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What is paramount - nation or religion, asks Madras High Court

‘Shocking that somebody is for hijab and some for dhotis inside temples’, the court noted.

Chennai: At a time Karnataka is being rocked by the disturbing divide over sections of Muslim girls wearing hijab to colleges and Hindu students countering it with saffron shawls, the Madras High Court on Thursday came up with some sharp questions on the obsession with religious issues that would resonate with the rest of the country as well.

“What is paramount? The country or religion? Really shocking that somebody is for hijab and some for dhotis inside temples. What is the message you are sending? Is this one country or divided on the basis of religion,” asked an anguished Acting Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari.

He made the sharp observations while hearing two public interest litigation petitions which were filed to insist that only Hindus should be permitted to enter temple complexes and even they should be sporting distinct ‘Sanathana Dharma’ marks on their forehead, besides wearing appropriate outfits, to prevent the entry of atheists.

The Acting Chief Justice was heading a Division Bench that comprised Justice D. Bharatha Chakravarthy to hear the PILs that were listed for admission before them.

The petitioner Rangarajan Narasimhan opposed the entry of non-Hindus and foreigners inside temples for sight-seeing. He submitted that Hindus too should be allowed inside temples only if they had taken a bath and were wearing, what he deemed to be “proper outfits” such as a dhoti, kurta-pyjama, sari, half sari and salwar kameez. Besides, he wanted Hindu children to wear “fully covered clothes” during temple visits.

Responding to the question posed by Acting Chief Justice Nath, the litigant insisted that irrespective of the oneness of the country, every function of a Hindu temple must be carried out as per the Agama Sastras, which, he said, do not permit non-Hindus to enter temple precincts. According to him, the “purity” of the temples would be “polluted” if the Sastras were not followed.

Countering, Advocate General R Shunmugasundaram submitted that foreigners and non-Hindus were allowed only till the Kodi Maram (flag post) inside the temples and not permitted to enter the sanctum sanctorum. A notice board to this effect was displayed in all big temples.

Refusing to impose any dress code for devotees, the senior judge said it was up to the individual temples to prescribe a dress code as per its customs just as some temples in Kerala forbade men from wearing shirts. The judges asked the petitioner to produce materials to prove that a dress code could be imposed in temples. The court also ordered notice on the other plea to not permit non-Hindus inside temple premises.

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