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'Understand Concept' Before Filing Petition: HC in Plea Against Use of Halal Jaggery in Temple

A petitioner has pleaded against the use of 'halal' jaggery at the Sabarimala Temple. Additional claims that it is 'spoiled' were denied by the temple's board and the state's food safety department.

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New Delhi: Hearing a plea filed against the use of jaggery certified ‘halal’ at the Sabarimala temple, the Kerala high court asked the petitioner to clarify his own understanding of the concept first.

One S.J.R. Kumar, who claims to be the General Convenor of Sabarimala Karma Samithi, moved Kerala high court on Monday, to seek the opinion of the chief priest of the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala over two broad allegations.

  1. The use of ‘halal’ jaggery to prepare prasadam (food offerings) like aravana and appam. Kumar also sought directions on steps for “remedying the situation”.
  2. The allegation that the jaggery was spoiled.

Aravana is a porridge made out of jaggery and rice, and appam is a sweet rice and jaggery-based fritter. Both are given to devotees at the temple.

Halal

On Wednesday, the court observed that the Islamic concept of ‘halal’ only forbids the use of certain food ingredients while permitting others, Bar and Bench has reported.

The court sought greater clarity on what exactly the petitioner was objecting to.

The concept of halal only says that certain things are prohibited, all other things are halal. This certification only says that those materials are not in a particular product. This is there in other countries like UK and some Supreme Court decisions speak about it,” Justice Anil K. Narendran orally remarked. The bench also had Justice P.G. Ajithkumar.

More than once, the court asked Kumar to clarify his own understanding of halal and delineate why he was opposed to it.

“What is your understanding of this concept of halal, because you’ve said lots of things in your writ petition as well as in the reply affidavit. Before arguing against it, you must understand the concept,” the court said, according to Bar and Bench.

Kumar said that halal certification “is particular to a community, pertaining to the rituals of a community and is made uttering verses from a holy text.”

The petitioner contended that it was “illegal” as it was prepared in accordance with the customs of another religion and “seriously” violated the temple’s religious customs.

The court, however, said that before filing a writ petition, he had to have gone “deep into the concept.”

An earlier report on The Wire had noted how it had turned out that the jaggery was distributed by a company run by non-Muslims.

The petition is timed with a general upsurge in Hindutva bodies’ demands for erasure of the Islamic halal culture in Kerala. The Wire has reported on how the Bharatiya Janata Party in Kerala has demanded that the state government ban the “halal system” and halal boards at restaurants.

Meanwhile the state’s opposition leaders and a leading hoteliers’ union have demanded strict action against those who are involved in the spike in communal and false campaigns targeting certain hotels and restaurants.

‘Spoiled’

On November 18, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the temple, told the court that the jaggery received by it had ‘halal’ mentioned on the packaging as it is also exported to Arab countries by the company.

The TDB said the instant petition contains allegations which were “absolutely false, baseless and are made purposefully with the malicious intention to stall sale of ‘appam’ and ‘aravana’ in Sabarimala” and to “torpedo” the pilgrimage season.

The TDB had also told the court that the food was prepared using fresh supplies of jaggery received earlier this year. Older stock which was tested in September and found unsuitable for human consumption has been auctioned off to Thrissur-based Southern Agro Tech India Pvt Ltd for making cattle feed, the TDB said.

The Sabarimala Special Commissioner and the Kerala Food and Safety department also filed statements alleging the same, noting that the jaggery unused during the lockdown was auctioned off for cattle feed.

However, the petitioner noted in a reply affidavit that the old jaggery was not being used for cattle feed alone but also in the hotel and restaurants business.

“After failing to protect the Thantrik rituals at temple by providing Satwik/pure materials for the preparation of Naivedyam/prasadam at Sabarimala, the respondents (TDB) have no authority to put the blame on this petitioner for bringing their faults to the notice of this Court,” the affidavit, filed through advocate V. Sajith Kumar, said.

The petitioner has also claimed that according to the report of the Special Commissioner, Sabarimala, the older jaggery stock was “found to be infested with insects and unsafe” and therefore, it could not have been auctioned off for even preparing cattle feed.

The court noted that relevant firms and contractors were not made party and issued an interim order today directing the petitioner to file applications to implead them.

(With PTI inputs)