SC Cast(e)s Aside Order, Agama Redline Back for Priest Jobs
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday gave the nod to the Tamil Nadu government to go ahead with the appointment of ‘Archakas’ (temple priests) as per the ‘Agamas’, treatises relating to its functioning, and reiterated that any deviation from the age-old custom and usage would be an infringement of the freedom of religion. ‘Agamas’ are treatises on matters like construction of temples, installation of idols and conduct of worship of the Deity.
A bench of justices Ranjan Gogoi and N V Ramana said, “Such appointment is not violative of the fundamental right to equality but the appointment of ‘Archakas’ should be in conformity with the Constitutional mandates and principles.” “The exclusion of some and inclusion of a particular segment or denomination for appointment as ‘Archakas’ would not violate Article 14 (right to equality) so long such inclusion/ exclusion is not based on the criteria of caste, birth or any other constitutionally unacceptable parameter.”
“Religion incorporates the particular belief(s) that a group of people subscribe to. Hinduism, as a religion, incorporates all forms of belief without mandating the selection or elimination of any one single belief. It is a religion that has no single founder; no single scripture and no single set of teachings,” the bench said in its 54-page ruling.
In 1971, the DMK government of M Karunanidhi had amended the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious Endowments Act to abolish the concept of hereditary appointments for priests (archakas) in temples in the State.
The bunch of petitions was filed by Adi Saiva Sivachariyargal Nala Sangam challenging the order.
The bench said the State government’s May 23, 2006, order that any Hindu possessing the requisite qualification and training can be appointed as Archaka in temples has the potential of falling foul of the dictum laid down in an earlier apex court judgment passed by a Constitution bench. The court referred to its earlier ruling which said priests’ appointment has to be as per Agamas governing the temple and any deviation from the age-old custom and usage would be an infringement of the freedom of religion.
The court said the validity of the government’s order would depend on the facts of each case of appointment. “What is found and held to be prescribed by one particular or a set of Agamas for a solitary or a group of temples, as may be, would be determinative of the issue. In this regard it will be necessary to re-emphasise what has been already stated with regard to the purport and effect of Article 16(5) of the Constitution, namely, that the exclusion of some and inclusion of a particular segment or denomination for appointment as Archakas would not violate Article 14 so long as such inclusion/ exclusion is not based on the criteria of caste, birth or any other constitutionally unacceptable parameter,” the bench said.
“So long as the prescription(s) under a particular Agama or Agamas is not contrary to any constitutional mandate as discussed above, the impugned government order dated May 23, 2006, by its blanket fiat to the effect... has the potential of falling foul of the dictum laid down in...”