The Asian Age has reported that an assistant municipal commissioner (AMC) from Bhiwandi Nizampur Municipal Corporation has written a complaint to the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court saying that he was not allowed to depose as a witness before a local court because he was an atheist and refused to take oath on the Bhagvad Gita. He has requested the High Court to issue directions to the relevant judge to record his statement.
In 2014, a team under AMC Sunil Bhalerao had intercepted a car with the label of a political party at Sai Baba Naka and had seized Rs 6 lakh cash from it. Since the code of conduct for elections had been imposed, a case was registered against the owner of car, Ashok Mirchumal Thawani, at the Shanti Nagar police station of Bhiwandi. Mr Bhalerao is the complainant and an important witness in the case. The Asian Age has reported that Mr Bhalerao, who is also Prabhag officer of the Prabhag Samiti no. 1 of Bhiwandi Municipal Corporation, said that a few days ago the prosecution called him to depose before the fifth court in Bhiwandi as a witness. When he stepped in the witness box the judge D.P. Kale asked his name and profession and directed him to take an oath on the Bhagvad Gita that all his statement would be based on truth. Mr Bhalerao, however, told the judge that he is an atheist and did not believe in any religion or God and hence instead of swearing by the Gita, he would prefer to take the oath on the Constitution of India as he held highest respect for it.
“The judge told me that as per law I have to take the oath on the Gita and I do not have any option. I informed the judge that in the past I was allowed to take the oath on the Constitution of India by a Thane sessions judge in another case,” said Mr Bhalerao reportedly. Mr Bhalerao, who has completed his BSc, MLS, LLB, LLM, MA and PhD from Mumbai University said, “I have also read the Constitution of India and as per Article 25 of the Constitution, every person is allowed to practice his religion, but I am an atheist and I also have equal right to practice my opinion with regard to religion.” He further added, “I am the complainant in the case and my evidence would be important so I am waiting for some relief from the high court on the basis of my letter. If the situation arises, I will file a PIL.”
In times when the back up of the government is in full power to propagate Hinduism/Hindutva, even the commonest of the man has not remained to be untouched by the flowing agendas in the air, leave apart state agencies themselves. It is very debatable that whether the judge was following the letter of law or could he have allowed oath on the Constitution. In a democratic set up, the holiest of holy books is the Constitution. Constitution is the only document which has to be followed religiously by every section of the society. If a citizen of India claims that he does not believe in a particular textbook and prefers to take oath on the Constitution itself, is it wholly wrong is the question. Whether oath on an epic book of the majority religion in a constitutional democracy which claims to be the largest secular country in spite of such diversity is the correct criteria to measure admissibility and relevancy of evidence given by an officer of the state. Secularism does not only mean principled distance from all religions but also emphasizes equal distance from all. The question also extends to personal civil liberties as to can the state agencies force swearing on an individual. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how the High Court takes the matter, in fact takes it up at all or not!