In the last week of September, the Tripura High Court in an atrocious judgment banned Pashubali (animal sacrifice) at the Maa Tripureswari Mandir in Udaipur and other Hindu temples in Tripura. Tripureswari temple, also known as Tripura Sundari Temple, is one of the 51 Shaktipeeths, and Pashubali is an integral custom of the temple. Kamaleswari Kali temple, located beside the India-Bangladesh border in Kasba village in west Tripura, is another important temple in the state where Pasbhubali is performed.
Tripura government has decided to file a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in Supreme Court against the High Court order. Royal scion and former Pradesh Congress president Pradyot Kishore Deb Burman has also announced that he will move Supreme Court against the Tripura High Court judgement banning animal sacrifice in the temples in the state.
It is a good time, perhaps, to look into the judgment in greater detail. The ridiculousness of the verdict is only matched by its utter preposterousness. The judges displayed a remarkable lack of awareness about the cultural sensitivities of Hindus and it was pretty clear that they were under the assumption that they have been awarded the mantle of reforming the Hindu faith.
In its judgment, the court asks the questions, “Which religion or community mandates infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on an animal? Which religion prescribes that physical or mental pain or suffering should not be eliminated in the pre-slaughter stage? Which religion would want its followers not to treat animal with compassion, care or a humane approach?”
There is a necessity to address these questions one by one. With regard to the first question, the term ‘unnecessary’ is entirely subjective. Moreover, the courts have demonstrated time and again that it’s only one particular religion that they dare reform and that religion happens to be Hinduism. Rationality has no bearings in the domain of faith and religion. The question itself is moot.
And anyway, the Court has no right to decide what’s necessary and what’s not when it comes to matters of religious faith. As for cruelty, the extent to which Pashubali inflicts cruelty on animals is not even remotely comparable to the monstrous cruelty that is inflicted on them during industrial farming for meat. If anyone is serious about stopping animal cruelty, they should first stop the industrial farming of animals.
Banning Pashubali to stop animal cruelty while animals are still slaughtered for food and reared on an industrial scale is like a deluded moron feeling good about himself for contributing towards environmental protection by putting out a candle in his home while there’s a raging wildfire out there.
The desire to ban Pashubali has absolutely nothing to do with stopping cruelty towards animals at all. If it were, people would first ban animal slaughter for food before going anywhere near Pashubali. Here we have certain individuals who just want to feel good about themselves by targeting the meek.
As for the second and third questions, there is Halal slaughter, a certified Islamic manner of killing that involves torturing an animal to death. And yet, the Court dare not speak a word on that. The reasons for it are, of course, obvious.
The Tripura High Court then proceeds to ask, “Which religion would allow itself to be shackled to dogma, superstition and unfounded beliefs so as not to reform and be in tune with the changing times in pursuit of Constitutional goals and morality.” This question comes across as a joke. ‘Constitutional goals and morality’ is a cringe-worthy term invented by the Judiciary to grab the powers of the executive & legislature and indulge in judicial overreach under the garb of constitutional mandate.
Constitutional morality is a farce invented by judges to excede their mandate. The constitution is nothing more than a legal contract between the state and its citizens. If the concept of ‘constitutional morality’ weren’t farcical enough, the Tripura High Court has gone a step further to include ‘constitutional goals’ to it to make it even more ridiculous.
Union Law Minister Ravishankar Prasad had once remarked, “We hear about Constitutional morality, we appreciate innovations but nuances of Constitutional morality should be outlined with clarity and should not differ from judge to judge and there must be a consensus.” The statement highlights the subjectivity of the term and how it was entirely invented by the most opaque arm of the state, that is, the Judiciary.
As for the first part of the Court’s question, I would like to quote BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi’s words which were spoken in the context of the Sabarimala verdict but stands just as true here, “It’s not the Court’s business!” Paraphrasing her words, “Will the Court decide how the birth of Jesus took place? Will the Court decide which body should be buried and which should be burnt?”
The judgment has even more ridiculous gems to offer, “Any customs, usages and traditions contrary to the constitutional spirit, cannot be a source of law.” It says further, “In our considered view, sacrifice of an animal, based on superstition or not being an essential part of practice of religion in a temple is absolutely an antithesis to compassion.” To all of this, I again quote Meenakshi Lekhi’s words, “It’s not the Court’s business!”
If we go by the logic of what is essential and what is not in a religion, almost all religious rituals and traditions will be deemed to be not essential. Religious rituals are matters of belief and tradition, they can’t be judged on the basis of necessity, as each and every ritual can be termed as superstition.
That the Judiciary has taken upon itself the mantle of reforming Hinduism is quite evident from the manner in which they express their desire for ‘social transformation’. The judgment says, “Every individual is duty bound to adopt a rational and logical thinking and not to be carried away by superfluous religious dogmas.” It adds, “Progressive society cannot be achieved when one is confined to religious dogmas. Also one has to adopt measures to inculcate scientific temper in a society ridden with superstitions.”
If all of this was not bad enough, it descends into the realm of the utterly bizarre pretty soon. The judges decided to pontificate on the possible negative impact on children who witness Pashubali. They did so without citing any authentic peer-reviewed research that showed the possible negative impact of witnessing such events on children and the impact it might have had in the future. The judges just assumed that it has negative impact on children, without citing any evidence. For all their supposed allegiance to ‘scientific temper’, this is remarkable demagoguery.
The judgment of the Tripura High Court said, “A child witnessing continuous violence towards animals may fail to inculcate moral values of showing an act of love, kindness and compassion towards animals.” It adds, “Sacrifice of animals in temples is not pleasing to the eyes and this inhuman religious practice in the name of religion has a definite impact on the psyche of a child.” I repeat, there’s not a shred of evidence for any of this. It’s entirely the musings and personal opinions of the judges themselves. Also, what is pleasing to eyes and what is not is an extremely subjective and personal matter, it is a wonder how judgements can be delivered on this basis.
The tradition of Pashubali has been going on for centuries, practised by generation after generation. It is particularly amusing because the practice is hugely widespread among the Bengali community, which is often lauded for being greatly progressive. Quite clearly, Pashubali hasn’t stopped Bengali children from growing up to be Progressives, which is, of course, changing quite fast these days.
The judgment is also remarkably condescending about parents who participate in such rituals, giving the impression as if the judges care more about the children than their parents themselves and that the parents are not raising the children properly. It’s absolutely outrageous.
The judgment then draws an equivalence between human sacrifice and animal sacrifice. It says that since human sacrifices were stopped centuries ago, there’s no reason why animal sacrifice can’t be either. First and foremost, there is no equivalence between the two. Cannibalism is not accepted in modern society but the consumption of meat is. Killing a human being is a crime everywhere in the world, but killing a non-protected animal, especially livestock, is not a crime, but a regular activity done by people. To even compare the two is an absurdity of the highest order.
The judgment says, “Importance cannot be construed to be an essentiality, meeting the twin test; being core; inextricably connected with its fundamental character.” This is a subjective opinion made by the Court while indulging in judicial overreach. It also says, “Practice of sacrificing animal in most other Shakti pithas is not seen or carried out.” This is a blatant falsehood. Tarapith and Kamakhya are two revered Shakti Peethas where Pashubali is carried out to this day. There are many other temples associated with Shaktism where animal sacrifice is performed. It is astonishing that the judgement mentions a complete falsehood to justify its order.
The Tripura High Court further says, “If the substratum of the ritual of animal sacrifice is taken away, the ceremony of performance of puja cannot be said to have been defiled or the right to practice and profess religion, obstructed, hindered or diminished in any manner.” Again, this is not for the Court to decide. One gets tired of saying it over and over again but it needs to be said as many times as the Court indulges in judicial overreach.
The Court makes numerous other observations, the only legitimate response to which is Meenakshi Lekhi’s words, “It’s not the Court’s business!”
The Court’s monumental ignorance of the Hindu faith is displayed when it implies that the rights of the devotees who do not believe in animal sacrifice have to be protected by the Court. It’s utterly ridiculous. If people do not believe in animal sacrifice, they can either not make a sacrifice themselves or avoid the Temple entirely. Hinduism allows for the diversity of traditions to flourish. While Hindus overwhelmingly have traditionally respected the divergent practices of respective sects and sampradayas, the Courts and a paltry sum of deluded liberal Hindus are destroying Hinduism’s diversity through their callousness.
The High Court also implies that the rights of those don’t believe animal sacrifice takes precedence over the rights of those who believe in Pashubali.
All in all, the Tripura High Court judgment is a perfect demonstration of the urgent necessity of judicial reforms. There’s also a great need for constitutional amendments to ensure that Hindu traditions aren’t violated.
The Judiciary should also contemplate the implications of its frivolous conduct. There is a growing sense of disrespect for the Judiciary among the citizens of the country which is extremely inconducive for the health of a democracy. The sacrifices at the Maa Tripureswari Mandir continues unabated to this day, the judgment has been utterly ignored by every section of the population and with good reason. And unlike Sabarimala, here the state government is also against the judgement, therefore it is difficult to implement the judgement. And this is not the first time this has happened. For example, even after the Supreme Court had banned traditional animal fights, buffalo fights are continued to be organised in Assam every year, with the sensible administration looking the other way. Such judgements attacking the religious and traditional practices which are opposed by the mass only harm the reputation of the judiciary.
There’s not a single good reason why Hindus should embrace edicts on their essential religious practices from the Indian judiciary. There’s no reason why they should take the personal musings of judges seriously, especially when it’s coated under the garb of a fallacious term such as ‘Constitutional Morality’. The judges should introspect on their conduct. Otherwise, the kind of contempt of court that we are witnessing at Maa Tripureswari Mandir with the explicit consent of the Hindu population at large and implicit consent of the ruling government will become par for the course going forward. The road to anarchy is paved with ‘Constitutional Morality’.