One of the interesting parts of the Ayodhya verdict was declaring Lord Ram – the deity of Ram Janmabhoomi temple – as a “Juristic Person”. 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 which are treated as persons by law. For legal purposes, they are given the similar treatment as that to the human beings.
There have been many cases in India since the British time, where the question of religious places, deities, scriptures being “Juristic Person” came in front of the court. The courts used the basis of religious beliefs followed as per the scriptures and tradition in a particular religion to come up with their judgment.
Mosque as Juristic Person
First time a case similar to Ayodhya was encountered was in 1935 in Lahore. The case facts have been explained below,
The Masjid alongwith courtyard of about 4 kanals was existing in Lahore since 1722. The place became a place of martyrs (Shahid Ganj) for Bhai Taru Singh and many other Sikhs including women and children were executed here by the Muslim rulers. The mosque and other land came into the possession of Sikhs when they occupied Lahore in 1762. A Gurdwara was built adjacent to the mosque. The Muslims were not allowed access to the place since then. After the British annexation, a criminal case and two civil suits by the Muslims failed in 1850 and 1855, respectively. The Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925 declared the mosque building and adjacent land as Sikh Gurdwara, ‘Shahid Ganj Bhai Taru Singh’. Various claims were filed before the Sikh Gurdwaras Tribunal by the Gurdwara Mahants and Muslims for having the rights therein. Their claims failed before the Tribunal, which held that Mahants hold possession on behalf of the Gurdwara and the case of Muslims failed due to adverse possession and previous decisions. Following this mosque building was demolished by the Sikhs in July 1935. Riots and disorder followed, the Muslims expressing great resentment. The present suit was filed in October 1935 in the Court of District Judge Lahore against the SGPC. It contained no claim for possession of property or ejectment of the defendants. The relief claimed was a declaration that building was a mosque in which all followers of Islam had a right to worship, an injunction restraining any improper use of building and mandatory injunction to reconstruct the building. The District Judge dismissed the suit. An appeal to the High Court was also dismissed by Young C.J. and Bhide, J.; Din Mohammed J. dissenting.
This suit was filed in the name of mosque and some others. It was motivated by the notion that if the mosque could be made out to be a ‘juristic person’, this would assist to establish that a mosque remains a mosque for ever, that limitation (adverse possession) cannot be applied to it. The Privy Council , dismissing the appeal, did not accept the mosque as a juristic person. The contention that ‘a Hindu idol is a juristic person and on the same principle a mosque as an institution should be considered as a juristic person’ was rejected. It was held that there is no analogy between the position in law of a building dedicated as a place of prayer for Muslims and the individual deities of the Hindu religion.
Basically, the Privy Council held that mosque is not a juristic person.
Sikh Scripture as Juristic Person
In the judgment 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. The judgment said that Sri Guru Granth Sahib installed in a Gurudwara, becomes a “Juristic Person” and a valid dedication may be made to it by the Sikhs. It must be however remembered that “every Guru Granth Sahib cannot be a juristic person unless it takes a juristic role through its installation in a Gurdwara or at such recognized public place”.
The court also declared, rather intriguingly that:
“It is not necessary for “Guru Granth Sahib” to be declared a juristic person that it should be equated with.. [a Hindu] idol. Where beliefs and faith of the different religions are different, there is no question of equating one with another”. Court appears to have differentiated between religious beliefs in Sikhism and Hinduism.
(Religion and personal law in secular India: a call to judgment By Gerald James Larson pages 97 and 98)
Hindu Deity as a Juristic Person
The question of whether a Hindu Deity can be a juristic person or not was decided by Privy Council in the case Vidya Varuthi Thirthia Swamigal v. Baluswami Ayyar AIR 1922
On the question of the legal personality of the Hindu Deities, Ameer Ali remarked on page 126: “Under the Hindu law, the image of a deity of the Hindu pantheon is, as has been aptly called a ‘juristic entity,’ vested with the capacity of receiving gifts and holding property.”
A similar conclusion was reached by Lord Moulton in the Privy Council decision in Ambalavana Pandara Sannidhi v. Meenakshi Sundareswaral Devastanam, where His Lordship pointed out that the general trustee is only a representative of the idol who is a juridical personage, and who is true owner.
Then again in another judgment by Indian Supreme Court (Radha Kanta Deb v. Commr. Of Hindu Religious Endowments, (1981) 2 SCC 226), a Hindu idol was recognized as a Juristic Person.
Basically, 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.
Media Rants and Lack of Legal Rigor
Like the following blogger ranting on his blog without any reference or context to the legal history declares:
I thought words like divine, spirit, shapeless and formless belonged to the realm of religion, politics and society — not judiciary. But the judgement of Justice Dharam Veer Sharma has become the meeting point of faith and law.
“The deity (Ram) also attained the divinity like Agni, Vayu, Kedarnath,” he wrote. “Asthan is personified as the spirit of divine…” On what “facts” is this idea of divinity based, I can’t understand.
This person obviously was never admitted into a law class or knows how a legal judgment is approached.
For, legal judgments are made with regard to the context of the case. If some traditions are followed, say in mercantile processes, then the judgment uses that context to come up with the most valid judgment on the case concerning it.
Similarly, Indian Supreme Court, while coming to its judgment in Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee Amritsar v. Som Nath Dass; used the religious context in Sikhism to decide that Sri Guru Granth Sahib was a Juristic Person.
So, this “meeting point of faith and law” is not a new invention of Justice DV Sharma – but a NORM as far as Judicial standards are concerned.
One is sure that such a line of ranting arguments will be used by many in media – appearing all “self righteous” and “educated”; without of course any knowledge of Law, Judgments or Legal standards in India and around the world.
Well, one never blamed Media for being smart and educated in recent years anyway.