India is a democratic nation with a history of being tolerant towards other religions due to its vast Hindu population. However, after India became independent, the temples of Hindus became the state’s property almost everywhere. This is against the constitution itself which proclaims to be secular and is having a secular word in its preamble as well. As per various media reports, over 35000 Acres of Jagannath Temple lands is marked to be sold by the temple administration of Shri Jagannatha temple and the state government. This information was provided by law minister of Odisha Sh Pratap Jena in a response to the BJP MLA in Odisha Assembly. The issue is so difficult to grasp due to the fact that the land of Shree Jagannatha is in over 6 states including Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Bihar and Bengal apart from 28 districts out of 30 districts of Odisha where the abode of Lord Shree Jagannatha is present in the city of Puri.
Act of settlement/selling of land of Shri Jagannatha violates fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution including equality before law (Article 14), discrimination on grounds of religion (Article 15), right to move freely(Article 19 (1) (d), right to live and settle in any part(Article 19 (1) (e), rights of deities of protection of life and personal liberty with dignity (Article 21) and freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion (Article 25), freedom to manage religious affairs (Article 26). This all together makes a clear case of violation of rights granted to Hindus, Hindu temples, and Hindu deities. This act of settling of properties of Shree Jagannatha by the state government of Odisha and the temple administration is not only illegal but may hurt the sentiments of the Hindus at large which makes up to over 80% of Hindu population. As the administration, they have got no right to settle the property.
It is imperative to understand that religious places of Hindus alone are being regulated. Through the significant power comes great responsibility however the acts of the State Government of Odisha and the temple administration is contrary to it and their intention cannot be termed to be bonafide in nature. Selling of properties may generate revenue however the revenues can never be equated with the immovable properties which are the assets of Shree Jagannatha himself. Such acts without considering the feeling and emotions of the millions and billions of Hindus around may cause huge distress and instability in the society.
Hindus in India have trusted the state administration to take care of their rights. Unlike Hindus, other religious places including those of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs etc are not controlled/managed by the government. This incident is not any common incident but is done so to provoke the sentiments of the Hindus and to make them feel both insecure and disheartened as Jagannath Temple of Puri is one of the most important religious places of Hindus and is the abode of their deities.
It is evident that protection of the temples, deities, priests, and the customs of Hindus is the need of the hour. This pattern needs to be evaluated so for the governments to take necessary action. Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion as guaranteed by the Article 25 of the Indian Constitution cannot be availed if there exists a systematic and continuous attack on the Hindus and their temples. The recent action has hindered the secular fabric of the nation which is not only part of the preamble but also forms the basic feature of the constitution.
Author is a practicing advocate of the Supreme Court and has recently moved a petition before the Supreme Court on behalf of Jan Swabhiman Welfare Society. The petition pertains to putting a stay on the proposed selling of the properties of Shri Jagannatha and having a uniform policy of administration and control of the religious places of all the religions.
Author: Adv. Shashank Shekhar Jha
Legal Editor, GoaChronicle.com