Chennai: Sanatan Dharma is a set of eternal duties enjoined upon those who follow the Hindu way of life, including duties towards nation, parents, and gurus, the Madras High Court said and wondered why it should be destroyed.
The court’s observation comes amid the ongoing debate over Sanatan Dharma. The controversy erupted after DMK minister Udhayanidhi Stalin’s likened Sanatan Dharma with “malaria” and “dengue” and called for its eradication.
Sanatan Dharma 'promoting' casteism and untouchability
Sanatan Dharma was intended to be a way of life but somewhere down the line the idea that it was only about promoting casteism and untouchability had spread, Justice N Seshasayee said, adding that he was conscious of the debates around Sanatan Dharma and could not help but ponder over it in a judicial order, according to Bar and Bench.
“Somewhere, an idea appears to have gained ground that Sanatan Dharma is all about, and only about, promoting casteism and untouchability. Untouchability in a country of equal citizens cannot be tolerated, and even if it is seen as permitted somewhere within the principles of ‘Sanatan Dharma, it still cannot have a space to stay, since Article 17 of the Constitution has declared that untouchability has been abolished,” the court said.
The court’s observations came while hearing a petition filed by one Elangovan, challenging a circular issued by a local government arts college asking students to share their thoughts on the topic “Opposition to Sanatan’ on the birth anniversary of former Tamil Nadu chief minister and DMK founder CN Annadurai.
The court disposed of the plea after noting that the circular had been withdrawn and thus the prayer in plea was infructuous, but took the opportunity to express its views on Sanatan Dharma.
The true connotation of the term 'Sanatan Dharma'
The court said it has broadly understood Sanatan Dharma “as a set of ‘eternal duties’ ... which either relate to Hinduism, or which those who practice the Hindu way of life, have come to accept. It includes the duty to the nation, duty to the king, king’s duty to his people, duty to one’s parents and gurus, care for the poor, and whole lot of other duties,” Justice Seshasayee wrote in an order passed on September 15.
“If the topic chosen by the impugned circular is now tested on the plane of these duties, it would then mean that all these duties are liable to be destroyed. Should not a citizen love his country? Is he not under a duty to serve his nation? Should not the parents be cared for?” Justice Seshasayee asked.
The court said while it still encouraged the college to require students to reflect on the topic, one must keep in mind that the framers of the Constitution had consciously not made the right to free speech an absolute right, according to Bar and Bench.
“If the free speech made through social media is taken as a basis, anyone who has little to do with science, or rocket, or space, will be lecturing on rocket science... It would be appreciable, if free speech encourages dispassionate and healthy public debates, and help the society to move forward, along the lines which the Constitution envisages,” the court said.