Atheist Society of India v. Govt. Of Andhra Pradesh

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/08/1992

COURT: High Court of Andhra Pradesh

JUDGES: J E Prasad

REFERENCE: AIR 1992 AP 310

PARTIES

Petitioner: Atheist Society of India

Respondent: Govt. Of Andhra Pradesh

SUBJECT: The judgment revolves around the right to profess practice propagate religious believes guaranteed under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution. Further, it brings about the principles of Secularism which forms a part of the basic structure doctrine.

FACTS: The petitioners filed a writ of mandamus before the HC under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution to direct the State to prohibit the performance of religious ceremonies in State owned organisations.

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS:

The Indian Constitution

  • Article 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, practise and propagate religion.
  • Article 226: Notwithstanding anything in Article 32 every High Court shall have powers, throughout the territories in relation to which it exercise jurisdiction, to issue to any person or authority, including in appropriate cases, any Government, within those territories directions, orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibitions, quo warranto and certiorari, or any of them, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by Part III and for any other purpose.
ISSUES:
  1. Whether the performance of religious ceremonies at State owned organisations violative of Article 25 and the Secular principles of the Indian Constitution?
JUDGEMENT:

The petitioner society contends that,

  • The State is disregarding secular principles by encouraging religious sentiments by permitting performance of rituals, such as, breaking of coconuts, performing poojas and chanting of Mantras or Sutras of different religions at State owned organisations.
  • Also, such encouragement of the State may lead to communal tensions creating communal riots involving massacres of people in various parts of the State.
  • Exhibiting religious symbols in the bus-stations and in the buses belonging to the State and its undertakings, such as APSRTC and the Electricity Board, should be prohibited, as offending the secular features as enshrined in the Constitution, as they encourage religious sentiments.

However, the respondents addressing the issues raised by the petitioners submitted that,

  • It is stated that no rules are framed, or circulars issued directing the performance of any such rituals. The State is neither preaching nor encouraging to practice religion in any manner.
  • The petitioner-society has no faith in any religion and God, which itself may be called a ‘particular faith’, and the petitioner cannot compel the State to interfere with the religious freedom of the citizens by making them to follow the ‘faith’ of the petitioner- society.
  • The State is secular in the sense that the Government will not associate itself directly with any religion, but at the same time, every religion and faith are equally honoured and every citizen is free to practice his own religious belief. India is not anti-religious to oppose any religious faith.
  • Their right to perform such religious functions in pursuance of their religious faith draws its roots from the words of the preamble “SOCIALIST SECULAR

The respondents also relied on the judgment of Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras v. Sri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiar of Sri Shipur Mutt, 1954 AIR 282.where it was held that it would not be correct to say that religion is nothing else but a doctrine or belief. A religion may not only lay down a code of ethical rules for its followers to accept, it might prescribe rituals and observation ceremonies and modes of worship which are regarded as integral parts of religion, and these forms and observances might extend even to food and dress. They further move on to say that such activities are carried on as a sign to achieve success in every new beginning.

The Court on hearing the merits of the petition held that neither does such practices violate religious feelings of any groups nor does it affect the secular principles, therefore Thereby the petition was dismissed.

CONCLUSION:

Secularism in western countries means non acceptance of any religion however in India secularism means acceptance of all religions. Therefore, the practices performed by people according to their religious believes without any harm to the society should be considered as an act done in furtherance of their faith and belief and must be permitted as in the present case.

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