Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community & Anr. vs The State of Maharashtra & Anr

Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community & Anr.  vs The State of Maharashtra & Anr

Landmark Cases of India / सुप्रीम कोर्ट के ऐतिहासिक फैसले

Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community
& Anr.                         … Petitioners
The State of Maharashtra & Anr.                        ... Respondents
J  U  D  G  M  E  N  T
1. In Writ Petition (C) No.740 of 1986, the preliminary issue is
whether the view taken by a Constitution Bench of this Court in
the case of Sardar Syedna Taher Saifuddin Saheb v. State of
, requires reconsideration.
1 (1962) Suppl. (2) SCR 496 : AIR 1962 SC 853
2. In   the  case  of  Sardar   Syedna1
,  the   jurisdiction   of   this
Court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India was invoked
for   challenging   the   constitutional   validity   of   the   Bombay
Protection of Ex­communication Act, 1949 (for short, ‘the Excommunication   Act’).   Section   3   of   the   Ex­communication   Act
provided that notwithstanding anything contained in any law,
custom or usage for the time being in force to the contrary, no excommunication of a member of any community shall be valid and
shall be of any effect. Under the Ex­communication Act, the term
‘community’ was defined to mean a group, the members of which
are   connected   together   by   reason   of   the   fact   that   by   birth,
conversion or the performance of any religious rite, they belong to
the same religion or religious creed and includes caste or subcaste. Under clause (b) of Section 2 of the Ex­communication Act,
‘ex­communication’  was defined as the  expulsion  of  a person
from any community of which he is a member depriving him of
rights and privileges which are legally enforceable by a suit of
civil nature by him or on his behalf as such member.
3. Sardar Syedna Taher Saifuddin Saheb, who was the 51st
Dai­al­Mutlaq and the head of the Dawoodi Bohra community,
challenged the Ex­communication Act on the ground that the
same infringes the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles
25 and 26 of the Constitution of India. The said petition was
placed before a Constitution Bench. The Constitution Bench, by a
majority,   held   that   ex­communication   amongst   the   Dawoodi
Bohras   forms   an   integral   part   of   the   management   of   the
community.   Therefore,   interference   with   the   right   to   excommunicate   amounts   to   interference   with   the   right   of   the
community to manage its own affairs in matters of religion. This
Court held that as the Ex­communication Act invalidates excommunication   on   any   ground   whatsoever   including   religious
grounds, it must be held to be in clear violation of the right of the
Dawoodi Bohra community guaranteed under Article 26 (b) of the
Constitution of India. Therefore, this Court proceeded to hold
that   the   Ex­communication   Act   is   void,   being   in   violation   of
Article 26 of the Constitution of India. 
4. The prayer in the present writ petition filed by the Central
Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community represented by its Secretary
is for issuing a writ of mandamus directing the State Government
to give effect to the provisions of the Ex­communication Act after
reconsidering the decision of this Court in the case of  Sardar
. “Rule nisi” was issued in the petition on 25th  August
1986. On 18th  March 1994, a Division Bench directed that the
petition   be   listed   before   a   Bench   of   seven   Judges.   The   2nd
Respondent   –   Syedna   Mufaddal   (53rd  Dai­al­Mutlaq)   made   an
application seeking a direction that the petition should be listed
before a Division Bench. The writ petition was listed before a
Constitution   Bench.   By   the   judgment   and   order   dated   17th
December   20042
,   the   Constitution   Bench   partly   allowed   the
application filed by the 2nd Respondent. Paragraph 14 of the said
order read thus:  
“14. In the facts and circumstances of this case,
we are satisfied that the matter should be placed
for   hearing   before   a   Constitution   Bench   (of   five
Judges) and not before a larger Bench of seven
Judges. It is only if the Constitution Bench doubts
the   correctness   of   the   law   laid   down   in Sardar
Syedna Taher Saifuddin Saheb case [1962 Supp (2)
SCR 496 : AIR 1962 SC 853] that it may opine in
favour of hearing by a larger Bench consisting of
seven Judges or such other strength as the Chief
Justice of India may in exercise of his power to
frame a roster may deem fit to constitute.”
5. In   terms   of   the   aforesaid   order,   Writ   Petition   with   the
connected Criminal Appeal has been placed before this Bench. In
the meanwhile, there was a subsequent event in the form of the
enactment of the Maharashtra Protection of People from Social
Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and  Redressal) Act, 2016 (for
2 2005 (2) SCC 673
short, ‘the Social Boycott Act’). By clause (c) of Section 20 of the
Social Boycott Act, the Ex­communication Act was repealed. 
6. As   the   Ex­communication   Act   has   been   repealed,   the
question   which   arises   for   consideration   is   whether   anything
survives in the writ petition for a decision on merits. If we come
to   the   conclusion   that   the   writ   petition   still   survives   for
consideration, the question which will arise is whether the view
taken in the case of Sardar Syedna1 needs reconsideration.
7. We have heard the parties on the aforesaid questions. Shri
Siddharth Bhatnagar, the learned senior counsel representing
the petitioners pointed out that the Constitution Bench has held
that the practice of Baraat/ex­communication in the Dawoodi
Bohra community falls within the ambit of “matters of religion”
under clause (b) of Article 26 of the Constitution of India. He
urged that even if the Ex­communication Act is repealed, the
question whether the practice of ex­communication falls within
the   ambit   of   “matters   of   religion”,   needs   to   be   decided.   His
submission is that the 2nd Respondent – Syedna Mufaddal (53rd
Dai­al­Mutlaq) is not only the religious Head but also the Trustee
of the community property. Therefore, he has to perform acts
that   are   not   wholly   religious.   His   submission   is   that   even
assuming that the practice of ex­communication is considered a
matter   of   religion,   it   must   yield   to   the   legislations   on   social
reforms which are protected by Article 25(2) of the Constitution of
India. He urged that the rights guaranteed under Article 26 are
subject to morality. He submitted that the concept of morality
under   Articles   25   and   26   would   subsume   within   itself   the
concept of Constitutional morality. He relied upon the decisions
of this Court in the cases of Manoj Narula v. Union of India3
State  (NCT  of  Delhi)   v.  Union  of   India  &  Anr.4
  and  Navtej
Singh Johar & Ors. v. Union of India5
 and submitted that the
concept of Constitutional morality has been elaborated under
these decisions. He also pressed into service a decision of this
Court in the case of Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors.
v.   State   of  Kerala  &   Ors.6
  (Sabrimala   Temple  5JJ),  which
according to him, holds that practices destructive of liberty and
3 2014 (9) SCC 1
4 2018 (8) SCC 501
5 2018 (10) SCC 1
6 2019 (11) SCC 1
those which make some citizens less equal than others cannot be
countenanced.   He   would   also   submit   that   Article   26   cannot
override the protections afforded under other provisions of Part III
of the Constitution of India. His submission is that the practice of
ex­communication in the Dawoodi Bohra community is violative
of   Articles   17,   19(1)(a),   19(1)(c)   and   19(1)(g),   21   and   25   and
therefore,   it   cannot   enjoy   the   protection   of   Article   26   of   the
Constitution of India.
8. The   learned   senior   counsel   also   urged   that   the   Social
Boycott   Act   does   not   afford   any   protection   against   excommunication as it seeks to prohibit the social boycott of a
member   of   the   community   by   the   Khap   Panchayat   of   the
community. He submitted that a member of the Dawoodi Bohra
community   who   is   already   ex­communicated,   will   not   be   a
member   of   the   community   within   the   meaning   of   the   Social
Boycott Act. Therefore, the Social Boycott Act gives no protection
to   the   members   of   the   Dawoodi   Bohra   community   from   the
unjust and illegal practice of ex­communication.
9. He urged that as held in the case of  Sabrimala  Temple
, the word ‘morality’ found in Article 26 would subsume
within itself the concept of Constitutional morality and  takes
colour from the ideals of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity
on which our Constitution has been founded. He urged that the
practice of Baraat is regressive, which resulted in practically civil
death of the person excommunicated. Therefore, the practice of
Baraat will have to be held as contrary to Constitutional morality.
10. He urged that  even the  issue whether any protection  is
afforded by Article 17 to an ex­communicated person belonging
to   the   Dawoodi   Bohra   community   needs   examination.   He
submitted that though Article 26 has not been expressly made
subject to other provisions of Part III, in the event of its conflict
with Articles 14, 19 and 21, it must give way to these three
Articles unless the conflict can be reconciled. In other words, he
submitted   that   the   rights   of   a   religious   denomination   under
Article 26 cannot be determined in isolation and interpreted in a
manner that renders the rights guaranteed to its members under
other provisions of Part III nugatory. He urged that much water
has   flown   after  Sardar   Syedna1  and   therefore,   it   requires
11. Shri Tushar Mehta, the learned Solicitor General of India,
appearing for the State Government submitted that even if the
Ex­communication Act has been repealed, the question whether
the practice of Baraat/ex­communication is protected by Article
26(b) of the Constitution of India, survives for consideration. He
invited our attention to the order of this Court in the case of
Kantaru Rajeevaru v. Indian Young Lawyers Association &
 (Sabarimala Temple Review – 5 JJ.).  He submitted that
the   Constitution   Bench   has   held   that   freedom   of   religion
guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution needs
authoritative pronouncement by a larger Bench of not less than
seven Hon’ble Judges. He invited our attention to the questions
formulated under the said order. He pointed out that on the basis
of the said order, a Bench of nine Judges in Kantaru Rajeevaru
(Right  to  Religion;   in  Re  –  9  JJ.)  v.   Indian  Young  Lawyers
Association & Ors.8
  (Sabrimala Temple Review – 9 JJ), has
framed seven issues and at least, the first three issues framed by
the said Bench will arise even in the present case. Therefore, he
urged that this petition be tagged along with the case before the
Bench of Hon’ble nine Judges. 
12. Shri Fali S. Nariman, the learned senior counsel appearing
for the 2nd Respondent urged that in view of the repeal of the Excommunication Act, nothing survives in the petition considering
7 2020 (2) SCC 1
8 2020 (3) SCC 52
the prayers made in the petition. He also invited our attention to
the fact that the second petitioner has died and there is no one to
represent   the   first   petitioner   which   is   an   unregistered
13. He   submitted   that   the   decision   in   the   case   of  Sardar
Syedna1  was noted by the Constitution Bench in the case of
(Sabarimala Temple 5JJ)  6
.  He relied upon the decision of the
Bench   of   seven   Judges   of   this   Court   in   the   case   of
Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras v. Sri
Lakshmindra   Thirtha   Swamiar   of   Sri   Shirur   Mutt9
.  He
submitted that the issue of the interpretation of Article 26 has
been concluded. He lastly submitted that this case should not be
tagged with the review pending before the bench of Hon’ble nine
Judges   and   at   the   highest,   it   may   be   kept   pending   till   the
disposal of the said case.
14. Shri Dariaus J. Khambata, the learned senior counsel while
supplementing the submissions made by Shri Fali S. Nariman
stated that the judgment in the case of  Sardar   Syedna1  has
stood the test of time and there has been no contrary view taken
9 1954 SCR 1005
by any Bench. Therefore, no further orders are warranted in this
15. Before we deal with the submissions, a brief reference to the
Ex­communication Act is necessary. Sections 2 and 3 thereof, are
material, which read thus:  
“2.  In   this   Act,   unless   there   is   anything
repugnant in the subject or context, – 
(a) "community" means a group the members of
which are connected together by reason of the
fact   that   by   birth,   conversion   or   the
performance of any religious rite they belong to
the   same   religion   or   religious   creed   and
includes a caste or sub­caste;
(b) "ex­communication" means the expulsion of
a person from any community of which he is a
member depriving him of rights and privileges
which are legally enforceable by a suit of civil
nature   by   him   or   on   his   behalf   as   such
Explanation.­ For the purposes of this clause a
right legally enforceable by a suit of civil nature
shall include the right to office or property or to
worship   in   any  religious   place  or  a   right   of
burial or cremation, notwithstanding the fact
that the determination of such rights depends
entirely on the decision of the question as to
any   religious   rites   or   ceremonies   or   rule   or
usage of a community.
3. Notwithstanding anything contained in any
law,   custom   or   usage   for   the   time   being   in
force, to the contrary, no ex­communication of
a member of any community shall be valid and
shall be of any effect.”
The   Ex­communication   Act   has   been   repealed   by   the   Social
Boycott Act. At this stage, it is not necessary for us to go into the
question of the effect of the Social Boycott Act on the practice of
ex­communication or “Baraat” prevailing in the Dawoodi Bohra
16. Now, we advert to the findings recorded by the Constitution
Bench in the case of Sardar Syedna1. The said decision contains
separate opinions of K.C. Das Gupta, J. for himself and J.R.
Mudholkar, J.; N. Rajagopala Ayyangar, J. and B. P. Sinha, C.J.
We may note here that B.P. Sinha, C.J. has written a dissenting
opinion. The other Hon’ble Judges took the view that the Excommunication Act was void as it infringes the rights guaranteed
under Article 26(b) of the Constitution. 
Das Gupta, J. concluded that: 
(a)The   exercise   of   the   power   of   ex­communication   on
religious grounds forms a part of the management of the
community through its religious head;
(b)The   Ex­communication   Act   takes   away   the   freedom
conferred by clause (b) of Article 26 on the head of the
Dawoodi   Bohra   community   to   ex­communicate   its
members on religious grounds;
(c)Though,   it   is   true   that   the   ex­communication   of   a
member of the community will affect many of his civil
rights, the rights conferred by clause (b) of Article 26
have not been made subject to the other fundamental
rights. Therefore, the fact that the civil rights of a person
are affected by the exercise of the rights under clause (b)
of Article 26, is of no consequence; 
(d)Prohibiting ex­communication on religious grounds, pure
and   simple,   cannot   be   considered   to   promote   social
welfare and reform. Therefore, the law which invalidates
ex­communication   on   religious   grounds,   cannot   be
considered to be a measure of social welfare and reform
as contemplated by clause (2)(b) of Article 25; and
(e)Though,   in   the   counter   affidavit   filed   by   the   State
Government, reliance was placed on the fact that Article
26(b) is subject to morality, the said argument was not
pressed into service.
17. Ayyangar, J. in his elaborate opinion concluded that:
(a)Though,   it   was   argued   that   a   law   preventing   excommunication is a measure of social reform, it was not
suggested that the practice of ex­communication offended
public order, morality, health or any other part of the
(b)Though, the right under Article 26(b) is subject to public
order, morality or health, it was not suggested that the
practice   of   ex­communication   offended   public   order,
morality or health;
(c) The denomination within the meaning of Article 26 and
the members of the denomination are entitled to ensure
the continuity of the denomination and such continuity is
possible   only   by   maintaining   the   bond   of   religious
discipline which would secure the continued adherence of
its members to certain essentials like faith, tenets and
(d)The right guaranteed under clause (1) of Article 25 is not
confined to freedom of conscience as it also includes the
right to practice religion; 
(e) By   the   phrase   “law   providing   for   social   welfare   and
reforms”, it was not intended to enable the legislature to
reform a religion out of existence or identity. Clause (2)(b)
of Article 25 does not cover the basic essentials of the
creed of a religion which are protected by clause (1) of
Article 25;
(f) The   power   of   ex­communication   for   the   purpose   of
ensuring the preservation of the community has a prime
significance in the religious life of every member of the
group; and 
(g)The   legislation   which   penalizes   the   power   to   excommunicate even when exercised for the purposes of
preservation of the community cannot be sustained as a
measure of social welfare or reform without eviscerating
the   right   guaranteed   under   clause   (1)   of   Article   25,
thereby rendering the protection illusory.
18. In his dissenting opinion, B.P. Sinha, C.J., came to the
following conclusions:
(a)The   expressions   ‘matters   of   religion’   and   ‘activities
associated with religious practice’ in clause (b) of Article
26 do not cover exactly the same ground. The activities
associated with the religious practice may have serious
ramifications, such as economic and financial;
(b)The   autonomy   that   a   religious   denomination   enjoys
under clause (b) of Article 26 is in matters of religion.
Article 26 itself indicates that a religious denomination
has to deal not only with matters of religion but also with
other matters  such as  managing  property owned and
possessed by the religious community; 
(c)The matters of religion under clause (b) of Article 26 are
subject not only to public order, morality and health but
also to legislation contemplated by clause (2)(b) of Article
25. In the case of Sri Shirur Mutt9
, it is distinctly laid
down that clause (b) of Article 26 must be read subject to
clause (2)(b) of Article 25; and 
(d)The right of ex­communication vested in the head of the
community is not purely a religious matter. Therefore,
the Ex­communication Act is valid as it does not infringe
the right conferred by clause (b) of Article 26.
19. By a majority, the Constitution Bench held that the Excommunication Act was void being in violation of Article 26(b) of
the   Constitution.   We   must   note   here   that   considering   the
definition   of   ‘community’   under   Section   2(a)   of   the   Excommunication Act, the applicability thereof was not confined
only to the Dawoodi Bohra community. The provisions of the Excommunication   Act   were   applicable   to   the   practice   of   excommunication prevailing in different religions, castes or subcastes. The findings rendered by the majority view are only in
respect of the right of the head of the Dawoodi Bohra community
to   ex­communicate   a   member   of   the   community.   With   the
greatest respect to the Constitution Bench, while recording a
finding   regarding   violation   of   Article  26(b)   only   in   relation   to
Dawoodi   Bohra   community,   the   Ex­communication   Act   in   its
entirety   could   not   have   been   declared   void.   Therefore,   even
assuming   that   the   view   taken   by   the   Constitution   Bench   is
correct, the question which certainly survives for consideration is
whether   the   practice   of   ex­communication   prevailing   in   other
religions, castes or sub­castes is constitutionally valid.
20. Even if the Ex­communication Act has been repealed, the
issue remains whether the power of the head of Dawoodi Bohra
Community to ex­communicate its members is non­justiciable
being protected under the umbrella of clause (b) of Article 26.
This   issue   requires   examination   in   the   present   day   context.
Therefore, the argument that nothing survives on merits in the
petition, cannot be accepted. 
21. While interpreting the Constitutional provisions, we must
remember   that   the   Constitution   is   a   living   instrument.   In
paragraph 262 of the decision of this Court in the case of K. S.
Puttaswamy  &  Anr.  v.  Union  of   India  &  Ors.10
,    this Court
observed thus: 
“262. ………………………………………………….
Hence,   it  would   be   an   injustice   both   to   the
draftsmen   of   the   Constitution   as   well   as   to
the   document   which   they   sanctified   to
constrict   its   interpretation   to   an   originalist
10 2017 (10) SCC 1
interpretation.   Today's   problems   have   to   be
adjudged   by   a   vibrant   application   of
constitutional  doctrine  and  cannot  be frozen
by   a   vision   suited   to   a   radically   different
society. We describe the Constitution as a living
instrument simply for the reason that while it is
a document which enunciates eternal values for
Indian   society,   it   possesses   the   resilience
necessary to ensure its continued relevance. Its
continued relevance lies precisely in its ability to
allow   succeeding   generations   to   apply   the
principles on which it has been founded to find
innovative  solutions to  intractable  problems of
their   times.   In   doing   so,   we   must   equally
understand   that   our   solutions   must
continuously   undergo   a   process   of   reengineering.”
                       (emphasis added)
The originalist interpretation rendered to the provisions of the
Constitution decades back, cannot continue to be valid for all
times   to   come   if   the   Constitution   is   to   continue   as   a   living
instrument with continued relevance. 
22. In paragraph 26 of the decision of this Court in the case of
Central Inland Water Transport Corporation Ltd. & Anr. v.
Brojo Nath Ganguly & Anr.11
, this Court held thus.:
“26. The   law   exists   to   serve   the   needs   of   the
society which is governed by it. If the law is to
play its allotted role of serving the needs of the
society, it must reflect the ideas and ideologies of
that   society.  It   must   keep   time   with   the
11 1986 (3) SCC 156
heartbeats of the society and with the needs
and aspirations of the people. As the society
changes,   the   law   cannot   remain   immutable.
The   early   nineteenth   century   essayist   and
wit,   Sydney   Smith,   said:   “When   I   hear   any
man   talk   of   an   unalterable   law,   I   am
convinced that he is an unalterable fool.” The
law   must,   therefore,   in   a   changing   society
march   in   tune   with   the   changed   ideas   and
ideologies. Legislatures are, however, not best
fitted for the role of adapting the law to  the
necessities   of   the   time,   for   the   legislative
process is too slow and the legislatures often
divided  by  politics,  slowed  down  by  periodic
elections and overburdened with myriad other
legislative   activities.   A   constitutional
document is even less suited to this task, for
the philosophy and the ideologies underlying
it must of necessity be expressed in broad and
general terms and the process of amending a
Constitution   is   too   cumbersome   and   timeconsuming to meet the immediate needs. This
task  must,   therefore,   of   necessity   fall   upon
the   courts   because   the   courts   can   by   the
process   of   judicial   interpretation   adapt   the
law to suit the needs of the society.”
                         (emphasis added)
In view of what is held above, the role of the Constitutional
Courts to interpret the Constitution considering the changing
needs of the society assumes importance.
23. The Constitution Bench in the case of Navtej Singh Johar5
emphasized that the principle of transforming Constitutionalism
also places upon the judicial arm a duty to ensure that a sense of
transformation   is   ushered   consistently   in   the   society   by
interpreting and enforcing the Constitutional as well as other
provisions of law. Constitutional law has developed a great deal
during   the   last   few   decades.   The   interpretation   of   various
provisions of the Constitution made by this Court decades back
has   undergone   a   drastic   change.   For   example,   the   narrow
interpretation given to Article 21 in the ‘A.K. Gopalan’ era is no
longer valid. The concept of freedom has undergone changes. In
the 21st Century, society looks completely different from what it
looked in the last century. We see a change in the socio­cultural
ethos of society. Thus, the interpretation of law must keep pace
with changing needs of society. 
AND 26
24. The freedom of conscience guaranteed under clause (1) of
Article 25 is subject to public order, morality and health. All four
clauses (a), (b,), (c) and (d) of Article 26 are also made specifically
subject to public order, morality and health. Thus, the right of
the religious denomination to manage its own affairs in matters
of religion is always subject to morality. As far as the concept of
morality contemplated by Articles 25 and 26 is concerned, much
water   has   flown   after   the   decision   in   the   case   of  Sardar
.   Moreover,   in   the   case   of  Sardar   Syedna1
,   the
argument that Article 26(b) is subject to morality, was not at all
considered as it was not canvassed and pressed at the time of
hearing. In the case of  Navtej  Singh  Johar  5
, this Court held
that when this Court deals with the issue of morality, it must be
guided   by   the   concept   of   Constitutional   morality   and   not   by
societal morality. Moreover, notion of morality evolves with time
and is not static. The question whether Constitutional morality
can be equated with equality, fraternity and non­discrimination
needs consideration.
25. The concept of morality as contemplated by Articles 25 and
26   was   considered   in   greater   detail   by   another   Constitution
Bench in the case of Sabrimala Temple 5JJ  6
. There were four
separate opinions rendered by the Constitution Bench. Dipak
Misra,   C.J.,   who   wrote   the   opinion   for   himself   and   A.   M.
Khanwilkar, J. and Dr. D. Y. Chandrachud, J. (as then he was),
in their separate opinions concurred on the interpretation of the
concept of morality under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution.
They also dealt with the issue of the interplay between the rights
under   Article   26   and   the   other   rights   under   part   III   of   the
Constitution.  The conclusions in the separate opinions of Dipak
Misra, C.J. and Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, J. can be summarized as
(a)The expression ‘morality’ used in Articles 25 and 26 has an
overarching position similar to public order and health;
(b)The term ‘morality’ cannot be viewed with a narrow lens so
as to confine the definition of morality to what an individual
or a religious sect may perceive to mean. Morality naturally
implies   Constitutional   morality   and   any   view   that   is
ultimately taken by the Constitutional Courts must be in
conformity with the basic tenets of Constitutional morality.
‘Morality’ for the purposes of Articles 25 and 26 must mean
that   which   is   governed   by   fundamental   Constitutional
(c)The expression ‘subject to’ is in nature a condition and
therefore, public order, morality and health control Article
(d)There is no convincing reason to allow provisions of Article
26 to tread in isolation. Even if Article 26 is not specifically
made subject to other fundamental rights, there would still
be a ground to read both together so that they can exist in
harmony. Absence of specific words in Article 26 making it
subject to other fundamental rights cannot allow freedom of
religious denomination to exist in an isolated silo; and 
(e)The freedom of religious denominations under Article 26
must be read in a manner that requires the preservation of
equality,   and   other   individual   freedoms   which   may   be
impacted by unrestricted exercise; 
26. Nariman,   J   in   paragraph   176.7,   stressed   that   the   term
‘morality’ refers to that which is considered abhorrent to civilized
society, given the mores of the time, by reason of harm caused by
way, inter alia, of exploitation and degradation. 
27. In his opinion rendered in  Sabrimala  Temple–5JJ  6
, Dr.
D.Y.   Chandrachud,   J.(as   he   then   was)   has   dealt   with   the
engagement of essential religious practices with Constitutional
values. While dealing with the said issue, in paragraph 289, he
has observed thus:
“289. For   decades,   this   Court   has   witnessed
claims resting on the essentiality of a practice
that militate against the constitutional protection
of   dignity   and   individual   freedom   under   the
Constitution.  It   is   the   duty   of   the   courts   to
ensure that what is protected is in conformity
with   fundamental   constitutional   values   and
guarantees   and   accords   with   constitutional
morality. While the Constitution is solicitous
in its  protection of religious  freedom as  well
as   denominational   rights,   it   must   be
understood  that  dignity,   liberty  and  equality
constitute the trinity which defines the faith
of   the   Constitution.  Together,   these   three
values combine to define a constitutional order of
priorities. Practices or beliefs which detract from
these   foundational   values   cannot   claim
                     (emphasis added)
28. The question is whether the exclusionary practice which
prevails in the Dawoodi Bohra community of ex­communicating
its members will stand the test of Constitutional morality? As
observed by Das Gupta, J. in the case of Sardar Syedna1
, the
ex­communication of a member of the community affects many of
his civil rights. The Privy Council, in the case of  Hasanali  &
Ors. v. Mansoorali & Ors.12, in paragraph 4, has dealt with the
effect   of   ex­communication   in   Dawoodi   Bohra   community.
Paragraph 4 reads thus:
“4. The   appellants   would   limit   the   effect   of
excommunication, whatever steps might have
been taken to bring it into being, to complete
12 1947 SCC OnLine PC 63
social  ostracism.  There   is  nothing,  they  say,
to   show   that   it   excluded   from   rights   of
property  or  worship.  Their  Lordships  do  not
find themselves able to accept this limitation.
The Dai is a religious leader as well as being
trustee of the property of the community, and
in   India  exclusion   from  caste   is  well  known.
There is at least one case in which it is recorded
that   certain   persons   applied   to   the   King   to
intercede with the thirty­third Dai, complaining
that   in   consequence   of   excommunication   they
were kept from the mosques and places where
true   believers   met;   and   no  instance   has   been
cited   where   excommunicated   persons   freely
exercised   their   religious   rights.   Indeed,   the
complaint   in   the   cases   brought   to   their
Lordships'   attention   as   regards   which   relief   is
claimed for the appellants or those whom they
are said to represent is that they were wrongly
excommunicated,   not   that   if   rightly
excommunicated they were wrongly deprived of
their   religious   rights.  Excommunication,   in
their  Lordships'  view,  if  justified,  necessarily
involves   exclusion   from   the   exercise   of
religious   rights   in   places   under   the
trusteeship of the head of the community in
which religious exercises are performed.”
                                             (emphasis added)
A person who is ex­communicated by the community, will
not be entitled to use the common property of the community
and the burial/cremation grounds of the community. In a sense,
such a person will virtually become untouchable (being banished
or ostracized) within the community. In a given case, it will result
in   his   civil   death.   It   can   be   argued   that   the   concept   of
Constitutional morality which overrides the freedom conferred by
clause (b) of Article 26, will not permit the civil rights of excommunicated   persons   which   originate   from   the   dignity   and
liberty   of   human   beings   to   be   taken   away.   The   concepts   of
equality,   liberty   and   fraternity   are   certainly   part   of   our
Constitutional   morality.   Basic   ideas   enshrined   in   our
Constitution are part of Constitutional morality. The conscience
of   our   Constitution   is   Constitutional   morality.   Hence,   it   is
contended that ex­communication or ostracisation is anathema
to the concepts of liberty and equality. It is against the antidiscriminatory   ethos   which   forms   a   part   of   Constitutional
morality.   Therefore,   the   Constitutional   Court   ought   not   to
tolerate anything which takes away the right and privilege of any
person   to   live   with   dignity   as   the   concept   of   Constitutional
morality does not permit the Court to do so.  Therefore, in our
view, the protection under Article 26(b) granted by the decision in
the case of Sardar Syedna1
 to the power to ex­communicate a
member of the Dawoodi Bohra community, needs reconsideration
as the said right is subject to morality which is understood as
Constitutional morality. This issue will require examination by a
larger Bench.
29. The   concurring   opinions   rendered   by   Dr.   D.Y.
Chandrachud, J. and Mr. R.F. Nariman, J. extensively refer to
the case of  Sardar   Syedna1
.  In paragraph 164, Nariman, J.
records that there is a need to look into the finding recorded by
the   majority   view   in   the   case   of  Sardar   Syedna1
  on   the
applicability of clause (2)(b) of Article 25 in some future cases.
30. We   have   already   referred   to   the   opinion   of   D.Y.
Chandrachud, J. (as then he was) in Sabrimala Temple– 5 JJ 6
It was held that though Article 26 is not specifically made subject
to other fundamental rights, there would still be a ground to read
both together so that they can exist in harmony. The freedom of
religious denominations cannot exist in isolation. Nariman, J. in
his opinion has also dealt with this issue. In note 59 appended to
paragraph 176.7, he observed that:
“(59).  We   were  invited  by   the   learned  Amicus
Curiae,  Shri  Raju  Ramachandran,  to  read the
word “morality” as being “constitutional morality”
as   has   been   explained   in   some   of   our   recent
judgments. If so read, it cannot be forgotten that
this would bring in, through the back door, the
other provisions of Part III of the Constitution,
which Article 26 is not subject to, in contrast
with Article 25(1). In any case, the fundamental
right under Article 26 will have to be balanced
with the rights of others contained in Part III
as   a   matter   of   harmonious   construction   of
these   rights   as   was   held   in Shri
Venkataramana  Devaru,  AIR  1958  SC  255   :
1958  SCR  895.  But  this  would  only  be  on  a
case­to­case   basis,   without   necessarily
subjecting   the   fundamental   right   under
Article   26   to   other   fundamental   rights
contained in Part III.”
(emphasis added)
Thus, Nariman, J. was of the view that there may be a need
to balance rights under Article 26(b) with the other fundamental
rights   under   Part   III   of   the   Constitution   without   necessarily
subjecting   the   fundamental   rights   under   Article   26   to   other
fundamental rights contained in Part III.
31. Even assuming that the ex­communication of members of
the  Dawoodi   Bohra   community   is   always   made   on   religious
grounds, the effect and consequences thereof, on the person excommunicated   needs   to   be   considered   in   the   context   of
justiciable Constitutional rights. The ex­communication will have
many   civic   consequences   which   will,  prima   facie,  affect   his
fundamental right to live with dignity and the right to lead a
meaningful life guaranteed by Article 21. Therefore, the question
is whether the said right of the community to ex­communicate its
members  can be balanced with  the  other fundamental rights
under Part III of the Constitution and in particular, Article 21. 
32. To   conclude,   prima   facie,   we   find   that   the   exercise   of
balancing the rights under Article 26(b) with other rights under
Part III and in particular Article 21 was not undertaken by the
Constitution   Bench   in   the   case   of  Sardar   Syedna1
.   This
question is substantially in issue before the Bench of nine Judges
in  Sabrimala   Temple   Review   ­9JJ.   Moreover,   the   question
whether   the   protection   can   be   given   by   Article   26(b)   to   the
practice of ex­communication is to be tested on the touchstone of
the concept of Constitutional morality as the said right is subject
to morality. This is an important and emergent issue. These are
the  two main grounds on  which the  said decision may need
reconsideration by a larger Bench. 
33. Sabrimala   Temple–5JJ  6 decision   was   subjected   to   a
review. This Court dealt with the review  (Sabrimala   Temple
Review   –   5JJ.7
).    The   majority   opinion   contains   questions
formulated for referring it to a larger Bench.  Question Nos. 5.1 to
5.3 are relevant which reads thus:
“5.1.(i)   Regarding   the   interplay   between   the
freedom of religion under Articles 25 and 26 of
the Constitution and other provisions in Part
III, particularly Article 14.
5.2.(ii) What is the sweep of expression “public
order,   morality   and   health”   occurring   in
Article 25(1) of the Constitution.
5.3.(iii)   The   expression   “morality”   or
“constitutional morality” has not been defined
in the Constitution. Is it overarching morality
in reference to Preamble or limited to religious
beliefs or faith. There is need to delineate the
contours of that expression, lest it becomes
Accordingly, the review petition was listed before a nine­Judge
Bench.   By the order dated 10th  February 2020, the Bench of
nine­Judges (Sabrimala Temple Review –9 JJ.8
) framed seven
questions of law, out of which questions 3 and 4 are relevant for
our purposes read thus: 
“3.   Whether   the   rights   of   a   religious
denomination   under   Article   26   of   the
Constitution   of   India   are   subject   to   other
provisions of Part III of the Constitution of
India apart from public order, morality and
4.What is the scope and extent of the word
‘morality’   under   Articles   25   and   26   of   the
Constitution of India and whether it is meant
to include Constitutional morality?”
34. In view of the discussion made above, questions 3 and 4
formulated by the nine­Judge Bench also arise for consideration
in the present writ petition.  The decision which will be rendered
by   the   nine­Judge   Bench   will   have   a   direct   impact   on   the
questions which arise for determination in this writ petition.
35. In the circumstances, we are of the view that the present
writ petition deserves to be tagged with Review Petition (Civil)
No.3358   of   2018   pending   before   the   Bench   of   nine   Hon’ble
Judges. We, accordingly direct the Registry to seek appropriate
directions in this behalf from the Hon’ble Chief Justice.
    (Sanjay Kishan Kaul)
    (Sanjiv Khanna)
    (Abhay S. Oka)
    (Vikram Nath)
     (J. K. Maheshwari)
New Delhi;
February 10, 2023. 


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