New Delhi: A low intensity blast rocked a convention centre in the Kalamassery area of Kochi in Kerala, Sunday, targeting a three-day convention of the Jehovah’s Witnesses — a Christian sect. The explosion, which is being seen as a terror attack, left three dead. At least 50 others were taken for immediate treatment.
Investigators are said to be probing multiple angles into the incident.
Sources in the security establishment told ThePrint that Kochi is historically a Jewish hub and the congregation may have been mistaken for Jews, or the attack could itself have been targeted on the congregation.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ official website, the congregation has been present in India since 1905. It says that “the Witnesses benefit from the guarantees of India’s Constitution, which include the right to practise, profess, and propagate one’s faith”.
The same website adds that there were over 86 lakh Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide and over 56,000 in India.
As for their conduct, it says: “We strive to show unselfish love in all our actions. (John 13:34, 35) We avoid practices that displease God, including the misuse of blood by taking blood transfusions. (Acts 15:28, 29; Galatians 5:19-21) We are peaceful and do not participate in warfare.”
It adds that while the congregation respects the government and obeys its laws, they do it “as long as these do not call on us to disobey God’s laws”.
In 1986, the Supreme Court had considered a landmark case involving the sect. In the case, titled Bijoe Emmanuel & Ors v State of Kerala & Ors, the apex court upheld the choice of school students, who were Jehovah’s Witnesses, to not sing the national anthem, as they believed it was against their religious tenets.
What did the Supreme Court say on Jehovah’s witnesses in the case? ThePrint explains.
The three siblings
The case before the Supreme Court was filed by three siblings — Bijoe, Binu Mol and Bindu Emmanuel — who were Jehovah’s Witnesses.
According to the Supreme Court judgment, during the morning assembly, the three children used to stand when the National Anthem ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was sung, but respectfully did not sing along. This was because they believed that singing it was against the tenets of their religious faith.
They did this for years, until July 1985, “when some patriotic gentleman took notice,” according to the apex court. This gentleman, it said, felt that it was unpatriotic of the children not to sing the National Anthem. And this gentleman, it noted, happened to be a member of the legislative assembly.
What followed was that the children were expelled from their school in July 1985 by the headmistress, under the direction of the Deputy Inspector of Schools. Their parents challenged this before the high court, which upheld their expulsion in October 1985. The matter then reached the apex court.
Who are Jehovah’s witnesses
In their petition filed in the Supreme Court, the children, through their parents, had explained, “The students who are Witnesses do not sing the Anthem though they stand up on such occasions to show their respect to the National Anthem. They desist from actual singing only because of their honest belief and conviction that their religion does not permit them to join any rituals except it be in their prayers to Jehovah their God.”
The Supreme Court judgment on the issue began with quoting Encyclopaedia Britannica on Jehovah’s Witnesses. The encyclopaedia says, Jehovah’s Witnesses are “the adherents of the apocalyptic sect organised by Charles Taze Russell in the early 1870”.
It further explains, “The Witnesses also stand apart from civil society, refusing to vote, run for public office, serve in any armed forces, salute the flag, stand for the National Anthem, or recite the pledge of allegiance. Their religious stands have brought clashes with various governments, resulting in law suits, mob violence, imprisonment, torture, and death.”
‘Jehovah, the Supreme ruler’
In the 1986 judgment, the Supreme Court also quoted a 1943 judgment of the Australian high court in ‘Adelaide Company of Jehovah’s Witnesses v. The Commonwealth’. This judgment noted that “Jehovah’s Witnesses are an association of persons loosely organised throughout Australia and elsewhere who regard the literal interpretation of the Bible as Fundamental to proper religious beliefs.”
The Australian high court had further observed that “Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that God, Jehovah, is the Supreme ruler of the universe”.
It had noted, “Satan or Lucifer was originally part of God’s organisation and the perfect man was placed under him. He rebelled against God and set up his own organisation in challenge to God and through that organisation had ruled the world. He rules and controls the world through material agencies such as organised political, religious, and financial bodies.”
“Christ, they believe, came to earth to redeem all men who would devote themselves entirely to serving God’s will and purpose and He will come to earth again (His second coming has already begun) and will overthrow all the powers of evil,” the Australian high court added.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, it noted, are Christians entirely devoted to the Kingdom of God, which is “The Theocracy”, have no part in the political affairs of the world and must not interfere in the least manner with war between nations. They must be entirely neutral, it asserted, adding that whenever there is a conflict between the laws of God and laws of man, the “Christian must always obey God’s law in preference to man’s law”.
What did Supreme Court rule
The Supreme Court of India felt that the Australian high court “misdirected itself and went off at a tangent”.
Taking note of the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the court asserted, “It is evident that Jehovah’s Witnesses, wherever they are, do hold religious beliefs which may appear strange or even bizarre to us, but the sincerity of their beliefs is beyond question.”
It then asked, “Are they entitled to be protected by the Constitution?”
Answering in the affirmative, the Supreme Court asserted that the expulsion of the children from the school not joining the singing of the National Anthem though they respectfully stood up in silence when the Anthem was sung was violative of Article 19(1)(a) (freedom of speech and expression) of the Constitution.
The court also said it was satisfied that the expulsion of the three children from the school for their “conscientiously held religious faith” — not singing the national anthem but standing respectfully when it is sung — violates their fundamental right to freedom of conscience, and freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion, under Article 25 of the Constitution.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)