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Rights of A Deity

The law, in general, recognizes two kinds of persons
  1. Natural Person and
  2. Legal Person.
Human beings are considered natural persons whereas other things which could be given the status of a person predominantly for the purpose of Law can be categorized as Legal Persons. Thus, in this context, Courts treat Gods, corporations, rivers, animals as Juristic Persons, whenever necessary.

In Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee vs Som Nath Dass and Others (2000), the Supreme Court said: “The very words Juristic Person connote recognition of an entity to be in law a person which otherwise it is not. In other words, it is not an individual natural person but an artificially created person which is to be recognised to be in law as such.”

God As A Juristic Person

The Recognition of Deities as a Juristic person was introduced in India in the British Era. The Britishers conferred on deities the ownership of the wealth of the temple with the Shebait or manager only acting as trustee.
Vidya Varuthi Tirtha v. Baluswami Ayyer (1921)

In this case, the court held that the deity, in Hindu Law, has been given the status of a legal or juristic person and is vested with the capacity of receiving gifts and holding property.

However, in Yogendranath Naskar v. Commissioner of Income Tax (1969), the Supreme Court stated that not every idol is qualified to be a legal person but it is only when the deity is consecrated and installed at a public place for public at large, that such deity becomes a juristic entity.

Thus, it can be interpreted that public consecration is important for a deity to enjoy its legal position and rights.

Rights of Deities

The Deity has been conferred with the following rights:

  1. Owning Property

    The ownership rights of the temple and the wealth gained thereof, is vested with the deity itself. This can prohibit misuse of property and manipulation of wealth by priests and other trustees. The Supreme Court, in Sri Adi Visheshwara of Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Varanasi, vs State of UP [1997 (4) SCC 606 ruled that Properties of endowment vest in the Deity, Lord Sri Vishwanath and the priests cannot claim that they alone have the right to manage the temple on behalf of the Deity. Management of the temple by mahant/pandas/archakas did not mean it became their property.
  2. Paying Taxes

    This, predominantly, came into picture post independence. In 1969, the Supreme stated that If deities were individuals then they could pay income tax.
  3. To Sue

    God, like human beings, can fight a legal battle. This was held in the famous Ayodhya Ram Temple Case, in which it is said that Lord Ram, himself sued for his ownership rights through his trustee. Another example is the case of Pathur Nataraja statue. In this case, the statue had been stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu, and sold abroad to the Bumper Development Corporation. The company had sent it to the British Museum for restoration, from where it was seized by Scotland Yard in 1991. When a case was filed by the Indian government for restitution of the idol, Lord Shiva was cited as one of the plaintiffs.
  4. To be Sued

    The deity is also entitled to be sued against.

No fundamental or constitutional rights

In the famous Sabarimala Case (Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors. vs The State of Kerala & Ors, 2018), it was argued that allowing women of menstruating age into the temple would violate the right to privacy of Lord Ayyappa who is eternally celibate. However, the Court ruled the though deities have property rights, they do not enjoy any fundamental or constitutional right.

To conclude, it can be said that Gods are recognized as persons only for lawful purposes and thus named as 'Legal / Juristic Person'. But, a deity is considered so only after its public consecration. Such deities enjoys property rights, are liable to pay taxes, can fight legally and can also be sued. However, they don't have any fundamental right.      

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