Legal status of deities – UPSC GS2

Who is a juristic person?
  • A juristic person as opposed to a natural person(human being) is an entity whom the law vests with a personality.
  • In the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee vs Som Nath Dass and Others (2000) order, the apex court had stated that the very words Juristic Person connote recognition of an entity to be in law a person which otherwise it is not.
  • In other words, it is not an individual natural person but an artificially created person which is to be recognized in law as such.
  • Gods, corporations, rivers, and animals have all been treated as juristic persons by courts.
Practice of deities:
  • The practice of deities was started under the British, where British administrators held that the legal owner of the wealth of the temple was the deity.
  • In 1887,the Bombay High Court held in the Dakor Temple case said that Hindu idol is a juridical subject and the pious idea that it embodies is given the status of a legal person.
  • This was reinforced in the 1921 order in Vidya Varuthi Thirtha vs Balusamy Ayyar where the court had said that under the Hindu law, the image of a deity is a juristic entity vested with the capacity of receiving gifts and holding property.
Are all deities juristic person?
  • The God as an abstract concept is not a juristic entity. But the deities in Hindu law have been conferred personhood as capable of being bestowed with property or leading it out or suing to take back possession.
  • Hence, the installed deities at Hindu places of worship have been treated like other real persons for the purpose of law.
  • However, not every deity is a legal person. This status is given to an idol only after its public consecration, or pran pratishtha.
  • Further, a mosque or Church has never been held as a juristic person, because it’s a place where people gather to worship and its not an object of worship itself.
Rights of duties:
  • The deities have the right of owning property, paying taxes, suing and being sued
  • But they don’t enjoy fundamental rights or other constitutional rights as said by the Supreme Court in the Sabarimala judgment.
Recent judgements by Courts:
  • In May 2019,the Punjab and Haryana High Court had held that the entire animal kingdom has a distinct legal persona with corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person.
  • In March 2017,the Uttarakhand High Court had declared that the Ganga and Yamuna would be legally treated as living people. The order was stayed by the Supreme Court because it raised several legal questions and administrative issues.

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