The Madras High Court has said 'Sanatan Dharma' is as a set of 'eternal duties', contrary to an idea being propagated that it is all about, and only about, promoting casteism and untouchability.
Justice N Seshasayee expressed concern over the debate on the issue triggered after "derogatory" remarks by Udhayanidhi Stalin, a Minister in Tamil Nadu government and son of Chief Minister M K Stalin.
"With genuine concern for what is going round, this Court could not help pondering over it," the bench said.
The court was hearing a writ petition challenging constitutionality of a circular issued by the Tamil Nadu government on September 12, 2023 requiring girl-students studying in a college to share their views on the topic 'Opposition to Sanadhana' on the occasion of commemoration of the birthday of the former Chief Minister and founder of the DMK party, late C N Annadurai, on September 15.
The bench said, "The Sanatan Dharma can be gathered from multiple sources which, either relate to Hinduism, or which those who practice the Hindu way of life, have come to accept. It includes the duty to the nation, duty to the King, King's duty to his people, duty to one's parents and Gurus, care for the poor, and whole lot of other
The bench said if the topic chosen by the circular is now tested on the plane of these duties, it iwould then mean that all these duties are liable to be destroyed.
"Should not a citizen love his country? Is he not under a duty to serve his nation? Should not the parents be cared," the bench asked.
The bench also highlighted, somewhere, an idea appears to have gained ground that Sanatan Dharma is all about, and only about, promoting casteism and untouchability.
"Untouchability in a country of equal citizens, cannot be tolerated, and even if it is seen as permitted somewhere within the principles of 'Sanatan dharma', it still
cannot have a space to stay, since Article 17 of the Constitution has declared that untouchability has been abolished. It is part of the fundamental right," the bench said.
The court said under Article 51A(a) of the Constitution, it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to, “abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions..”
"Therefore, untouchability, either within or outside Sanatan Dharma can no longer be Constitutional," the bench added.
Appearing for petitioner Elangovan, advocate G Karthikeyan submitted that nowhere Sanatan Dharma either approves or promotes untouchability, and it only insists the practitioners of Hinduism to treat all equally. "As religious practices move with time, some bad or evil practices may un-noticingly creep into it. They are the weeds required to be removed. But why should the crop be chopped," he asked.
The court also expressed concern of free speech nowadays on social media.
"If the free speech made through the social media is taken as a basis, anyone who has little to do with science, or rocket, or space, will be lecturing on rocket science. While this is also accommodated within the right to free speech, yet it may he helpful to gain some attention, and may not take it beyond," the bench said.
The court stressed that it would be appreciable, if free speech encourages dispassionate, and healthy public debates, and help the society to move forward, along the lines which the Constitution envisages.
"At the end of the day, every citizen traces his existence to the Constitution, and hence it is his duty to abide by its values, its ethos, and to hold an uncompromising abidance to its spirits. This should not be forgotten. Hope it prevails," the bench said.
After being informed that the circular was withdrawn, the court said it would still encourage college concerned to require the students to reflect upon the ills of untouchability and how they can contribute to eliminate it.