Sanatana Dharma is a set of 'eternal duties'; it cannot be traced to one specific literature: Madras High Court

Read Time: 08 minutes


Court highlighted that "somewhere, an idea appears to have gained ground that Sanatana Dharma is all about, and only about, promoting casteism and untouchability,"

Regarding "the very vociferous, and at times noisy debates on pro and anti-Sanatana Dharma", the Madras High Court recently observed that the court has broadly understood Sanatana Dharma as a set of 'eternal duties'.

The bench of Justice N Seshasayee said that Sanatana Dharma cannot be traced to one specific literature, but has to be gathered from multiple sources which, either relate to Hinduism, or which those who practice the Hindu way of life, have come to accept.

"It includes the duty to the nation, duty to the King, King's duty to his people, duty to one's parents and Gurus, care for the poor, and whole lot of other duties," the single judge bench added. 

The court observed so while dealing with a plea filed against a circular issued by the Principal of an Arts College asking the girl-students studying in the college to share their views on the topic 'Opposition to Sanatana' on the occasion of the commemoration of the birthday of the former Chief Minister and founder of the D.M.K party, late C.N. Annadurai, which falls on 15.09.2023.

The petitioner urged the court to issue a writ of Declaration, to declare the circular dated September 12, 2023 as unconstitutional and affront to secularism being the basic structure of the Constitution.

A direction to forebear the respondents from conducting, organizing and program on 15.09.2023 or any other subsequent dates on the topic of anti Sanatanam was also sought. 

However, court noted that the circular had already been withdrawn. Therefore, it disposed of the plea while expressing its "genuine concern for what is going round".

Court said that it is conscious of the debates taking place on pro and anti-Sanatana Dharma. 

"Somewhere, an idea appears to have gained ground that Sanatana Dharma is all about, and only about, promoting casteism and untouchability," court pointed out. 

It said, 

"Untouchability in a country of equal citizens, cannot be tolerated, and even if it is seen as permitted somewhere within the principles of 'Sanatana dharma', it still cannot have a space to stay, since Article 17 of the Constitution has declared that untouchability has been abolished. It is part of the fundamental right. And, under Art. 51A(a), it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to, “abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions..” Therefore, untouchability, either within or outside Sanatana Dharma can no longer be Constitutional though sadly it still exits."

Court also highlighted the submission made by Senior Counsel G. Karthikeyan appearing for the petitioner. Court said, "Mr. G. Karthikeyan, submitted with considerable force that nowhere Sanatana Dharma either approves or promotes untouchability, and it only insists the practitioners of Hinduism to treat all equally. 'As religious practices move with time, some bad or evil practices may un-noticingly creep into it. They are the weeds required to be removed. But why should the crop be chopped?' - This, in short the essence of the submissions of the learned counsel".

Further, regarding the freedom of speech, court said that "while right to free speech is inalienable, it is also important to underscore that one is adequately informed, as it adds value to what is spoken".

"When free speech is exercised in matters pertaining to religion, it is necessary for one to ensure that no one is injured," court underscored. 

While concluding, the single judge bench stressed, 

"At the end of the day, every citizen traces his existence to the Constitution, and hence it is his duty to abide by its values, its ethos, and to hold an uncompromising abidance to its spirits. This should not be forgotten. Hope it prevails."

Case Title: Elangovan V. The Secretary, Home Department, Chennai and Others