New Delhi: The Supreme Court had, in various instances tried to define Hindu, Hinduism and Hindutva. These pronouncements range from purely religious point of view to use of religion as a tool in the elections.
According to the news reported in Times of India, first such case which came before the Supreme court was ‘Sastri Yagnapurushadji’ case [1966 SCR (3) 242]. In this case, a five judge bench headed by the then Chief Justice P B Gajendragadkar, and the other judges K N Wanchoo, M Hidayatullah, V Ramaswami and P Satyanarayanaraju, had attempted to narrate historical and etymological genesis of the word ‘Hindu’.
The then Chief Justice Gajendragadkar said that “When we think of the Hindu religion, we find it difficult, if not impossible, to define Hindu religion or even adequately describe it. Unlike other religions in the world, the Hindu religion does not claim any one prophet, it does not worship any one god, it does not subscribe to any one dogma, it does not believe in any one philosophic concept, it does not follow any one set of religious rites or performances, in fact, it does not appear to satisfy the narrow traditional features of any religion or creed. It may broadly be described as a way of life and nothing more.”
Later, in 1996, in ‘Commissioner Wealth Tax, Madras vs Late R Sridharan’ [1976 (Sup) SCR 478],the Supreme Court said that “It is a matter of common knowledge that Hinduism embraces within self so many diverse forms of beliefs, faiths, practices and worships that it is difficult to define term ‘Hindu’ with precision.”
In the Representation of the People Act, 1951, seeking of votes on the basis of a religion is prohibited. The Shiva Sena Chief, Bal Thackeray gave speeches which violated the RPA. This was questioned in the Supreme Court, which in Ramesh Yeshwant Prabhoo case [1996 SCC (1) 130] said, “The words ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Hindutva’ are not necessarily to be understood and construed narrowly, confined only to the strict Hindu religious practices unrelated to the culture and ethos of the people of India, depicting the way of life of the Indian people.
It further said that “Considering the terms ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Hindutva’ per se as depicting hostility, enmity or intolerance towards other religious faiths or professing communalism, proceeds form an improper appreciation and perception of the true meaning of these expressions emerging from the detailed discussion in earlier judgments of this court. Misuse of these expressions to promote communalism cannot alter the true meaning of these terms. The mischief resulting from the misuse of the terms by anyone in his speech has to be checked and not its permissible use.”
The Supreme Court also concluded that “It is a fallacy and an error of law to proceed on the assumption that any reference to Hindutva or Hinduism in a speech makes it automatically a speech based on the Hindu religion as opposed to other religions or that the use of words ‘Hindutva’ or ‘Hinduism’ per se depicts an attitude hostile to all persons practising any religion other than the Hindu religion.”
From the above pronouncements, it is clear that Hinduism refererred to a way of life. The Self appointed guardians of Hinduism must note this fact and act accordingly in their speeches. Hinduism cannot be what a particular section of Hindutva wants to promote it.