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Explained: In row over HC ban on animal sacrifice, echoes of Tripura’s past

The court ruled that the tradition of sacrificing animals “lacks the essence of economic, commercial, political or secular character” and cannot be protected under Article 25(1) of the Constitution (Subhas Bhattacharjee vs The State of Tripura and Others).

Written by Sourav Roy Barman | New Delhi | Updated: October 3, 2019 6:53:19 am
The managements of two major temples, mentioned in the judgment, chose to defy the order, citing the absence of a notification on the ban.

On September 27, a Tripura High Court Bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Arindam Lodh banned the sacrifice of animals and birds in temples of the state, and directed the government to sensitise people about constitutional values and the importance of love, humanism, and compassion towards all animals and birds.

The managements of two major temples, mentioned in the judgment, chose to defy the order, citing the absence of a notification on the ban. Meanwhile, Pradyot Debbarman, the son of Tripura’s last king Kirit Bikram Kishore Manikya, and the state government intend to appeal in the Supreme Court.

State Law & Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ratan Lal Nath told reporters Monday that the government did not want to “hurt anyone’s religious beliefs” through its actions. Debbarman told The Indian Express that while the scale of animal sacrifice must be reduced, “courts cannot play the role of priests”.

500-year tradition

Animal sacrifice has been happening for at least 500 years in Tripura. The two major sites are the Tripureswari Devi temple in Udaipur, and the Chaturdash Devta temple in Agartala. Both temples were founded by the Manikyas, Tripura’s ruling dynasty from the late 13th century until September 9, 1949.

The Tripureswari Temple, considered one of the 51 shakti peethas, was founded in 1501 by Maharaja Dhanya Manikya. The Chaturdash Devta Temple, or ‘Temple of Fourteen Gods’, who were the royal deities, was established in its current location around 1770 by Maharaja Krishna Kishore Manikya.

Explained

Ban sparks debate in N-E state

Animal sacrifice takes place primarily in two temples of Tripura — Tripureswari Temple and Chaturdasha Devta Temple. Both were founded under the Manikya dynasty, to which Pradyot belongs. The tradition of animal sacrifice, which goes back at least 500 years, continued even under the Communist rule. The ban on the tantrik method of worship has sparked a debate in the state. So far, only the CPM has publicly welcomed the HC order.

What the High Court said

The court ruled that the tradition of sacrificing animals “lacks the essence of economic, commercial, political or secular character” and cannot be protected under Article 25(1) of the Constitution (Subhas Bhattacharjee vs The State of Tripura and Others). Freedom of religion is subject to the rigours of public order, morality, and health, it said. Also, animal sacrifice in a temple is violative of Article 21, the court said, adding that religious practice cannot override provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

Drawing reference from Rev. James Long’s ‘Human Sacrifices in Tripura’, the court said there was evidence that up to 1,000 humans were sacrificed every year until about 1407 — “Thus it is only logical that when human sacrifice could be stopped then nothing can impede a ban on sacrifice of animals as part of religious practice, for life of both humans and animals are legally required to be valued and protected.”

Plea not ‘anti-Hindu’

The government argued that under the terms of Tripura’s Merger Agreement with the Indian Dominion, worship at Mata Tripureswari and other temples should continue in the traditional manner. Animal sacrifice was part of tantric worship, and the petition had been filed only to “disturb the Hindu sentiment and presumably by anti-Hindu elements��, because it did not challenge the practice of animal sacrifice during Bakr Eid, the government said.

The court rejected this argument as “preposterous”: “The State cannot be allowed to take such a stand, more so, in the absence of any material, substantiating the same”.

It said: “The issue of animal sacrifice by the minority community (Muslims) on the occasion of Bakr Id, already stands settled in Mohd. Hanif Quareshi (Mohd. Hanif Quareshi & Others vs The State Of Bihar, 1958), Ashutosh Lahiri (State Of West Bengal vs Ashutosh Lahiri, 1994) and Mirzapur (Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab vs State Of Gujarat And Ors, 1998); hence, such plea needs to be repelled at the threshold.”

Even in those cases, the Supreme Court had ruled that animal sacrifice was not an essential part of Islam and could not be granted protection on the ground of religious freedom, and that states were free to enact laws to ban the practice, the court said. However, on the question of a blanket ban, the courts have held differing opinions.

Tagore in the judgment

“And here we may only remind the State what message Sri Rabindra Nath Tagore conveyed to the then Raja and his citizenry through his famous work, Bishorjan,” the court said.

Tagore was closely associated with the royal house of Manikyas, who had accorded him the title of ‘Bharat Bhaskar’, and gave him financial assistance for the construction of Visva-Bharati. He captured a turbulent phase in the history of the Tripura kingdom in his novel Rajarshi, which he later adapted into the play Bishorjon.

Rajarshi, written with inputs from Maharaja Bir Chandra Manikya around 1880, chronicled the decision of Maharaja Gobinda Manikya (1660-61 and 1667-76) to ban animal sacrifice, which angered the orthodoxy led by the head priest or Chantai, Raghupati.

The novel begins with the monarch walking on the banks of the river Gomati with a little girl, Hashi. The river is red with blood, and Hashi asks “Eto rokto keno? (Why is there so much blood?)”. Soon afterward, Hashi dies of a fever, repeating the question until her last breath.

A shaken Gobinda Manikya bans animal sacrifice at the Bhubaneswari Temple (which now lies in ruins in south Tripura). Raghupati conspires with the king’s enemies, and Gobinda Manikya is dethroned in a coup with the help of the Mughals, and replaced by his stepbrother Nakshatra Rai. Gobinda Manikya eventually regains his position with the help of the Arakans.

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