HC seeks Centre, Delhi govt stand on PIL to distinguish religion from dharma

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday sought the stand of the Centre and city government on a public interest litigation seeking a direction to the authorities to use the “proper meaning” of the term “religion” and not use it as a synonym of “dharma” in official documents.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma granted time to the governments to respond to the petition by lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.

The petition also sought a direction to include a chapter on “dharma” and “religion” in syllabus of primary and secondary schools “in order to educate the masses and control the religion-based hatred and hate speeches”.

“There is a colonial mindset which is being continued,” said the petitioner before the bench, also comprising Justice Tushar Rao Gedela.

In his petition, the petitioner asserted that “dharma” is not religion as the former is “non-divisive”, “non-exclusive” and “transcends narrow boundaries of religion”.

“If we try to define religion then we can say that religion is a tradition, not dharma. Religion is a cult or a spiritual lineage that is called a ‘sampradaya’ (community). So, religion means community,” the plea said as it prayed that “dharma” should not be used as synonym of “religion” in documents like birth certificate, aadhaar card, school certificate, ration card, driving licence, domicile certificate, death certificate and bank account etc.

“In daily life, we say this person follows ‘Vaishnav dharma’ or Jain dharma, or someone follows Buddhism or Islam or Christianity that’s not right. Instead, we should say that a person follows ‘Vaishnav sampradaya’ or this person follows ‘Shiv sampradaya’ or follows ‘Buddha sampradaya’. This person follows Islam or Christan sampradaya,” the petition submitted.

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“There have been many wars and war-like situations for religion. Religion works on a mass of people. In religion, people follow someone or someone’s path. On another side, dharma is a work of wisdom,” it explained.

The petitioner further said “religion has been one of the most potent divisive forces in all history” while “dharma” is “different because it unites”.

“There can never be divisions in dharma. Every interpretation is valid and welcome. No authority is too great to be questioned, too sacred to be touched. Unlimited interpretative freedom through free will is the quintessence of dharma, for dharma is as limitless as truth itself. No one can ever be its sole mouthpiece,” stated the petition.

The petitioner urged the court to pass appropriate directions considering the “present circumstances of religious wars, religious hatred and religious hate speeches”.

The matter would be heard next on January 16.

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