A Full Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court today held that courts could enter into “religious thicket” in case of a conflict.
Comprising Justice JS Khehar, Justice Jasbir Singh and Justice Ajay Kumar Mittal, the Bench also concluded that “maintaining hair unshorn was an essential component of the Sikh religion”; and that admissions under the Sikh minority community quota could be restricted to candidates maintaining “Sikhi swarup” or keeping their hair unshorn.
Asserted the Bench: “In the process of analysis we were persuaded to conclude that a court, in case of a conflict, even on an aspect relating to religion, can enter into the religious thicket to determine the do’s and dont’s of the religion by relying upon the views expressed by the spokespersons of the said religion”¦”
“Religion must be perceived as it is, and not as another would like it to be”¦ Once a court arrives at the conclusion that a particular aspect of a religion is fundamental and integral, as per the followers of the faith, it must be given effect to, irrespective of the views expressed on the said issue, based either on science or logic”¦ It is not for the court to determine whether it is forward looking or retrograde.” Following are the Bench assertions on various issues.
Sikhism and law
The Gurdwara Acts of 1925 and 1971 are legislative enactments, which have withstood the test of time, wherein ‘keshadhari’ (a Sikh who maintains hair unshorn) has been incorporated as the fundamental precondition for being vested with the right to be included even in the electoral rolls.
Sikh and hair
Dismissing a petition filed by Gurleen Kaur and other students denied admission to a medical college on the grounds of plucking eyebrows or trimming beard, the Bench, in its 154-page judgment, asserted: “Having dealt with the historical background of the Sikh religion, legislative enactments involving the Sikh religion, the Sikh ‘rehatmaryada’, the Sikh ardas and views expressed by scholars of Sikhism, we are satisfied they all lead to one unambiguous answer: maintaining hair unshorn is an essential component of the Sikh religion.”
Guru Granth Sahib and Sikhism
Guru Granth Sahib has not expressly dealt with the issue of unshorn hair. Guru Granth Sahib is a treatise, limited to the teaching of the moral and spiritual code of conduct to the Sikhs. The Guru Granth Sahib is for the guidance of Sikhs in their pursuit towards spiritual salvation. It does not deal with the code of conduct prescribed for Sikhs. The code of conduct is strictly contained in the “Sikh rehatmaryada”¦
Institute’s right to deny admission
If a Sikh organisation or body decides not to extend any benefit, which is otherwise available to a Sikh, to a person who does not maintain his hair unshorn, its determination would be perfectly legitimate”¦ Maintaining hair unshorn is part of the religious consciousness of the Sikh faith.
Religion and law
The Bench asserted that besides legality, the issue of trimming beard and plucking eyebrows was to be examined vis-Ã -vis religion. The action attributed to the petitioners is certainly not in conflict with law.
But then the question to be determined is whether their actions are in conflict with the tenets of the religion, on the basis whereof they are claiming their right. For an issue of religion, an action cannot be bestowed with legitimacy merely because the action is forward-looking and non-fundamentalist.