Daily Answer Writing Session - 14_February _2022

Posted by R&D, KingMakers IAS Academy on Feb 24, 2022 8:06:10 PM


GS Paper – 1: Social Empowerment and Women's Issues

What is the essential religious practices test? Discuss the benefits and limitation associated with the doctrine of Essentiality.

The Indian constitution under Article 25-28 guarantees the fundamental right to freedom of religion with some reasonable restrictions. The Indian model of secularism also provides for state’s intervention in religion to ensure freedom of religion.

Essential religious practice test

·      Essential religious practice test is a doctrine evolved by the Supreme Court (SC) to protect only such religious practices under fundamental rights, which are essential and integral to religion.

·      It is a contentious doctrine evolved by the court to protect only such religious practices which were essential and integral to the religion.

·      The court held that the term “religion” will cover all rituals and practices “integral” to a religion, and took upon itself the responsibility of determining the essential and non-essential practices of a religion.

Some Examples,

·      In Sri Venkataramana Devaru vs State of Mysore case, 1958, the supreme court had to decide, whether restrictions on entry into temples for some sections, was an “essential part of the Hindu religion”. It held that such practices are unconstitutional and void, and opened the temples for all Hindus. 

·      In the Sabarimala case (2018), the majority ruled that the bar on entry of women in the age-group of 10 to 50 was not an essential or integral part of the religion, and also denied the status of a separate religious denomination of devotees of Lord Ayyappa.


·      The doctrine should be dealt with in accordance with the principle of “refusal to deal”. However, while the concept of ‘refusal-to-deal’ presupposes the current business relationship between the dominant company and its rivals, such aspect is not taken into consideration in the case of the doctrine of essential facilities.

·      It ensured that constitutional morality was given primacy over religious morality. 

·      Scholars of constitutional law have argued that the essentiality/integrality doctrine has tended to lead the court into an area that is beyond its competence, and given judges the power to decide purely religious questions.

·      Some acts obtained constitutional protection by being declared “essential” to the practice of that religion and some were denied protection on the ground that they were not essential to it

·      It has also given judges the power to decide purely religious questions.


·      The continuing emphasis on applying the essential practice test to determine the constitutionality of state action against any religious practice that claims protection despite being either discriminatory or exclusionary.

·      It was never intended to be a test to find out if a particular practice is essential to the practice of the religion, but was only made to distinguish a matter of religion from a matter other than religion. However, a long line of judicial decisions seem to endorse the applying of this test to dispose of cases.

·      The doctrine of essentiality appears to allow courts to go deeply into the scriptures and tenets of a religion or a religious denomination to find out if the practice or norm that is at the heart of the issue is essential. This is seen as a theological or ecclesiastical exercise, which courts are forced to wade into.

·      There is no fixed parameter for deciding the essential practices.

A more reasonable approach will be to apply the test of constitutional morality and legitimacy to the issue at hand. Applying the principles of equality, dignity and civil rights to a particular practice may be better to decide the constitutionality of a practice than a theological enquiry.


Topics: UPSC, IAS/IPS/IFS/IRS, Civil Services Examination, UPSC Mains, Mains practice question

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