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Status Quo In Religious Demography Has To Be Maintained; Religious Conversion Can't Be A Group Agenda : Madras High Court

Sebin James
7 Jan 2022 2:19 PM GMT
Status Quo In Religious Demography Has To Be Maintained; Religious Conversion Cant Be A Group Agenda : Madras High Court
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"...the status quo that obtains in the year 2022 as regards religious demographic profile may have to be maintained", Justice G.R Swaminathan noted in the Order.

While refusing to quash an FIR registered against the Catholican Diocese Priest P. George Ponnaih for an inflammatory speech against the Hindus, the Madras High Court made a few observations about religious conversions.Justice GR Swaminathan, who considered the case, observed that it is important to maintain the status quo regarding religious demography. "If there is a serious subversion of...

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While refusing to quash an FIR registered against the Catholican Diocese Priest P. George Ponnaih for an inflammatory speech against the Hindus, the Madras High Court made a few observations about religious conversions.

Justice GR Swaminathan, who considered the case, observed that it is important to maintain the status quo regarding religious demography. "If there is a serious subversion of the status quo, calamitous consequences may follow", Justice Swaminathan stated.  While saying that an individual's choice to change religion is protected by the Constitution and must be respected, Justice Swaminathan said that religious conversions cannot be a "group agenda".

The judge observed :

"India was partitioned on the ground of religion. Millions died in the ensuing riots. That is why, our founding fathers consciously adopted secularism as the guiding principle of the new republic...Freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and propagate one's religion was made a fundamental right. But the tryst with destiny can be achieved only if the multicultural character of the Indian society continues to remain. In other words, the status quo in the matter of religious demography has to be maintained. If there is a serious subversion of the status quo, calamitous consequences may follow"

The priest was booked by Arumanai police for his speech at a meeting convened for paying homage to late Fr. Stan Swamy. Referring to the offences under which he was charged, the court observed that the priest cannot insult or outrage another religion and still claim immunity from the application of Section 295A, 153A and 505(2) of IPC. The court has however quashed the offences under Section 143, 269 and 506(1) of IPC and Section 3 of Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.

Quoting about the affinity of the legendary lawyer B.Sen towards Christianity, as evident from some excerpts from his autobiography, Justice G.R Swaminathan observed that conversion to another religion out of personal conviction is a choice that should be respected.

"...Dileep Kumar became A.R.Rahman. Yuvan Shankar Raja is now a Muslim. One of the sons of T.Rajendar has embraced Islam. These are perfectly understandable and no exception can be taken. But religious conversions cannot be a group agenda. Our Constitution speaks of composite culture. This character has to be maintained. The clock of history can never be put back. But the status quo that obtains in the year 2022 as regards religious demographic profile may have to be maintained".

'Incendiary Statements As That Of A Lunatic Fringe', 'Demographic Inversion Of Kanyakumari'

"...The question is whether the State can ignore such incendiary statements as that of a lunatic fringe", the bench remarked.

The provocative statements made by a charismatic catholic priest, with a large following, that too in a District like Kanyakumari(where the Christian population is in dominance), cannot be ignored by the State, Justice G.R Swaminathan held.

About the changing demographics of the Kanyakumari District, the court refers to an article written by Aravindan Neelakandan, a native of Kanyakumari. Aravindan Neelakandan has stated in the article that the religious demographics of the Kanyakumari district has been subject to changes, and according to the 2011 Census, Hindus have sunk below the crucial 50 per cent. The court also referred to the recommendations made by  Justice P.Venugopal Commission which was constituted following the communal riots that took place in the year 1982 at Mandaikkaadu in Kanyakumari District.  Both the writer as well as the Commission echoes the same apprehensions, the court added.

The court agreed with the proposition that there has been a demographic inversion in the District of Tamil Nadu and the population of Hindus have shrunk to 48.5 per cent. Even though the population of Hindus stand at 48.5 per cent, the ground reality is quite different wherein the Hindus have been reduced to a minority. The court also explains the reasons behind such an observation by referring to converted Hindus:

"One can take judicial notice of the fact a large number of Scheduled Caste Hindus, though having converted to Christianity and professing the said religion, call themselves Hindus on record for the purpose of availing reservation. Such persons are called as crypto-christians. There was even a motion picture based on this theme (Rudra Thandavam). Out of courtesy, I refrain from mentioning the name of a Judge who belonged to such a category. There was even a writ petition challenging his status. Everyone pretended as if they did not know the truth. But when he died, he was buried as per Christian rites in a cemetery..."

The court opined that this is the reason why the petitioner accused was overconfident in his speech about Christians reaching the figure of 72 per cent, though the Census figures paint a different picture.

FIR Against The Priest
"A reading of the petitioner's speech as a whole does not leave anyone in doubt. His target is the Hindu community. He is putting them on one side and the Christians and Muslims on the other. He is clearly pitting one group against the other. The distinction is made solely on the ground of religion. The petitioner repeatedly demeans the Hindu community", Justice GR Swaminathan observed while underlining that the 'evangelist' can be booked under Sections 153A as well as Section 505 (2) of IPC.
The court also observed that the petitioner painted 'Bharat Mata' and 'Bhuma Devi' as sources of infection and filth. Since it is a direct attack on the religious feelings of Hindus, Section 295A  can be invoked, the court noted.

"Bhuma Devi is considered as a Goddess by all believing Hindus. I use the expression "believing" because, even materialists, rationalists and non-believers also can be counted as Hindus. I may add tongue-in-cheek that even the great iconoclast and rationalist Periyar did not cease to be a Hindu. Bharat Mata evokes a deeply emotional veneration in a very large number of Hindus. She is often portrayed carrying the national flag and riding a lion. She is to many Hindus a Goddess in her own right...", court reasoned as to why Section 295 A would be applicable for offensive portrayal of the Goddess.


Case Title:
Fr P. George Ponniah versus The Inspector of Police

Citation : 2022 LiveLaw (Mad) 6

Click here to read/download the judgment


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