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Courts should not lay down religious principles – Amit Shah

Sabarimala Temple Complex

Home Minister Amit Shah today said that he was opposed to the idea of the judiciary donning the mantle of ecclesiastical courts and telling people how to worship their gods and interfering in their religious practices.

He was answering a question about his “dual stand” on the issues of Sabarimala temple and Ram Janmabhoomi temple, and said religious groups should have the freedom to decide the mode of worship.

Shah was asked why he opposed the Supreme Court judgment that forced Ayyappa devotees to allow women into one of their temples, while exhorting everyone to accept the court’s verdict when it came to the Ram Temple issue.

The home minister said the two cases were not comparable, as one dealt with the question of ownership — a civil matter — while the other dealt with the issue of whether a religious belief was right or wrong.

“The subject of the Ram Janmabhoomi case is the ownership of the land. It is a question of whose land it is. So naturally, the decision should be taken by a court,” Shah said at an event organized by Network18 in Jharkhand today.

“If the case was ‘who should conduct the pooja, what kind of clothes should he wear, should a gong be sounded or should it be silent.. if these were the subjects, I would have said that this is not something for the courts. It’s a matter of belief. Let those who use the temple decide such matters,” he said.

Amit Shah’s stand is in stark contrast to the one taken by a Supreme Court bench headed by former Chief Justice Dipak Misra in September last year.

In his judgment, Misra had gone deep into various religious texts such as the Vedas to see if such a prohibition was allowed, and finally come to the conclusion that ancient scriptures did not contain anything to justify the restraint observed by women devotees at Sabarimala temple.

While many welcomed the judgment — calling it a victory for gender equality — many others opposed it, pointing out that it was not the job of the Supreme Court to read religious books and teach people what was the right way for them to carry out their religious worship.

The latter position was also echoed by the lone dissenting judge Indu Malhotra, who argued that it was up to the faithful to believe what they wanted and the state had no business telling them that their beliefs were right or wrong.

Shah supported the second position.

“There are at least 13 temples where men are not allowed,” he said in the Q&A today. “What will you do there?

“Women are not allowed to worship inside mosques. What will you do? Women cannot enter Parsi fire temples…I have always maintained that there should be no interference in such matters [by the court].”

The Sabarimala judgment is a matter of intense debate in South India, where Ayyappa is worshiped.

Ayyappa, a medieval hero who lived in Kerala, became a monk in his later years and joined the Sabarimala temple, which is believed to have been a monastery in the Buddhist style at the time.

Female devotees do not visit the hilltop shrine even today as they believe that it would disturb Ayyappa’s meditation.

However, since the court’s judgment, many non-believers — including women’s rights activists — have tried to force their way into the temple, claiming that they are fighting to establish gender equality.

While the Kerala government initially facilitated such attempts by providing police protection to such activists, it has stopped doing so after the ruling party received a thrashing in the elections held in May this year.