most crucial point made by Justice Chandrachud, is that even if the claim of women being barred from entering temples is supported by religious texts, it would contradict the Constitutional ideals of liberty, equality, and dignity.
Many people were hurt by the decision of the Court to allow women but the decision came in light of ensuring that women are not discriminated on the basis of their gender.
Triple Talaq Case
The petitioner challenged the constitutionality of the Talaq-e-biddat law (a form of instantaneous divorce followed by Sunni and Hanafi schools of Islam). The majority judgement, written by Justices Kurian, Nariman, and Lalit, found that the alleged practice of Triple Talaq is unconstitutional. The learned bench read over the script of the holy Quran to see how the Quran understands this practice. It was pointed out that neither the Quran nor the Hadith acknowledges this behaviour.
A few Sunni and Hanafi Muslim sects allegedly used the purported practice, but both religions considered it to be a wicked type of divorce. Furthermore, it was discovered that the Quran forbade divorces and that Talaq-e-biddat was a type of instantaneous divorce in which the former spouse had no option than to reunite.
Shamim Ara v. State of Uttar Pradesh, which declared that what is evil in theology is also bad in law, was cited by the erudite majority decision. According to the majority opinion, Muslims practiced three sorts of divorces, including Talaq-e-biddat. As a result, the purported activity could not be classified as a fundamental or integral practice of Muslims for the reasons stated above, and the Courtexamined the alleged practice’s constitutional legality.
The Muslim women have been subjected to this practice for decades and the decision of the Court brought relief to the women. The decision was given taking into consideration the legality and the religious rights of the Muslims. It was not overpowered by the religion or the beliefs of the religious group.
The authors of the Indian Constitution envisioned a type of secular political system that would preserve all religions while developing toward greater human dignity within a social welfare state. The founders of the Constitution wanted India to be a secular state therefore they respected all religions and included Articles 25 and 26 in the Constitution, which granted everyone the right and freedom to practice their chosen religion.
The decisions of the Court have been changing over the years. There cannot be a confirmation that the trend has been changing, considering the changes in the perspectives but the one thing that can be surely said is that the Courts have been giving proper thought into the case and giving their decisions based on the legal and religious aspects and not just the religious aspects of a case.