The Bombay high court (HC) has said that it would be discriminatory if the Shia Muslims, who are seeking permission to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain by observing rituals as per the norms laid down by the Maharashtra government’s disaster management department, are barred, as a similar approval was given to the Hindus to celebrate the annual 10-day Ganesh Utsav that started on August 22, despite the prevailing coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.
The observations were made while hearing a petition filed by All India Idara Tahfaz-e-Hussainiyat, an organisation from south Mumbai, which had sought directions to the state government to allow a limited number of people be allowed to perform mehendi, alam and taziya rituals for the Muharram.
HC has asked the state government and the disaster management department to hear the petitioner and submit their report by Friday (August 28) morning.
A two-member HC division bench, comprising justices SJ Kathawalla and Madhav Jamdar, while hearing the petition on Thursday, was informed that Shia Muslims in Mumbai and Maharashtra desired to observe a period of mourning for two hours on four days of the Islamic month of Muharram – from August 27 to 30 — by performing rituals.
Advocate Rajendra Shirodkar, who appeared for the petitioner along with advocate Shehzad Naqvi, submitted that the Shia Mulsims were seeking permission for a group of 20-50 of them to perform the rituals through a procession, which would start at Bhendi Bazar and end at Mazgaon Kabrastan in Mumbai.
When the court sought to know about the mehendi, alam and taziya rituals, Shirodkar explained that a group of Shia Muslims would carry flags and replicas of the mausoleum of Imam Hussain and go from Bhendi Bazar to Mazgaon.
However, HC was not convinced and sought an explainer that was submitted by Shirodkar later in the day. Shirodkar submitted that though the prayer was made for 20-50 Shia Muslims, the number of participants could be reduced as per the court’s order.
State additional government pleader Geeta Shastri and government pleader Poornima Kantharia opposed the petition.
They stated that the petition was seeking permission for a procession, where thousands of Shia Muslims take part in the annual procession and it should not be allowed because of the prevailing viral outbreak and it would impossible for the state authorities to enforce social distancing norms.
Kantharia submitted since Ganesh Utsav processions were not permitted, similarly there should be a ban on the Muharram procession.
Earlier, Shastri informed HC that the Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday had rejected a petition for carrying out Muharram processions throughout the country following which the court perused the summary of the apex court’s order.
The court observed that there was no SC order barring Muharram processions across the country. The court stated that the petition in SC was only for taking out a procession in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, and other states were not involved in it.
“If limited permissions are issued for Lord Ganesha, then refusing permissions for Muharram would be discriminatory. Hence, we direct the (state) authorities to give the petitioner a hearing and decide on it,” said Justice Kathawalla.
The court directed Amitabh Gupta, principal secretary (home), Maharashtra; and Kishor Raje Nimbalkar, secretary, disaster management department, Maharashtra, to give the petitioner a hearing.
The court also directed Gupta and Nimbalkar to submit a report on the state government’s decision on Friday morning.
HC will hear the case again in the first half on Friday.