STATUS OF ESSENTIAL PRACTICES DOCTRINE
Essential practices Doctrine acts as a limitation to the freedom of religious freedom given under article 25. As per this Essential practices doctrine we get into protection of article 25 only if it is essential practice. If the practice is not essential one then the state is not limited by article 25 grounds of public order, morality, and health, in that sense the state doesn’t have to justify its interference if the practice is not an essential practice. In such scenarios judges become arbiters of religious text to define what is an essential practice of a religion.
The position taken by Shirur Mutt is more practicable as it says that determination of Essential practices doctrine should be in the hands of religious denomination. The only question for the court to decide is whether a practice is religious or secular while in Durgah Committee case court went one step further and said that practice should be essential to the religion. In Anand Margis the question before the court was whether the dance ‘tandava’ is an essential practice of anand marghis.? Here a further narrow approach was taken that the protection to only those practices was given without which the existence of the religion would be threatened, hence denied here.
In Om prakash v state of UP , there was a general notification placing prohibition on sale of eggs for a period of one year within the municipal limits of Rishikesh .This was challenged on the ground of article 19(1)(g) by an egg trader. The court held that it is not an unreasonable restriction and it is for the welfare of the public in that area, The level of review in this case is very different from the level of review when freedom of religion was asserted in Anand case.
The bar set to qualify a religious practice to be Essential practices doctrine is too high to get protection under article 25. The courts cannot in any manner give authoritative interpretations of religious texts to meet the requirements of Essential practices doctrine. In this Essential practices doctrine huge discretion lies in the hands of judges where they insert their religion analysis supported with reasons having no connection to ascertain Essential practices doctrine. Instead of providing constitutional justification to balance the competing claim and religious practice the court tends to subvert the essentiality of the practice itself. The courts are also not clear on the view that practice should exist for a longer period of time.
Challenges pertaining to religious beliefs can’t be decided under Essential practices doctrine unlike what court has done. Judicial discourse over Essential practices doctrine has inferred that it has been transformed into all-or nothing test and provides very minimal protection to religious practices. Essential practices doctrine can’t be said to be a judicially maintainable standard as it lacks institutional competence to determine centrality religious practices, as judges are not experts in interpreting religious texts.
STATUS OF ESSENTIAL PRACTICES DOCTRINE AFTER SABRIMALA CASE
Section 3 of Kerala Hindu Places of Public states that places of worship should be open to all sections and classes of Hindus however if the place of worship is a temple open for the benefit of a particular religious denomination, then that denomination would take care of it. Rule 3 (b) bars the entry of menstruating women at ‘such time’ on account of usage or custom. The issue before the court is to decide the validity of the rule. With 4:1 majority the court held that such practice is unconstitutional.
The dissenting opinion of Justice Indu Malhotra presents a critique of Essential practices doctrine and says courts should not get into determination whether a religious practice is essential to that religion or not. There should be a great deal of deference on this to the religious denomination (Shirur Muttt position).She says that while testing a certain practice you can’t apply the matrix of rationality unless that practice is as pernicious and oppressive like Sati. Religious practices have certain character; they can’t be explained on the basis of rationality. It is constitutionally dangerous to apply the logic of rationality when assessing the question of religious freedom. It is not appropriate to abandon the group rights/ practices at the altar of individual rights. Every religious belief can’t be questioned on the cornerstone of individual rights. The dissenting opinion takes an important stand about group rights, application of rational matrix to religious practice and tries to draw a line where courts should not intervene.
She poses a question whether group rights under article 25 are to be balanced against individual rights under article 14 as they both are claims emanating from within the religious denomination. Whether a group should have a particular belief, is something which court should not get into as that is the very essence of having protection of religious freedom.
While Chief justice and Khanwilinkar take the stance that proviso of section 3 of the act can’t be attracted because ayyappa devotees are not a religious denomination, however it is not even a religious practice. They take a very narrow approach . CJI Mishra takes ‘proximate evolution’ and continuity of religious practice as tests. He denied the basis of Essential practices doctrine to the practice in question on the ground that it is changeable aspect of practice, have no unbridled continuity, have no mention in scriptures and doesn’t form the core of religion,
Justice Nariman on the other hand says that even if it is an essential religious practice to a not a religious denomination, it would still be hit by 25 (2)(b) where a state can even infringe on essential religious practice. He tests the rule 3 (b) of article 15 and finds that it is foul of anti-discrimination clause. He upheld the validity of Essential practices doctrine .
He doesn’t explicitly overrule Essential practices doctrine test but raises certain questions on it. Justice Chandrachud picks issue with Justice Indu point of rationality and says that rationality matrix should have application when religious practice is perpetuating patriarchal stereotyping and discrimination. Excluding menstruating women to enter the temple is a religious practice that furthers a stereotype of menstruation and women. We have to look this into a much broader context of social reality where so much of exclusion of women from social participation is based on menstruation. Court held that women have freedom to practice their religion under article 25 and freedom to choose where they want to practice their religion. He says that we cannot pay a huge constitutional price for religious freedom where a practice is furthering discrimination and patriarchal stereotyping.
This case demonstrates the adjudication of claims coming within the group and reform push through external agencies. There were competing claims from within a group the Essential practices doctrine was unable to provide an apt constitutional framework to address it.
Their opinions of Nariman and Chandrachud do not sufficiently answer the question that whether personal laws or religious practices are subject to article 14 or 15. In this case they were testing the instrument of state, a rule which is reflective of religious practice against the touchstone of article 15. Justice Chandrachud is favour of overruling Narasu Appa Mali case where it was held that personal laws cannot be included within the phrase ‘laws in force’ under article 13.It is not the clear part of the judgement as to whether you can test religious belief and practices against the touchstone of article 14 and article 15 as Justice Khanwilankar Justice Indu, CJI haven’t gone down that route only Justice Nariman and Justice Chandrachud have taken that stance.
 The Durgah Committee, Ajmer vs Syed Hussain Ali 1961 AIR 1402, 1962 SCR (1) 383
 Commissioner Of Police & Ors vs Acharya J. Avadhuta (1983) 4 SCC 522
 Appeal (crl.) 629 of 2006
 The State Of Bombay vs Narasu Appa Mali AIR 1952 Bom 84, (1951) 53 BOMLR 779, ILR 1951 Bom 775