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Suits on behalf of deities can't be treated as time-barred

J. Venkatesan

In the eyes of the law, all deities are considered perpetual minors


Deities are treated as legal entities

They have right to representation in courts through trustees


NEW DELHI: Ram Lalla, the deity now installed at a makeshift temple in Ayodhya, is not the first Hindu god to have gone to court to fight a legal battle; there have been several such instances in the past.

What's more, in the eyes of the law, all deities are treated as perpetual minors — not only child deities as in the case of Ram Lalla — and no suit filed on their behalf can be treated as time-barred and rejected on the question of limitation.

This is what led to the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Wakf Board's suit in the Ayodhya case filed in 1961 to be declared “time-barred” and therefore “dismissed,” while the suit filed on behalf of deity Ram Lalla in 1989 had no such legal infirmity.

Eminent Supreme Court lawyer Harshvir Pratap Sharma says: “The Indian judicial system treats deities as legal entities who could have a legal representation in courts through trustees or an in-charge of the temple in which they are worshipped.”

According to him, Order 32 of the Civil Procedure Code recognises a ‘sitting deity' as an individual. As the sitting deity is a perpetual minor and not time- barred, the Allahabad High Court admitted the suit filed on behalf of Ram Lalla and appointed the next friend to represent the Lord, and finally ruled in favour of the deity.

Can a presiding deity of a temple be treated on a par with normal litigants and can its petition be entertained by courts? Legal experts are unanimous that a Hindu idol, as per the long established authority and founded upon religious customs of the Hindus, is a ‘juristic entity,' and it has ‘juridical status' with power of suing and be sued.

In 1983, Sri Adi Visheshwara of Kashi Vishwanath of Varanasi fought a legal battle in the Supreme Court when the Uttar Pradesh government enacted the Sri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Act, 1983, for better management of the ancient temple. The Supreme Court had ruled that a deity could move the court and said: “Properties of endowment vest in the deity Lord Sri Vishwanath.”

Besides the Supreme Court, various High Courts had also recognised the fact that a temple deity would be a legal entity and even a devotee or a regular worshipper could move the court on behalf of the presiding deity, which will be considered a perpetual minor, says Mr. Sharma.

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