A judge of the Madras High Court on Friday wondered whether Sanatana Dharma, a term that some people use as a synonym for Hinduism, should be destroyed since it is a “set of eternal duties” towards the nation, one’s parents and teachers, Bar and Bench reported.

Justice N Seshasayee made the observations after Tamil Nadu minister Udhayanidhi Stalin triggered a controversy by saying that Sanatana Dharma was akin to dengue and malaria and should be “eradicated”.

The judge took note of the “very vociferous and at times noisy debates” raging across the country on the subject and said he was genuinely concerned.

In an order that was made available on Saturday, Justice Seshasayee wrote that duties listed under the Sanatana Dharma could not be traced to one specific literature since they had been gathered from multiple sources related to Hinduism.

The judge was disposing of a petition filed by Hindu Munnani spokesperson T Elangovan against a circular by the principal of Thiru. Vi. Ka. Government Arts College in Tiruvarur, asking students to share their thoughts against Sanatana Dharma on the birth anniversary of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam founder and former Chief Minister CN Annadurai.

“If the topic chosen by the impugned circular is now tested on the plane of these duties, it would then mean that all these duties are liable to be destroyed,” Justice Seshasayee wrote. “Should not a citizen love his country? Is he not under a duty to serve his nation? Should not the parents be cared [for]?”

The High Court, however, said that untouchability cannot be tolerated even if it is “seen as permitted somewhere within the principles” of Sanatan Dharma.

The counsel representing Elangovan argued that Sanatana Dharma does not promote untouchability and instead pushes practitioners of Hinduism to treat everyone equally.

“As religious practices move with time, some bad or evil practices may unnoticingly creep into it,” the order said. “They are the weeds that need to be removed. But why should the crop be chopped?”

Justice Seshasayee also said that the framers of the Constitution had consciously not made right to free speech an absolute right.

“Every religion is founded on faith, and faith by nature accommodates irrationality,” he said. “Therefore, when free speech is exercised in matters pertaining to religion, it is necessary for one to ensure that no one is injured. In other words, free speech cannot be hate speech, as the Supreme Court has cautioned.”