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Friday, September 20, 2013

Rationale behind Hindu Idols as juristic person

The existence of Hindu idol as juristic person capable of having rights and discharging duties through sevakars were established in the court of law as early as 1925.
Weird as it may sound, this very statement opens up a Pandora’s box and you suddenly see a variety of questions sticking their head out.

Does it hold Hindu Idols simply a Human being?
Whether these judgments denigrate Hinduism and Hindu Idols?
Can the suits and claims be filed against Hindu Idols?
Can the individuals destroying the copies of mythology be convicted for murder?

A number of judgments answer most of the queries. Before discussing the judgment in detail, let me try to give you a concise view to understand them better.

As per Common law, which is the basis of Western law system, also applied in India since the British time, there are two persons: Natural and Legal. Natural persons are human beings, while Legal (juristic) persons are any beings or things or objects that are treated as persons by law. For legal purposes, they are given the similar treatment as that to the human beings.

The most apt or satisfactory definition of legal personality is given by Salmond. According to him, legal personality is the capacity for entering into legal relationships. On elaborating this, further a person would be said to be in legal capacity if he can hold property in his name, sue and be sued in the court of law.

Every judgment seems to eulogize Hinduism and its holy scripture and there is hardly any derogatory remark towards them.
Punishment for murder cannot be awarded for destroying scriptures because murder means killing of a human being by a human being. Besides, Hindu Gods, being immortal, can neither be killed nor does they die.

Furthermore, the rationale behind giving Hindu idols a juristic personality is best explained by Ganpathi Iyer in his valuable treatise on “Hindu and Mahomedan Endowments”.  He had this to say in regard to the legal status of an idol in, Hindu law:
“The ascription of a legal personality to the deity supposed to be residing in the image meets with all, practical purposes. The deity can be said to possess property only in an ideal sense and the theory is, therefore, not complete unless that legal personality is linked to a natural person.”

This proposition became the key constituent in the famous Allahabad High Court’s verdict in the Ayodhya case (link) given the eventual outcome of this long-drawn dispute, it was Deoki Nandan Agarwal, whose efforts from 1989, when he became the “next friend”, have in many ways clinched the issue in favor of lord Ram and Ram Janmabhoomi.

Some historic Judgments:
      Hindu Deity as a Juristic Person (Vidya Varuthi Thirthia Swamigal v. Baluswami Ayyar AIR 1922)
      Mosque and Sikh Scripture as Juristic Person(Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee Amritsar v. Som Nath Dass and others delivered on March 29, 2000)

These judgments outline the belief that nothing in Islam’s religious structure can be “identified” to a form or a person. Not even the Prophet Mohammad. So, the courts seem to have come to the conclusion that the religious context does not warrant a Juristic Person argument in Islam. Sikh theology and Hindu theology and religious strictures differ. Although, Guru Nanak did affirm the centrality of Formless as the worshippable God, Guru Gobind added a twist by installing Sri Guru Granth Sahib as a worshippable Guru, as a true representative of God.

Furthermore, It would be correct to say that if we don’t give idols a juristic personality then there would be lot of practical difficulties in the matters of taxation and allotment of land as well as on the subject to alienation of property.

In conclusion, from the various case laws and jurist writings, it has become clear that an idol is treated as juristic person that is capable of having rights and duties. The Idol has always enjoyed a good position in Hindu Mythology. Hindu Law recognizes Hindu idol as a juridical subject being capable in law of holding property by reason of the Hindu Shastras following the status of a legal person in the same way as that of a natural person. It is not a particular image, which is a juridical person, but it is a particular bent of mind, which consecrates the image. The reasons behind personifying it as a juristic person are many such as taxation purposes, assessment purposes, representation in a suit to defeat illegal claims. “The Hindu Law, like the Roman Law and those derived from it, recognizes not only incorporate bodies with rights of property vested in the corporation apart from its individual members but other juridical personality.

Nikhil Aggarwal


  1. Good Article Nikhil - demonstrates your knowledge/technical/legal aspects. Let me clarify the statement you made, with which I do not agree at all :-
    ""Although, Guru Nanak did affirm the centrality of Formless as the worshippable God, Guru Gobind added a twist by installing Sri Guru Granth Sahib as a worshippable Guru, as a true representative of God.

    Guru is Gyaan .. Knowledge … Wisdom. Knowledge that connects or points towards the Formless Being whom we can call God. Hence, in Sikhism, the worship is only done of One Formless God - this was the teaching of both Guru Nanak & Guru Gobind - both of them denied being "worshipped" as such.

    Religion has degenarated a lot. It does not remain in its original shape & form in which it was conceived. ANyway, Guru Granth Sahib is not worshipped. It is revered. The only worship is of the One Formless God. Guru Granth is a guide, teacher or the Guru - Knowledge that connects/points to God.

  2. You are right and I agree, my limited point of expression was in context of the Judgement entitled "Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee Amritsar v. Som Nath Dass and others delivered on March 29, 2000", the Supreme Court of India has held that Sri Guru Granth Sahib is a juristic person. It is elaborated and explained in many Sikh Conferences viz this was published in International Sikh Conferences in USA.
    The most apt argument made that every copy of Guru Granth Sahib can’t be a juristic person unless it takes a juristic role through its installation in a Gurdwara.
    Undertaking this argument Guru Granth Sahib as well as Gurudwara itself has been a party as juristic person in some court cases even prior to this judgment also. I am just stating the rationale behind legal views about all religion and agree with your argument in terms of religious belief.