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Whether devotees of Lord A constitute a religious denomination ?

If so, whether the restriction


imposed upon the entry of women between 10 to 50 years of age forms an essential religious
practice of the denomination?

It is humbly submitted before the Hon’ble Supreme court of Sentara that the devotees of Lord
A do not constitute a religious denomination. As Firstly, the devotees of Lord A do not meet
the essentials laid down by this Hon’ble court to qualify as a religious denomination. Secondly,
the exclusionary practice does not constitute an essential religious practice.

[1] Devotees of Lord do not qualify the essentials to qualify as a religious denomination.

Constitution has been adopted for a society of plural cultures and if its provisions are any
indication, it is evident that the text does not pursue either a religious theocracy or a dominant
ideology.

Article 26 of the Constitution of India guarantees to every religious denomination the right (a)
to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes; (b) to manage its
own affairs in matters of religion; (c) to own and acquire movable and immovable property;
and (d) to administer such property in accordance with law. However, these rights are subject
to public order, morality and health.

The word “denomination” has been defined in the Oxford Dictionary to mean “a collection of
individuals classed together under the same name: a religious sect or body having a common
faith and organisation and designated by a distinctive name”.1

Further in the case of S.P Mittal2, this Hon’ble court reiterated the definition of “religious
denomination” and observed as under: "The words 'religious denomination' in Article 26 of
the Constitution must take their colour from the word 'religion' and if this be so, the expression
'religious denomination' must also satisfy three conditions:

Firstly, it must be a collection of individuals who have a system of beliefs or doctrines which
they regard as conducive to their spiritual well-being, that is, a common faith;

Secondly, common organisation, and

Thirdly, designation by a distinctive name."

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It necessarily follows that the common faith of the community should be based on religion and
in that they should have common religious tenets and the basic cord which connects them,
should be religion and not merely considerations of caste or community or societal status.3

It is humbly submitted that first condition for a religious denomination, i.e., the collection of
individuals ought to have a system of beliefs or doctrines which they regard as conducive to
their spiritual well-being stands unfulfilled as there is nothing on record to show that the
devotees of Lord A have any common religious tenets peculiar to themselves, which they
regard as conducive to their spiritual well-being, other than those which are common to the
Hindu religion. It is humbly averred that the Temple of Saripura is not a separate religious
denomination, for the religious parctices performed in Saripura Temple at the time of „Puja‟
and other religious ceremonies are akin to any other practice performed in any Hindu
Temple. The devotees of Lord A are not unified on the basis of some distinct set of
practises. Every temple in India has its own different set of rituals. It differs from
region to region. A minor difference in rituals and ceremonies does not make them a
separate religious denomination.

Hon’ble Supreme court by a majority of 4 : 1 in the case of S.P. Mittal4 held that Sri Aurobindo
Society does not constitute a religious denomination and opined :

“what is universal cannot be a religious denomination. In order to constitute a separate


denomination, there must be something distinct from another. A Religious denomination must
necessarily be a new one and new methodology must be provided for a religion.”

The devotees of Lord A are just Hindus and do not constitute a separate religious denomination
as in the present case the methodology used in the temple of Sripura is not unique and specific
to the temple. Mere observance of certain practices like that of prohibiting the entry of women
between the age of 10 to 50 and undergoing strict religious vows for 48 days , even though
from a long time, does not make it a distinct religion altogether. Further as per section 3 of The
ABC Places of Worship (Authorization of Entry Act) the places of public worship be open to
all sections and classes of people, subject to special rules for religious denominations. The
entry into the temple is not limited to the devotees of Lord A as it is open to all sections and
classes of people……………………….. Hence the followers of deity A do not form a
collection of individuals who have a common system of belief which is conducive to their
spiritual well being. Adherence to a ‘common faith’ would entail that a common set of beliefs
have been followed since the conception of the particular sect or denomination. This can be
further be substantiated by the decision of this court in case of Indian Young Lawyers

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Shirur Math case
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Association & Ors. v. State of Kerela & Ors. 5, where it was held that: A distinctive feature of
the pilgrimage is that pilgrims of all religions participate in the pilgrimage on an equal footing.
Muslims and Christians undertake the pilgrimage. A member of any religion can be a part of
the collective of individuals who worship Lord Ayyappa. Religion is not the basis of the
collective of individuals who worship the deity. Bereft of a religious identity, the collective
cannot claim to be regarded as a ‘religious denomination’.

Further, the petitioners submit that Lord A has female devotees. Hence, girls below the age of
ten and women above the age of fifty would be included as members of the denomination as
their entry is allowed. However, it is unclear as to how they may be considered as members of
a denomination that seeks their exclusion. In a lot many judgements this court has laid down
that the collective of individuals must have a common faith and set of beliefs that aid their
spiritual well-being. It is implausible that women should leave the membership of a common
faith, which is meant to be conducive to their spiritual growth for a period of forty years and
resume membership at the age of fifty. Such a requirement takes away from the spiritual
character of the denomination. Hence, the devotees of Lord A does not have a faith common
to themselves and hence does constitute a religious denomination.

It is further contended by the petitioners that the exclusionary practice of prohibiting entry of
women between the age of 10 to 50 years to the temple of Sripura on the ground……..is not
intrinsic to the common faith of the devotees of Lord A. This contention can be substantiated
by the fact that every year huge Rath Yatras are organized and celebrations go on for months.
As per the dictionary meaning Rath Yatra means a ceremonial procession centred around a
chariot carrying a holy image or idol…..FOOTNOTE…. In these Rath Yatras there is as such
no restriction regarding the participation of women and entry of women of all ages is permitted
. Hence, the contention that Lord A is celibate and even the presence of women can defile his
vow of celibacy holds no value. Since exclusion of person from temple has not been shown to
be a matter of religion with reference to the tenants of Hinduism. Therefore, this practice of
exclusion of women is not an intrinsic part of the devotees religion and be a ground for holding
that devotees have a common faith.

It is humbly submitted that there is an absence of a common spiritual organisation, which is a


necessary element to constitute a religious denomination. A common organisation is one which

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adheres to a common faith. Since it has already been proved that devotees of lord A do not
have any common faith and hence they do not have a common organisation.

Moreover, the followers of Lord A are not known by any distinct name .Every Hindu devotee
can go to the temple of Sripura. Petitioners would like to draw the attention of the court to the
fact that women between the age of 10 to 50 years are not prohibited to worship Lord A in any
other temple. Therefore, there is no identified sect. it is further averred that Lord A is celibate
and henceforth in all the temples of Lord A. Since the denomination will include all the
followers of lord A from all the temples as Lord A exist in celibate form in all his temples.
Then the question which arises for consideration is how come this particular group of devotees
have different practice. Accordingly, the petitioners submit, that Sripura temple is a public
religious endowment and there are no exclusive identified followers of the cult. The temple at
which worship is carried out is dedicated to the public and represents truly, the plural character
of society. Everyone, irrespective of religious belief, can worship the deity. The practices
associated with the forms of worship do not constitute the devotees into a religious
denomination.

In N. Adithayan v. Travancore Devaswom Board and Ors.,


(2002) 8 SCC 106 Any custom or usage irrespective of even any
proof of their existence in preconstitutional days cannot be
countenanced as a source of law to claim any rights when it is found to
violate human rights, dignity, social equality and the specific mandate of
the Constitution and law made by Parliament. No usage which is found
to be pernicious and considered to be in derogation of the law of the
land or opposed to public policy or social decency can be accepted or
upheld by courts in the country.

The judgement cited the ruling of Lord Halsbury in Free Church of Scotland v. Overtoun6 held
:

“In the absence of conformity to essentials, the denomination would not be an entity cemented
into solidity by harmonious uniformity of opinion, it would be a mere incongruous heap of, as
it were, grains of sand, thrown together without being united, each of these intellectual and
isolated grains differing from every other, and the whole forming a but nominally united while

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really unconnected mass; fraught with nothing but internal dissimilitude, and mutual and
reciprocal contradiction and dissension.”

[ii] Exclusionary practice does not constitute an essential religious practice.

Without prejudice to the above submissions, it is humbly averred by the petitioners that even
if the Temple of Sripua is taken to be a religious denomination, the restriction on the entry of
women is not an essential religious practise. The prohibition on women between the ages of 10
to 50 years from entering the temple does not constitute the core foundation of the assumed
religious denomination. Any law or custom to be protected under Article 26 must have
Constitutional legitimacy.

In the case of Tilkayat Shri Govindlalji Maharaj v. State of Rajasthanand Ors.7, the apex court
has observed : in order that the practices in question should be treated as a part of religion they
must be regarded by the said religion as its essential and integral part; otherwise even purely
secular practices which are not an essential or an integral part of religion are apt to be clothed
with a religious form and may make a claim for being treated as religious practices within the
meaning of Art. 25(1).

In the case of Seshammal v. State of Tamilnadu8, the apex court while elucidating on the
concept of essential religious practices has held : “Essential part of a religion means the core
beliefs upon which a religion is founded. Essential practice means those practices that are
fundamental to follow a religious belief. It is upon the cornerstone of essential parts or practices
the superstructure of religion is built. Without which, a religion will be no religion. Test to
determine whether a part or practice is essential to the religion is - to find out whether the nature
of religion will be changed without that part or practice. If the taking away of that part or
practice could result in a fundamental change in the character of that religion or in its belief,
then such part could be treated as an essential or integral part. There cannot be additions or
subtractions to such part. Because it is the very essence of that religion and alteration will
change its fundamental character. It is such permanent essential parts is what is protected by
the Constitution. Nobody can say that essential part or practice of one's religion has changed
from a particular date or by an event. Such alterable parts or practices are definitely not the

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(1964) 1 SCR 561
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[1972]3SCR815
'core' of religion where the belief is based and religion is founded upon. It could only be treated
as mere embellishments to the nonessential part or practices.”

It is humbly submitted that the exclusionary practice of excluding women between the age of
10 to 50 does not constitute an essential religious practice as this is just a practice and not the
cornerstone upon which the superstructure of religion is built. Taking away this exclusionary
practice will not result in a fundamental change in the character of the religion or in its belief.
This can be substantiated by the fact that there are other temples of Lord A where he exist in
celibate form and in those temples the entry of women is not prohibited. Hence, the practice of
excluding the entry of menstruating women is not uniform and lacks consistency. This militates
against the claim that such a practice is of an obligatory nature and essential and fundamental
to the religious beliefs.

Further, it is respectfully n submitted that a religious denomination cannot completely exclude


or prohibit any class or section for all times. All that a religious denomination may do is to
restrict the entry of a particular class or section in certain rituals9. Hence, this act of completely
prohibiting the entry of women between the age of 10 to 50 is against the core principles of
equality, liberty and dignity enshrined in Part III of the Constitution.

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Sri Venkatramana Devaru v. State of Mysore and others