Hinduism has various sacred texts like the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagwad Gita, Puranas, Upanishads and the 4 Vedas and crores of deities which are revered by Hindus.
So how have the courts interpreted religion in India? What are the rights over God’s names? Can anyone have monopoly over such things? Are Gods recognized by the courts in India? These are a few intriguing questions, which this article seeks to answer.
The courts in India have repeatedly stepped in to protect the religious sanctity of various temples, adjudicated over religious disputes and even decided God’s name as intellectual property. It is unique of Indian courts to have entered into this sphere for the maintain and upkeep of religious places in India.
Judicial precedents on the use of God’s name as intellectual property:
1) “Krishna” as a trademark
In the case of Bhole Baba Milk Food Industries vs. Parul Foods Specialties Pvt. Ltd where the division bench of the Delhi High Court upheld the order of Ld. Single Judge in my own case held that the word ‘KRISHNA’ symbolizes Lord Krishna and his association with products in question – milk and dairy products like ghee, butter etc – hence no one can claim exclusive proprietor right of the trademark “KRISHNA”. The said judgment can be checked here http://www.indiankanoon.org/doc/298706/.
In the above judgment, a first of its kind in India, a unique view is held as follows:
“It is common knowledge that Lord Krishna, as a child, was known for his love of milk and butter and thus Lord Krishna is closely linked with milk and butter and this would certainly dilute a proprietary claim projected by any person, in relation to Krishna with dairy products.”
It was a trend setting judgment on God’s name (Lord Krishna, in this case) as an intellectual property and as a trademark. Below are some news links for the same.
2) Kamadhenu as a trademark
In this case the Delhi High Court held that “Kamadhenu” is a common word, signifying plenty; perhaps perpetual supply, prosperity – all with some association with sacredness or goodness. It is a uniquely common Indian term with widespread usage amongst most communities and cultures in India. More so when Kamadhenu as per Hindu mythology, is a sacred cow, that grants all wishes and desires. She is associated with plent, – even unending supply of goods, particularly food. Kamadhenu emerged from the samudra-manthan (churning of the ocean) and was taken by seven gods. She is also known as the mother of all cows. The judgment can be accessed here http://www.indiankanoon.org/doc/961129/.
3) Shiv Shakti
In Kewal Krishan Kumar vs. Rudi Roller Flour Mills (P) Ltd a division bench judgment of the Delhi High Court held that the words “Shiv Shakti” are common religious words, which signify the power of Lord Shiva. Hence it cannot be monopolized by anyone. The court held as follows:
“The mark applied for by the respondent No.1 consists of the device ‘Trishul’ and ‘Damru’ and the phrase ‘Shiv Shakti’ is descriptive of the goods of the respondent No.1. The aforesaid words ‘Shiv Shakti’ when read as a whole would be a descriptive word and is having a distinct prefix of Shiv, a God of Hindu mythology. There also cannot be a monopoly with regard to the word ‘Shakti’ which is a descriptive word. Trade mark of the appellant is ‘Shakti Bhog Atta’ to which the appellant can claim exclusive use but not to the word ‘Shakti’, more so when ‘Shakti’ is used with ‘Shiv’ would depict the power and strength of a religious God.”
4) Ayur or Ayurveda
The Calcutta High Court division bench, which has been confirmed by Supreme Court, held that none can claim monopoly over the word “Ayu” or “Ayur” that is directly derived from the word “Ayurveda”. The Court held as follows:
“At the same time, we are of the view that the word “Ayu” or “Ayur” cannot be said to be the particular invented words of the plaintiff for denoting its goods bearing “no meaning”. The plaintiff cannot claim exclusive right over the word “Ayu” meaning “longevity” and similarly, over the word “Ayur” denoting its connection with Ayurveda.”
The Delhi HC Division Bench Recently in Ihhr Hospitality Pvt. Ltd vs. Bestech India Pvt. Ltd held “‘Ananda’ is not a coined word. The word signifies ‘bliss’. The word ‘Anand’ which means ‘bliss’, has been noted to have its origin in the Sanskrit word ‘Ananda’, which means ‘bliss’, ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’”.
Hence the Courts have repeatedly held that names of deities like Krishna, Shiva, Shakti, Kamdhenu and other common words like “Ananda” or “Ayur” which have cultural references cannot be exclusively appropriated by anyone and are available to everyone. In a way the courts in India have legally declared God’s names and given them legal sanctity.
Even the Legislature has prohibited some names from being registered as trademarks such as Lord Buddha, the ten Sikh Gurus, Sai Baba, Lord Venkasteshwara or Balaji, Swami Vivekananda etc but the names of all major Hindu deities like Shiva, Rama, Durga, Krishna have not been prohibited.
After the interpretation of courts in this respect, though some names are not to be registered as intellectual property they are available to use for all and no exclusive right can be claimed on any virtue of any registration per se.
Now outside the domain of intellectual property rights, the courts have time and again entered into various religious matters with respect to land disputes, maintenance and upkeep, and declaring proprietary claims of such religious places.
Other legal precedents that have been adjudicated by courts across India are as below:
a) The Ram Janmabhumi Judgment of Allahabad HC delivered on 30th September 2010 was first judgment where the High Court declared the disputed site to be Ram Janmabhumi (birthplace of Lord Rama) and also held that 1/3rd of the main disputed site be handed over to Lord Ram through his close friend, considered to be a Juristic Entity. http://www.nowpublic.com/world/allahabad-high-court-verdict-ram-janmabhoomi-babri-masjid-dispute
Since the said judgment has now been stayed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India and is pending adjudication I will refrain from any comments. Kindly read this for further information: http://www.theHindu.com/news/national/article2003448.ece.
b) Another famous matter where the Supreme Court is adjudicating and maintaining is in the case of the valuable wealth and jewels found in the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala. The State of Kerala has contended before the court that no one can lay claim on the said treasure as it belongs to temple itself. The Supreme Court has reserved the judgment on the said issue. For further reference see this.
c) Ram Setu Case – In the said case the SC is considering a PIL by Dr.Subramanian Swamy for declaring Ram Setu as national heritage contending that the said bridge of rocks between India and Sri Lanka was built by Lord Rama while crossing across to Lanka. The Government wanted to dredge the said bridge for shipping purposes. For further information see this link.
d) Amarnath Yatra – The SC took cognizance of death of pilgrims and lack of basic medical facilities and asked the Central Government and the Government of Jammu and Kashmir to look into the arrangements made for the annual yatra of pilgrims to the Armarnath cave in North Kashmir. See further info on Court Slams government for Amarnath Deaths
A very bizarre judgment by the Income Tax Tribunal, Maharashtra regarding exemptions to a religious trust held as follows:
“Technically, Hinduism is neither a religion nor Hindus form a religious community. Therefore, expenses incurred for worshipping Shiva, Hanuman or Durga and for maintenance of temples cannot be regarded to be for religious purposes. They are merely regarded to be the superpower of the universe”
The above judgment is clearly outlandish to say the least as it fails to recognize the basic culture of the ancient Indian civilization, which is predominantly Hindu. Anyway there are forums above the tribunal like the High Court and Supreme Court which should correct the such a grave error made by the lower judiciary.