SC issues notice to TN govt, Udhay Stalin in 'sanatan dharma' case

A plea filed by Madras High Court advocate B Jagannath states that the Tamil Nadu minister Udhayanidhi Stalin's remarks can be considered hate speech

Representative image of Udhayanidhi Stalin (photo: @Udhaystalin/X)
Representative image of Udhayanidhi Stalin (photo: @Udhaystalin/X)

NH Political Bureau

The Supreme Court issued notice to the Tamil Nadu government and DMK leader and Tamil Nadu minister Udhayanidhi Stalin in response to a plea seeking registration of a first information report over his remarks on 'eradicating sanatan dharma'.

The plea filed by Madras High Court advocate B Jagannath states that Stalin’s remarks can be considered hate speech.

It also sought a direction to ensure Stalin and others do not make any more remarks about sanatan dharma, and a declaration that the September 2 conference in Tamil Nadu organised by the Tamil Nadu Murpoku Ezuthalar Sangam was "unconstitutional".

A bench of justices Aniruddha Bose and Bela M Trivedi, while issuing notices, questioned why the petitioner did not approach the state high court for relief.

The counsel for the petitioner said that he had approached the apex court because the issue is against a minister and thus a case of the state machinery being unleashed against a particular religion. He maintained that he would have gone to the high court if it had been the case of a common man speaking against a particular religion.

Senior advocate Dama Seshadri Naidu, representing the petitioner, stated that the minister allegedly encouraged school students to express that one religion is unfavourable.

The Supreme Court bench then told him, "You are transforming us into (a) police station." However, when the counsel submitted that similar issues related to hate speech were pending before the court too, the apex court issued its notice in the matter.

The court, however, refused to tag the matter with the clutch of petitions on hate speech at this stage. In parting, Justice Bose also expressed his disapproval of litigants directly approaching the Supreme Court before going to the lower courts.

Tamil Nadu Hindu religious charitable endowment minister PK Sekar Babu, Lok Sabha MP A Raja, Dravidar Kazhagam chief K Veeramani and chairman of the Tamil Nadu State Minorities Commission Peter Alphonse have also been included as respondents in the case.

What is the issue?

Speaking at a ‘Sanatan Eradication Conference’ in Chennai, Udhayanidhi Stalin drew parallels between the idea of sanatanam and diseases such as dengue and malaria. "Sanatan is like malaria and dengue and so it must be eradicated and not opposed," he said.

The Tamil Nadu minister argued that the idea is inherently regressive, as it divided people on the basis of caste and gender, and is fundamentally opposed to equality and social justice: "What is sanatanam? The very name is only from Sanskrit. Sanatan is against equality and social justice and nothing else."

"What is the meaning of sanatan?," he continued. "It is eternal, that is, it cannot be changed; no one could pose any question (about it) and that is the meaning."

He urged in his speech that the caste divisions created by sanatan dharma should be ignored, that the idea of sanatanam should be left behind and Dravid identity reified instead: "Let us take a vow to win in all the 39 Parliamentary constituencies in Tamil Nadu and the one segment in Puducherry (in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls). Let sanatanam fall, Dravidam win."

This speech evoked strong reactions from the Bharatiya Janata Party, who claimed that Udhayanidhi Stalin had called for “genocide”.

The Tamil Nadu minister, however, denied that he had made any such remark and stated that he stood by his comment that sanatan dharma divided people in the name of caste and religion.

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