Minority Rights and Religious Identity

The judgment delivered by Punjab and Haryana High Court in the case of Gurleen Kaur vs. State of Punjab is of profound significance.(Readers can access the judgment on the High Court’s site (CWP14859/2008.Date:30/05/2009)Although the Court has taken a strictly legal and Constitutional view on the issues before them, it will certainly leave us all dissatisfied. The Court has upheld the action of the minority institution in denying admission on the ground that the students claiming admission under the minority quota did not follow the tenets of that minority religion. There can be no dispute over the Court’s finding, arrived after an elaborate research on Sikhism, that maintaining hair unshorn is an essential tenet of Sikh religion. But does Article 30 give licence to the minority institutions to enforce it on unwilling students, claiming admission under the minority quota? The Court has held that it does. The Court also cites the view that majority of students do not follow this tenet at all, but the court justifies its stand because, it has to consider the views as expressed by the spokespersons of the said religion. The implications of this judgment for secularism are indeed serious. If a section of the community is considered as not belonging to the minority religion under Article 30 because of the failure to follow its basic tenets, will the same section be considered as outside that religion for other purposes? Will it not be a worrying inconsistency? The Court has held that religion is a package of beliefs and doctrines which all those who adopt that particular religion are expected to follow, and that the issue is not of logic, but of faith. Therefore, forward-looking or non-fundamentalist actions cannot be bestowed with legitimacy, if the tenet concerned is of fundamental importance, the Court has held.

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1 comment
  • I must point out here that the author has probably not read the 150 page judgment of the Full Bench of the Punjab & Haryana High Court with close scrutiny, as is evident from the assertion made by him, that the Court relied only upon the views of the spokesperson of the Sikh Religion. May I mention here that the Respondents produced before the Hon'ble Court many texts relating to Sikh religion such as – Tankh Namah and Nasihat Namah of Bhai Nand Lal, Rehatanamah and Prem Sumarg talks of Sant – Khalsa, Hukumnamah of Kalgidhar Pashah,etc among other things. The question before the Court was to determine the significance of Keshas (unshorn hair) in Sikh Religion which the Court answered in affirmative. The Petitioner students were not denied admission, but were denied of claiming benefits of reserved quota of seats, reserved for students belonging to Sikh Community. Hon'ble Court came to a conclusion that maintaining unshorn hair is an essential tenet of Sikh religion, and individuals who do not maintain unshorn hair, are not be considered Sikhs as per the requirements of the Sikh Religion.