‘Ignorance of law is no excuse for the media’

ALOK PRASANNA writes from Bangalore: Ignorance of the law is no excuse for attracting punishment under the law.
However, ignorance of the law seems a fine excuse for the media to make a story out of nothing as is evidenced by news reports of a judge at a fast-track court in Jharkhand summoning two Hindu gods, Ram and Hanuman, to “appear before the court personally” to help resolve a property dispute.

A little research would have shown that there is nothing that is unheard of about the story, and it is in fact quite a routine occurrence in India. Unfortunately, the story makes no mention of the law on this aspect, and seems to lead one to the impression that the Court and the lawyers are a bunch of “blithering idiots” (to quote a previous churumuri post) making asses of themselves.

Actually, idols have “legal personality”, and enjoy rights and face liabilities like the rest of us. This is a well-recognized jurisdprudential concept in Hindu law that was applied by English Courts in India for some years (as anyone who stays awake in Jurisprudence class will tell you!). In fact the highest English Court, the Privy Council (a sort of Supreme Court for all the colonies) recognized this concept in Hindu law and has applied it in a judgment as far back as 1925.

An “idol” could be sued and could sue in its own name. In that way, an idol is no different from say, a company, or a registered society, or even the Government.

However, that does not mean that the idol is a “person”, in that an idol does not have a mind of its own and cannot show emotions or intentions or act by itself (Kanaka Dasa may beg to disagree, but I’m afraid that’s the law). So an actual “person”, has to act on its behalf and this is usually the dharmadhikari of the temple.

It is not even as if this information is hidden in some locked library located in a remote hideaway accessible only to lawyers who have read the full text of the Kesavananda Bharti case (unlike this obscure legal “joke”). A little googling would have given some basic information about the legal personality of idols (or even just a quick check with an in-house lawyer) would have done the job, but it seems facts and the law shouldn’t be allowed to get in the way of a good story.

From the story, it seems that the land had been donated to the temples, i.e., in the name of the idols in the temple, while others claim it is not so and in fact theirs. The story better illustrates one of the problems contributing to delays, namely, inability to serve summons on the right person. This is caused either because of faulty addresses or because the person to whom summons is addressed does not want to be found. Procedural laws mandate that a trial cannot go on without summons being served, and lawyers and academics are engaged in a very real effort to try and solve this problem.

None of this gets highlighted.

Instead, the media prefers to highlight an inane and trivial, but “eye-catching” aspect of this issue and spins a story out of it.

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