SC & HC against the public display of religious rituals | India News

NEW DELHI: Since the 1950s, the Supreme Court and High Courts have attached cardinality to the starting words “subject to public order” in Article 25 of the Constitution and used them as a pivot to restrict or reject the claim of any denomination to an irrevocable fundamental right for the public display of religious practices or rituals.
Article 25(1) provides: Subject to public order, morals and health and to the other provisions of this title, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practice and freely propagate their religion.
Ananda Margis, a religious order of the Shaivite denomination established in 1955, has twice been denied by the Supreme Court, in 1984 and 2004, to hold processions that include the performance of the Tandava dance carrying skulls and tridents in exercising their basic rights under Article 25. The SC had said that the Tandava dance was not originally compulsory for Ananda Margis, but had become an essential religious practice by the founder of the Ananda Murti sect in 1966.
In 1984 the SC said: “Ananda Marga as a religious order is of recent origin and the Tandava dance as a part of the religious rites of this order is even more recent. It is doubtful that under such circumstances the Tandava dance can be taken as an essential religious rite of the Ananda Margis.” In 2004, the SC again refused Ananda Margis to play Tandava in public.
In Gulam Abbas v Uttar Pradesh in 1984, the SC dealt with a centuries-old dispute between Sunni and Shia sects over a cemetery and ruled: “The exercise of fundamental rights under Articles 25 and 26 is not absolute but must yield to provide a way to maintain public order and the impugned suggestion has been referred to by the court and has now been deemed feasible by the chairman of the committee in the broader interest of society in the purpose of maintaining public order on every occasion of the performance of religious ceremonies by members of the two sects…”
Is the hijab, which is at the origin of the spiral of protests in the schools of Karnataka, an essential religious practice? This issue was considered by a Madras HC bench headed by then Chief Justice AP Shah in 2006 in a challenge to voter photo ID cards made compulsory by the Electoral Commission in 2006 in Tamil Nadu. A Muslim man had filed the petition saying it hurt the religious feelings of the community as the Quran prohibits photos of a woman without hijab/purdah on the voter card as they can be seen by strangers.
The HC in its judgment noted: “A renowned Sudanese scholar, Dr. Hassan al-Turabi, in his trace … states that the verses of the Quran command the wives of the Prophet to draw a curtain (to ensure privacy in the room of the Prophet which naturally attracted many visitors of all kinds), and that they dress themselves completely without showing any part of their body, including the face and hands, to any man; although all other Muslim women have been exempted from these restrictions.”
“Canadian writers Syed Mumtaz Ali and Rabia Mills explain in their essay: “It should be realized and appreciated that the commandment of the Quran in chapter 33, verse 53, regarding Hijab, applies only to ‘Mothers of the Believers’ ( the wives of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) while the formulation of the Koran in chapter 33 verse 55, applies to all Muslim women. No screen or Hijab (Purdah) is mentioned in this verse; it only prescribes a veil to cover the chest and sartorial modesty, hence the illegality of the practice of the Indian Purdah system (full veil).”
The HC had said: “Even assuming that Purdah is an essential ingredient of the Muslim religion, Article 25 itself makes it clear that this right is subject to public order, morals or health and also to the other provisions of Part III of the Constitution. … we have no hesitation in asserting that the direction of the electoral commission (for compulsory photo ID cards) is not contrary to Article 25. ”

Ruth R. Culp