Case Analysis: Subhas Bhattacharjee v. State of Tripura


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This Case Analysis is written by Rhea Bazaz Legal content writer at Lawyers Troop


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Name of the Case

Subhas Bhattacharjee v. State of Tripura

Citation

2019 SCC Online Tri 441

Facts

In the present case, the petitioner, a retired judicial officer filed a public interest litigation where he highlighted that there were two main temples, namely the Mata Tripureswari Devi Temple and the Chatur Das Devata Temple where the practice of animal sacrifice was practiced to please the Gods and Goddesses. The sacrifice of animals like goats, pigeons and buffalos was carried out on particular days of the month in order to observe certain festivals.

The petitioner argued that this was not an essential practice under Hinduism and it was a barbaric act which traumatized both the viewer and the animal. The prevalence of this practice was highlighted especially in the Mata Tripureswari Devi Temple, which is managed by the District administration and is considered one of the 51 Shakti Peethas (the auspicious temples of Goddess Sati all over the world).

The petitioner stated that while the practice had been banned in Nepal and Himachal Pradesh, the same should be done in Tripura by the State government since animal slaughter was a social evil and not an integral part of Hinduism.

The State government presented documents to prove that this practice had been in place since time immemorial and certain sects of Hinduism do carry out the practice of worshipping Gods and Goddesses by offering slaughtered animals and it has always been backed by public sentiment.

The Court referred to texts and documents pertaining to this practice and the temples in question and concluded that there was no documentary evidence to prove that such a practice had to be carried out in the Mata Tripureswari Devi Temple since the devotees also had the option of offering sweets and fruits to the deities.

The Court concluded that animal sacrifice was not an essential religious practice since it was not compulsory and was optional. Hence, the Court passed an order stating that no person, including the State was allowed to slaughter and offer animals within the vicinity of all temples in Tripura and an attitude of love and sensitivity towards birds and animals must be encouraged amongst the general public.

Issues

  1. Whether the ancient practice of sacrificing and offering animals to temple deities was an essential and integral religious practice which deserved protection under Article 25(1) of the Constitution of India.
  2. Whether a religious practice can be allowed to continue if it is not integral to that particular religion but has been carried out as a ritual or a custom in spite of contradicting several other provisions and legislations on animal cruelty.

Rules

  1. Article 21, Constitution of India-  The State cannot take away the life or liberty of any person except by a procedure established by law.
  2. Article 25– It states that every person has the equal right to the freedom of conscience and the right to freely practice, profess and propagate any religion of one’s choice. All of this is subject to public order and morality. 
  3. Article 48– This article encourages the State to adopt a modern and scientific method to organize animal husbandry and to take steps to improve and preserve the breed and prohibit the slaughter of cattle animals.
  4. Article 48A–  The State is to work towards protecting and improving the environment, forests and the wildlife of the country.
  5. Article 51A(g)–  This lays down the fundamental duties of the citizens to protect and improve the environment and wildlife and to have compassion for all living creatures.

Analysis

In the writ petition, the petitioner referred to the works which dealt with the construction of the Mata Tripureswari Temple way back in the 15th century. He has stated that while laying down the rules pertaining to the worship of the deities, it was nowhere mentioned that it was compulsory to make an offering of the slaughtered animal to the idols. Hence, it was not justified to suggest that the Goddess of the temple would be pleased if animals were offered to her.

The State or the respondent, on the other hand responded that the petition was filed with a malicious intent to abuse the judicial process and it had been done without issuing any notice to the temple authorities or approaching the Government of Tripura. They claimed that the sacrifice of domestic animals is an essential part of this form of worship which had been in practice way before independence by the Tantric sect of Hinduism. The respondent also alleged that by filing this petition, the petitioner intended to hurt Hindu sentiments and disturb public order by disregarding the fact that animal slaughter is carried out by Muslims also during Bakri Eid

In the famous Jallikattu case, the Supreme Court in the year 2014 held that Article 21 of the Constitution of India includes animals as well in the definition of ‘persons’ and hence, the right to life extends to animals as well.1 The Apex Court once again affirmed this judgment in the year 2017.2

Article 25 guarantees every religious community and sect the right to autonomy over their religious practices and affairs. However, this right is not absolute and can be curtailed on grounds of health, morality or public order. The State has the authority to intervene on humanitarian grounds if the acts are detrimental to society or for the purpose of social reforms.

It was because of this authority that negative practices like devadasi, sati or human sacrifice could be banned in spite of having religious sanction. In a landmark decision, that the protection under this article does not include only religious beliefs or philosophies but also to acts and rituals which are conducted in the name of religion and ways of worship. The courts have to decide what act or practice is an essential part of the religion by examining the principles of the said religion and the practices accepted by the community.3

An essential part of religion means the beliefs on the basis of which the religion has been founded. The test is to find out whether the nature of such a religion will be changed on removing the practice. If altering or removing the practice would result in a drastic change in the basic character of the religion or without which it would no longer be a religion.4

The Court has in the past emphasized on the importance of tolerance and peaceful coexistence since it was the fundamental aim of every scripture and all living beings should be treated with compassion since a soul resides in each one of them.5 In the famous Sabarimala case, it was opined that even if a practice is favoured by an entire community, it is not protected if it goes against principles of morality.6

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was enacted in 1960 with the intention of preventing ill-treatment and acts of torture against animals. However, section 28 of this Act provides that it is not a crime to kill an animal if it is a religious practice of a community. This single provision went against the entire purpose of the Act. However, the Supreme Court fixed this malady by stating that even if the validity of a custom is proved, it cannot be claimed as a source of law if it violates human rights or contradicts the purpose of any constitutional provision or legislation.7

In one case, the Himachal Pradesh High Court has stated that animal sacrifice cannot be considered fundamental to any religious practice and if such an act is abolished, it will not lead to any fundamental change in the nature of Hinduism. Deities in a temple can be worshipped by offering flowers and fruits. The court also held that we are living in a modern era and old rituals often lose their relevance and have to be replaced with new ones keeping in mind reasoning and scientific logic.8 

In a case pertaining to the Muslim community, the Supreme Court held that sacrificing a cow for Bakrid was not an essential religious practice and not a required activity for a Muslim to show his religiousness. In the same case, it was held that while directive principles are not enforceable by any court, they are principles which the State should keep in mind during governance and a harmonious interpretation should be done in such a way that enforcing them does not take away any fundamental rights or go against any legislation.9

Subsequently, it was opined that both directive principles and fundamental duties should be kept in mind while analyzing whether the restrictions placed on fundamental rights are reasonable or not. Here, it was observed that cattle animals are considered very important in Indian agriculture since they are useful in providing milk and a ban could be placed on cow slaughter.10

Conclusion

The Tripura High Court held that the practice of animal sacrifice in the above-mentioned temples violated Article 21 of the Constitution and went against the purpose of the directive principles to protect and preserve wildlife. This practice was not accorded protection under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution since it failed the test of being an essential religious practice. 

The High Court issued directions to the State to ensure that no animal is slaughtered within the premises of the temple. It also called for the installation of CCTV cameras to ensure the same and ordered the District Magistrate and Collectors to sensitize the public to treat all animals with love and compassion. If any person wishes to offer an animal due to his personal belief, he may do so but he has to take the animal back and separate land is to be marked in order to rear animals for this purpose. 

In this particular case, while the essential religious practices test was relied on, it did not only focus on the religious rights of the individual. The High Court took the view of protecting animal rights and according them the same dignity as human beings.

The State argued that the petition should not be allowed since it was an attempt to hurt Hindu sentiments and the practice of animal slaughter was not exclusive to Hinduism. However, this argument did not stand since the courts have been proactive in removing negative religious practices even in Islam as seen in the Mohd. Hanif Qureshi case above and most recently, the Shayara Bano case where instant triple talaq was seen as a non-essential practice in Islam.11 The Court entertained the petition on the ground that it was filed by a bona-fide citizen who raised a very valid concern since the practice was tortuous to animals and it could even lead to infection around the area due to all the bloodshed. 

This judgment was an attempt to protect animals from cruelty and get rid of orthodox practices which only give disrepute to the religion of Hinduism, which preaches care and compassion for all living beings. This decision paves the way for the judiciary to change the thinking of society to do away with illogical practices and to inculcate scientific temper and rationality in one’s life.

Footnotes

  1. Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja & Ors. (2014) 7 SCC 547, (India)
  2. Chief Secretary to the Government, Chennai v. Animal Welfare Board of India, (2017) 2 SCC 144, (India)
  3. Seshammal v. State of Tamil Nadu, (1972) 2 SCC 11, (India)
  4. Commissioner of Police v. Acharya Jagadishwarananda Avadhuta, (2004) 12 SCC 770, (India)
  5. A.S. Narayana Deekshitulu v. State of Andhra Pradesh, (1996) 9 SCC 548, (India)
  6. Indian Young Lawyers Association v. State of Kerala, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 1690, (India)
  7. N. Adithayan v. Travancore Devaswom Board, (2002) 8 SCC 106, (India)
  8. Ramesh Sharma v. State of Himachal Pradesh, CWP No. 9257 of 2011
  9. Mohd. Hanif Qureshi v. State of Bihar, AIR 1958 SC 731, (India)
  10. Akhil Bharat Goseva Sangh v. State of Andhra Pradesh, (2006) 4 SCC 162, (India)
  11. Shayara Bano v. Union of India, WPC No. 118 of 2016, (India)

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