Sanatana Dharma is a set of eternal duties; must they be destroyed, asks Madras HC judge

Somewhere down the line, an idea appears to have gained ground that Sanatana Dharma is all about, and only about, promoting casteism and untouchability, says Justice N. Seshasayee

September 15, 2023 11:15 pm | Updated September 16, 2023 07:26 am IST - CHENNAI

A judge of the Madras High court wondered whether Sanatana Dharma should to be destroyed on Friday | file photo

A judge of the Madras High court wondered whether Sanatana Dharma should to be destroyed on Friday | file photo | Photo Credit: PICHUMANI K

Sanatana Dharma is a set of eternal duties enjoined upon those who follow the Hindu way of life. It includes the duty to the nation, duty to the king, the king’s duty towards his people, duty to one’s parents and gurus, care for the poor, among other things. “Are all these duties liable to be destroyed?” a judge of the Madras High court wondered on Friday after taking note of the ongoing debate across the country on the subject.

Justice N. Seshasayee wrote that he was conscious of the “very vociferous, and at times noisy debates on pro and anti Sanatana Dharma”, and therefore, could not help but ponder over it in a judicial order due to genuine concern for what was going around. He said the duties listed under the Sanatana Dharma could not be traced to any one specific literature since they had been gathered from multiple sources relating to Hinduism.

Posing a series of questions to those who argue in favour of destruction of Sanatana Dharma, the judge asked: “Should not a citizen love his country? Is he not under a duty to serve his nation? Should not the parents be cared for?” He went on to lament that “somewhere down the line, an idea appears to have gained ground that Sanatana Dharma is all about, and only about, promoting casteism and untouchability.”

Justice Seshasayee said untouchability could not be tolerated in a country of equal citizens, and even if it was seen to be permitted somewhere within the principles of Sanatana Dharma, it still could not have a space to stay since Article 17 of the Constitution had declared untouchability to have been abolished. He also underlined that Article 51A(a) imposes a fundamental duty on every citizen to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions.

“Therefore, untouchability, either within or outside Sanatana Dharma can no longer be constitutional, though, sadly, it still exists,” he observed. The observations were made while disposing of a writ petition filed against a recent call given by the principal of Thiru. Vi. Ka. Government Arts College in Tiruvarur asking students to share their thoughts against Sanatana Dharma on the birth anniversary of former Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai.

T. Elangovan, spokesperson of the Hindu Munnani, had filed the writ petition in his personal capacity, urging the court to declare the call given by the college principal as unconstitutional. Representing him before the court, senior counsel G. Karthikeyan contended that Sanatana Dharma nowhere approved or promoted untouchability and it only insisted that practitioners of Hinduism treat everyone equally.

After recording his submissions, the judge wrote: “As religious practices move with time, some bad or evil practices may unnoticingly creep into it. They are the weeds that need to be removed. But why should the crop be chopped? This, in short, is the essence of the submissions of the learned counsel.” However, since Special Government Pleader C. Kathiravan told the court that the principal had withdrawn the circular, the judge said nothing survived in the writ petition.

“This court still encourages the college concerned to require the students to reflect on the evils of untouchability and how they, as citizens of this country, can contribute to its elimination,” the judge said, and reminded the supporters of free speech that the framers of the Constitution had consciously not made right to free speech an absolute right and instead chose to impose reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2).

“Every religion is founded on faith, and faith by nature accommodates irrationality. Therefore, when free speech is exercised in matters pertaining to religion, it is necessary for one to ensure that no one is injured....It would be appreciable if free speech encourages dispassionate and healthy public debates and helps society to move forward along the lines which the Constitution envisages,” the judge concluded.

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