Madras High Court recently observed that the Smartha Brahmins were just a caste/community without any particularity specifically attributable to them which distinguished them from other Brahmins in the state of Tamil Nadu. Thus, they could not be identified as a religious denomination and were not entitled to the benefits provided for in Article 26 of the Constitution.
Justice R Vijayakumar of the Madurai Bench was considering a request made by some members belonging to the Smartha Brahmin community claiming minority status for an institution run by them. Observing that the appellants had failed to establish that they constituted a denomination as Smartha Brahmans in the state of Tamil Nadu, the court held that the suit was mainly filed only to evade the provisions of the law of 1973 on Recognized Private Schools in Tamil Nadu by invoking the benefits of Section 26 of the Constitution.
The appellants are the original plaintiffs who had applied to the Munsif Main District Court for a declaration that the plaintiffs are entitled to the benefits and privileges conferred under section 25(1), section 26, of Article 29(1) and Article 30(1) of the Indian Constitution in view of their minority character. The lawsuit was dismissed by the trial court. On appeal, the junior judge agreed with the trial court’s findings and dismissed the appeal. The plaintiffs therefore appealed to the High Court.
The appellants argued that Smartha Brahmins have a particular philosophy of Advaitham propounded by Sri Adi Sankara. Their way of worship and life was completely distinct from that of the traditional Hindus. The ceremonies that accompanied the death of Smartha Brahmins were also different from those followed by traditional Hindus. He relied on Supreme Court decisions in Dr.Subramanian Swamy Vs. State of Tamil Nadu and others (2014) 5 SCC 75 and Madras High Court Division Bench decision in Marimuthu Deekshtar Vs. State 1952 1 MLJ Page 557 where the courts ruled that the Smartha Brahmans constituted a denomination.
The appellants therefore argued that since Smartha Brahmans was a denomination, the institution was entitled to obtain protection under Section 26 of the Constitution. This protection could not be withdrawn just because the institution received a grant from the State of Tamil Nadu.
The defendants argued that after the enactment of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act 2004, any educational institution claiming minority status could apply to the Commission for the declaration of minority status. minority and that a civil action to that effect was inadmissible.
It has also been argued that the Smartha Brahmins of the state of Tamil Nadu do not follow any particular religious belief which is completely distinct from other Hindus. The fact that they limited their prayer in the second appeal with respect to benefits and privileges under Section 26 of the Constitution will clearly demonstrate that the plaintiffs had waived their claim to minority status.
The court observed that although the lawsuit was filed in a representative capacity, there was no documentation indicating that the lawsuit was filed pursuant to Ordinance 1, Rule 8 CPC. There is nothing to indicate that a motion was filed to this effect in order to obtain the court’s authorization to bring the action as agent.
Furthermore, the oral depositions of the witnesses clearly establish that the Smartha Brahmins do not follow any distinct or different religious belief other than that of the Hindus who follow the dominant Hindu religion. Whatever is supposed to be followed by Smartha Brahmins is also followed by other Brahmins.
The court drew attention to the decision of the Supreme Court in SPMittal Vs. Union of India and other (1983) 1 SCC Page 51 where the court observed the following:
“80. The words “religious denomination” in Article 26 of the Constitution must take their color from the word “religion” and if so, the expression “religious denomination” must also satisfy three conditions:
(1) It must be a body of individuals who have a system of beliefs or doctrines which they consider conducive to their spiritual well-being, i.e. a common faith;
(2) common organization; and
(3) designation by a distinctive name”
This decision was also followed by the Madras High Court in its subsequent judgments. The court held that in this case, the appellants had not established that they were a collection of individuals with a particular belief system or doctrine. Nor have they established that they have a common organization or that they have an independent denomination or a distinctive name. Thus, they could not be interpreted as a denomination.
Case title: Smartha Barhmins living in the state of Tamil Nadu practicing and propagating religious philosophy and tents of Advaita philosophy through PS Sundaram and others v. Union of India and others
Case no: SA No. 1609 of 2000
Quote: 2022 LiveLaw (Mad) 249
Appellants advice: Mr. B Kumar Lead Counsel for Mr. R Kannan
Counsel for Respondents: Mr. Sankaranarayanan, ASG assisted by MG Raja Raman, Central Govt. Permanent Council (R1) and Mr. G Siva Raja Government Lawyer (For R2 and R3)