Appointing Hindu temple priests as per Hindu rituals (Agamas) do not violate right to equality: SC

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Who: Appointing Hindu temple priests as per Hindu rituals (Agamas)
What: SC said that it do not violate right to equality
When: 16 December 2015

Supreme Court on 16 December 2015 said that temple priests should be appointed as per ancient Hindu rituals (Agamas). It said that such appointments in accordance with Agamas do not violate the right of equality.

Supreme Court bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice NV Ramana gave its direction while hearing a petition against a Tamil Nadu government order allowing priests from all castes.

The petitioner, Adi Saiva Sivacharyargal Nala Sangam, in its petition said that the government’s decision violates their right to religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution.

The bench in its direction invoked Article 16(5) of the Constitution to hold that exclusion of some and inclusion of a particular segment or denomination for appointment as archakas would not violate Article 14 [right to equality]. The bench also referred to the Constituent Assembly debates to observe that the ambit of Article 16(5) extends to temple priests.

However, the court held that these treatises should necessarily conform to constitutional mandates. It observed that inclusion or exclusion as per the Agama Shastras should not be based on the criteria of caste, birth or any other constitutionally unacceptable parameters.

Under Article 16 (5), the fundamental right to equality of opportunity will not affect a law mandating that an office-bearer of a religious or denominational institution should belong exclusively to a particular religion or denomination.

Article 16(5) in the Constitution of India says that nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any law which provides that the incumbent of an office in connection with the affairs of any religious or denominational institution or any member of the governing body thereof shall be a person professing a particular religion or belonging to a particular denomination

Background
The DMK government of M Karunanidhi on 23 May 2006 ordered that the appointment of temple priests from all castes after training in the Agama Sastra. The government said that any person with “requisite qualification and training” should be eligible for appointment.

Earlier in 1971, the DMK government amended the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Department (TN HR & CE) Act to end the hereditary appointment of priests. It said that those trained in the Vedas should be allowed to become priests, regardless of their caste.