Defining Religion: The Indian Supreme Court and Hinduism
This paper examines how the Supreme Court in independent India has defined Hinduism and the consequences that flow from attempts to define Hinduism. The Court’s proclivity to define religion, especially Hinduism, can be seen as flowing partly from Articles 25 and 26 — often referred to as the freedom of religion clauses — of the Indian Constitution. Article 25 guarantees the right to “profess, practice and propagate religion”, but also permits the state to regulate “economic, financial, political or other secular activity associated with religious practice” as well as provide for “social welfare and reform” of Hindu religious institutions. Article 26 guarantees religious denominations, among other things, freedom to manage their religious affairs. Since the “wording of Articles 25 and 26 establishes the primacy of public interests over religious claims and provides a wide scope for governmentally sponsored reforms,” the Supreme Court has often had to adjudicate on which religious denomination or institution legally qualifies as Hindu.
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