The Supreme Court on Monday said India cannot “remain a prisoner of the past” with its history of invasions being constantly dug up and served on the plate of the present and future generations to “keep the country on the boil”.
“History of a nation cannot haunt the present and future generations of a nation, so that succeeding generations become prisoners of the past,” a Bench of Justices K.M. Joseph and B.V. Nagarathna said.
The observations were made while hearing a petition filed by petitioner-advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, who sought a judicial direction to the Home Ministry to constitute a ‘Renaming Commission’ to restore the ancient Hindu names of historic and religious places and roads across the country which were looted by “barbaric, brutal, cruel invaders” in the 15th century. He urged the court to protect the right to Hindu culture, religion and dignity. He said the acts of the “barbaric invaders” has affected the citizens’ right to sovereignty, unity and integrity. India cannot celebrate its 75th year of Independence like this, he argued vehemently.
“Names from the time of Ramayana and Mahabharata were arbitrarily changed during foreign rule. They have to be restored to protect our ancient culture,” Mr. Upadhyay said.
Justice Nagarathna asked Mr. Upadhyay to not “belittle Hinduism, which is a way of life where there is no room for bigotry”.
“Hinduism is not really a religion and because of Hinduism being a way of life, India has assimilated everybody, whether invader or friend. It is because of this we are able to live together,” Justice Nagarathna observed.
Justice Nagarathna said the British brought the ‘divide and rule’ policy, which caused a schism in the society.
“Let us not break it up again with such petitions… Have the country in mind and not religion,” Justice Nagarathna told Mr. Upadhyay.
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But Mr. Upadhyay pointed out how Indraprastha was built by Yuddhishtra, but there was no road there in the names of Kunti, Bhima, Nakula or Sahadeva. “Instead, we have roads named after Akbar, Ghori, Ghazni, Tughlaq… My mothers were raped by the invaders,” he protested strongly.
“Akbar was one person who tried to bring about a coalescence… He worked for a dialogue among religions,” Justice Joseph said.
“It is a fact of history that we were invaded, that we were under foreign rule… You cannot wish away selected portions of Indian history. Have we not got other problems in our country today? We have to move ahead rather than go back to wish away things that have happened and then go to a period prior to that [invasions]... What are you going to achieve by all this? Our country has so many other problems to attend to… You want the Home Ministry to constitute a ‘Renaming Commission’ and go on renaming places and roads in the country? You know what pressure that will put on the Ministry?” Justice Nagarathna asked Mr. Upadhyay.
Justice Joseph said the purpose of the petition was to “point fingers at a certain religious community and keep the country on the boil”.
“Your concern is about the past. You want to dig it up and place it on the plate of the present and future generations… Things which happened in the past cannot be used to incite disharmony now and in the future… India is a secular state. This court is a secular forum. The Home Ministry, which is a secular department, is supposed to take care of all sections of the society and not just one community,” Justice Joseph said.
Mr. Upadhyay immediately said he would withdraw his petition.
“But we will not allow you to withdraw your petition. We just wanted to know your perception of history. Now, since we have heard it, we will deal with your petition… Religion is a relationship between man and God. That relationship is meant for all communities...Please allow our future generations to explore their faiths for themselves… In Kerala, it was a Hindu who gave land to other religions. Hinduism is the greatest faith. The heights reached by the Vedas and the light which it has shed is spread across ages… Be magnanimous,” Justice Joseph said, dismissing the petition.