The Kerala High Court recently observed that unhealthy, unscientific and deleterious practices must be prevented even if they are done for religious purposes [Raveendran PT v. State of Kerala & Ors.],
In this regard, single-judge Justice VG Arun highlighted the words of Dr. BR Ambedkar on true religious practice.
“As opined by none other than Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, true religious practice should be guided by reason, equality and humanistic values, rather than blind adherence to traditions. All unhealthy, unscientific and deleterious practices are to be prevented, even if it is done in the name of religion,” the Court said.
Further, the Court held that animal sacrifice done under the pretext of religious practice is one such practice that needs to be curbed especially when it causes nuisance to others.
“Going by the precedents and on a proper understanding of the rights under Article 25 and the liberty guaranteed under Article 21, the contention that, animal sacrifice being an essential and integral part of the 8th respondent’s religious belief and practice, cannot be interfered with even if it causes nuisance to others, has to be rejected,” the order stated.
Justice Arun also pointed out that India has historically enacted laws to prevent and prohibit objectionable ritualistic practices like Sati, human sacrifice and child marriage.
“No doubt, Article 25 of the Constitution grants all persons the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion. A careful reading of Article 25 shows that the above mentioned freedom is subject to public order, morality, health and the other provisions of Part III. As such, the freedom and right under Article 25 are subservient to the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21. Being so, the expression of religious freedom by the conduct of poojas and rituals by the petitioner (sic) cannot result in the deprivation of the right to decent living guaranteed to the other residents”, the Court said in its order
The Court made the observations while considering a plea moved by a man seeking to stop the illegal slaughter of birds and animals in the guise of ritualistic sacrifice by the party-respondent. The objectionable activities were allegedly carried out in a structure resembling a temple, constructed by the respondent on the second floor of his residential building.
The petitioner submitted that the respondent exhibited a board with the name ‘Sree Bhramarambika Vishnumayaswam Devasthanam’ and was canvassing devotees through notices and other modes of advertisement.
“The 8th respondent is conducting poojas and rituals in his building day-in and day-out, accompanied by the ringing of bells, blowing of the conch and the shrieks and cries of animals and birds. The blood of the slaughtered animals is flown to the road and carcasses strewn all over the place,” the petitioner’s submissions as recorded in the order said.
It was contended that the construction was illegal as it was done without obtaining permission under the Kerala Panchayat Building Rules, the Manual of Guidelines to Prevent and Control Disturbances and to Promote Communal Harmony, 2005.
Moreover, the ritualistic sacrifice of animals violates the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the Kerala Animals and Birds Sacrifices Prohibition Act, it was submitted.
The petitioner further alleged that the police and the Panchayat officials were not taking any action against the respondent despite being aware of the issues.
The State government and the Panchayat confirmed that there are issues but submitted that the respondent has been unwilling to co-operate in spite of mass complaints.
The respondent, on the other hand, maintained that the from of worship he conducts, which follows the Shaktheyam ritualistic method using pancha makaram, viz; liquor, fish, meat, mudra and midhunam, is an essential part of his religious belief and cannot be interfered with in view of the guarantees under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India. He contended that the permissions that the petitioner says he was supposed to receive do not apply to him as he is conducting religious activities inside his pooja room and that he is not canvassing devotees.
On examining the statutes cited and several precedents of the Supreme Court relevant to the subject, the Court failed to find favour with any of the grounds raised by the respondent to justify his actions.
The Court made particular note of the allegation of the petitioner that in spite of being informed about the construction of a religious place without prior permission, the District Authorities and the police are refusing to take action.
The Court took a very dim view of the inaction by the police and the panchayat authorities saying,
“It is disconcerting to note the weak-kneed and jittery approach of the police and revenue authorities, when illegalities committed under the garb of religion are brought to their notice. The authorities should be mindful of the fact that the laws of this country are equally applicable to all citizens and no special treatment can be meted out to any person on religious grounds.The Panchayat is also at fault for having failed to act after seeking explanation, finding the petitioner to have effected construction in violation of the provisions of the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act and the Panchayat Building Rules.”
It, therefore, issued directions to the police and panchayat authorities to take steps to address the situation.