On September 30 a civil court in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh dismissed a suit filed by Lord Krishna and seven others who sought the removal of the Shahi Eidgah, a 17th-century structure situated adjacent to the Shri Krishna temple complex there.
The suit filed by Lord Krishna is similar to the one Ram Lalla—the minor form of Lord Ram—filed, and won, seeking rights to the birthplace in Ayodhya where the 16th Century Mughal structure, the Babri Masjid once stood.
Even Lord Ayyappa, who is believed to be the son of Hari (Vishnu) who took the form of Mohini and Hara (Lord Siva), is embroiled in court proceedings in connection to pleas seeking entry of women in the sanctum sanctorum of the hill shrine in Kerala. At least 65 review pleas have been filed challenging the September 28, 2018 verdict that allowed women of all ages to pray at the temple.
All these cases have one thing in common. Gods or deities are litigants, just like normal people. DO deities have rights? And if yes, what kind of rights to do they enjoy?
What is a Juristic Entity?
Common law jurisprudence recognises two types of persons—natural persons or human beings and artificially created persons also known as a juristic person, juristic entity or a legal person other than a natural person.
A juristic entity is artificially created by law and is given a distinct identity, personality along with rights and duties. Private businesses/companies, NGOs, trusts, societies are also considered to be juristic entities.
The Uttarakhand High Court in July 2018, declared the entire animal kingdom as juristic entities on the grounds that "they have a distinct persona with corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person."
Deity as a juristic entity
The Britishers as early as 1887, recognised that deities—through a friend/shebait/manager—have rights. The "Hindu idol is a juridical subject and the pious idea that it embodies is given the status of a legal person," the Privy Council of the time ruled in the Dakor Temple Case.
The idea of Deities being juristic entities was reiterated in 1925, in Pramatha Nath Mullick vs. Pradyumna Kumar Mullick. An article in the Economic Times reports that following the 1925 case, there was "an explosion of cases where deities went to court." Deities won claims against trusts, fought cases against each other, won cases against mismanagement of properties, and even lost cases filed by litigants. In 1969, the Supreme Court held that if deities were individuals, then it must pay tax too.
The Supreme Court in its Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee vs Som Nath Dass and Others (2000), said: "The very words Juristic Person connote recognition of an entity to be in law a person which otherwise it is not. In other words, it is not an individual natural person but an artificially created person which is to be recognised to be in law as such." Gods, corporations, rivers, and animals, have all been treated as juristic persons by courts."
Gods have rights too
Gods, on their own, cannot come to court directly. As juristic entities, they must be represented by a manager/shebait/guardian who will petition the court in its stead. Lord Krishna's petition clearly sums up the rights He enjoys. In its petition, Lord Krishna, through his friend, submitted that he was a "deity recognized under Hindu Law".
"He is minor. He is a juristic person. He can sue and be sued through shebait and in his absence through next friend. It can own, acquire and possess the property…" the petition read.
Similarly, Lord Ayyappa is in court seeking to protect its fundamental right. The shrine is believed to be the home of Lord Ayyappa, a Naishtika Brahmachari (celibate for life), who allegedly gets "disturbed" if women between these ages of 10-55 (menstruating years) enter its threshold.
But all Gods do not have rights. Only those idols that have been publicly consecrated or pran pratistha is done, enjoys rights as a juristic entity. The Supreme Court clarified this in its 1969 verdict in Yogendra Nath Naskar vs Commissioner Of Income-Tax where it said not all idols "will qualify for being 'juristic person' but only when it is consecrated and installed at a public place for the public at large."
Thus, Lord Krishna as an idol which has been consecrated is a juristic entity and not the God as a supreme being.
Gods from other religions
"Religious laws in India stem from the different streams of religion people follow. The idea of a deity as a living being comes from the Hindu religion and was subsequently recognised in pre-independence judgments", senior advocate Sanjay Hegde explained. "A Hindu deity is like a person who has properties and rights or obligations that can be legally enforced," Hegde added.
Similarly, in its 2000 verdict, the Supreme Court observed that the Guru Gobind Singhji, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs "recorded the sanctity" of Guru Granth Sahib—a holy book of the Sikhs which records the teachings from all the Gurus—and "gave it the recognition of a living Guru". "Thereafter, it remained not only a sacred book but is reckoned as a living guru," the apex court noted, thus acknowledging it as a juristic entity. However, "every Guru Granth Sahib cannot be a juristic person unless it takes juristic role through its installation in a gurudwara or at such other recognised public place," the court said to clarify the issue.
There is no such provision for deities in Christianity or Islam, Hedge said.
Thus, temple buildings, churches or mosques cannot be considered to be juristic entities. In Islam, a mosque is a place of worship which is operated by caretakers on land dedicated to Allah Almighty. Churches in India are buildings managed by organisations that are registered as trusts or societies; in other words, a separate juristic entity controls the building structure.
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