The Kerala High Court has ordered action against a person who allegedly did animal sacrifice on his private property which was alleged to be a private Hindu temple.

The writ petition was filed by a neighbour alleging inaction of the Panchayat, Police and Revenue authorities to stop the illegal slaughter of birds and animals in the guise of ritualistic sacrifice and illegal construction of a temple inside his premises by the respondent. "The authorities should be mindful of the fact that the laws of this country are equally applicable to all citizens and no special treatment can be meted out to any person on religious grounds", the High Court held.

The Bench of Justice V. G. Arun did not go into the question of whether the practice is an essential religious practice as claimed by the petitioner. While relying upon judgments against blind and ritualistic adherence to superstitions, sans reason or rational basis, the Court held, "Going by the precedents and on a proper understanding of the rights under Article 25 and the liberty guaranteed under Article 21, the contention that, animal sacrifice being an essential and integral part of the 8th respondent's religious belief and practice, cannot be interfered with even if it causes nuisance to others, has to be rejected."

The case of the petitioner was that objectionable activities were being carried out in a structure resembling a temple constructed by the respondent on the second floor of his residential building, wherein he was conducting pooja's and rituals day-in and day-out, accompanied by the ringing of bells, blowing of the conch and the shrieks and cries of animals and birds. The blood of the slaughtered animals was allegedly flown to the road and carcasses were strewn all over the place whereas the vehicles of the devotees were also parked indiscriminately.

Advocate Sherry J. Thomas appeared for the petitioner whereas Advocate G. Santhosh Kumar appeared for the Panchayat, Advocate R. Krishna Raj appeared for the private respondent and Government Pleader Rajeev Jyothish George appeared for the State and its officials.

Counsel for the petitioner submitted that the respondent exhibited a board which is named "Sree Bhramarambika Vishnumayaswami Devasthanam" and was canvassing devotees through notices and other modes of advertisement. He also submitted that the places of worship accessible to the public can be constructed only with the prior approval of the District Administration as mandated in Clause 23 of the Manual of Guidelines to Prevent and Control Disturbances and to Promote Communal Harmony, 2005 (the Manual of Guidelines) and that the respondent had not taken any such permission envisaged under the Kerala Panchayat Building Rules.

The private respondent contended that he has dedicated a floor of his house for conducting poojas of Bhramarambika and Vishnumaya, the deities worshipped by his forefathers. The place where the poojas are conducted is a Devasthanam and not a temple. The worship moreover is done only by family members and friends which are conducted by him.

He submitted that the poojas are conducted following the Shaktheyam ritualistic method using pancha makaram, viz; liquor, fish, meat, mudra and midhunam. Out of this, the first four are called pratyaksham and the fifth is personal to the person conducting the ritual. The above form of worship is an essential part of his religious belief and cannot be interfered with in view of the guarantee under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India.

"...the prohibition under Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act will not apply since the killing of animals in the manner required by religion or community is not an offence under Section 28 of the Act. The prohibition under Section 3 of the Kerala Animals and Birds Sacrifices Prohibition Act, 1968 is also not attracted, since the place and the precinct where birds and animals are sacrificed is a Devasthanam and not a Temple. In support of this contention, reference is made to the definition of the terms 'precincts' and 'temple' at Sections 2(a) and (c) of the Act", the counsel for the respondent contended.

The Court referred to the Apex Court's decisions in the matters of Sardar Syedna Taher Saifuddin Saheb v. the State of Bombay [AIR 1962 SC 853], M. Ismail Faruqui and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors. [(1994) 6 SCC 360], N. Adithayan v. Travancore Devaswom Board [(2002) 8 SCC 106] and the Sabarimala case.

"As opined by none other than Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, true religious practice should be guided by reason, equality and humanistic values, rather than blind adherence to traditions. All unhealthy, unscientific and deleterious practices are to be prevented, even if it is done in the name of religion", the Court held.

With respect to the argument that the place is not a temple where the prohibition under the 1968 Act will apply, the Court held that going by the definition, a place used for public religious worship, by whatever designation known, will be a temple if it is dedicated to or used by the Hindu community, or by any section thereof. The Court also noted that the respondent himself has described the place as a temple and had solicited the participation of devotees interested in obtaining blessings of the deities. The Court, therefore, held that the prohibition under Section 3 of the Kerala Animals and Birds Sacrifices Prohibition Act would apply.

The Court held that any construction of religious places should be made only with prior approval of the District Authorities and at the earmarked place and cases of construction of unauthorised religious places should be dealt with severely under existing laws. "Negligence on the part of the District Administration in implementing this direction should be seriously viewed and the guilty dealt with", the Court ordered.

The Court ordered the District Panchayat and the Revenue Divisional Officer to start an inquiry through the Superintendent Of Police (Rural) and if the respondent is found to have constructed a place of worship and conducted poojas and rituals with members of the public participating in it and take immediate action to stop the activities. Further, the Station house officer was directed to conduct an inquiry and if the slaughter of animals and birds is taking place in the precincts of the respondent and to take appropriate action under the Kerala Animals and Birds Sacrifices Prohibition Act.

Cause Title: Raveendran P.T VS The State of Kerala & Ors. [WP(C) NO. 15433 OF 2022]

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