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Religious freedom and social reform UPSC NOTE

 Recent Madras High Court judgement

  • The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court allowed the resumption of “annadhanam” (offering free food) and “angapradakshanam” (circumambulation) at the final resting place of Nerur Sathguru Sadasiva Brahmendral on the eve of his Jeeva Samathi day. 

  • The practice of doing ‘angapradakshanam’ by rolling on the plantain leaves left behind by devotees after eating food from them, in the belief that it would offer spiritual benefit, had been in vogue for over 100 years. 

  • However, it was halted by a Division Bench order in a public interest litigation (PIL) petition in 2015

  • Nine years later, Justice G.R. Swaminathan reinstated the practice by invoking Article 25(1) of the Constitution that guarantees the right to freely profess, practise, and propagate religion. 

  • The judge linked the belief of the devotees, who claim to derive spiritual benefit from such practice, to the right to privacy, a fundamental right under the Constitution.

  • He sums it up by holding that the customary practice is protected as a fundamental right under Articles 14, 19(1)(a), 19(1)(d), 21 and 25(1) of the Constitution.

Conflict between religious freedom and social reform

  • At the heart of the judgment is the conflict between cultural relativism and universalism

  • The universalists argue for adoption of human rights standards, whereas the cultural relativists rely on customary laws and practices and religious beliefs

  • The judge has chosen the relativist argument and has moved away from the norms in international instruments, where the Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights mention human dignity. 

  • The judge failed to recognise that traditional and religious practices are steeped in superstitious beliefs and are the refuge of the ignorant and fearful, who guard against the challenge to their privileges.

  • It is the duty of the state to change religious and customary practices, such as rolling over leftovers, that are unhealthy, harmful, and strike at human dignity

  • While an outright rejection of such practices may open up a Pandora’s Box, the State could educate the believers through reason and rational discussions and pave for a community that is humane and prone to the spirit of inquiry

Article 25(1)

  • 25: Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion

  • 25 (1) Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.


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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Religious freedom and social reform UPSC NOTE
Religious freedom and social reform UPSC NOTE
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