Breaking: High Caste Priests Cannot Refuse to Perform Religious Ceremonies On Behalf Of Lower Caste People: Uttarakhand HC [Read Order]
The Uttarakhand High Court recently warned high caste priests against refusing to perform religious ceremonies on behalf of lower castes pilgrims, taking a stern view of the still existing practice of exclusion of the SC/ST community in Haridwar.
The bench comprising Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Lokpal Singh directed, “The High caste priests throughout the State of Uttarakhand shall not refuse to perform religious ceremonies/puja/rituals on behalf of the members belonging to lower castes in all the religious places/temples.”
The Court was hearing a petition filed by people belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, complaining about the shifting of the staircase over the Sant Ravidass temple at Har-ki-Pauri, Haridwar. The decision to shift the staircase was taken on complaints received by followers of Sant Ravidas, who were unhappy with the fact that the staircase covered the temple.
The Court, however, noted that this staircase was near a Dharamshala situated in the close vicinity of the river Ganga, where the people from the petitioners’ community perform religious ceremonies. It, therefore, directed the State to consult with the members of this community before shifting the staircase.
The petitioners had further highlighted the rigid practice of untouchability in Haridwar. The petitioners had alleged that high caste priests in the city often refused to accept alms offered by pilgrims belonging to the lower caste or perform ceremonies on their behalf.
Condemning the practice, the Court opined that exclusion of people from temples only for the reason of them belonging to a lower caste is violative of Article 17 of the Constitution of India, which abolishes untouchability. It observed, “High caste priests cannot refuse to perform religious ceremonies on behalf of the persons belonging to lower caste…
…The exclusion of persons from temples open to worship to the Hindu public at large, only on the pretext that they belong to the excluded community, is violative of Article 17 of the Constitution of India. Every person to whatsoever caste he/she belongs has a right to visit/enter the temple and worship and perform religious ceremonies/rituals.”
During the hearing, the Court’s attention was also drawn to the large-scale encroachments on the banks of the river Ganga. Taking note of all such concerns, the Court issued the following directions:
Meetings with SC/ST Community before shifting the staircase
- The District administration is directed to hold parleys with the respondent no.3 and respectable members of SC/ST community before shifting the staircase from present place to maintain peace and harmony.
Removal of encroachments
- The District administration is directed to remove all the encroachment made on both the banks of river Ganges as well as public roads and public paths in Haridwar town by issuing four weeks’ notice to the occupants who have encroached upon the government land/forest land and two weeks’ notice to the persons, who have encroached upon the public roads/public paths by permitting them to establish their possession on the encroached land/unauthorised construction by way of sale-deed, title-deed or any order passed by the Competent Authority in their favour putting them into possession of the property. Special drive be launched to evict the unauthorised occupants near Chandi ghat/Chandi bridge opposite V.I.P. ghat.
Warning against discrimination
- The High caste priests throughout the State of Uttarakhand shall not refuse to perform religious ceremonies/puja/rituals on behalf of the members belonging to lower castes in all the religious places/temples. All the persons, irrespective of their caste, are permitted to enter/visit any temple throughout the State of Uttarakhand without any discrimination in the spirit of Articles 14, 15(2), 17, 19, 21, 25, 29(2), 38, 46 and 51-A of the Constitution of India. It is made clear that any properly trained and qualified person can be appointed as Poojari irrespective of his caste in the temples, as laid down by Hon’ble Supreme Court.
Maintenance of cleanliness
- The District Magistrate, Haridwar shall ensure cleanliness and maintaining hygienic conditions on all the ghats in Haridwar.
- The Commissioner Garhwal Division is directed to hold inquiry against the Officers/Officials who have permitted the encroachment on the Government land/public land/public roads within a period of ten weeks from today.
- The District administration shall install nets at Subhash Ghat and Tulsi Ghat to collect trash/garbage from the river and dispose the same in a scientific manner.
Beautification of temple
- Since there is only one temple of lord Ravi Das near the Har-ki-Pauri, the State Government is directed to take all necessary steps to beautify the temple and its surroundings after holding consultation with respondent no.3 and respected members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes community within a period of three weeks from the date of production of certified copy of this order.
Read the Order Here