Observing that “freedom of conscience” is the most “fragrant” of the fundamental rights, and that even the right to protection of life and other basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution would seem secondary to it, the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Wednesday allowed preservation of the body of Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sansthan (DJJS) head Ashutosh Maharaj. The court set aside a 2014 order of a single-judge bench of the court for its cremation.
Ashutosh Maharaj was pronounced “clinically dead” on January 28, 2014. Ever since, his body has been preserved in a freezer by his followers at the DJJS headquarters at Nurmahal in Punjab’s Jalandhar district. His followers claim he had gone into a state of meditation and would return after fulfilment of his spiritual mission. The division bench comprising Justices Mahesh Grover and Shekher Dhawan also ordered Dayanand Medical College, Ludhiana, to form a medical team for regular inspection of the body. It directed DJJS to create a corpus of Rs 50 lakh as security for the professional charges of the medical team.
The bench said belief of the Sansthan would need respect on account of Article 25, which, besides freedom of conscience, gives a citizen the right to profess, practise and propagate religion till the “preserved body does not conflict with public health”. “More importantly, we do not have any law to fall back on; to give mandate or to prohibit any action regarding which the law is consistent,” the bench said in its 42-page judgment.
The HC also said belief of the followers cannot be forcibly shattered by the state or the court. “Samadhi as a concept is not alien to the Indian society, having formed a part of many a folklore and mythology. It finds vociferous practitioners among yogis and ascetics,” it said.