The Karnataka government told the High Court on Wednesday that it had been a mistake to print the name of a Muslim bureaucrat on the invitation for a Hindu temple festival in the coastal town of Puttur.
Invitations had been sent out for the annual “car festival” of Lord Mahalingeshwara Temple – slated from April 11 to April 20 – with the name of the Deputy Commissioner of Dakshina Kannada district, AB Ibrahim. This was in accordance with the protocol. But the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal objected to it, and soon a public interest litigation was filed by some devotees in the High Court.
Lord Mahalingeshwara Temple is one of the 35,000 temples administered by the Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Department, also known as the Muzrai Department. It is located in Karnataka’s Dakshina Kannada district, which has witnessed several communal incidents over the past years and is often described in the media as a “Hindutva laboratory”.
On Wednesday, a division bench headed by Chief Justice Subhro Kamal Mukherjee recorded the government’s admission as a “mistake” in its order, though in its oral observations it had described the entire matter as “silly”. Chief Justice Mukherjee even remarked that in his home state of West Bengal, Muslims didn’t just participate in Durga Puja celebrations, they also helped organise them.
The division bench rejected the petitioners’ insistence that the invites should be withdrawn, calling the plea impractical. Instead, it asked the government to print some additional invitation cards without the name of Deputy Commissioner Ibrahim and distribute those.
During the court hearings, the state had pointed out that protocol demanded the name of the deputy commissioner on any invitation for a government event. And in any case, it argued, the deputy commissioner was not involved in any activity inside the temple. A similar invitation, it said, was sent for a religious event at the Kukke Subramanya temple, which is also in Dakshina Kannada district and also administered by the Muzrai Department.
Ibrahim has held various posts in the districts of Mysuru, Bengaluru and Hassan, where his name has been printed on the invitation cards for the festivities of major temples. It is only in Puttur that he has faced such a problem.
But the petitioners’ lawyers argued that protocol could not be above the law. They pointed out that Section 7 of the Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997 explicitly says: “The Commissioner and every deputy commissioner or assistant commissioner and every other officer or servant, appointed to carry out the purposes of this Act by whomsoever appointed, shall be a person professing Hindu Religion, and shall cease to hold office as such when he ceases to profess that religion.”