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Friday, October 22, 2021

Dispute over right to perform custom in royal family: Court dismisses claim that woman cannot perform religious ceremony

The dispute has its roots in 2009, when Pragmalji III, was due to perform the ceremony but owing to his ill health, had appointed another member from the family to conduct the ceremony.

By: Express News Service | Ahmedabad |
Updated: September 22, 2021 1:13:44 pm
kutch royal family dispute gujaratThe court further noted in its order that “it will be the worst example if a woman is prevented to worship and to perform the religious ceremony” which is conducted to “please the goddess”.

A district court in Bhuj held on Monday that the right to perform ‘chamar and patri viddhi’ — a religious custom of the erstwhile Kutch royal family — lies with the widow of Pragmalji III, the titular head of erstwhile princely state of Kutch, Maharani Pritidevi first, for so long she is alive. The court also recorded its “shock” at the argument forwarded by the now ceremonial head of the royal family — Hanuvantsinhji Jadeja — during the course of the proceeding that a woman cannot perform such a ceremony.

In the order dated September 20, the 10th additional Bhuj district court judge Rasikkumar Mandani however clarified that Maharani Pritidevi cannot transfer her right to any person nor does she have the right to appoint any person on her behalf to perform the religious ceremony.

The dispute has its roots in 2009, when Pragmalji III, was due to perform the ceremony but owing to his ill health, had appointed another member from the family to conduct the ceremony. This priest at Mata na Madh temple had, however, refused to conduct the ceremony. This was challenged by Pragmalji III before the Dayapar civil court, seeking the court’s declaration that the priest has no right to stop the ceremony and that the court grant an injunction restraining the priest from preventing or obstructing the family’s traditions. The civil court in an order of March 2019, had partially allowed the suit, observing that Pragmalji III has a right to conduct the ceremony and in his absence or incapacity, the nearest legal heir as per pedigree of Rajvi kul (royal ancestry) in the presence of main person of royal family could carry out the said custom and the priest has no right to prevent the same.

However this was appealed before the Kutch district court at Bhuj this year specifically on the limited aspect of the lower court’s order that entrusted “nearest legal heir as per pedigree of Rajvi kul” to conduct the ceremony in the absence of Pragmalji III. The district court has now modified the lower court’s order, recognising Maharani Pritidevi’s right to conduct the ceremony.

Pragmalji died due to Covid-19 in May during the pendency of the appeal and Maharani Pritidevi was impleaded as the plaintiff.

Notably, the younger brother of Pragmalji III — Hanuvantsinhji Jadeja — was joined as a defendant in the appeal, where he had argued that after Pragmalji III’s passing, the younger son gets the right to perform the religious ceremony as the royal couple Pragmalji III and Maharani Pritidevi have no son. It was also argued that Maharani Pritidevi, being a female, has no right to conduct the ceremony, as no women have conducted the nearly 350-year old ceremony till date.

The court expressed its “shock” on the latter part of the argument forwarded by the defendant.

The court noted, “We all know the history of our country during British Rule in India that Rani Laxmibai had become the ruler after the death of her husband…and not only the British Government but also many other rulers and citizens even had strongly opposed the same, but the highly respectful Rani Laxmibai had proved herself as best ruler though she was female…The Government of India has Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)….it defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination…thus women and man have equal right in all matters…and the Supreme Court of India has always struck down the law which has ingredient of gender inequality from time to time.”

The court further noted in its order that “it will be the worst example if a woman is prevented to worship and to perform the religious ceremony” which is conducted to “please the goddess”.

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