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Justice N. Seshasayee Expresses Concern Over Debate Around Sanatana Dharma

The Hindu way of life entails a set of eternal obligations known as Sanatana Dharma. It involves, among other things, one’s obligation to one’s parents, gurus, and country. It also includes one’s duty to the king and his people. After noting the continuing discussion on the topic across the nation, a judge from the Madras High court questioned on Friday, “Are all these duties liable to be destroyed?”

In a judicial order, Justice N. Seshasayee stated that he was aware of the “very vociferous, and at times noisy debates on pro and anti Sanatana Dharma” and could not help but think about it because of his sincere concern for what was happening. 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.”

Untouchability, according to Justice Seshasayee, cannot exist in a nation of equal citizens. Even if it were to be seen as acceptable somewhere within the bounds of Sanatana Dharma, untouchability would still be unable to exist because Article 17 of the Constitution declared it to be outlawed. He further emphasised that every citizen is required by Article 51A(a) to uphold the Constitution’s principles and respect its 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.

The Hindu Munnani’s spokesperson, T. Elangovan, filed the writ case on his own behalf, pleading for the court to rule that the college principal’s call was unlawful. Senior attorney G. Karthikeyan argued on his behalf before the court that Sanatana Dharma never endorsed or encouraged untouchability and merely required Hindu adherents to treat everyone equally.

“As religious practises evolve over time, some bad or evil practises may unnoticeably creep into it,” the judge noted after recording his submissions. They must be pulled out because they are weeds. However, why should the crop be cut? This, in essence, sums up the skilled counsel’s submissions. 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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