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Management of temple a secular act: Supreme Court

J. Venkatesan

`Ministers need not have faith in God to appoint temple trustees'

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has held that Hindu Ministers in the Council of Ministers in a State need not have faith in God and temple worship to nominate members to the managing committee of a temple.

A Bench, comprising Justice H.K. Sema and Justice S.B. Sinha, upheld the judgment of the Kerala High Court and dismissed a petition seeking to debar all Hindu Ministers of the former Left Democratic Front Government in Kerala from nominating members to the managing committee of the Guruvayur Sri Krishna temple.

The Judges said: "A Hindu may or may not be a person professing the Hindu religion or a believer in temple worship. A Hindu has a right to choose his own method of worship. He may or may not visit a temple. He may have political compulsion not to openly proclaim that he believes in temple worship. Idol worships, rituals and ceremonials may not be practised by a person although he may profess Hindu religion."

Secularism under the Constitution did not mean constitution of an atheist society but it merely meant equal status to all religions without any preference in favour of or discrimination against any one of them. In this case, the Bench said, the Kerala legislature had not chosen to qualify the word "Hindu" in any manner in the Guruvayoor Devaswom Act, 1978 under which appointments were made to the managing committee. "The meaning of the word is plain and who is a Hindu is well known. Hindu is a comprehensive expression giving the widest freedom to people of all hues, opinion, philosophies and beliefs to come within its fold."

Any move "to debar all `Hindu' Ministers of the State Government from nominating members to the managing committee of the Guruvayoor Devaswom would lead to a stalemate in the management of the Devaswom," the Bench said. "The management of the temple primarily is a secular act. Indisputably, the State has the requisite jurisdiction to oversee administration of a temple subject to Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India."

The petitioners, M.P. Gopalakrishna Nair, president of the Kerala Kshetra Samarakshina, and the general secretary of the Kerala unit of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, had challenged the Kerala High Court judgment saying that the Ministers owed allegiance to the Marxist ideology and were against any religious practice. Hence, they should not nominate members to the managing committee.

Differentiating matters relating to worship of the deity and the management of the Devaswom, the Bench described as absurd the insistence that persons nominating the members to the managing committee should also believe in temple worship. "To insist on such a qualification in the electorate will be as bad as saying that when the law relating to a temple is under consideration in the legislature, only Hindu legislators can vote and they must further be qualified as believers in temple worship."

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