Chandigarh: In the much-followed case of Ashutosh Maharaj, Atul Nanda, the new Advocate General of Punjab, defended the State in an intense manner in the Punjab & Haryana High Court on Friday, 5 May. The advocate general defended the State by insisting that, in Ashutosh Maharaj’s case, there was no ground on which the State could be directed to interfere.

The State also contended that the case, in which all the parties were in appeal, was in fact not maintainable as per law. In the present case, the court has recorded in its judgment that, prima facie, there is no evidence to prove the petitioner’s relationship with Ashutosh Maharaj. The court has categorically said that the alleged son has filed forged documents to mislead the court and he does not have any locus standi in the matter. There is no right vested in him that he can demand. Therefore, there is no case before the court. The court should have dismissed the case right here since there was no reason for the single bench to have gone into further inquiry.

According to the State, this case was a dispute between the alleged son seeking a handover of Maharaj’s body to him and the Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan and Maharaj’s disciples claiming that he was still alive. While disposing of the matter, the single bench has issued a direction to the court to form a committee and dispose of the body.

The State argued, in a writ jurisdiction, the court, first of all, had to establish the right the petitioner demanded. The petitioner does not have any legal right as he failed to prove his locus standi. He submitted that the State could only be issued a mandamus if there were a vested right in the petitioner, which was denied. The State has not denied either the petitioner or the respondents their rights. Therefore, in this scenario, there is no occasion to direct the State to interfere in the matter.

The State also argued that the Constitution, under Article 25, provided the right to freedom of practicing, professing and propagating religious beliefs until and unless there was a violation of public order, morality and health. In the present case, there is no such violation by the followers of the Trust of Ashutosh Maharaj. Whatever may be the matter of religious belief of the people concerned, the State has no role to play until there is a violation of these riders.

AG Punjab produced before the division bench two judgments which referred to the common law in England. A dead body in that country is not a property and questions relating to burial and preservation of dead bodies had been the subject matter of religion. It was the Church that applied the common law, not conventional courts. The State emphasised that, in a similar way, it was for the Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan to ascertain the way they wanted to deal with Maharaj’s body and the court and the State had no role to play in it.

The State also brought up various religious, scientific and political pieces of evidence establishing that the concept of preservation of bodies was not unknown to the human civilisation, nor was there any illegality involved in the observation of such a practice. It referred to the preservation of the body of Raja Dasharatha for 2 years using the technique of tailadronyam during the Ramayana. The State also drew its arguments from the evolution of the science of preservation from the ancient practice of mritshamshondhanam paddhati in Ayurveda to the current age science of cryonics.

The advocate general cited examples of modern-day preservation of political leaders Stalin, Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, Kim II Sung, Ferdinand Marcos and NI Pirogov. Referring to the Christian religious practices, the AG said that, though there was a practice of burial of the body in Christianity, there were numerous examples of Popes and religious leaders being preserved across the community, for instance: Pope John XXIII, Pope St Pius, St Francis Xavier. The incorruptible body is an important facet of the Catholic belief, with the body of numerous such saints preserved and on public display throughout the world.

Referring to modern science, the State contended that today the science of cryonics was a prevalent mode of preserving bodies with a hope of resuscitation and restoration to full health, which may be possible in the far future. Currently, around 250 bodies are cryo-preserved in the US and 1,500 people have made arrangements for cryo-preservation after their legal death.

The disciples of Ashutosh Maharaj claim he has been in samadhi since January 2014. There were cases filed by the alleged son and the driver of Maharaj for cremation of his body, who contended that the holy man was clinically dead. The single bench of the Punjab & Haryana High Court ordered his cremation in December 2014, but the judgment was challenged by the DJJS, the State of Punjab, disciples of the saint and his alleged son. The driver is not a party to the case anymore.

The hearing will continue on 8 May.

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