‘Dravidian’ New Year Ordinance facing defeat and death

via B R Haran published on June 28, 2009

Two Public Interest Litigations against the Tamil Nadu government’s Tamil New Year Ordinance were admitted on Friday 26 June 2009 by the Chennai High Court. A Division Bench comprising Justice D Murugesan and Justice K Venkataraman admitted the petitions, one filed by S Mani & 11 others and the other filed by K R Ramaswamy, and ordered their listing for ‘final’ hearing. The date of final hearing has not been mentioned.

The petition of K R Ramaswamy is ten months old and the petition by S Mani & others is five months old. Meanwhile, the people of Tamil Nadu celebrated two Tamil New Years, on the first day of the Tamil month Chiththirai (13 April 2008 and 14 April 2009), with the usual devotion and dedication.

The DMK government tabled the ‘Tamil Nadu Tamil New Year Day Declaration Bill’ on 29 January 2008, and an ordinance to that effect was passed on 1 February 2008 unanimously by the ‘Dravidian’ Assembly. As per the ordinance, the first official ‘new’ Tamil New Year was celebrated on the first day of the Tamil month Thai (15 January 2009) only by government offices and not by the people. Disregarding the state government, the people celebrated the traditional Tamil New Year on 13 April 2008, treating the ordinance with the contempt it deserved, though the arrogant state government instructed its HR & CE Department to ban all Temple rituals like reading of the Almanac, special pujas, etc., in connection with the Tamil New Year celebration.

Despite the utter failure of its ordinance, the government remained adamant in enforcing it on 15 January 2009 (1st day of Tamil month Thai), but the people observed it only as the traditional Pongal (Sankaranti) festival. This was the first defeat faced by the state government.

Meanwhile, K R Ramaswamy (‘Traffic’ Ramaswamy) filed a PIL in the Madras High Court challenging the ordinance on grounds that the legislation was unconstitutional and ultra vires since the state legislature lacked competence to enact it. He said the government’s move was contrary to thousands of years’ of tradition based on the Tamil people’s faith, religion and culture, and it was not open for the government to change the calendar.

The petitioner prayed the court to declare the legislation unconstitutional and ultra vires of Articles 14, 25, 26 and 29 of the Constitution. The petition came up before the First Bench comprising the then Chief Justice A K Ganguly and Justice F M Ibrahim Kalifulla on 12 September 2008; they ordered notice to the state government asking it to file an affidavit within two weeks and a rejoinder to be filed one week thereafter and said the case might be posted for hearing three weeks thereafter.

Subsequently, Ramaswamy was allegedly harassed for his protests against the state government on other issues and finally his petition was dismissed earlier this year with a cost of Rs.10,000/- for non-appearance. However, Ramaswamy approached the Supreme Court, which reversed the High Court’s order and referred the matter back to it for hearing, advising Ramaswamy to file a fresh petition. This was the second defeat faced by the government.

Then, on 12 February 2009, S. Mani & 11 others filed a writ petition (WP 2220/2009) challenging the ordinance in the Madras High Court, before the then acting Chief Justice S J Mukhopadhyaya and Justice V Dhanapalan, who ordered notices to the respondents, State Government represented by Secretary to Government, Law Department, and the Union of India represented by Secretary to Government, Law Department.

The petitioners, asserting the state government curtailed the fundamental right to practice any religion and hurt religious sentiments, said the government committed an innovative departure from tradition without disclosing any reasons. They averred that the government offended the time cherished customs and traditions inseparably intertwined with religious practice, belief and faith. The petitioners categorically asserted that the enactment serves no purpose and could render no gain or profit to the state or the citizens, but has positively hurt religious sentiments and shaken the freedom of religion enshrined in the Constitution of India.

Emphasizing the importance of ‘solar solstice’ and its astronomical calculation and religious aspects in practice since ancient days, they rejected the government’s attempt to make the Tamil month Thai the first month, saying there is absolutely no evidence to prove it. Finally, they prayed for the honourable court’s declaration that the state government’s ordinance is unconstitutional and void.
Though the First Bench ordered notices to the state and the central governments, it refrained from admitting the petition and kept it in the list itself. On 4 March, the state government requested for more time and after dodging the issue for another month, the case came up for hearing on 30 April 2009. Justice S J Mukhopadhyaya, one of the judges in the Division Bench, asked the Government Pleader three straight and simple questions:
1. Does the state government have the Constitutional authority to change a centuries old religious/cultural tradition?
2. What circumstances forced you to pass the legislation in the assembly?
3. Is this change in ‘New Year’ (Calendar) applicable only to the Tamils of your state or to the Tamil Community world over?

Though the Government Pleader brought with him type-sets to the tune of 150 pages prepared by various departments of the state government, he was unable to answer the three questions posed by the Division Bench and requested more time to file the counter. Here again the Division Bench refrained from admitting the writ petition and posted the case for further hearing on 4 June 2009. Considering the three questions, which could never be answered by the government, we can infer that it is clearly fighting a losing case. This was the third defeat faced by the state government. 

Since then, the state government has been dragging its feet, and as expected by the petitioners, the case was never listed on 4 March. It was then alleged by reliable sources that the state government was trying to shift the case to another Bench for obvious reasons.

Finally the case was listed as 42nd item at Court No: 1 on 24 June before the First Bench comprising Chief Justice H L Gokhale and Justice D Murugesan, but never came up for hearing. The next day, 25 June, it was listed as the 24th item before the First Bench, but again was not taken up for hearing. At last on Friday 26 June 2009, the case was listed as the 40th item in Court No: 10 before the Division Bench comprising Justice D Murugesan and K Venkataraman. Considering the allegations made by the Dravidian parties, including the ruling DMK, on the “Aryan” judges of the Supreme Court during the hearing on 27% reservations for OBCs, it is suspected that attempts were made to avoid “Aryan” judges in the Madras High Court taking the case.  

Traffic Ramaswamy also filed his fresh impleading petition (MP.1/2009), which was admitted along with the writ petition (WP 2220/2009) filed by S. Mani & 11 others. As the government pleader also agreed to file the counter in the next hearing, the bench admitted both petitions for the next and final hearing. Despite repeated requests of the petitioners’ advocate Dr. S Padma, the bench refused to mention the date of final hearing, but said that it would take up the case at the ‘earliest’.

Interestingly, the central government, which is also a respondent, has been keeping quiet so far, not knowing what to do. But now, as the Congress Party is well placed at the centre after the general elections, it may not like to share the ‘Dravidian shame’ it shared in the case of ‘Rama Sethu’ during its previous tenure. It may prefer to come out of the quagmire as easily as possible.

The state government, which promulgated the ordinance on 1 February 2008, lost its respect when the people ignored it and celebrated the Tamil New Year as per tradition on 13 April 2008 (Chiththirai 1). The government fell on its face when the people blatantly refused to celebrate 15 January 2009 (Thai 1) as Tamil New Year and instead continued the tradition of celebrating it as Pongal/Sankaranti. Then the government bit the dust when the people again celebrated the Tamil New Year, as per tradition, on 14 April (Chiththirai 1) 2009. The government is well aware that it might lose the case in the apex court, even if it ‘manages’ to sail through in the High Court.

Even then, it is likely to go ahead with its agenda as the Dravidian Movement is a blatantly anti-Hindu movement. It is a pity Tamil-Hindus have not realized this! 

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