CHANGED ITS MIND: THE RATH YATRA JUDGEMENT AND ITS IMPLICATIONS
Written by: Tanuja Kapri, Student, The ICFAI University, Dehradun
Amidst the serious global pandemic situation the country is facing right now, despite knowing all the odds, the Supreme Court gave its nod for the conduct of the really auspicious Jagannath Rath Yatra also known as Car Festival in the country. Being aware of the fact that it can lead to a huge mass congregation in the country for around 10-12 days, specifically in the state of Odisha. However, earlier on June 18th, the apex court imposed an injunction and claimed that the decision is justified in terms of Article 25 of the Constitution of India which voice about the freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion subject to health apart from public order and morality as well as to the other provisions of Part III (which exclusively deals with the Fundamental Rights) of the Constitution of India. Isn’t it impermissible for one religion to indulge in mass gatherings which could lead to an increase in the spread of a very dangerous virus which can consequently endanger the life of the citizens of the country? Let’s first know what Jagannath Yatra actually is! The word Jagganath is derived from Sanskrit words, in which Jagat means the Universe and Nath means the Lord which cogent the “Lord of the Universe”. As per the credence, he leaves his abode along with his siblings, Balbhadra and Subhadra for the Gundicha Mata’s Temple, a monument built in the memory of Queen Gundicha who was the wife of King Indradyumna who built the renowned Puri Temple in Odisha. This Yatra is also known as Gundicha Jatra, Navadina Jatra, Ghosa Jatra, Dasavatara Jatra, and various other names. As per belief, the Goddess Lakshmi visits her consort, Lord Jagganath on the fourth day of the festival, and that day is referred to as Hera Panchami, as it falls on the sixth day or Shasti. And after spending a week at the Gundicha Temple, the trio i.e. Lord Jagganath, Balbhadra and Subhadra return to the Jagganath Temple. This ceremony is known as the Bhadu Yatra. The aficionados pull the three prepossessing beautifully decorated giant chariots which carry the idols of the three main deities. All the three chariots are embellished and each chariot has a distinct name. This is how the whole event takes place.
After jotting down all the points that actually the yatra is let’s now talk about the implications of the Yatra. It can be clearly seen as a case of politics over being the judiciary of the nation. It can be clearly seen along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, other top Bhartiya Janta Party leaders, touted it as a victory for the people of Odisha in such a state where we are having such an impending disaster in the country. BEFORE THE YATRA Earlier on 18th of June 2018, the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde was left with no other option other than injunction restraining the Rath Yatra as even the parties agreed that it is impossible to ensure that there is no congregation. However, on 25th June a fresh affidavit was presented that voiced about the conduction of Yatra “in a limited way without public attendance” which totally seems to be an impossible task. The Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India, S.A Bobde, Justice AS Bopanna, and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari clearly stated “The annual Rath Yatra this year is scheduled for June 23. The festivities usually go on for 20 days. Having regard to the danger and public safety of citizens, we direct the State of Odisha to not conduct any Rath Yatra this year. There shall be no activity associated with the Rath yatra during this period. Lord Jagannath will not forgive us if we allow it." Furthermore, the court also stated in his order that Article 25 of the Constitution of India confers the right to freely profess and propagate religion subject to the health. Further in seeking to manage this ostensibly micromanage the Rath Yatra, by imposing multiple-day curfew in Puri and curtailing transport the court has transferred the burden on the people. Notwithstanding, the impact of the order, the apex court has imperiously apportioned the guilt of any possible outbreak by stating that the Committee of the Lord Jagannath Temple will be responsible for adhering to the Court’s guideline. The order that the Supreme Court bench gave on 25th June 2020, Monday cited several instructions and guidelines to be followed despite knowing the fact that ignorance of such guidelines can lead to serious social havocs. The apex court of the country although has laid the guidelines but it’s too substantial to be implemented. Giving permission only to around 500 people to push the chariots in an event that generally includes 10-12 lakhs people is just like a mere dream. Along with that in case, there is leniency it can turn “like wildfire” and uncontrollable situations. Furthermore, the number 500 shall include officials and police personnel, and the chances of native Indians to attend it are non-optimal. The court has impermissibly distributed the burden of religious activities indiscriminately amongst both disciples of Lord Jagganath and the non- adherent as well. It’s very tough for the state to “work in tandem” when you are having a population of around 4.7 crores in the state. In the time of such a serious pandemic, no risks should be taken. Even the slightest disparity can lead to the most disastrous consequences in the country. There should not be any compromise with the health and the safety of the masses. Furthermore, there will be also the impossibility in tracking all the infected persons. Needless to say, it is also impossible to screen the medical conditions of each and every person attending the event. The petitioners have claimed to conduct the Rath Yatra “in a limited way without public attendance”, and implementation of it seems to be a very difficult task. Maintaining social distancing before and after Rath yatra, imposing of social curfews in the city of Puri on all days and during the time when Rath Yatra chariots are taken into possession and furthermore giving all the responsibilities to the Committee and the officers designated by the state clearly shows the loopholes in the decision adhering to the Court’s guidelines. AFTER THE YATRA When we talk about the implications of the Rath Yatra, it can be clearly seen that the insouciant attitude of the authorities. As seen in the footage of yatra that none of the people out in the streets were wearing masks and such an event has led to the sudden rise in the case of Corona in the state. Furthermore, around 1,143 functionaries attended the yatra and among them, one servitor was tested positive, which is a matter of great concern. The physical distancing was not followed. However, the CJI Bobde said in an interview that the executive with its “three Ms” i.e. money, men, and the material was better suited to handling Covid-19 issues. This clearly shows how politics dominate the judiciary in our country. However, earlier CJI claimed that the Lord Jagganath would not forgive him and his fellow judges if the Rath Yatra was allowed to take place. The Rath Yatra of this year has been a political football that regional and national parties have abused to score their brownie points.
However, the significance of yatra is immense for a person of spiritual merit and final liberation and also believed that the devotee who pulls the rope linked to the chariots of the deities and helps the others in doing the same or merely touches the rope or chariots, gets the merit of several penances. But the contention that arises here is that when an outrage of Tablighi Jamaat, an event that became the eclipse in the country and faced the criticism by the society, keeping that in mind, why the stay was not granted in the Yatra. The Indians who made the COVID a “Muslim Virus” are cheering for the Rath Yatra. Notwithstanding, it was also clearly seen through the clips that no such guidelines were followed and no social distancing norms were followed.
I firmly believe that religious feelings and morality are equally important and our constitution also gives the fundamental right to profess and propagate any religion. But at the time of such a pandemic, an injunction would have been a better option for the betterment of the masses. Not in every case “IGNORANCE IS BLISS” and the same goes for this situation as well.
1. Bar and Bench
3. Indian Kanoon
4. The Jagganath Mandir website
5. Odisha Vikas Parishad v. Union of India and Ors. , AIR 2020, SC 571
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