Chandigarh: The arguments of the State of Punjab continued today in the Ashutosh Maharaj case. Initially, the hearing of the case was scheduled for 12:30 PM. Advocate General Atul Nanda and other lawyers reached the Punjab & Haryana High Court in time, but the proceedings started at 2:25 PM as the court remained occupied in other cases. Nanda cited the judgment of Justice MMS Bedi that had given the directions for cremation of Ashutosh Maharaj’s body in December 2015. He said that the single bench of the lower court should not have entertained petitioner Dilip Kumar Jha, the alleged son of the holy man, after it had found that the documents he had submitted in the court were a “crude piece of forgery”.
The single bench had also noted that Jha’s act was an attempt to mislead the court since the documents were procured during the pendency of the case. He argued that if a court found somebody taking recourse of manipulation of papers, such a person must not be allowed to waste the precious time of the court. Also giving consideration to petitions of such people is not in the interest of justice, the advocate general affirmed.
Since the petitioner came to the court pleading against Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan, Nanda added, his right to perform the last rites of the body became an inter-party dispute between the petitioner and the followers of Ashutosh Maharaj. The lower court had found that the petitioner had failed to establish his relation with Maharaj. If the alleged son has no locus standi in the issue, and is found to be a manipulator, there is no dispute left for adjudication, the AG argued. The only wish that remained in front the court was the wish of the followers, the advocate said, which was to preserve the body based on the belief that their guru was in a state of samadhi. Therefore, Nanda deduced, the dispute ceased altogether and there was no need to delve into the issue of disposal of the body. Nanda reinforced his argument by citing a judgment from England where, like in India, there is no law for disposal of bodies. In the judgment it was observed that the “role of court is not to direct the disposal of body but only to resolve the dispute.”
The AG argued that the issues that were not brought for adjudication had been considered in the matter. The disposal of the body and determination of the status thereof was not even a part of the pleadings. The single judge had gone beyond the pleadings in the matter, the AG of Punjab said. There was no request before the Court to issue a declaration of death, which the lower court did, he said. Neither was there any ground demanding the determination of religious rights of the sansthan and the followers therein. The court must not enter the arena of religious rights until there was a breach of somebody’s fundamental rights, which was not the case here, Nanda asserted.
He further emphasized that it had come up in the pleadings that Maharaj had told his disciples that he would go into samadhi and return from it. In view of this pleading, the faith of the followers could not be undermined according to the State of Punjab.
Nanda dismissed the contention of the lower court that preservation of the body under refrigeration was undignified. Nanda read out the excerpts from the police inquiry report of 2014 where Punjab Police officials had visited the site of Maharaj’s samadhi. The report noted that there was a serene and calm atmosphere maintained in the room where the body of Maharaj was kept under refrigeration and the holy men of the sansthan on the spot were continuously meditating. That bench has not mentioned single evidence, which indicated there was indignity meted to the body of Maharaj, Nanda held. However, if historic practices are considered, preservation of bodies of saints and sages is the highest form of regard and respect to them. Nanda pointed out that the only legal provision that deals with indignity to a dead body was Section 297 of the IPC, which was wholly inapplicable in the present case according to him.
Nanda said that the lower court had directed the State to constitute a committee of public servants to perform the last rites of the body and to engage the services of any religious person in doing so. The AG of Punjab questioned how public servants could determine the mode of disposal of the body, a purely religious matter. Also, he asked, how a secular state could know if the religious person ought to be a Hindu priest or an Islamic cleric or from some other religious community. It was ironical, he remarked, that the bench had wanted to ensure that the last rites be performed without curtailing the right of the followers of the holy man in question, his relatives and members of the public who wished to participate in the last rites of Maharaj. How could, the AG asked, the state determine the veracity of a relative when the court could not establish the same.
In view of all the mutual contradictions and the facts of the case, the AG requested the court to relieve the State from executing such an order.
The proceedings in the case are nearing conclusion. The State will continue its arguments tomorrow, Tuesday 9 May.
Disclaimer: सिर्फ़ News does not intend to prejudge the case reported above. We are relaying the information received from a bona fide reporter concentrating on the arguments of the Advocate General of Punjab. If another reporter with bona fides presents to us the arguments of the petitioner truthfully, we shall publish that report as well.