We need to introspect how relevant to Indian culture are sections of Constitution based on Christian concepts.
In the Sabarimala case, the expression “religious denomination” was used to determine whether Ayyappa devotees, constituted a religious denomination under Article 26, had freedom to manage their own affairs in matters of religion.
Article 26 provides for “Freedom to manage religious affairs” and reads, “Subject to public order, morality and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes; to manage its own affairs in matters of religion; to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and to administer such property in accordance with law.”
While the apex court will decide the review petition, it is useful to go into the legislative history of Article 26.
According to senior advocate Arvind Datar, “It is interesting to note that Article 26 is derived from Article 44 of the Irish Constitution, 1937. This Article 44, in turn, was based on Article 114 of the Constitution of Poland, 1921.”
Excerpts from Article 44 (1):
Part 2 reads “The State recognises the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church as the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of the citizens”.
Part 3 reads, “The State also recognises the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church (Protestant) in Ireland, the Methodist Church in Ireland (Christian), the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland, as well as the Jewish Congregations and the other religious denominations existing in Ireland at the date of the coming into operation of this Constitution.”
Therefore, the term religious denomination is of Judeo-Christian origin and used in the context of defined denominations that exists in Christianity.
It becomes imperative to have certain basic information about Christianity. It is broadly split into Catholic, (Eastern) Orthodox and Protestant.
The Catholic branch is governed by the Pope and Catholic bishops around the world. The Orthodox is split into independent units, each governed by a Holy Synod. The Holy Spirit acts to guide the church intro truth.
According to Protestianism.co.uk, “Essentially, Protestantism is characterised by emphasis on the Bible as the sole source of infallible truth and the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone.”
Protestants have encouraged private interpretation of scriptures by individuals in contrast to Roman Catholic Church where interpretations are done by the Pope and bishops.
Because of this freedom to interpret, various denominations have emerged, each holding their own distinctive doctrines. “Each regards itself as part of the ‘Invisible Church’ i.e. the union of believers on earth and in heaven, known only to God.”
The mainstream Protestant denominations may be roughly grouped into nine families—the prominent ones being Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, and Reformers. It has no global headquarters.
Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox have different views.
In spite of the core of their faith being centred on Jesus, rivalry exists between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. Irish nationalists want to be a part of a larger Catholic Republic of Ireland and Protestants largely want to remain with Great Britain as they feel culturally and historically a part of this union.
Note that these denominations are mutually exclusive—meaning one cannot be a Roman Catholic and a Protestant. Further as a Protestant, one cannot belong to different denominations.
Since the word “denomination” is Christian in origin, let us compare it with Sanatana Dharma where “Exclusion of other faiths, streamlined organisation and dogmatic pathways to achieving salvation is alien to Hindu scriptures”.
No pre-defined denominations exist in Sanatana Dharma. For example, I was born into an Arya Samaji (no idol-worship) family, I am a Shaivite by evolution who lives by the Bhagavad Gita, strands of Baudh and Jaina thought. Since I am a Punjabi, hence, I visit Gurudwaras as it is intrinsic to my being.
I do not belong to “Ayyappa Sect” to visit Sabarimala. Whenever I wish to visit Sabarimala, I have to follow the rules of vratham (fasting) for 41 days.
The point I am making is that Sanatana Dharma allows me to follow various schools of thought simultaneously, there are no sub-divisions into different and distinct components, as in Christianity.
Denomination creates divisions and separation and cause conflict. The Thirty Years’ War lasted from 1618 to 1648, “starting as a battle among the Catholic and Protestant states that formed the Holy Roman Empire”.
Swami Vivekananda said in his 1893 Chicago address, “Unity in variety is the plan of nature, and the Hindu has recognised it”.
According to Swamini Vimalananda and Radhika Krishnakumar, “The spiritual meaning of the greeting Namaste is deeper. The Life Force, the Divine, the Self in me as the same in all. Recognising this oneness with the meeting of the palms, we salute with head bowed to the Divine in the person we met”.
Maharshi Aurobindo said in 1910, “There is no word so plastic and uncertain in its meaning as the word is religion. The word is European”.
It has been repeatedly opined that Hinduism is a way of life. Unfortunately, so influenced are we by the concepts of one God-book-prophet-philosophy that the beliefs of Sanatana Dharma are viewed through the prism of Christianity and not Dharma.
The importance of Dharma has been ignored even though it forms part of the Supreme Court logo, Yato Dharmah Tato Jayah—where there is Righteousness (Dharma), there is Victory (Jaya).
Returning to Article 26, is there an Indian equivalent for religious denomination? Yes, there is.
A constitutional amendment of 1987 provided for an “Authoritative Text of the Constitution in Hindi Language”. So the equivalent Hindi word for religious denomination, according to T.R. Ramesh, president, Temple Worshippers Society Chennai is “Sampradya”.
Sampradaya is a school of thought or lineage you belong to within Sanatana Dharma. So a Swami always states which lineage he belongs to. Sampradaya means a continuous tradition of knowledge and practice transmitted properly from teachers to students, gurus to shishyas.
It would be interesting to know whether the honourable judges, referred to Sampradya and its interpretation before giving its September 2018 order on Sabarimala.
Moreover, are students in law colleges made to learn the distinction between English and Hindi words in the Constitution?
One of the reasons why India is in a state of conflict is because in matters of faith, the Constitution does not reflect and is not in consonance with the way most Indians live.
Secularism. It is spoken about by courts yet is not defined and subject to diverse interpretations.
The concept of secularism originated in Europe where the church, which controlled education/property etc., became so powerful that even the king felt oppressed. So secularism meant separation of the church and state with the intent to curb the influence and power of the church.
The situation in India was different. Sanatana Dharma was never governed by a monolith organisation like the church nor did it own property and control the state.
Minority is the next. The word minority has now come to imply every community that has a population less than the majority community i.e. Hindus. The underlying rationale is:
One, minorities deserved protection of their rights from Hindus. Two, the Hindu community is a monolith, which voted solely on religious lines. Three, Hindus would force non-Hindus to assimilate into Hindu culture.
These assumptions are flawed.
First, Hindu society could be a monolith if it were governed by the equivalent of a Holy Book and a Church. It has numerous schools of thought and sampradyas, who accept there are many ways to self-realisation.
Second, by its very nature, Sanatana Dharma allows others to assimilate into its culture. It has absorbed numerous aspects of alien cultures and made some of them its own.
Maharshi Aurobindo said in 1919, “Hinduism is in the first place a non-dogmatic inclusive religion and would have taken even Islam and Christianity into itself, if they had tolerated the process”.
Third, hundreds of years ago, Hindus gave refuge and untrammelled rights to communities that were persecuted elsewhere, like Parsis, Jews and Syrian Christians.
Swami Vivekananda said in his Chicago address, “I am proud to belong to a nation, which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religion and all nations of the earth.”
Fourth, during the last 60-odd years, we have seen that Hindus do not vote on religious lines, but for example, on performance, ethnicity, caste and locality.
Thus, the fear of domination, as it happens in Christian and Muslim countries, is unfounded. If the fears had a basis the population of Muslims in India would not have grown from 3.77 crores in 1951 to 17.22 crores in 2011.
Conversely, population of Indian religions in Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) has continuously fallen. It was 23% in 1951, 14% in 1974, 11% in 1991, 10% in 2001 and 9.3% in 2011. In Pakistan, their population (formerly West Pakistan; before that part of undivided Punjab) was 19.7% in 1941, came down to 1.6% in 1951 and settled at a meagre 1.8% in 1998.
The words Secularism and Minority are not defined in our Constitution.
To what extent can the aam aadmi expect judges, educated in Western jurisprudence, to relate to Dharma?
For example, post the September 2018 Sabarimala order, Arghya Sengupta, research-director of Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy wrote in the Times of India, “By failing to recognise the multi-dimensional moral outlook of the Constitution, Justice Chandrachud has made the majestic Indian Constitution look like a pale replica of the American one.”
Indians need to ask themselves, how relevant to Indian culture, ethos, identity and practice are those sections of the Constitution that are based on Christian concepts?
Sanjeev Nayyar is a Chartered Accountant and Founder www.esamskriti.com. He tweets @sanjeev1927.