Chandigarh: The verdict of the Punjab & Haryana High Court allowing the preservation of the body of Ashutosh Maharaj in a state of samadhi (meditative consciousness medically not certified as alive) is quite unprecedented in the recent history of cases related to Hindu beliefs. The division bench of Justice Mahesh Grover and Justice Shekhar Dhawan gave emphatic consideration to the “freedom of conscience” of disciples of Ashutosh Maharaj. The judgment ended the litigation that was pending since 2014 when Ashutosh Maharaj was said to have entered into samadhi, as claimed by his disciples.
Referring to the Article 25 & 26 of the Constitution, the Bench observed that “all persons are equally entitled to ‘freedom of conscience’ and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion.” The bench added,
“The freedom enshrined under Article 19 would be totally hollow if not accompanied by the freedom of conscience. Similarly, Article 21 ensuring basic human rights which are rather natural such as right to food, shelter, clothing, health education etc. etc., would be incomplete without the existence of freedom of conscience which is almost spiritual, giving ample room and permitting every individual to follow the dictates of his inner voice resonating from deep recesses of heart and mind to freely profess, practice and propagate religion or belief, provided it does not offend public order, morality and health.”
In the 42 page judgment, it has been categorically observed that the concept of samadhi is not alien to the human society and that there have been eminent practitioners amongst yogis and ascetics. The judgment says,
“(The) concept and belief of samadhi, in fact, does form an essential part of mythology and religion around which a large part of Hindu/Indian philosophy revolves. One cannot, therefore, accuse the sansthan of harbouring or practising a belief which is shockingly deviant from the generally accepted societal beliefs.”
Interestingly, the disciples and the Divya Jyoti Sansthan did not get the relief they were fighting for because the court agreed with their belief in samadhi of their Guru. While examining whether the belief of the followers of the sansthan (institution) is entitled to the protection under Article 25 & 26, the court observed:
“It is also to be understood that preservation of a body is not the core belief of the sansthan or the followers of the Maharaj, who live and die as ordinary mortals, with their bodies being disposed of in the customary Indian way.”
Justice Mahesh Grover and Justice Shekhar Dhawan in their verdict said,
“What is core to the sansthan and its followers is the word of their guru which they consider infallible and thus, it is not their belief in concept of samadhi that has to be tested on the touchstone of inherentness (sic) but their faith in their guru’s words and teachings which are integral to their belief and if he has proclaimed himself to be in samadhi, his followers cannot be faulted for believing it. Their belief stems from their unshakeable and unimpeachable faith in their Guru which is foundational to the sansthan and the followers.”
The verdict set aside the order of cremation given by the single bench. It cited that the belief of the sansthan of the saint being in samadhi cannot be forcefully shattered through the power of the state or a mandate from the court without inviting an accusation of violating the provision of Article 25 of the Constitution, particularly till the time such a belief does not conflict with public order, health or morality.
However, the court did lay certain conditions on the preservation of Ashutosh Maharaj’s body. An order has been issued to the effect that a team of medical experts from Dayanand Medical College, Ludhiana, will be formed, which will periodically examine that the preservation is being done properly and ensure there is no threat to public health. The expenses that would be incurred for conducting this monitoring will be borne by the sansthan. To obviate a default, the sansthan would create a corpus of Rs 50 lakh and set it aside in a fixed deposit, which will ensure a security for the professional charges of the medical team.
The court dismissed the petition of the alleged son of Ashutosh Maharaj and gave him the option to approach the civil court if he wanted to prove his bona fides.