While refusing to cancel an FIR registered against the priest of the Catholic diocese P. George Ponnaih for an inflammatory speech against the Hindus, the High Court of Madras made some observations on the religious conversions.
Judge GR Swaminathan, who reviewed the case, observed that it is important to maintain the status quo regarding religious demographics. “If there is a serious subversion of the status quo, dire consequences can ensue,” Justice Swaminathan said. While saying that an individual’s choice to change their religion is constitutionally protected and must be respected, Judge Swaminathan said religious conversions cannot be a “group agenda”.
The judge observed:
“India was divided on the ground of religion. Millions of people died in the riots that followed. That is why our founding fathers consciously adopted secularism as the guiding principle of the new republic … Freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and propagate religion has become a fundamental right. But the rendezvous with destiny can only be achieved if the multicultural character of Indian society persists. In other words , the status quo in matters of religious demography must be maintained. If there is a serious subversion of the status quo, disastrous consequences may ensue. “
The priest was booked by Arumanai Police for his speech at a meeting called to pay homage to the late Fr Stan Swami. Referring to the offenses with which he was charged, the court observed that the priest cannot insult or insult another religion and still claim immunity against the application of articles 295A, 153A and 505 (2) of the ICC. The court, however, quashed the offenses under Sections 143, 269 and 506 (1) of the IPC and Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897.
Citing the affinity of the legendary lawyer B. Sen towards Christianity, as evidenced by certain excerpts from his autobiography, Judge GR Swaminathan points out that conversion to another religion out of personal conviction is a choice that must be respected.
“… Dileep Kumar became ARRahman. Yuvan Shankar Raja is now a Muslim. One of T. Rajendar’s sons embraced Islam. It is perfectly understandable and no exceptions can be made. But religious conversions do not. can not be a group program. Our Constitution speaks of a composite culture. This character must be maintained. The clock of history can never be set back. But the status quo that is achieved in 2022 with regard to the religious demographic profile may need to be maintained “.
“Incendiary statements like those of a lunatic fringe”, “Demographic inversion of Kanyakumari”
“…The question is whether the state can ignore inflammatory statements like that of a fringe of lunatics “, noticed the bench.
Provocative statements made by a charismatic Catholic priest, with a large following, this too in a district like Kanyakumari (where the Christian population is dominant), cannot be ignored by the state, said Judge GR Swaminathan.
Regarding the demographic development of Kanyakumari district, the court refers to an article written by Aravindan Neelakandan, originally from Kanyakumari. Aravindan Neelakandan said in the article that the religious demographics of Kanyakumari district have been subject to change, and according to the 2011 census, Hindus have fallen below the crucial 50% threshold. The court also referred to the recommendations made by the Commission of Judge P. Venugopal which was constituted following the community riots which took place in 1982 in Mandaikkaadu in the district of Kanyakumari. Both the writer and the Commission echo the same apprehensions, the court added.
The court accepted the proposition that there was a demographic reversal in the Tamil Nadu district and the Hindu population fell to 48.5%. Even though the Hindu population stands at 48.5%, the reality on the ground is quite different in which Hindus have been reduced to a minority. The court also explains the reasons for such an observation by referring to the converted Hindus:
“We can take judicial notice of the fact that a large number of Hindus of the listed castes, although having converted to Christianity and professing the said religion, officially call themselves Hindus in order to take advantage of the reserve. Such people are called crypto-Christians. There was even a movie based on this theme (Rudra Thandavam). As a courtesy, I refrain from citing the name of a Judge who belonged to such a category. There was even a petition to challenge his status. Everyone pretended not to know the truth. But when he died, he was buried according to Christian rites in a cemetery … “
The court ruled that this is the reason why the accused petitioner was overconfident in his speech on Christians. reaching the figure of 72 percent, although the census figures paint a different picture.
FIR against the priest
“Reading the petitioner’s speech as a whole leaves no room for doubt. Its target is the Hindu community. He puts them on one side and Christians and Muslims on the other. He clearly pits one group against another. The distinction is made only on the basis of religion. The petitioner repeatedly belittles the Hindu ccommunity”, Judge GR Swaminathan observed while pointing out that the “evangelist” can be reserved under Articles 153A as well as Article 505 (2) of the IPC.
The court also observed that the applicant had described “Bharat Mata” and “Bhuma Devi” as sources of infection and filth. Since this is a direct attack on the religious feelings of Hindus, Article 295A can be invoked, the court noted.
“Bhuma Devi is considered a goddess by all believing Hindus. I use the term “believer” because even materialists, rationalists and non-believers can also be considered Hindus. I can add ironically that even the great iconoclast and rationalist Periyar has not ceased to be a Hindu. Bharat Mata evokes a deeply emotional reverence among very large numbers of Hindus. She is often depicted wearing the national flag and riding a lion. She is for many Hindus a goddess in her own right … “, the court explained why section 295 A would be applicable to an offensive portrayal of the goddess.