Can a deity fight a legal battle? This was one of the questions which came up for consideration before the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court on Thursday while deciding the controversial Ayodhya case.
The question has come up in the past before the Supreme Court as well, which has made the legal position very clear. Moreover, Hindu law too brings about a certain amount of clarity on the subject.
Legal experts point out that in Indian jurisprudence, a deity can be represented through the trustees since most of the property concerning a religious place is always managed by the trust. This would mean that the title deed is in the name of the deity and hence it can be party to a suit. In the present case, the issues pertained to Ram Lalla and since the deity was a minor it had to be represented by its guardian.
Who is a juristic person? The law says they are beings — real or imaginary — to whom the law attributes a personality by way of fiction when there is none in fact. A legal personality is an artificial creation of the law. According to the Supreme Court, ‘A legal person is any entity other than human beings to which the law attributes a personality’. The words ‘juristic person’ connote the recognition of an entity to be a person in law which otherwise it is not. In other words, ‘it is not a natural person but an artificially created person which is to be recognised in law as such’.
Juristic, legal or artificial person is any subject matter to which the law attributes a personality. It is a legal creation under a general law like the Companies Act, a specific enactment, or by a decision of the court. A legal person is a holder of rights and duties, can own and dispose of property, can receive gifts, and it can sue and be sued in its name.
Idols have been recognised to be juristic persons in Hindu law, which personifies the deity as a legal person. A Hindu idol is recognised by courts as a juristic entity having a judicial status, and its interests are attended to by a person who is in charge of the deity and who under law is its guardian or manager.
The property in question belongs to the idol as a juristic person and the possession and management of the same are vested with the guardian or the manager.
The Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court had ruled in an earlier case that from the spiritual point of view an idol is the embodiment of the supreme being. So far as the deity or idol stands as the representative and symbol of a particular purpose indicated by the donor, it can figure as a legal person.
Explaining this aspect, former Supreme Court judge Santhosh Hegde further says most religious places are in the name of the temple or the deity. Since the deity cannot represent itself in person in litigation it is the trustee who fights the battle on its behalf.
The Supreme Court has held in several cases that a juristic person has the right to litigate any case while being represented by its managers or trustees.