Sunday, October 9, 2016

Calcutta High Court lifts Puja restrictions, slams Bengal ‘bid to appease minority

The Calcutta High Court has held the time limits set by the West Bengal government for Durga idol immersion next week, on account of Moharram, as “arbitrary” and said the order was a “clear endeavour” by the state to “appease the minority section of the public”. While noting that “we live in difficult times” and it would be “dangerous to mix politics with religion”, the order of October 6 by a single-member bench of Justice Dipankar Dutta said no decision should be taken that could pit “one community against another”, and that “intolerance would rise in the event of such arbitrary decision” of the government.

There has been a clear endeavour on the part of the state government to pamper and appease the minority section of the public at the cost of the majority section without there being any plausible justification. The reason therefore is, however, not far to seek,” the court added.Bijoy Dashami, the day of the Durga idol immersion, falls on October 11 this year. The tazia procession for Muharram is to take place the next day.

Directing the police and civil administration to work together to identify routes for the immersion processions and for the tazia to be taken out by the Muslim community, taking care to “ensure that the routes do not overlap”, Justice Dutta said that “no effort” had been made to “satisfy” the Bench that “processions (tazia) on the eve of Moharram are an inseparable part of the mourning” associated with Moharram.

Noting that “there has never been a holiday” declared by the state or Centre on the eve of Muharram to “facilitate processions (tazia)”, the court said, “The administration has failed to take note of the fact that Moharram is also not the most important festival of people having faith in Islam… To put it curtly, the state government has been irresponsibly brazen in its conduct of being partial to one community, thereby infringing upon the fundamental rights of people worshipping Maa Durga.”

The judge added, “Never has there been a restriction on immersion of Durga idols on Bijoya Dashami at any earlier point of time. It has been brought to the notice of this Bench that in the years 1982 and 1983, Moharram was observed on the day following Bijoya Dashami, but no restriction of the nature impugned herein was imposed.”The order further said that Bijoy Dashami is a ritual for “puritan Hindus”, that can’t be “postponed to a day” beyond Bijoy Dashami, or “preponed at the whims” of the state government.

Justice Dutta felt that apart from the fact that the restrictions on idol immersion were “unprecedented” in Bengal’s history, there is “no decision in black and white taken either by the civil administration or by the police administration indicating any reason for imposing the impugned restriction”.

The state government’s time restrictions pertained to Durga Pujas held in households and those organised by apartment complexes or societies. The directive, issued sometime in early August, said nobody could immerse the idols after 4 pm on Bijoya Dashami. In his order, Justice Dutta allowed the three petitioners, representing two households and an apartment complex, to immerse their idols by 8.30 pm on Bijoya Dashami, and said the government’s order would apply to other households or apartment complexes as well.

The bigger puja pandals have already declared they would immerse their idols after Moharram. Justice Dutta commented on this too, saying that community puja organisers who “indulge” in performing puja to “compete with one another” with the “purpose of winning prizes” offered by the state government could “afford” to retain Durga idols “beyond Bijoy Dashami”.

Advocate Lokenath Chatterjee, who represented the petitioners before Justice Dutta, said, “As of now there are no restrictions on household pujas and apartment pujas. That is one reading in the case. The state government should have ideally appealed, but they haven’t.”

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