Sanatana Dharma propounds “abominable, pernicious, illegal and evil practices” such as inequality based on caste and gender, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP A Raja told the Madras High Court on Friday, reported The Hindu.

The DMK leader made the statement on a plea urging the court to issue a writ of quo warranto directing Raja to explain under what authority they are holding public office after their comments against Sanatana Dharma.

The petition said that the MP violated the principles of Fundamental Duties under Article 51A(c(e) of the Constitution that casts a duty on every person to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India and to promote harmony and spirit of brotherhood among all people.

In September, the MP had called for eradicating Sanatana Dharma, a term some people use as a synonym for Hinduism, and termed it a disease.

“But these diseases don’t have a social stigma,” he had said, reported the Hindustan Times. “To be honest, leprosy was seen as disgusting and so was HIV [human immunodeficiency virus]. So, we need to see this as diseases ridden with social plights like HIV and leprosy.”

In a counter affidavit on Friday, Raja said that his statements about the Sanatana Dharma were his views and opinions, adding that the the Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience.

“My views are founded on Constituent Assembly debates and have been echoed by none other than the framers of the Constitution,” he said. “None of my utterances can even remotely be construed as opposed to the principles of equality and social justice enshrined in the Constitution...”

At Friday’s hearing, Senior counsel R Viduthalai, appearing for Raja, argued that if his statements are against unconstitutional principles envisaged in the Sanatana Dharma, it is protected under the Right to Free Speech), reported The New Indian Express.

“Any attempt to impose limitations on constructive critique would undeniably pose a significant threat to the vitality of democracy,” the advocate argued.

Viduthalai also said that Raja was a practising lawyer till 1996 before was elected to Parliament. He added that the MP had read widely about Sanatana Dharma.

Before Raja, Tamil Nadu minister Udhayanidhi Stalin had made comments about Sanatana Dharma, calling it akin to dengue and malaria. His statement had triggered a nationwide controversy, with two first information reports filed in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh against him.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also weighed in on the issue, saying that the INDIA Opposition alliance wants to destroy Sanatana Dharma.

The petitioners have also filed the plea against Stalin and another minister PK Sekar Babu.