The Karnataka High Court on Monday appointed Senior Advocate SS Naganand as amicus curiae to assist the court in a petition questioning the legality of appointing 16-year-old Aniruddha Saralathaya (now named as Vedavardhana Tirtha) as the Peetadhipathi of the Shiroor Mutt in Udupi.
A division bench of Acting Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum, issued the directions while hearing the petition filed by P. Lathavya Acharya and Ors. The first petitioner is the secretary and managing trustee of Sri Shiroor Mutt Bhaktha Samiti, Udupi, while other petitioners are office bearers of the samiti.
During the hearing today, the court queried with the counsel appearing for the petitioner on whether there was any law preventing a minor child from becoming a swami. To this, Advocate D R Ravishankar appearing for the petitioner said, "The practice of balasanyasa or imposition of sanyasa on a minor amounts to material abandonment of the minor and that it violates the rights of the minor guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, and consequently such practice violates Article 39 (e) & (f) of the Constitution of India."
Counsel appearing for the mutt submitted that the peetadhipathi is not put to work, he is taught Dharma Shastra and Upanishads by trained pandits. To which the court said "Shankaracharya became swami at the age of 12 years." The court then termed it an important issue and proceeded to appoint the amicus curiae.
The petition states that Article 21 has to be read in conjunction with the guaranteed rights of a citizen against material abandonment and therefore the constitutional scheme itself provides that a minor cannot be imposed with Sanyasa or material abandonment.
Further, it was said, "In the present case, the minor is imposed with Sanyasa while the authorities concerned have remained dormant and inactive permitting the rights of the minor child being violated. The minor / Respondent No.7 is also not from an affluent background and perhaps the economic condition has been misused in even taking the Child's Parents into confidence in undertaking this exercise and needless to state that under the scheme of the extant laws relating to the rights of a guardian, even a guardian, whether legal or natural is not empowered to give any consent for material abandonment or imposition of Sanyasa on the minor child."
Moreover, petitioners pointed out that the issue has been brought to the notice of the Respondent No. 4; The Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (by way of representation) about the violation of the policy, the Constitutional Rights conferred on the child by making a specific reference to the anointment of a minor and imposition with Sanyasa. However, the authorities have also faltered and even the Commission has faltered, and therefore the implementation of such rights is now at the door step of the Court to be dealt with in public interest.
The petitioners have sought a declaration that the practice of balasanyasa or imposition of sanyasa on a minor amounts to material abandonment of the minor and that it violates the rights of the minor guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, and consequently such practice violates Article 39 (e) & (f) of the Constitution of India.
Further, it seeks to declare that the anointment of a minor as a Sanyasi /Mathadhipathi of Shiroor Mutt by the Respondent No.6 (Sri Vishwavallabha Tirtha swami of Sri Sode Vadiraj Mutt ) or even otherwise that the Respondent No.6 has no power to appoint the Pethadipathi /Mathadipathi to Shiroor Mutt.
By way of interim relief, the plea seeks that pending disposal the court be pleased to direct the Respondent Nos. 4, 9 and 10; the Commission and/or the Authorities to immediately take custody of the child and to assure the welfare including the educational prospects of the child by taking out the clutches and rigorous imposition of Sanyasa imposed on the minor child.
Further, the plea seeks to restrain Respondent No. 6 from dealing with any of the properties or to otherwise interfere with the affairs of the Shiroor Mutt in any manner.
The matter will be next heard on September 23.
Case Title: P Lathavya Acharya And State Of Karnataka.
Case No: WP 8926/2021