Inexorable and inescapable conclusion is that the said provision of the village constitution which lays down that there shall not be any denominational activity dividing the existing Religion (i.e., Baptist Christianity) is void in law and cannot be enforced being violative of Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India, it said.
The Manipur High Court has held provision of the village constitution which forbids any denominational activity dividing the existing religion, i.e., Baptist Christianity, as illegal and unconstitutional.
Four persons claiming to be permanent residents of Sharkaphung/Leingangching village In Manipur had approached the high court alleging that they had been forcibly expelled from their village by the village authority after they, who were initially Baptist Christians, adopted Roman Catholic faith in the year 2009.
The relief sought by these persons was a declaration that the village constitution, which requires that there should not be any denominational activity dividing the existing religion (i.e., Baptist Christianity), to be unconstitutional, and directing for allowing the petitioners to resettle peacefully and to profess the religion of their choice and for payment of compensation for the loss suffered by the petitioners.
Acting Chief Justice N Kotiswar Singh observed that the village authority is not endowed with any such power to order banishment/expulsion of any villager. Referring to provisions of the village constitution which disallows any other denominational activity, including practice of Catholic faith in the village, except Baptist Christianity, the bench observed: “What the aforesaid provision in the village constitution mandates is that other than Baptist Christianity, no other denominational activity will be allowed to be practised in the village. Thus, if a person seeks to profess and practice Catholic faith in the village, and since it is not part of the Baptist Christianity, he cannot do so in the village because of the aforesaid provision of the village constitution. In such event, what would Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution mean to him? Absolutely, redundant for him. Articles 25 and 26 will have no meaning for him. Will this injunction then, be permissible in the face of Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution? The obvious answer will be in the negative.”
The court also said that if any citizen of this Country is banished from his village by a village authority and that too on the ground that he has adopted a different religious faith, it is violative of not only Article 19(1)(d) and (e) and Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution without following any validly enacted law or by following the procedures of law, it would also amount to violation of the overarching Article 21 of the Constitution which guarantees that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty, except according to the procedure laid down by law.
“The villagers of Leingangching have every right to follow the Baptist Christianity and accordingly, also manage their affairs in tune with the Baptist principles and practices. However, it cannot come in the way of the petitioners professing a different religious denomination of Catholic faith as they have also similar fundamental right to profess and practice Catholic Christianity as guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution of India. On adopting such Catholic faith, they also would have a right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes and, manage their own affairs including owning, acquiring movable and immovable properties and administer such property in accordance with law as guaranteed under Article 26 of the Constitution, which would include setting up a church in the village provided they have their own land and other means to do so,” the court said holding that the petitioners have fundamental right to reside and settle in Leingangching village in their respective residences/homes.