An Indian judge has summoned two Hindu gods to help resolve a 20-year-old property dispute.
Sunil Kumar Singh has placed notices in newspapers in the coal mining town of Dhanbad, in the eastern state of Jharkhand, asking gods Ram and Hanuman to appear in his court next week to present their arguments.
“You failed to appear in court despite notices sent by a messenger and later through registered post. You are hereby directed to appear before the court personally,” Judge Singh’s notice stated.
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The newspaper notices were published, in keeping with accepted Indian legal practice, after two summons dispatched to the plaintiff deities were returned because their addresses were “incomplete”.
The dispute is over ownership of a 1.4-acre plot in Dhanbad which adjoins a temple dedicated to Ram and another one dedicated to the monkey god Hanuman. Worshippers claim the land belongs to the gods but the priest, Manmohan Patnaik, insists that it is his.
Both sides went to court in 1987 and several years later the dispute was settled in the locals’ favour. But Mr Patnaik challenged the verdict in a “fast-track court” set up to cut the backlog of millions of property cases.
Bijan Rawani, a lawyer, said: “Since the land has been donated to the gods, it is necessary to make them a party to the case.”
Mr Patnaik’s plea is that the land was given to his grandfather by a local king.
Property disputes in which Hindu gods are deemed “legal entities” are not uncommon in India.
One of India’s most contentious disputes in nearby Ayodhya also involves a Ram temple, which was built over the god’s reputed birthplace before a Mughal emperor demolished it in the 16th century and replaced it with a mosque. In the early 1990s, Hindu zealots razed the mosque, triggering clashes in which more than 1,200 people, mostly Muslims, died.
The ownership dispute is still unresolved and the judge in the case is awaiting the deity’s attendance in court.