Culture

Dahi Handi & Jallikattu: SC’s Meddling In Hindu Rituals Is Direct Attack On Freedom Of Religion

(Photo credit: NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • Courts are shrinking the boundaries of Hinduism by striking down one ritual after another citing that this or that ritual is not ‘essential’.

    What is ‘essential’ is not defined in Hinduism. Justices should stop applying ‘Abrahamic’ test to Hindu rituals.

Courts in the country have been making it a habit of interfering in centuries-old Hindu traditions. The judiciary has taken upon itself the job of ramming its diktats down the throats of the silent majority in the garb of ‘reform’.

From Shani-Shingnapur to Sabarimala to Jallikattu and now to Dahi Handi, the black robes have hardly let go of an opportunity to target local customs to make it more palatable to the tastes of some civil society groups with no skin in the game while trampling on the sentiments of Hindus who do.

This is in direct violation of the article 25 of the Indian constitution which guarantees all persons the right to practice any religion of their choice. Obviously, as is the case with any other freedom enshrined in the constitution, the freedom to practise one’s religion of choice also comes with ‘terms and conditions apply’ tag.

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So, the said right is subject to public order, morality and health, and the power of the State to take measures for social welfare and reform. Now these T&Cs are so broad that any religious practice that the courts or the State deem inappropriate can come under scrutiny. Governments are restrained by electoral calculations but the justices are not. Hence, such freedoms are more likely to come under the gavel - and they have.

However, disproportionally. For instance, the Supreme Court has been overeager to intervene in Hindu traditions, whether it is setting the maximum height of pyramids for Dahi Handi or a ban on Jallikattu. The argument is human rights or animal cruelty.

But when it comes to ‘reforming’ other religions, the judiciary has a history of chickening out. Consider the SC’s statement in one such case when last year a PIL was filed to ban the practice of butchering animals as a form of religious practice or at the very least employ trained butchers so as to cause them least pain and trauma:

This court has to balance between the law and religious practices. This is a sensitive matter better dealt by the representatives of the people in the appropriate forums. We cannot shut our eyes to centuries-old traditions.
The Times Of India

Such convenient interpretation of the law not only breeds contempt among the common folk for the judiciary but also calls into question the basis on which the justices are delivering judgments. What made the Supreme Court interfere in the centuries-old tradition of Jallikattu when barely a year ago it thought it was none of its business? Does it not read its own judgments?

But that is exactly what the status of jurisprudence in India currently is. @realitycheckind tells it like it is: “Uniformity is the foundation of Rule of Law. Extraordinary processes are the foundation of Idea of India”.

What an entangled legal web we have woven.

There is a religious aspect to this too. Unlike a certain book with well laid out rules in Abrahamic religions, rituals form the core of Hinduism. It will wither away without them. But the Supreme Court has no time or inclination to understand the nuances attached to these traditions. What is outright dangerous is its interpretation of these customs from the Abrahamic point of view.

What the judiciary is trying to do is define (or shrink?) the boundaries of Hinduism by striking down one ritual after another citing that this or that practice is not essential.

“What is the necessity of such a festival like Jallikattu? There was no festival for four years,” Justice Dipak Misra asked this year while hearing the Jallikattu ban review petition.

Here is a counter-question: What is the necessity for such an institution like the SC? There was no Supreme Court for 1000s of years?

More seriously, we need to ask what lens is the judiciary using to define essence? If it is applying the Abrahamic test, no ritual will survive scrutiny because what is essential is not defined in Hinduism. Jallikattu is essential to the Tamil Hindus but not for Maharashtra ones. Dahi Handi is essential to Maharashtra Hindus but not for the Tamil ones.

From rhetorical questions like that of Justice Misra, one can safely conclude that the judiciary doesn’t understand what Hinduism is. That would otherwise be perfectly fine if it wasn’t trying to define it in its own pervasive way.

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What would this lead to in say 50 or 100 years down the line? Kshetragnya (a twitter pseudonym) puts it eloquently, ”Not now, but 50 years hence, when liberal judges will have grown bolder, they can deny protection of religious freedom to “Hindus” on the ground that this is not even a “religion” but a “set of social practices” and regressive ones at that.”

SC’s mocking tone ridiculing Hindu rituals in its judgments is becoming increasingly comical if not outright outrageous.

Consider its sardonic comment while rejecting the review petition on Dahi Handi yesterday: “Has it [the festival] brought any medal in the Olympics?....I would have been happy if it had brought any medal,” Justice Anil R. Dave said in court.

Here’s another counter-question: Has the judiciary’s antics brought us justice any faster?

More seriously, lighting diyas on Diwali doesn’t bring any medals too. Will Justice Dave ban them next, saying its is a waste of fossil fuels? Such arguments from a senior judge of the highest court in the country reflect poorly on the state of the judiciary.

Earlier, the SC had noted that Kanhaiya stole butter and did not do acrobatics as children do during dahi handi. Dahi Handi may be akin to acrobatics for the courts but for millions, it is an event that brings people together. Hence, such comments are in very poor taste. Far from being sensitive to the sentiments of Hindus, the apex court seems to be revelling in their mockery.

Today is Janmashtami. The news wires are inundated with numerous instances of ‘Govindas’ violating the height of Dahi Handi pyramids and the age restrictions put by the apex court on participants.

The judiciary is fast losing the respect of the masses. If it doesn’t restrain itself from doing acrobatics with justice by interfering in long-established rituals, it may lose its credibility too. Whatever is left of it, anyway.

With inputs from Kshetragnya.

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