Setback for Mamata Banerjee, Calcutta High Court allows Durga idol immersion on Muharram

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Sep 21, 2017(Agencies)

The Calcutta High Court on Thursday cancelled the West Bengal government’s order prohibiting immersion of idols of Goddess Durga on account of Muharram. The court allowed immersion of idols on all days till midnight including on Muharram (October 1) . It has also directed the police to plan routes for the idol immersion as well as tazia and ensure peace.

What was the Mamata Banerjeegovernment’s order that stands cancelled?

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had, in a notification on August 23, said that idol immersion will stop for a period of 24 hours on account of Muharram observations on October  1. The notification said that the immersion will have to stop by 10 pm on Vijaya Dashami (September 30) and that it will only be allowed from October 2 till October 4.

Who objected to the order?

The decision ran into wide opposition from Hindu outfits who said they would just ignore the directive of the government and ask other Puja committees to follow suit. One of the objections raised was that the government had taken an arbitrary stand in the matter. A day after the announcement, Hindu Samhati president Tapan Ghosh told The Indian Express: “We strongly oppose this decision. We will appeal to all puja committees to carry out immersion of idols as per Hindu rituals. We will tell them that there is no need to follow the state government’s order. We are protesting against this arbitrary decision.” The group monitors and reports “violence against Hindus”.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh refused to draw a comparison between Durga Puja and Muharram since Durga Puja is celebrated on a more wider scale in the state. Jishnu Bau, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh karyavaha for south Bengal had also questioned the ban based on the mismatch in number of people that celebrate Durga Puja and observe Muharram. He too told IE, “I want to ask the police how many Durga puja committees were given permission last year and how many were given the same to hold Muharram processions? There can never be a comparison in this regard as Durga Puja is one of the major festivals here and Muharram is observed in few places. We believe that Hindus will ignore her decision… In Bengal, Hindus will have to ensure their rights.”

What did the government say in its defence in court?

Theee were three PILs challenging the Mamata government’s decision to disallow Durga idol immersion from the night of September 30 till October 1.

Advocate General Kishore Dutta on Wednesday defended the government’s case arguing that “Public order and law-and-order are administrative issues” and that interference by the court would mean trudging into the administrative domain. The court, however, said that the government could regulate the routes for the ‘tajia’ procession of Muharram and the people moving for idol immersion.

The AG submitted that the government’s move was in fact a preventive action to avoid any untoward incident from taking place on the day. “In the interest of maintaining law-and-order and in order to prevent an untoward incident, the administration can regulate a religious congregation or procession,” the AG added.

What did the court say as it overruled the government order?

However, the bench, stating that it didn’t dispute the state’s right to regulate, held that it couldn’t restrict observance of religious rites. “We are asking you to eliminate the element of arbitrariness and provide a concrete ground for your action. If you say there is complete harmony, are you (the state administration) not creating a line of division between the two communities by your action?”

The bench presided over by acting Chief Justice Rakesh Tiwary had slammed Mamata Banerjee government’s decision announced on August 23 over hindering a person’s right to practice religion. The court had told the government that assumption of disruption of law-and-order was not sound reason to enforce the prohibitory order.

“Let them (Hindus and Muslims) live in harmony, do not create a line between them,” Acting Chief Justice Rakesh Tiwary said on Wednesday, asking the government to provide a “concrete ground” for its decision to stop the immersion of Durga idols after 10 pm on September 30 (Vijaya Dashami day) and on October 1 on account of Muharram.

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