SC declines debate on 20-year-old verdict defining ‘Hindutva’

A view of the Supreme Court of India.
Legal Correspondent New Delhi 25 October 2016 15:11 IST
Updated: 25 October 2016 15:45 IST

The Supreme Court declined anti-Godhra activist Teesta Setalvad's plea to check the “devastating consequences” of its 1995 judgment defining Hindutva or Hinduism as a "way of life" and nothing to do with "narrow fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry".

A seven-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur clarified that the Supreme Court is presently only examining what constitutes corrupt electoral practice under Section 123 (3) of The Representation of the People Act, 1951. The court said it would not be going into the larger issue of whether 'Hindutva' means the Hindu religion.

Specifically, the Constitution Bench is hearing arguments on whether it amounts to a corrupt electoral practice if a candidate ropes in the services of religious leaders to use their mass appeal to swing votes in his favour.


Social activist Teesta Setalvad, theatre activist and author Shamsul Islam and senior journalist Dilip Mandal appealed to the Constitution Bench that the interpretation given in the December 11, 1995 judgment by Justice J.S. Verma has led to “Hindutva becoming a mark of nationalism and citizenship.”

Noting that India has reached the crossroads where “narrow and supremacist” interpretations of history, culture, social studies and law threaten the fundamentals of nationhood, the three citizens urged the Supreme Court to undo the “devastating consequences” of the Ramesh Yeshwant Prabhoo versus Prabhakar K. Kunte judgment.

Justice Verma had concluded in 1995 that "no precise meaning can be ascribed to the terms `Hindu', `Hindutva' and `Hinduism'; and no meaning in the abstract can confine it to the narrow limits of religion alone, excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage".

Classifying Hindutva as a way of life of the people in the sub- continent, he dismissed the idea of equating the abstract terms Hindutva or Hinduism with the "narrow fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry".

However, Ms. Setalvad and her two co-applicants said the apex court’s interpretation of Hindutva/Hinduism has today led to “demands of homogenisation and assimilation of minority communities and SC/ST in the Hindutva way of life.”

They contended that the judgment's interpretation of Hindutva has curtailed faith in secularism and stifled India’s academic pursuit and scientific temper through narrow interpretations of faith and mythology.