This article is authored by Gayatri Sharma a 3rd year student at GGSIPU
After the virus outbreak, the chances of the annually held festival of Jagannath Temple diminished to the lowest but the Government and the Sri Jagannath Temple Administration put in place preparations even during lockdown to make certain that all critical rituals are conducted with social distancing and by keeping the disciples away. The Supreme Court’s pronouncement to stay Lord Jagannath’s Rath Yatra, one of the most celebrated festivals of Hindus, this year in view of the COVID-19 pandemic has arrived at a critical juncture, given the fact that Odisha has tackled the Pandemic so far.
The creators of the gigantic chariots, which is headed by lakhs of devotees include a number of biswakarmas (carpenters), blacksmiths, roopakaras (painters), darzis (tailors) and ‘Bhoi’ servitors who deliver logs to the carpenters who have been connected to it for generations. It was made sure by the authorities that even these workers were put to the requirements of a secure and hygienic way of working by following the protocol of social distancing.
The fact that the Government did not sanction incoming trains to Puri, Odisha and restricted hotel bookings has baffled many that Odisha’s logical preparation for a crowd-less Rath Yatra was not presented before the Apex Court throughout the hearing. Chairman of Managing Committee of the Jagannath Temple and Puri Gajapati Dibyasingh Deb opined, “it seems, the State Government did not take notice of the May 30 resolution of the temple managing committee on Rath Yatra.”
Fundamental Right to Religion
The Constitution of India, according to Article 25, provides its citizens the freedom to freely profess, practice and propagate any religion along with thoughts and conscience which is subjected to public order, morality and health. In a diverse country like India, it is obvious that the populace will follow and preside under varied religions and so to keep a safe and healthy environment, the Constitution makers accessed this agenda to inculcate this arena of freedom regardless of a minority or majority as a fundamental right.
In the recent case of the Jagannath Temple, it was deemed that even though under the pandemic the preparations were ongoing and hence the apex panel of the temple administration had propelled a 22-page resolution to the Government delineating details of plans to conduct the festival without any congregation and utmost social distancing. The matter had gone to the Odisha High Court which left the obligation on the State Government. Then it came up before the SC basing on an appeal filed by Odisha Vikash Parishad.
This stated to continue with the annual festival has arrived because even the highest of the authorities cannot disrupt any religious practice but the contention that whether this summit of large scale even with proper precautions will lead into more disparity or not should also be considered. Therefore, the fundamental right and freedom to follow religion will not enshrine its core intentions under these circumstances in case something goes wrong.
Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are stipulated by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or ethics or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. Currently, in India, the restriction on morality has changed into ‘constitutional morality’ which is a judiciary invented expression that gives too much power in the hands of the judiciary. Already, the doctrine of basic structure has left too much authority in the hands of the judiciary to interpret the Constitution and decide anything as the basic structure is according to their discretion because there is no stringent formula for deciding the same. If all the past decided instances applying constitutional morality are analyzed, it can be inferred that it is trying to adjust the country to the present norms giving supremacy to ‘live with dignity.’ Whether it’s the assertion of Section 377 of IPC as unconstitutional or the Sabarimala Judgment striking down the old practice of not allowing women-- constitutional morality is trying to uplift the civilization.
Significance of this Development
The current situation clearly requires for all the states to minimize the crowd and practice social distancing even if there is a requirement to fulfill a religious propaganda. Hence, the development to inculcate the reasonable restrictions should be met. The Constitutional morality should be deemed towards suspending the orders of organizing this year’s festival but according to the Apex Court all the guidelines should be followed to direct the ritual with only a minimal number of people.
Although the Government should have postponed this festival as opined by some people, the minor contradictory opinions also believe that the strict establishment of the principles was a correct and intelligent move on the part of the State Government as it would give the citizens a sense of hope and allow them to be safe at the same time.
Gajapati Dibyasingha Deb appealed to the Odisha Government to file a review petition in the Apex Court seeking permission to arrange Rath Yatra in Srikhetra, the novel abode of Lord Jagannath amid tight security with least number of servitors possible and without participation of devotees.
Primarily conceding to the State Cabinet’s decision to honor the Supreme Court’s order, the authorities changed their stance after being notified that Rath Yatra is being organized at Ahmadabad in Gujarat, one of the five COVID-19 hotbeds of the country.
Even though the State has taken proper precautions, this cannot be regarded as the excuse to conduct a religious norm wherein majority of the people would like to be included and be a part of the rituals. The State’s issue to maintain and practice all the guidelines forwarded by the necessary authorities gives a chance to other religious authorities to accomplish their own religious courses of actions by having an example of this instance. This can in no way lead to a better scenario and the con of the situation can be manifested even further.
India being a secular country provides equal protection to all the religions. Equal protection does not mean that it constantly aids and promotes its citizens to follow a religion and its practice, but at times it means to obstruct and bring positive reforms for the betterment of the society. A question which recent verdicts have raised is whether it is necessary for the Court to decide the constitutionality of a practice merely to institute a right even when it does not hurt the majority section of the society but at the same time also contains a chance to lead some other sections of the society, following a different religion with same hopes about their religious practices.
The new wave of modernism and feminism has set a tendency of questioning old age customs to establish the Right to Equality which is offered to us as a part of our fundamental right. From the verdict in the petition of the above case, it can be contended that interfering in religious matters just to establish a right and damaging religious sentiments of certain followers is not something which a secular state should do. This pandemic has been a downfall to almost all of the people especially the ones who reside below poverty line, migrants and many other who have a lack of basic facilities. Hence, the Government’s foremost concern should be to avail to needs of underprivileged and postpone certain matters even though they are religious rituals in order to use those resources towards an effective and efficient conduct.