Mad HC| People can be religious; Men may be communal; but roads and streets are secular; Religious procession cannot be prohibited in an area inhabited by a different religious group

“People can be religious;

Men may be communal;

Whether roads could be communal?

This is the question raised in these appeals.”

Madras High Court: In a very important judgment on secularism, the bench of N.Kirubakaran and P.Velmurugan, JJ has held that any procession including religious procession cannot be prohibited or curtailed merely because another religious group is residing or doing business in the area predominantly.

The Court noticed,

“… there cannot be any order prohibiting the religious festivals and Temple’s processions through all the streets and roads of the village/town, when the same is being conducted for years together. If at all, there can be some regulations and there cannot be any prohibition.”

Background

V.Kalathur Village consists of both Muslims and Hindus population. On the Eastern side of the village Muslims are residing and on the Western side of the village, Hindus are residing. Right from the year 1951 onwards there is a dispute between the two religious groups regarding the usage of 96 cents of Government Poramboke land. Muslims wanted the land to be used as common place whereas the Hindus claim long use of Poramboke land and objected to common usage. Many clashes have also taken place between the two religious groups with regard to the said site pursuant to which many cases have also been filed against both the groups.

The petitioner approached the authorities seeking to perform Oorani Pongal Vizha for 3 days and was granted permission imposing certain conditions by an order dated 23.09.2018 including conditions with regard to the conduct of procession.

The said permission was challenged on the ground that the petitioner’s intention to take out the procession in those Muslim dominated areas is only to create the law and order problem.

Analysis

After perusing the records, the Court noticed that the major community residing in the village are Hindus and Muslims and that there was no problem till the year 2011 for conduct of festivals in the four major temples.

Further, the counter affidavit filed by the police authorities in this case as well as the previous orders passed showed that temple festivals as well as processions are being conducted years together. Therefore, the conduct of temple’s processions through the roads/streets cannot be prohibited. Rightly the police authorities in the year 2012 had only imposed conditions and that was also approved by this Court.

The Court noticed that before the year 2012, Temple’s processions were conducted through all the streets in the village and there was no problem. Even from the year 2012 to 2015, processions were conducted through all the streets and roads. Therefore, it is evident that taking out Temple’s processions through all the streets and roads in V.Kalathur village have been the custom and practice of the Hindus for the past many decades. It seems from the year 2012 onwards, when the Muslims started objecting, the problem seems to have started.

“All along there had been religious tolerance and the religious festivals were conducted very smoothly and religious procession were conducted without any problem through all the streets and roads of the village. If religious intolerance is going to be allowed, it is not good for a secular country. Intolerance in any form by any religious group has to be curtailed and prohibited. In this case, intolerance of a particular religious group is exhibited by objecting for the festivals which have been conducted for decades together and the procession through the streets and roads of the village are sought to be prohibited stating that the area is dominated by Muslims and therefore, there cannot be any Hindu festival or procession through the locality.”

It is also pertinent to note that Section 180-A of the District Municipalities Act 1920, states as follows: “All streets vested in or to be vested in or maintained by a Municipal Council shall be open to persons of whatever caste or creed.”

Hence, merely because one religious group is dominating in a particular locality, it cannot be a ground to prohibit from celebrating religious festivals or taking processions of other religious groups through those roads.

“If it is to be accepted, then a day will come when a particular religious group which is predominantly occupying the area, will not allow the people belonging to other religious groups even to use the roads even for movement, transportation or the normal access. Even the marriage processions and funeral processions would be prohibited/prevented which is not good for our society.”

The Court noticed that t temples are there for decades together. Merely because a religious group got settled in a locality and has become vociferous, they cannot object to the custom of taking Temple’s procession through all the streets in the Village and consequent upon their objections, the customary and traditional practices cannot be prevented or prohibited.

“If the contention of the private respondent is to be accepted then it would create a situation in which minority people cannot conduct any festival or procession in most of the areas in India. If resistance is being exhibited by one religious group and it is reciprocated by the other religious groups, there would be chaos, riots, religious fights causing loss of lives and destruction of properties. Consequently, the secular character of our country will be destroyed or damaged.”

CONCLUSION

1.Once it has been declared by the authorities as roads or streets as per Section 180-A of the District Municipalities Act, the roads and streets which are “secular”, should be used as roads by all the people irrespective of their religion, caste or creed.

2.Any procession including religious procession shall be conducted through all the roads and streets without any restriction.

3.Any procession including religious procession cannot be prohibited or curtailed merely because another religious group is residing or doing business in the area predominantly.

4.There cannot be a prohibition for any procession including religious processions through roads by the District administration or police authorities and there can be only regulation by the police or other Government authorities to see that no untoward incident occurs or any law and order problem arises.

5.Every religious group has got fundamental right to take out religious procession through all the roads without insulting the other religious sentiments and without raising any slogans against other religious groups, affecting their sentiments, public law and order.

6.Merely because there is one place of worship belonging to other religious group, the same cannot be a ground to decline/deny permission to conduct procession including religious procession of other religions to go through those roads or streets.

7.The presence of religious structures/places of worship cannot take away the right of other religious groups who have been enjoying all the rights including the conduct of religious procession for the past many years.

8.The criminal cases filed against both the parties are directed to be withdrawn.

[Ramasamy Udayar v. District Collector, Perambalur District, 2021 SCC OnLine Mad 1779, decided on 30.04.2021]

For Appellant : S.Doraisamy

For Respondent : G.Karthikeyan (for R1) and Pothiraj (for R2 to R4)

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.