Tolerance should be shown towards other religious practices; this country takes pride in unity in diversity: Madras HC

At a time when hate speeches are becoming very common in our country and intolerance has been peaking high, it would be instructive to take a serious note of what the Madras High Court has in an extremely commendable, cogent, composed and convincing judgment titled Paulraj Vs. District Collector and others in W.P(MD).No.11276 of 2020 and W.M.P(MD). Nos. 9856, 9857 and 9860 of 2020 and 15125 of 2021 delivered recently on January 10, 2022 wherein it has underscored about the dire need to show tolerance towards other religious practices. In this context, we should never be oblivious of what Deanswift had once famously said that, “We have just enough religion to make us hate one another but not enough to make us love one another.” It must be mentioned here that the Court was dealing with a writ petition filed by a Hindu man who was challenging the permission that was granted by the Kanyakumari District Collector to construct a church against which the petitioner complained of nuisance due to the use of loudspeakers throughout day and night.

At the outset, the single Judge Bench of Madras High Court comprising of Justice CV Karthikeyan who has authored this noteworthy judgment mentions about the prayer made that, “Writ Petition filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, praying this Court to issue a Writ of Certiorari, to call for the records pertaining to the impugned order, passed by the first respondent herein in Pa.Mu.Ci-3/28581/2016, dated 06.03.2020 and the consequential impugned proceedings passed by the fourth respondent herein in Building Plan No. 17/20-21 dated 07.07.2020 and quash the same as illegal.”

To start with, it is first and foremost put forth in para 1 of this recent, refreshing, robust and remarkable judgment that, “In the preamble to the Constitution of India, we the people have resolved to Constitute India as a secular Republic. Article 15(1) is as follows:

15. Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth

(1)The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.

Article 51 A (e) is as follows:

51A.Fundamental duties it shall be the duty of every citizen of India

(e) to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.”

Needless to say, the Bench then states in para 2 that, “The Fundamental Rights and Duties are sacrosanct and binding on the Courts which adjudicate issues relating to the religion.”

As we see, the Bench then discloses in para 3 that, “The writ petition has been filed in the nature of Certiorari calling for the records of the impugned order passed by the first respondent/District Collector, Kanyakumari District, dated 06.03.2020 and consequential proceedings passed by the fourth respondent/Executive officer Pacode A Town Panchayat, Vilavancode Taluk, Kanyakumari District, dated 07.07.2020 and to interfere with the same.”

Quite laudably, the Bench then points out in para 4 that, “The petitioner is a resident of Neduvilai, Kodaivilai, Maruthancode Post, Kanyakumari District. He says that he is a Hindu. One of the basic tenants to be followed by every Hindu is tolerance. Tolerance must be his own community or religion and in particular, to also to every other religious practice.”

Of course, the Bench then states in para 5 that, “The petitioner, however, has raised objections particularly against the fifth respondent herein, who had apparently build a church, which in the eyes of the petitioner is causing nuisance because the respondent conducts prayers using loudspeakers through out day and night.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench then envisages in para 6 that, “The petitioner herein had earlier filed W.P.(MD).No.9127 of 2019 and it is claimed that it is pending. The relief in that writ petition was to direct the first and second respondents therein namely, the Superintendent of Police, Kanyakumari and the Inspector of Police, Marthandam Police Station, Kanyakumari District to ensure that the third to sixth respondents therein, who are private individuals cannot use their house for prayer purpose by using loudspeakers and to remove the CCTV cameras put by the third to sixth respondents in their house facing the house of the petitioner herein.”

As it turned out, the Bench mentions in para 7 that, “W.P.(MD).No.9127 of 2021 had already been disposed of based on an undertaking of the fifth respondent herein that he would not use loudspeakers. I am informed that learned Single Judge of this Court had examined the particular relief sought and had also directed to remove or refocusing of the CCTV cameras.”

Truth be told, the Bench then discloses in para 8 that, “However, that is not the grievance in the present writ petition. The present has been filed owing to the fact that the first respondent had passed an order of approval granting building permission for the church and consequential orders have been passed by the fourth respondent therein. It is stated that prior to the issuance of confirmation of such permission, the petitioner was not heard.”

No doubt, the Bench then quite rightly points out in para 9 that, “The petitioner is a resident in the area and building permission is issued only to the person who applies for such permission. The petitioner being a resident is not directly involved with the construction. He may have grievances over the activities which are being conducted or for which the building is put to use.”

Furthermore, the Bench then brings out in para 10 that, “The learned counsel for the petitioner had relied on a judgment of learned Single Judge of this Court and the Hon’ble Supreme Court wherein, permission granted to run a church had been examined. In W.P.No.11903 of 2003, South India Assemblies of God Vs the District Collector, Kanyakumari District and others, the relief sought was of negative nature seeking a Mandamus restraining the right of the petitioner, Assemblies of God to Church situated at Kanyakumari. The learned Single Judge had passed an elaborate order and had dismissed the Writ Petition. Therefore, the District Collector had refused to give permission to put up a Church.”

Most significantly and also most remarkably, the Bench then holds in para 11 what forms the cornerstone of this notable judgment stating that, “In the instant case, the District Collector quite apart from examining all aspects had finally granted permission to the fourth respondent to put up a Church, or rather to convert the existing house into a church. It is complained by the learned Counsel for the petitioner that the building or now the Church, is in a residential area. However, it is seen that there is also a temple in that particular residential area. The petitioner should learn to live with everybody else around him. This country takes the pride in unity in diversity. There cannot be diversity in unity. The petitioner should accept the group of people living across, and around with him and he should also accept that people of various faith and various caste, creed and religion and given rights under the constitution. The country is a secular country recognising practice of religion. The petitioner cannot make compliant against the same. The District Collector, Kanyakumari District, may by himself/herself or through the Sub Collector, Padmanabhapuram have a meeting with the fourth respondent and impress upon the fifth respondent that it is only prudent to be restrained and it is not required that a prayer should put forth in loudspeakers for the God to hear. Let the fourth respondent also realise his responsibilities and appreciate that liberty has been granted to him to respect the residence in that area. Let the prayers be conducted in a gentle manner.”

While being sanguine about the peaceful settlement of the contentious issue, the Bench then minced no words to state in para 12 that, “Therefore, if the first respondent/District Collector either by himself/herself or through the second respondent/Sub Collector, Padmanabhapuram, were to impress upon the fifth respondent to practice tolerance and respect, then I am confident that sense and sensibility would prevail over pride and prejudice.”

Finally, the Bench then holds in para 13 that, “The Writ Petition is disposed of. No costs. Consequently, the connected Miscellaneous Petitions are closed.”

In sum, the single Judge Bench of Justice CV Karthikeyan of Madras High Court has been most forthright in advocating that tolerance should be shown towards other religious practices. It also very candidly and graciously conceded that this country takes pride in unity in diversity. To put it differently, we will not become small if we show not just tolerance but also love and respect for people following different religion from ours. If we do so then this is the best form of worship.

It goes without saying that no country can ever truly progress where people don’t have the basic respect for the people following different religion from theirs! We will not become less in stature if we respect people following different religions from ours. So it merits no reiteration that we all Indians must pay heed to what the Madras High Court has held so explicitly, elegantly and eloquently in this leading case! Only then our country move ahead on the road to progress, prosperity and emerge as a powerful country.

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About the Author: SANJEEV SIROHI