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SASTRI YAGNAPURUSHADJI AND OTHERS Vs MULDAS BRUDARDAS VAISHYA AND ANOTHER

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Citation: 1966 AIR 1119

Case Type: Civil Appeal

Case No: 517 of 1964

Appellants: Sastri Yagnapurushadji And Others

Respondents: Muldas Brudardas Vaishya And Another

Decided On: 14-01-1966

Statues Referred:

  • Constitution of India
  • Bombay Hindu Places of Public Worship (Entry Authorisations Act (31 of 1956)
  • The Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955

Bench:

  • Gajendragadkar, P.B. (CJ)
  • Wanchoo, K.N.
  • Hidayatullah, M.
  • Ramaswami, V.
  • Satyanarayanaraju, P

Facts:

The instant case arises in the Supreme Court of India as an appeal from the decree of Judgement of Bombay High Court dated 3rd October, 1958 in First Appeal No. 107 of 52.

The appellant were the followers of Swaminarayan sect, and were known as Satsangis. Through there suit they apprehended that the respondent No. 1, Muldas Bhudardas Vaishya, who was the President of Maha Gujrat Dalit Sangh at Ahmedabad, intended to assert the rights of non-satsangi Harijans to enter temple of Swaminarayan sect, Ahmedabad in exercise of their legal rights conferred by section 3 of the Bombay Harijan Temple Entry Act, 1947.

The appellant contended that the Swaminarayan sect represent a distinct and a separate religion and that there temple were outside the purview of the Act of 1947.

Therefore a declaration was sought to give make section 3 of the Bombay Harijan Temple Entry Act, 1947 as nugatory.

But pending these proceeding the Bombay Act No. 77 of 1948 came in force and later on 26th January 1950, the Constitution itself came into force. But the appellant contended that the former Act after amendment did not apply to the temples of Swaminarayan sect.

But the respondent contended that the said suit was not tenable at law by the provision of Section 5 of the former Act and that the appellant had no right to represent the Satsangis of Swaminarayn sect.

The respondent also averred that many satsangis were in favour of Harijan’s entry into the temple despite the fact that the Harijans were not the followers of Swaminarayn sect.

The Trail Court held that the former Act was intra-vires of the legislative power of the Bombay State. The Court came to the conclusion that it could not be established that the said temple was not used by non-satsangi Hindus as places of religious worship by custom, usage or otherwise. Hence the judgement was passed in the favour of the appellants and the required declaration and injunction were passed in their favour.

Aggrieved by the decision the respondent filed an appeal to the High Court. The point to be considered by the High Court was to decide whether the appellant was served with any relief from the former Act.

But after the hearing the High Court sent back the case to the Trail Court to determine that whether the Swaminarayan Temple at Ahmedabad were religious institution within the meaning of Article 25(2)(b) of the Constitution.

The Trail Court upon the evidence adduced held that the Swaminarayan temple was a Hindu religious institution within the meaning of Article 25(2) (b) of the Constitution. And the said decree was taken to the High Court for final disposal.

The High Court also held that the by pursuing the facts of the case it was impossible to hold that the followers of Swaminarayan sect did not profess Hindu religion and did not form a part of Hindu community.

The appellant in their plaint itself had described themselves as Hindus and according to the census of 1951 the followers of the sect raised no objection to their being described as Hindu.

It was against the decree of the High Court that the issue was appealed to the Supreme Court of India on a certificate issued by the High Court.

Issue:

Whether the decree passed by the Bombay High Court that Swaminarayan Sampradaya was not a religion distinct from the Hindu religion and that the temples of the said sect fell within the provisions of the Bombay Hindu Places of Public Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956 (No. 31 of 1956), was correct or not.

Obiter Dicta:

Hindu religion is one which do not observe any one God or power, it do not subscribe to any one dogma, it is neither made of any one concept of philosophy, nor does it follow any one set of religious rites or performance. In fact, it does not appear to satisfy the narrow traditional features of any religion or creed. It may broadly be described as a way of life and nothing more.

The system of Hindu philosophy is rooted upon the belief that there is birth and rebirth. One’s life is a step on a road, the path and the aim of which are lost in infinity. On this journey, death is not an obstruction but a beginning of a new dawn.

“The growth and development of Hindu religion through the ages shows that whenever a saint or a religious reformer attempted the task of reforming Hindu religion and fighting irrational or corrupt practices which had crept into it, a sect was born which was governed by its own tenets, but which basically subscribed to the fundamental notions of Hindu religion and Hindu philosophy. It has never been suggested that these sects are outside the Hindu brotherhood and the temples which they honour are not Hindu temples.”

Ratio Decedendi:

In 1958, the Bombay Harijans Temple Worship (Removal of Disabilities) Act was passed. The objective was to feel the pulse of Hindu community and to watch its reaction to the breakthrough of citadel of orthodoxy against Harijans. It basically tried to adopt steps for withering away with untouchability.

Even the former Act of 1947 made a positive contribution to the satisfactory solution of the sufferings of the Harijans. It allowed the Harijans to offer worship in temple which included attendance in the temple for the purpose of darshan of a deity in the precincts thereof.

Later on by Article 17 of the Constitution of India, untouchability was categorically abolished and its practice in any form was forbidden. Any disability arising therefrom was made an offence punishable in accordance with law.

The Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955 provides comprehensive provisions for giving effect to the solemn declaration made by the Article 17 of the Constitution of India. Section 3 of the Act opens Hindu temples to all classes of Hindu community and discourages all efforts that restricts the right of Harijans to enter Hindu Temples.

The appellant’s contention that the provision of Section 3 was so wide that even the most sacred worship of the idols which was reserved for the poojaris could be claimed by the respondent and its followers, was held by the Court as misconceived.

Since the contention was not raised in the plaint the Court held that it was illegitimate of the appellant to raise a new contention.

Besides the Bombay Legislature obviously did not intend to invade or narrow the traditional rites in which the actual worship of deity was allowed.

The basic right which Section 3 permitted was the attendance if the Harijans within the Temple up to a specified limit up to which all other people of Hindu community was allowed and not to obstruct or invade to the special limit of the poojaris.

Monier Williams had observed that “it must be borne in mind that Hinduism is far more than a mere form of theism resting on Brahmanism. The Hindu religion is a reflection of the composite character of the Hindus, who are not one people but many. It is based on the idea of universal receptivity.”

The Hindu religion had developed in pursuit of endless quest of mind for truth upon the consciousness that truth has many facets. Truth is singular but its description is plural.

Eminent philosophers like Shankar, Ramanuja, Vallabha and Madhva all based their philosophical premises on the synthesis between the Upanishads, the Brahma sutras and the Bhagavad Gita.

The premises of Hinduism was found upon the spirit of tolerance and willingness of accepting the contrary view points of all.

Tilak propounded that “Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse and realisation of the truth that the number of gods to be worshipped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of Hindu religion”

Due to mandate of Constitution with regard to revoking untouchability U/A 17, the nation saw numerous by-products of such mandate, such as the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; the Hindu Succession Act, 1956; the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 which extended its application to all person of Hindu community.

Hon’ble Court held that Swaminarayan in pursuance of Hindu philosophy was the follower of Ramanuja. His teachings involved pursuing Vedic injunction of a good, pious and religious life and should thrive to achieve salvation by the path of devotion to Lord Krishna.

Insisting upon the devotion to Lord Krishna unambiguously proclaim that Swaminarayan was a Hindu saint who was adamant to set free all corrupt practises which had crept in the lives of various preachers and followers of Vallabhacharya. Swaminarayan had fixed the goalpost to restore the Hindu religion its original glory and purity.

Whenever a religious reformer attempted to eradicate the corrupt practices that crept into it, a sect was born which was govern by its own tenets, and that they rooted in Hindu religion and were not outside its purview.

The contention that Swaminarayan himself was worshiped in this particular temple and it should not be for that reason be regarded as Hindu Temple was misconceived notion.

Judgment:

The Apex Court’s bench comprising of Gajendragadkar, P.B. (CJ), Wanchoo, K.N, Hidayatullah, M., Ramaswami, V., Satyanarayanaraju, P, held the following:

Whenever there is a spike of irreligion, a God is born to restore the balance of religion and to escort the destiny of human race towards salvation. That the birth of every such saint and religious preacher is an example of such principle as expounded by Bagdad-Gita. Hence the view of High Court was upheld.

Swaminarayan sect was held to be not distinct from the Hindu religion and hence the temple of the said sect was well within the ambit of Section 2 of the Act.

The right of Harijans to enter upon temple had been vouchsafed by the impugned Act. The social justice is main foundation of the democratic way of life as enshrined by the Constitution of India.

Appeal was dismissed with costs.

Conclusion:

Hence the Supreme Court not only upheld the propositions of High Court but also the interest of the backwards section of the Hindu society which remained unheard for decades. With the enforcement of the Constitution the Supreme Court was entrusted with the duty to ensure that the rights of the minorities irrespective of their religion or caste or creed or sex was safeguarded.

The view of the apex court that Hinduism was not a religion but a way of life had been/has been and will be reiterated whenever a section suffers from religion discrimination.

Kaushal Agarwal