Sanatana Dharma propounds ‘abominable, pernicious, illegal and evil practices’, Nilgiris MP A. Raja tells Madras High Court

Says, as a legislator, it is his constitutional duty to speak about equality and eradication of social evils such as discrimination on the basis of caste and gender

Updated - November 13, 2023 03:55 pm IST

Published - November 11, 2023 01:04 am IST - CHENNAI

File picture of A. Raja, Member of Parliament for the Nilgiris constituency

File picture of A. Raja, Member of Parliament for the Nilgiris constituency | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Sanatana Dharma propounds “abominable, pernicious, illegal and evil practices” such as inequality on the basis of caste and gender. Therefore, as a legislator, “it is my constitutional duty to speak about equality and eradication of social evils,” the Nilgiris MP A. Raja, of the DMK, told the Madras High Court on Friday, November 10, 2023.

In a counter affidavit filed before Justice Anita Sumanth, who was seized of a writ of quo warranto filed against him for insisting upon the annihilation of Sanatana Dharma, he said: “Whatever I spoke about Sanatana Dharmawere my views and opinions, which I am entitled to express as the Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience.”

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He further said: “My views are founded on Constituent Assembly debates and have been echoed by none other than the framers of the Constitution. None of my utterances can even remotely be construed as opposed to the principles of equality and social justice enshrined in the Constitution...”

“The undesirable facets of Sanatana Dharma like discrimination based on birth, the concept of untouchability and the unequal treatment for women in social status and property rights have been constitutionally and statutorily abridged, if not abrogated,” the MP added.

He said that judicial notice could be taken of the persisting practice of untouchability, social inequality and unequal treatment of women in view of the ideas adumbrated by ancient Shruthis and Smritis, including Manusmriti that was an integral part of Sanatana Dharma even according to a literature relied upon by the petitioner.

Senior counsel R. Viduthalai, representing the MP, told the court that Mr. Raja was a practising lawyer until 1996 and subsequently elected to Parliament. The MP, he said, was a scholar who had read widely about Sanatana Dharma not only from the literature relied upon by the petitioner, but also from other sources.

When Justice Sumanth wanted to know whether he read those books before making the speech against Sanatana Dharma or after the filing of the present writ petition, the senior counsel pointed out that the MP had borrowed a book on Sanatana Dharma from the Parliament library as early as on November 11, 2022.

He said the 1960’s book, edited by Constituent Assembly member K.M. Munshi and published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, gives an explanation of Sanatana Dharma similar to what has been presented in ‘Sanatana Dharma: An Elementary Textbook of Hindu Religion and Ethics’ published by the Central Hindu College, Benares in 1916.

“Both the texts on Sanatana Dharma incorporate the idea of division of labour determined by one’s birth, known as Varna, which classifies individuals into Brahmin- priestly class; Kshatriya- ruling class; Vaishya - trading class; and Shudra- serving class...,” the senior counsel said.

Mr. Viduthalai further argued that the freedom of speech and expression must be always placed above the freedom to practice religion and issuing a writ of quo warranto against an MP for reasons not stated in the Constitution would amount to rewriting the Constitution, thereby offending its basic structure. “While the Constitution recognises the significance of respecting and valuing women in diverse roles. The ancient Sanatana Dharma texts historically relegate women to a subservient and less esteemed status. It is against these principles of the Sanatana Dharma that the first respondent (MP) has spoken against,” he said.

The senior counsel further accused the writ petitioner of having produced a doctored video clip of the speech delivered by the MP against Sanatana Dharma and said the petitioner was guilty of perjury too for having alleged before the court that the MP had made a derogatory remark regarding the birth of Hindus.

Since he could not complete his arguments on Friday and sought time to argue on the doctrine of separation of powers too, the judge adjourned the matter to November 23 for further hearing.

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