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What legal rights do deities enjoy?

Topics Covered:

  1. Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.


What legal rights do deities enjoy?


What to study?

For Prelims: Meaning of legal entities, recognition and rights.

For Mains: Significance and challenges associated.


Context: Among the parties in the Ayodhya title suit appeals, Lord Ram is considered a litigant in court since he is considered as a juristic person.


Who is recognised as a juristic person?

In Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee vs Som Nath Dass and Others (2000), the Supreme Court said: “The very words Juristic Person connote recognition of an entity to be in law a person which otherwise it is not. In other words, it is not an individual natural person but an artificially created person which is to be recognised to be in law as such.”

Gods, corporations, rivers, and animals, have all been treated as juristic persons by courts.


The Practice of treating deities as juristic persons:

  1. Started under the British: Temples owned huge land and resources, and British administrators held that the legal owner of the wealth was the deity, with a shebait or manager acting as trustee.
  2. In 1887, the Bombay High Court held in the Dakor Temple case: “Hindu idol is a juridical subject and the pious idea that it embodies is given the status of a legal person.”
  3. This was reinforced in the 1921 order in Vidya Varuthi Thirtha vs Balusami Ayyar, where the court said, “under the Hindu law, the image of a deity is a ‘juristic entity’, vested with the capacity of receiving gifts and holding property”.


Is every deity a legal person?

However, not every deity is a legal person. This status is given to an idol only after its public consecration, or pran pratishtha. In Yogendra Nath Naskar vs Commissioner Of Income-Tax (1969), the Supreme Court ruled: “It is not all idols that will qualify for being ‘juristic person’ but only when it is consecrated and installed at a public place for the public at large.”


Rights deities have:

  1. Own property.
  2. Pay taxes
  3. Sue and being sued.
  4. Do not have fundamental rights or other constitutional rights (Sabarimala case).


Other legal entities:

In May, the Punjab and Haryana High Court held that the “entire animal kingdom” has a “distinct legal persona with corresponding rights, duties, and liabilities of a living person”.

On March 20, 2017, the Uttarakhand High Court declared that the Ganga and Yamuna would be legally treated as “living people,” and enjoy “all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person”.


Sources: the Hindu.