[Answered] Discuss the role of the judiciary in protecting fundamental rights while respecting cultural and religious practices in India.

Introduction: Contextual Introduction

Body: Highlight the role of the judiciary in protecting fundamental rights while respecting cultural and religious practices in India

Conclusion: Way forward

India’s rich tapestry of cultures and religions presents a unique challenge for the judiciary. It must uphold fundamental rights for all citizens while respecting deeply ingrained cultural and religious practices. Recently, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court allowed the resumption of “annadhanam” (offering free food) and “angapradakshanam” (circumambulation) at the final resting place of Nerur Sathguru Sadasiva Brahmendral on the eve of his Jeeva Samathi day.

Protecting Fundamental Rights

  • Striking Down Discriminatory Practices: The judiciary can strike down cultural or religious practices that violate fundamental rights, particularly those related to gender equality. For example, the practice of Sati (widow burning) was outlawed as it violated the right to life.
  • Interpreting Religious Freedom: The judiciary interprets the right to freedom of religion (Article 25) to ensure it doesn’t infringe on other fundamental rights. For example, the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) was deemed incompatible with the right to bodily integrity.
  • Ensuring Social Justice: The judiciary can use its power to promote social justice for disadvantaged groups within cultural and religious communities. For example, judgments have addressed unfair practices within personal laws related to inheritance and divorce.

Respecting Cultural Practices

  • Right to Privacy and Spiritual Orientation: In a recent case involving the practice of “angapradakshanam” at Nerur Sathguru Sadasiva Brahmendral’s final resting place the Madras High Court invoked the right to privacy as a fundamental right, linking it to spiritual orientation.
  • Balancing Rights with Practices: The judiciary avoids a rigid approach, recognizing the evolution of traditions. Practices deemed essential to a religion may be upheld even if they impact certain rights, as long as the impact is reasonable. For example, specific religious dietary restrictions might be accommodated in educational institutions.
  • Preserving Cultural Heritage: The judiciary acknowledges the right to cultural identity and the importance of preserving traditions. It seeks solutions that uphold fundamental rights without jeopardizing cultural heritage. For instance, allowing traditional forms of art and expression while ensuring they don’t promote harmful stereotypes.


The judiciary in India plays a pivotal role in safeguarding fundamental rights while navigating the complexities of cultural and religious diversity. The case of “angapradakshanam” underscores the judiciary’s responsibility to uphold constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion while promoting social harmony and rationality. By striking a balance between individual rights and societal norms, courts contribute to a dynamic legal framework that respects tradition yet embraces progress and modernity.

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