'Unhealthy, Unscientific & Deleterious Practices To Be Prevented, Even If Done In Name Of Religion': Kerala High Court On Animal Sacrifice
The Kerala High Court recently observed that all unhealthy, unscientific and deleterious practices are to be prevented, even if the same has been done in the name of religion. The Court made the observation while ordering probe against the ritualistic sacrifice of birds and animals at a private residence. Justice V.G. Arun further directed that if it is found that a place...
The Kerala High Court recently observed that all unhealthy, unscientific and deleterious practices are to be prevented, even if the same has been done in the name of religion. The Court made the observation while ordering probe against the ritualistic sacrifice of birds and animals at a private residence.
Justice V.G. Arun further directed that if it is found that a place of worship for conducting rituals had been constructed, with members of the public participating in it, immediate action ought to be taken to stop the same.
The court added that if it is found that slaughter of animals and birds is taking place in the precincts of the building, appropriate action under the Kerala Animals and Birds Sacrifices Prohibition Act also ought to be taken.
Relying upon various precedents on 'essential religious practices', the court observed,
"Going by the precedents and on a proper understanding of the rights under Article 25 and the liberty guaranteed under Article 21, the contention that, animal sacrifice being an essential and integral part of the 8th respondent's religious belief and practice, cannot be interfered with even if it causes nuisance to others, has to be rejected. As opined by none other than Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, true religious practice should be guided by reason, equality and humanistic values, rather than blind adherence to traditions. All unhealthy, unscientific and deleterious practices are to be prevented, even if it is done in the name of religion".
The petitioner averred that one Anand P. (8th respondent) had canvassed devotees through notices and other modes of advertisement, and was conducting poojas and rituals in his building throughout the day, accompanied by the ringing of bells, blowing of the conch and the shrieks and cries of animals and birds. The petitioner alleged that the blood of the slaughtered animals had flown to the road, and carcasses were strewn all over the place. Additionally, the petitioner averred that the vehicles of people visiting the place for conducting poojas and rituals were parked indiscriminately.
The places of worship accessible to public can be constructed only with the prior approval of the District Administration as mandated in Clause 23 of the Manual of Guidelines to Prevent and Control Disturbances and to Promote Communal Harmony, 2005, which permission had not been obtained in the present case, the court was told.
The petitioner further submitted that slaughtering of animals is prohibited under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and slaughtering as part of ritualistic sacrifice, is violative of Section 3 of the Kerala Animals and Birds Sacrifices Prohibition Act, 1968. The petitioner averred that the police, the Panchayat, and the revenue authorities were not taking any measures in light of such illegalities.
Government Pleader Rajeev Jyothish George submitted that when a meeting was convened by the Station House Officer of Edathala Police Station to discuss the issue, the private respondent took an adamant stand that he has the liberty to function the temple as part of his religious practice, while the complainants reiterated that the activities of the temple were harmful for their physical and mental health. The private respondent was thereafter directed to avoid causing nuisance to his neighbours and to approach the authorities concerned for obtaining requisite permission, the State said.
On behalf of the Edathala Grama Panchayat, it was argued by the Standing Counsel G. Santhosh Kumar, that the Panchayat had not granted permission for operating a religious place. It was averred that upon an inspection of the private respondent's building, it was found that the second floor was covered with roofing sheets, and since no permission had been obtained for such construction/renovation, notice was issued to him, requiring him to produce copies of the permissions, and remove the boards of the Devasthanam erected on the building, which he had not replied to nor complied with. The Counsel averred that it was difficult for the Panchayat to take action in the matter since it was not empowered to gather intelligence information and take follow up action, and that it would be for the police and revenue authorities to address the issue.
The counsel for the private respondent however, argued that the allegations raised against him were baseless, and that the place where the poojas are conducted was a Devasthanam and not a temple. He argued that since only his friends and family were attending the pooja conducted by him, it could not be termed as a 'place of worship'. It was averred that since the religious activities were being performed inside the pooja room, he was not required to obtain permission from the District Administration, as mandated in the Manual of Guidelines, 2005. It was further argued that the form of worship was an essential part of his religious belief and could not be interfered with in light of Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India.
Findings of the Court
The court in this case noted that while Article 25 guarantees the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion to all persons, it is subject to public order, morality, health and the other provisions of Part III. The court discerned that since the freedom and right under Article 25 are subservient to the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21, the religious freedom exercised by the private respondent by conducting the rituals cannot result in the deprivation of the right to decent living guaranteed to the other residents.
Relying upon various precedents such as N. Adithayan v. Travancore Devaswom Board (2002), Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors. v. State of Kerala & Ors. (2019), and others on the aspect of 'essential religious practice', the court rejected the argument as regards animal sacrifice being an essential and integral part of his religious belief and practice, on the ground that all unhealthy and unscientific religious practices have to be prevented.
Addressing the argument that the place where the animals were sacrificed was a Devasthanam, and not a temple, and hence, the prohibition under the Kerala Animals and Birds Sacrifices Prohibition Act, 1968 would not apply, the court perused Section 2(c) of the Act which defines temple, and noted that a place used for public religious worship, by whatever designation known, would be a temple if it is dedicated to or used by the Hindu community, or by any section thereof.
The court noted that a notice issued by the private respondent itself described the place where he was conducting poojas as a temple and had solicited participation of devotees interested in obtaining the blessings of the deities.
"Having issued a notice in the nature of Ext. P2, the 8th respondent cannot contend that the place of worship is not a temple and there is no public participation. As such, the prohibition under Section 3 of the Kerala Animals and Birds Sacrifices Prohibition Act would apply and contravention would invite the penalty prescribed under Section 6(1) of the Act," the Court observed.
The court also came down heavily upon the 'weak-kneed' and 'jittery approach' of the police and revenue authorities, when illegalities committed under the garb of religion are brought to their notice, and cautioned the authorities to be mindful of the fact that no special treatment could be meted out to any person on religious grounds.
The court was of the staunch opinion that the Panchayat could also not abdicate its responsibility, particularly when certain photographs in the writ petition showed water mixed with blood and remnants of rituals flown and dumped on the road. It found the Panchayat at fault for its failure to take action after seeking explanation, on finding that the construction was in violation of the provisions of the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act and the Panchayat Building Rules.
The Court thus proceeded to issue the following directions:
1. The District Panchayat and Revenue Divisional Officer shall cause an inquiry to be conducted through the Superintendent of Police (Rural), Aluva, and if the 8th respondent is found to have constructed a place of worship and conducting poojas and rituals, with members of the public participating in it, immediate action shall be taken to stop the activities;
2. The Station House Officer shall conduct an inquiry and if slaughter of animals and birds is taking place in the precincts of the 8th respondent's building, appropriate action under the Kerala Animals and Birds Sacrifices Prohibition Act shall be taken; and
3. Having issued notice alleging violation of the provisions of the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act and the Building Rules, the Panchayat shall take appropriate follow up action in the matter.
The petitioner was represented by Advocates Sherry J. Thomas and Joemon Antony. Advocates P. Krishna Raj, E.S. Soni, Kumari Sangeetha S. Nair, and Resmi A. were the other counsels appearing on behalf of the various respondents.
Case Title: Raveendran P.T. v. State of Kerala & Ors.
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Ker) 237